Seventh East Press correspondence, 1981-1983
Scope and Contents note
General and undated items.
- Other: 1981-1983
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The Seventh East Press was started by Ron Priddis and Anthony Schmitt. Its purpose was to fulfill the need for an "alternative voice for BYU faculty and students" and was published from October, 1981 through April, 1983 in a total of twenty-nine issues. In an attempt to show both sides of issues, the paper became controversial and was eventually banned from being sold on the Brigham Young University campus. It ceased production shortly thereafter.
The Seventh East Press was an independent student newspaper published from October, 1981 through April, 1983. It was the brainchild of two graduate students, Ron Priddis and Anthony Schmitt. They saw its purpose fulfilling the need for an "alternative voice for BYU faculty and students." The name, Seventh East Press, was chosen for the paper because the paper's office was located at 839 North 700 East.
In surviving for 19 months, the Press has the distinction of being the longest-lived independent student newspaper at BYU. It was not just its longevity which made the Press a vital part of BYU's history, it was also its willingness to show both the lights and shadows of BYU and Provo. The Press had a regular features dealing with the Mormon Church and its doctrines. It also served as a sounding board for many of the concerns which people had for the world in which they lived.
Originally, it was hoped that the paper would be a weekly, but things did not work out that way. A total of 29 issues were published, including an April 1, 1983 parody of BYU's student Newspaper, The Daily Universe.
The entire existence of the Press was one of continual struggle. Almost all those who worked for the Press were volunteers. Few had any previous journalistic experience. Also, money was always tight. Ron Priddis sold his car for $1700 which was used to start the paper. The various financial contributions which they receive bailed out the Press more than once. One of the more interesting contributions given to the paper was by a staff member of former Idaho Senator Frank Church, who donated the Senator's congressional stationery.
Some of their struggles were included in their first year's history which was printed in the August 24, 1982 issue (Year 1, Number 21), under the headline "7EP Revelations: Staff Tells History." Because this article contains such a good overview of the history and operation of the Press, it is included here:
Despite mistakes and blunders and the divergent view of staff members, the Seventh East Press has weathered its first year as an alternative voice for Brigham Young University students and faculty. Prompted from without as well as within, the staff has decided to reveal some of the little-known highs and lows of the Press's first year.
One of the more obscure facts about the paper is that it was almost named "The Crab." Had Ron Priddis and Anthony Schmitt had their way, the masthead would have displayed a caricature of a crab wearing glasses, together with an allusion to one of Aesop's fables.
According to other staff members, "Despite the fact that checks had been printed for 'The Crab', clearer heads prevailed and ' Seventh East Press' was adopted." Ron and Anthony maintain that "Seventh East" was also their idea, but it was their second choice.
Readers have often asked how and why the Press came into existence. In an interview on KRSP Radio, one staff member said, "Ron had a dream. He woke up, sat up in bed and said, 'An independent student newspaper for BYU!'" Ron, however, counters that there was no dream, but that the inspiration did come in the middle of the night.
Ron and Anthony had been part of a group of students who put together the Open Door Guide to BYU. Ron contracted Elbert Peck, a graduate student in Public Administration, about being editor. After several meetings with other interested students, Elbert finally agreed and "took it from there."
"We believed in the cause," says Elbert, remembering the beginnings of the paper. "Elbert was very Idealistic," points out Ron. "When we'd wonder if we could be aggressive enough to get the stories or the ads, Elbert would say something like, 'When you believe in the cause, you do these things,' and so we'd do them."
"We were quite a combination," adds Anthony. "We wanted to expose everything, but we were pretty conservative. We kept fighting with what we felt inside and what we though we could put down in print."
According to Ron, "If there was any balance to the paper, it was because we cancelled each other out in different areas. I was pretty liberal theologically, but very conservative politically. Elbert was just the opposite."
