Searching for healing

A visitor in 1981 would find a room filled with sound and motion. Typewriters clacking, phones ringing, teletype machine chattering, in this newsroom of a daily newspaper, looking and sounding the same as what one would find at newspapers in the nation’s major cities. Here, though, the workers are 18 to 21-year-old university students.

The Daily Tar Heel, founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1893 and published daily since 1929, has through the years earned its place among the best student dailies in the country. Traditionally, its staff is dominated by students majoring in journalism.

Its roster of former student editors includes the names of Thomas Wolfe, Charles Kuralt, Jonathan Yardley, Edwin Yoder, Gail Godwin, Jonathan Daniels, Horace Carter, Louis Harris, and many other well-known lights in the world of journalism.

I joined the faculty of UNC’s respected School of Journalism in 1978 and was teaching courses in news editing in 1981. Many of my students worked together producing the Daily Tar Heel every day.

The entire student body chooses the DTH editors in campus-wide elections. The one in 1981 is memorable for its bitterly divisive campaign between Jim Hummel and Tom Jessiman. Here is an excerpt from The Yackety Yack, UNC’s yearbook.

“During the week before the election, the candidates muddled through the rounds of dorm and residence college forums. The audiences were full of campaign workers, and some candidates began suggesting that their opponents were ‘planting’ difficult questions. Meanwhile, zealous campaign workers tore down posters across campus, and rival organizations grew hostile.” 

Hummel won by 78 votes out of a total 6,300 cast. Jessiman, using his family’s money, then created and presided over The Phoenix, an alternative newspaper that continued to be published for several years. Several members of The Daily Tar Heel staff, ardent supporters of Jessiman’s candicacy, left the DTH and went to work on Jessiman’s paper.

Most of the students in my editing classes worked side by side with one another on The Daily Tar Heel. During that tense election campaign, I tried my best to maintain the peace and keep them concentrating on learning their craft, but the atmosphere was icy. I witnessed once-cordial friendships turn hostile. Some came to regard one another as enemies. Students clustered in factions supporting one or the other editorship candidate. Imagine the challenge of teaching a class in which students refuse to speak to one another.  Does this seem familiar?

Now, 40-plus years removed from that election, one finds Jim Hummel in Rhode Island, presiding over The Hummel Report, an investigative television panel whose stated mission is to “expose waste and corruption in government to the people of Rhode Island and become the go-to source for news outlets of any medium across the state.” Earlier he worked at The Providence Journal and an ABC television affiliate.

Jessiman, who for 20 years founded and ran several digital media firms in consumer Internet and social media, now is CEO and co-founder of Hashoff, a company specializing in content marketing. It is headquartered in New York City. He has launched corporate venture groups for IBM and US WEST.

We learn that intense feelings about a principle, cause, or candidate can overpower our more loving, positive instincts. This state of mind develops a hard crust. Friends become enemies. Relationships are shattered. Softening that crust requires serious self examination and a willingness to change. That’s hard.

We are told that time heals. Surely that applies in the case of that 1981 Daily Tar Heel  election. What about now?  How much time do we have?

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