No. 1: All hell broke loose

April 18, 2017

A list of the top 10 memorable issues of student publications during my teaching career.

It was Tuesday, Oct. 9, 1989. Shortly after 5 p.m. I was in a temporary bungalow on the West Valley College campus helping a secretary with a Macintosh computer problem. The earth began to shake and she shrieked and ran out of the office. I giggled at her response. Then a big shake came and I was thrown against a wall. When I recovered, another shake came and threw me against the wall again. It was the Loma Prieta earthquake. The college was located just a few miles from the epicenter.

All hell broke loose.

It was the biggest earthquake (magnitude 6.9) I had ever experienced. It was also the proudest day of my teaching career because of how my newspaper students reacted to it.

After it was over my first thought was, “Oh, no. I wonder how many of the student newspaper’s (unsecured) computers have fallen to the floor and broken.” It was none, though a couple of four-drawer filing cabinets opened and toppled over.

(BTW, my second thought was of all the sports reporters in San Francisco, about 50 miles away, to cover what they expected would be the biggest news of the day: The World Series. Suddenly, they DID have the biggest news story of the day, and it was not the postposed game. They were the reporters on the scene for their news outlets.)

There were still a few newspaper students on campus, but over the next hour or two, students who had been off campus filtered back into the newsroom and asked what they could do to help cover the news. Some were sent back out to find food because we knew we would be working overnight to add to the paper that was already in production.

A couple of students grabbed cameras and starting combing the campus to see what kind of damage had taken place. Most dramatic was the photo that eventually adorned the front page of that week’s issue of the Norseman. It seems that none of the library book shelves had been properly bolted to the floor and the shake toppled them like dominos. Students who were in the library started digging through the stacks to find out if anyone had been trapped. (No one was.)

We labored throughout the night. Apparently, the campus was an island of electricity in the area, so we could work. Midway through Wednesday I decided to head back over the Santa Cruz mountains to my home in Felton. We had learned from TV reports that the epicenter was probably less than a mile from my house. Fortunately, my family was out of town at the time. The house sustained some significant damage, but was still standing and was not later red-tagged by inspectors.

While I was gone, college safety officials came by the newsroom and told the students I had left behind to leave because the campus was being closed to check for gas leaks. As they left they grabbed a computer or two and found a student’s garage in which to complete putting the paper together. By then electricity was being restored to the area.

There was no school on Wednesday, but when campus reopened on Thursday we had an expanded edition of the newspaper on the stands with the dramatic photo and the headline, “All hell broke loose.”

The dedication and leadership of the students who rallied to cover the disaster from a local angle remains a milestone of pride in my heart. You hope you are planting a professional ethic in the students, but you have few chances like a real disaster to see it emerge while you still have them in your care. I saw it first in those students who were still on campus, but felt it even more as students who were off campus instinctively returned to the campus newsroom. I have been blessed with outstanding students throughout my career.

PREVIOUSLY: 10: The execution, 9: We don’t need no headlines, 8: The student who died, 7: It was just a matter of time, 6: Daddy come home, 5: 911, 4: 3-D, 3. The expletive, 2: Not just another blank page.

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