In identifying his reasons for starting the paper, Ron relates: "Most of the real learning at BYU is done after the bell rings and class is dismissed. It happens when a privileged student has a privileged relationship with a professor who knows what's going on in his scholarly field. What about the student who doesn't have that kind of a relationship? How does he or she know what's going on? I wanted to know. And I think everyone should have that chance."
"I was a typical BYU student until my parents went on a mission and I tended their house in Arizona for a year," says Anthony. "I took classes at Arizona State University and found out that BYU isn't the most wonderful place in the world, as I had thought. When I returned to BYU, I wanted to do something to help raise the awareness here."
"We believed BYU needed a paper like this to help increase intellectual dialogue on campus between students and faculty, and to champion worthy causes," Elbert agrees.
When the founders of the paper had their first formal meeting in September, Ken Bush, a former student editor at the Daily Universe, tried to dissuade the group from rushing to the project.
"It's impossible to start a newspaper before you've established an editorial stance, editorial and other policies, and worked out a marketing strategy," said Ken.
"None of us knew what an editorial stance was, so we weren't too impressed by Ken's warning," admits Ron.
The founders were concerned, however, that the paper be responsible and that it have a conservative look. "We wanted it to look like something like the Christian Science Moniter," says Anthony. "With maybe a touch of the New Yorker."
"We thought if it looked conservative, the articles could be more daring," says Elbert. Other staff members have quipped that "the importance of a story is inversely proportionate to the size and sensational nature of the headline." Thus, Elder Boyd K. Packer's rebuke of historians was innocuously headlined, "Elder Packer Counsels Historians." A later treating President Ernest L. Wilkinson's attempts to remove certain "liberal" professors from the faculty appeared under the title, "BYU Spy Case Unshelved."
The only real guidelines the paper had were to be "accurate" and not to unnecessarily embarrass anyone." "We're a Christian newspaper," Elbert said when the staff had elicited a confession from a professor who had plagiarized twenty pages of another man's book in his own text. "We'll deal with this later in a conceptual way. This would ruin his career."
Even with the extreme caution Elbert and others exhibited, the Press has been threatened with libel suits twice -- once by a BYU security officer and once by a subscriber whose letter to the editor was published. The author of the letter had second thoughts about going public with his opinion after the letter was published.
Before the first issue of the Press appeared in newsstands (purchased at cut-rate prices from the Newspaper Agency Corporation in Salt Lake), it had received wide publicity. Articles about the Press were carried in the Provo Daily Herald, the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. A five-minute news was carried on KSL's television news program between sessions of the October General Conference of the LDS Church. The publicity was mostly in response to the Universe's refusal to carry an ad announcing the arrival of the Press. After consultation with the university's public relations department, the Universe finally decided to run the ad after all.
The staff's initiation into the harsh realities of journalism came in trying to meet their first deadlines. Stories were completed only hours before they were typeset. Elbert accused the staff of having a "hidden agenda."
The first paste-up session lasted all night, as have all but three subsequent paste-up sessions. "I never used to drink Coke," confesses Elbert, "but it's the only thing that gets me through paste-up."
"We converted Anthony's glass coffee table into a light table," reports Maxine Hanks, recalling the horrors of that first night. "We were surprised at the innovation and creativity that could be unleashed at 4 a.m. under the influence of no sleep."
"For instance," Maxine continues, "we realized that we had some spaces to fill, so we cut a picture of two knights out of a cut-book and pasted them over a blank spot with no indication of what exactly they were supposed to represent. People kept asking afterwards if they were to accompany the article or an adjacent ad."
Other staff members point to the fact that the "Thrills" page and a few other items were typewritten rather than typeset. "This was our baby," says Anthony. "We wanted to be proud of it, but we were a little frustrated by our inability to make it look like what we had conceived of."
Yet, despite its flaws, the Press sold well. The initial run was 5,000 copies, all of which eventually sold. "It took us a semester to get rid of all of them, however," admits Ron. The Press continued to print 5,000 copies per issue. What didn't sell was used for promotional purposes, or to "line the bottom of bird cages across the country," as another member has joked.
