A tale of two competing papers

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I am a writer and editor for The Muhlenberg Weekly. It isn’t a shock to anyone that I absolutely love the organization. I also love collegiate-level journalism just as a concept. Here, students are able to write according to their own agenda; what they deem to be important. This gives college students an opportunity to have a voice on their own campus, which otherwise may be forgotten. It sheds light on both the good and bad parts of important issues on behalf of the student body, and shares the creative voices of their peers. So of course, when I got wind of a long lost competing newspaper here at Muhlenberg, I had to find out absolutely everything about it.

In last week’s issue, I covered Alumni Weekend. I got to interview alumni, go to fun events, and really just have a fantastic time seeing what Alumni Weekend was all about, all from a journalistic perspective. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was going to “Classes Without Quizzes,” where professors got to give a lecture on a range of topics for any alumni who were interested and wanted to attend. I went to the class titled “What Books Do We Love?” taught by Charles French, Ph.D., professor of English. During a discussion, one of the alumni brought up “The Muhlenberg Advocate.” He didn’t go into much detail, only that the paper lasted a few years at Muhlenberg, seemingly in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. From the name and the alum’s few details, it sounded like a paper meant to counter The Muhlenberg Weekly, which shed light on a darker, grittier side of Muhlenberg.

Immediately, I was in a frenzy. I absolutely had to figure out what The Muhlenberg Advocate was all about. Did it take the place of The Weekly? Was there any bad blood between the two organizations? Was the administration on board? Did it only exist underground through speculation and secrecy? Was there a deeper, more sinister side to Muhlenberg that it uncovered? What legacy was left? I needed to know it all.

I started with a simple Google search of The Muhlenberg Advocate, and was immediately hit with disappointment: their old website asking for a new domain to be instituted. No old articles were going to be read, and no inside scoop was going to be spilled from 20 years ago. 

After some scrolling on the archives of the internet, surfing through long lost social media pages, I found a Tumblr post about it. Even though I knew very little about The Advocate, a Tumblr post being the only thing I could find about it seemed very fitting. I wasn’t surprised. 

In the post, a Muhlenberg alum reflected on their time writing for The Advocate, and how it led them to their career. Although the bulk of the post is filled with anger on how the paper is no longer at Muhlenberg, it doesn’t cover how The Advocate fell, or what exactly happened. However, I do know that apparently its nickname was “The Advo.”

In the Tumblr post, the alum, who wrote for both The Weekly and The Advo, and expressed appreciation for both, dissected what exactly was so niche about The Advo. “It valued the writers’ ideas and opinions. It encouraged humor and creativity. Verbatim was one of the best fucking columns when it was done right. It was a damn fine publication that offered an alternative news source to the [previously speculated] administration funded Weekly.”

It’s clear that at the time Muhlenberg’s administration looked more favorably upon The Weekly than it did The Advo. In Muhlenberg’s 2006 magazine, in the “Want More News?” section, both The Weekly and The Advo were mentioned. “Keep up-to-date with all happenings at Muhlenberg at http://www.muhlenbergweekly.com– the online version of the most authoritative source for campus news since 1883. Register online and receive e-mail notices for every new issue published. Every article available in print, is now only a click away. The College’s online newspaper, the Advocate, is also available at www.muhlenbergadvocate.com.”

At the time, Muhlenberg clearly wanted The Weekly to be the campus publication that was read by their community, with The Advo merely being recognized as an existing organization. There isn’t any encouragement to take a look at their publication. 

Why didn’t Muhlenberg want The Advo to be a source of campus information? What could they possibly have been putting into circulation? I knew I needed to try and get an actual copy of The Advo, and I did the best I could. After emailing the Head of Special Collections & College Archives at Trexler Library Susan Falciani Maldonado, I obtained old internet copies of The Weekly that mentioned The Advo, all from the Muhlenberg Archives. Now that I’ve read all of the times The Advo was mentioned, I can confidently say that they had an interesting relationship with both The Weekly and Muhlenberg’s administration.

The first time The Advo was ever mentioned in The Weekly was on Feb. 24, 2000, when The Advo’s constitution was passed by Student Council, which is now known as the Student Government Association (SGA). In that same issue, an article was published entitled “Welcome To The Club”. Essentially, it’s an entire article slandering The Advo. The writer takes blows at their mission statement to report on world news in addition to Muhlenberg happenings, along with their editing and their use of punctuation, claiming “If, indeed, the Editorial Board of The Advocate is serious about founding a journalistic publication, please learn how to use the English language properly.”

