A former Aggie opinion editor mourns his college newsroom
The California Aggie newsroom is a nostalgia machine.
Anybody who’s spent any real time in 25 Lower Freeborn knows it, but to an outside observer, the place might feel like the headquarters of an unusually bookish cult.
Then again, maybe that’s not so far off.
Get together a bunch of half-formed but dangerously smart adults. A little cynical, these kids, but they’re reporters, and they’ve got the perspective for a sense of humor. Stick them in a basement for hours on end. You’ll come up with the Aggie’s newsroom.
Unfortunately, that newsroom will soon be demolished.
UC Davis said last month that it had decided to tear down Freeborn Hall rather than spend extra money for renovations and seismic retrofitting. Other offices in Lower Freeborn, like the KDVS radio station and the Food Pantry, will also be destroyed.
I was the Aggie’s opinion editor from 2015 to 2017. The news devastated me, and many other alums of the Aggie who had spent so much time working in the basement.
You can see the characters of those alums literally written on the walls. Taped-up quotes include musings on hostile workplaces, murder, North Korea and Disneyland.
Staffers long graduated maintain a presence in the newsroom through these quotes. They’re the thing visitors point out the most and find the most entertaining.
That, or the Orgasmatron.
The Aggie newsroom will turn you on. So go ahead: Take a whirl through the Orgasmatron. Check out the half-dozen Mark Ruffalo pictures. This place leaves an impression.
I won’t miss Upper Freeborn. I only took one class in its auditorium, a several hundred student strong “Introduction to Psychology” type class. That was to please Mom, the psychology Ph.D.
But I understand the Grateful Dead played Freeborn. I’m a fan (which also pleases Mom, the Deadhead). So maybe losing the auditorium will also be a tragedy.
But let’s go back downstairs.
Here’s a trivia question: How much of the Aggie office was taken up by oversized PC monitors in the early 90s?
d.) What’s a PC monitor?
The answer is D, but I wouldn’t knock you for picking any of the other options.
Let’s see. What else?
A stale bagel has sat for years atop one of our ventilation tubes. We call it “The Bagel.”
There was also the actual newspapering. Working with columnists, reporters and editors was the highlight of my college experience. It led to my current career in journalism.
The newsroom I knew was active, serious about covering issues like sexual violence, the resignation of Linda Katehi as chancellor, the hiring of Gary May to replace her and one of the most consequential presidential elections in United States history.
These concerns breed the kind of discussions that shape half-formed adults. It’s always painful to lose a place where you see so much intellectual and personal development.
Of course I argued in the newsroom. Had unpleasant meetings and sharp disagreements about editorial decisions. But those get lost quick in the mythology of the place. (Right, Scott? We’re good? I think Scott and I are good.)
A college newsroom is a place where people think with integrity about hard topics and respect different opinions. Leave the 280-byte Twitter disagreements to the grown-ups.
I guess this was inevitable. Time passes. Newsrooms change.
I’m sad to see this office go. But I’m excited to see what future staffs make of the next basement they get shoved into. It’ll be great, because college reporters are great people.
A few closing words:
Many of you reading this probably have never visited the Aggie newsroom. You should. Pop your head in before these school administrators get the unique satisfaction of bulldozing a newspaper. Some of the best (and weirdest) conversations I had in the Aggie were with strangers who popped in unannounced.
I also would love to hear from former Aggie staff members, or anybody who has spent any time in the Aggie newsroom. Do you have a fond memory to share? Health problems from breathing basement air? Find my contact information below.
And finally, a request for the current staff:
Save the quotes. Now. Don’t wait. After all, what are journalists without their quotes?
Written by: Eli Flesch
The writer is a reporter based in New York City. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.