After the first issue, the Press moved into its office on Seventh East, just south of campus. Elbert and Ron moved into the office to help defray costs. Because of the lack of privacy for those who live there, the office has been nicknamed the "fish bowl." All of the furniture is loaned or donated. When the county assessed the Press for assets, the bill came to $2.52.
"Living with Elbert was an experience," says Ron. "He'd never quit. He'd get up early and stay up late. He did have some quirks that took some getting used to, though. He wouldn't exaggerate his feelings about the quality of work we were putting out. We eventually learned that when he said, 'I'm comfortable with that,' what he meant was, 'Good job." If he said, 'I can live with it,' what he meant was, 'It will run, but it's lousy.'"
One of the most difficult aspects of beginning a newspaper was convincing local merchants that it would be worth their while to advertise. A number of students volunteered to help gather ads, went out to talk to merchants and never returned. An average of six visits was required to convince a local businessman to run an ad. Few were camera-ready, and rates were simply "negotiable."
One evening, while preparing an ad for Suzannah's Antique Photos and Gifts, Anthony and Elbert realized that they didn't have a logo to accompany the ad. They decided to go to the alley behind Suzannah's to check through the trash bin for a paper bag or box that might have a logo on it. While rummaging through the garbage, they were surprised to find themselves confronted by a Provo City policeman. Suspicious of their reasons for being there, the policeman asked them to vacate the premises.
Over the past months, the Press has unintentionally alienated some advertisers. Deseret Industries, which previously ran two full-page ads, discontinued their association with the Press because of the homosexuality series. The BYU Bookstore quit advertising because of a "Campus Chatter" item about the discount Bookstore board members receive at the Bookstore. Doug Bush, the ASBYU Financial Vice President, refused to sign any checks to the Press from ASBYU because he felt the paper had "harassed Elder McConkie."
Other advertisers have singled out the regular "Grey Matters" column on Mormon theology as being especially objectionable. Subscribers, on the other hand, sem to have found the column of the most valuable items in the paper. Tom Rogers, in a letter to the Press, wrote, "I am still overwhelmed at Gary Bergera's ability to take such thorny, controversial doctrinal issues and, in so few lines, objectify and lay to rest the dissension which so easily gathers around them."
Two of Gary's articles have been reprinted in the most recent issue of Dialogue magazine. When Gary began working at BYU Studies, he had to choose between Studies and "Grey Matters." Though he finally went with Studies, he continued to help on an irregular basis with typesetting, proofing and circulation of the Press.
Another key member of the staff who has had to limit his involvement to peripheral activities because of his position at BYU Studies is Scott Dunn. Scott has provided the office with a transcriber, a phot-enlarger, and other equipment, and helped with editing. Two full-time employees of BYU, including one professor, have found it necessary to write under assumed names.
Other students have found obstacles beyond those imposed by employers to write for the Seventh East Press. One student who volunteered to author a "Grey Matters" article on Masonry and the Church reported back that as soon as he had begun writing his article, he also began hearing strange voices and seeing apparitions. He, therefore, discontinued his involvement.
In addition, parents have posed a problem for some of the staff. One father called the paper a "scurrilous rag." Another has referred to his son as a "Mario Savio." One staff reporter tells of receiving a telephone call from his father, who had been contacted twice by university officials the day his article appeared, asking him not to participate with the paper any more.
Occasionally, readers ask what kind of repercussions the Press itself receives from BYU administrators. There have been no direct repercussions. However, Utah Holiday magazine reported that an assistant vice president of the university contacted the owner of the building where the Press has its office and complained about "shoddy tenants."
Bill Porter and Stan Mickelson, faculty advisors to the Universe, met with Jae Ballif, academic vice president and provost of the university, and accused the Press of stealing their advertisements. Periodically, advertisers have requested that the Pres run an ad which has appeared in the Universe and may have been copyrighted from it. Instead of paying the Universe for a photographic copy of the ad, the Press has felt justified in occasionally cutting the ad out of the Universe, or whichever other paper in which it may have appeared because the Press's belief that the advertisement is owned by the advertiser rather than the paper in which it runs. The Universe views this as plagiarism.