There was definitely some bad blood between the two publications, seeing as The Weekly went as far as to insult The Advo’s grammatical skills—skills that are the bare bones of journalistic reporting. 

The only other place I could locate any mention of The Advo was in 2005. Muhlenberg College nominated The Advo for a Henry Award, now known as the Halamy Award, which honors high achieving organizations and individuals throughout the past year. Administration was in control of who was nominated. Clearly, the relationship between the two entities improved enough for them to get a nomination. Still, it can be assumed they didn’t win, as no discussion of The Advo can be found later on in any potential articles naming the winners.

What I find most compelling is the complete lack of information on The Advo. The Advo is only mentioned a handful of times throughout all accessible archives. It’s not mentioned at all after 2005. Now I ask, what changed between 2005 and around 2008, when The Advo dissipated? Why didn’t The Weekly mention them in any more issues, why didn’t they have any formal recognition from administration?

I don’t have any concrete answers to these questions, but I can make many speculations, and I hope you can too. What I will say, and strongly believe, is that the importance of The Advo can’t be overlooked. 

Now, The Weekly has taken over some of the previous domain that The Advo used to hold. While The Advo was active, The Weekly included a space for faculty and staff to publish pieces. The Weekly has since instituted a policy where only students can write, other than letters to the editors. Currently, The Weekly is funded by SGA, so students can have their own voice, independent of administrative input.

The Advo’s seemingly fast decline, and now almost full erasure from Muhlenberg archives, gives them a reputation that’s uniquely their own. The Advo was clearly a hot topic during its time as an organization, leaving Muhlenberg with only a hint of anarchy in the air.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Amy! I wasn’t aware of the Advo, but then I graduated in 1975. You might also want to explore ‘Free University’ at Muhlenberg College back in the early 1970’s. FU allowed students and faculty members to teacher different workshops on varying topics all for free. And I believe FU also sponsored the ‘New York Erotic Film Festival’ during that time, which also was very controversial.

  2. I was the former editor-in-chief of The Muhlenberg Advocate in 2008 and was a writer on the staff all four years of my time at The Berg. I don’t know if the youths are familiar with a thing called the Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/) but you’ll be able to see past issues there. The Muhlenberg Advocate was editorially independent from the school, which meant we had full control of the stories we printed without the influence of the man! If you wanted authenticity and not fluff pieces praising The Berg when its board made questionable decisions, for example, you went to The Advo. We also did a lot of niche music reviews and salacious sex columns…think of us as Rent and The Weekly as The Music Man. Which show would you rather sit through? Also, it must be noted that we had several writing assistants on staff, and I can assure you we knew the ins and outs of grammar. Ask anybody at The Weekly staff what a dangling participle is, I dare you! LOL…I would love for students to bring back The Advocate to challenge the status quo! Dr. Jeff Pooley was our official advisor, and he remains one of the coolest profs on campus…I’m sure he’d be interested in a resurrection. 🙂

  3. Wow. I feel like a ghost being summoned from beyond the grave. This article was forwarded to me by the former EIC of The Advocate when I was a writer there, and I’m fairly certain it’s my Tumblr you found. It’s own graveyard of my 20s that hasn’t been touched in quite some time.

    I have gone on to have a very successful career in journalism, I’m not hard to find if you’re a good internet sleuth, and while my tone has definitely softened in the last 12 (gulp) years, the core ethos of that post I still firmly believe in.

    Muhlenberg might be a small school, but diversity, in every sense of the word, builds a stronger community. I’m so glad to hear that things have change, including funding and ownership. But a single news publication for a community is not enough, I will always believe that.

    Now, keep in mind, in 2008 we had two social media platforms, so there were far fewer avenues for alternative, self-funded media. I would love to see The Advo or something like it return to campus, one day. Does it have to be a WordPress-backed zine/paper? Not necessarily.

    But, if there are a group of students jonesing to cut their teeth on something a little sharper, I know of a lot of ~elder millennial~ alumni that would have their back and support its resurrection.

    Good luck!

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