"Finances are always tight," says the Press's business manager. "The whole trick to financing the paper during the first two semesters was determining which checks to bounce and when. On the other hand, some of them bounced quite regularly and uncontrollably. We got a routine of exchanging a cashier's check for a bounced check at the printer's every time we needed to have another issue printed."
At a time when funds were badly needed, an unsolicited donation came from an LDS businessman in California. It was a sizeable donation. A loan of $1,000 was also obtained from a local businessman in exchange for a copy of Rodney Turner's master's thesis on the Adam-God theory. Donations have since come from over 100 BYU professors and an equal number of BYU alumni. The Press has also receive subscriptions from 40 states.
During Elbert's term as editor, the paper supported a number of "causes," as Elbert called them, both editorially and promotionally. Elbert helped organize a number of them and otherwise served on committees, printed and passed out flyers, and wrote editorials in their support. Some of the "causes" were the ASBYU Constitutional Convention, Peace Week, Amnesty International, Food for Poland, and the American Red Cross Blood Drive.
Elbert's greatest investment was in supporting the new ASBYU constitution. When the student body failed to approve the document, Elbert, disappointed, responded to this and other matters in his last editorial, "And Why Unblooms the Best Hope Ever Sown?"
During the final minutes before the editorial was typeset, there was some disagreement over the tone and appropriateness of it. Elbert, however, insisted that it not be "toned down." Later, in Elbert's absence, the editorial was modified before it appeared in print.
Elbert, having previously made known his desire to leave the paper, decided to make his final break with the Press at this time. He soon began working full time for the Sunstone Review.
Elbert was soon replaced by Tim Slover, a graduate of BYU working on a Ph.D. in dramatic literature at the University of Michigan. Tim was attending the Y during the spring and summer terms to brush up on his French. "At first I was hesitant about accepting the position," Tim admits, "but I've found that working at the Press gives me the same exhileration as being on the stage."
Beyond a change of editors, the spring term also saw a dramatic change in the format and design of the Press. Gone were the Staid and traditional masthead and four-column page layout. In their place were a flashier masthead, more pictures, and a cleaner, more open look with three columns per page and a larger type size.
"I think the change was for the better" says Tim. "The paper seems to be accessible to more people with this kind of layout. In the past, some people had complained that the smaller type size made them dizzy. Now when people get sick, they have to find some other excuse."
The new format was not well received by everyone, however. One editor's meeting was interrupted by a group of staff members who paraded around the office with a copy of a high school newspaper they thought looked identical to the Press with its new format. What they didn't know was that one of the designers of the new format, Jonathan Skousen, was also present. Jonathan's enthusiasm was somewhat tempered as a result.
"Sometimes I feel like a referee," says Tim. "For example, take the difference in philosophy between our news editor and our features editor. Both are very competent. Lisa Barlow, news editor, defected from the Universe where she had been a paid employee. Kent Appleberry, features editor, works in the Archives and has had some writing experience. Lisa feels that the important things in a story should be brought up front and highlighted. Kent, on the other hand, thinks that this is sensationalizing a story. He takes a more methodical approach.
"The greatest difficulty came when Kent was assigned to write a news story about the Women's Office. Friendships were nearly lost over that one. Then," Tim continues, "I've had to reject a couple of articles, too. Dick Townsend's "Going My Way" visit to the sperm bank in Salt Lake just didn't seem appropriate for the Press. Another staff member wanted to do a photo essay on the homes of the general authorities. I couldn't see the purpose of such an article, so that idea was nixed as well."
Generally, Tim's rule of thumb in accepting or rejecting an article has been "a bird in the hand" -- that which has been turned in is better than that which has not been turned in. He does try, however, to maintain a quality control over the "birds" that fly into the office.
Despite constant efforts to control typographical and other errors, spring and summer have seen a continuation of a tradition of entertaining bloopers in the Press. One article, treating a conference of writers convened to critique one another's work, contained the following two sentences, one of which had been pasted up out of order: "We'd like to become professional writers." "That's ludicrous."
The issue introducing Tim's arrival as editor quoted him as saying "We'd like to get out of few issues this summer" instead of "We'd like to get out a few issues this summer." Some have since accused the typesetter of a Freudian slip.
In a later issue, instead of "proof-texting" the Book of Moses, the article claimed to be about "proof-reading" the Book of Moses. Elsewhere, portions of two letters to the editor were interchanged to produce one letter that addressed the subject of "developing a personal revolution in Central and South America."
With the additions of Larry Hollis and Mike Davidson to the staff, the Press should display fewer and fewer mistakes. Larry, who is now production manager at the Press, has three years experience as editor of the Pampas Daily News in Texas. Mike received numerous awards for his work in layout at the Rick's College newspaper.
One of the most recent developments at the Seventh East Press is the receipt of official recognition as a non-profit organization from the State of Utah. The Press is also working on securing similar status from the Internal Revenue Service.
The Press has held several successful parties, all of which have been planned by Maxine, including some famous "Provo's Lost It" party held in the basement of the Rolling Scone. One of the first staff parties including a showing of "All the President's Men."
The latest party featured impersonations of well-known political, religious, and university leaders by Peter Sorensen; three Shakespearean monologues by Tim; and a special awards presentation. Among the awards given were "Worst Headline," "Most Offensive Article," "Most Forgettable Issue," and the "Lost Cause" award.
In the "Worst Headline" category, the judges awarded a tie to "February id for Poland" and "It Will Hurt the Church's Image." "Most Offensive Article" also drew a tie with "The Development of the Garment" and "Why I Became a Homosexual." The "Most Forgettable Issue" was "indisputably issue three," with its "hodgepodge of last-minute sketches in a noble attempt to save a disastrous layout. The "Lost Cause" award went to the ad department for "trying to get advertisers to pay full price for ads." Ad rates have since been lowered.
Currently, the Press is working on an article about President Holland. Maxine, who is assigned to the story, has encountered resistance from university administrators in gathering pertinent information.
The Public Relations Department of the university recently delivered a message to the Press indicating that President Holland, though not antagonistic toward the paper, did not wish to be interviewed.
The response from the administration has elicited mixed feelings from the staff. Some believe the Press should not jeopardize its position with the administration. Others take a harder line, believing the administration is unjustified in its attitude. Once again, Tim is finding that his role as managing editor consists in large measure of attempting to strike some kind of compromise among the divergent views of the staff.
What William Albright once observed about organizations may help explain the continuing success of the Seventh East Press: "The greatest advances in a group are made when the group is in the highest state of excitation and discord that can be attained without disaster to the group."
The second year of the Press was equally full of peaks and valleys. in November 1982, as a result of some of the articles which had been run in the Press, it was removed from its more favorable selling location by the BYU Bookstore's south entrance to a less traveled area of the Bookstore. Sales dropped immediately. In February 1983, as a result of a published interview with Sterling McMurrin, the Press was banned by the administration from being sold on campus. The Press was only able to put out three more issues, including its parody of the Daily Universe, before it was forced to close down. One staff member stated that they only had around seven dollar surplus when they closed their doors. An attempt was made to restart the Press under the name the University Post, but that paper died after two issues.
It seems as if everyone had a strong opinion of the Press, whether they had read it or not. Many Mormons viewed the Press as too critical of the Mormon Church, its leaders and doctrines. Anti-Mormons, for their part, viewed the Press as one of the official voices of the LDS Church, a voice which was too supportive of the Church.
The greatest support for the paper came from faculty and people who were not involved with the university. Staff members were discouraged by the lack of strong student support during the paper's existence.
During its lifetime, the Seventh East Press was able to overcome many barriers and obstacles in its attempt to be an "alternative voice for BYU faculty and staff." In the end, they proved too many to overcome.
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