Looking Back: Gatepost alumni reflect on time at the paper

(Gatepost Archives)

Eighty-five years is a substantial amount of time for any organization to endure, let alone a student club.

In the first Gatepost Editorial, published in the newspaper’s original 1932 issue, the editors stated that the success of the paper was beholden to the student body, and its growth “demanded” students’ contributions. Eight-and-a half decades later, when some of FSU’s most dedicated Gatepost alumni reflect on their time at the paper, they remember fondly the lasting friendships they formed and the high caliber of their journalistic work.

Here are their stories.

Richard Cunningham

Class of 1968

For Richard Cunningham, editor-in-chief during the 1966-1967 and 1967-1968 academic years,  the friendships he made while at the paper have lasted him a lifetime.

“I think really for me, it was the people I worked with,” he said. “I’m still friends with some of them, and this was 50 years ago. It is a bond we have – that we all worked together to accomplish a certain goal.”

During Cunningham’s tenure, The Gatepost underwent a number of substantial format changes. What was once an “occasionally glossy” print product turned into a weekly print paper that not only had coverage of FSU events, but also the current state of international affairs.

“There was a lot going on that time,” Cunningham said. “It was the height of the Vietnam War. There was a lot of interest in that. We had articles and editorials that were for and against the war, so I think that brought a lot of interest to the campus,” he said.

Cunningham recruited a dedicated staff of reporters and editors to write weekly, and although he looks back at his time at The Gatepost with gratitude, he hasn’t forgotten the daunting task of publishing a college newspaper every week.

“I was obviously a full-time student,” he said. “I was working part time. … I was actually doing this on top of that. So I think really getting the paper out on time each week, that was a push to do that.”

After graduation, Cunningham had a short stint as an editor for a local newspaper, but worked primarily as a English teacher. Cunningham worked as  a teacher in Ashland High School until he retired in 2004. He has also been an adjunct professor at Framingham State University since 1984. 

Although he didn’t actively pursue a career in journalism, Cunningham said his time at The Gatepost has provided him with a number of skills that have helped him become a better writer and manager outside of the newspaper industry.

“That experience helped me learn how to manage people, and to develop a vision,” he said. “I think it really helped me to understand the role of audience in writing.”

Suzanne McDonald

Class of 1995

Twenty-seven years after Cunningham passed the editor-in-chief mantle, Suzanne McDonald, who served as the editor-in-chief during 1994-1995 academic year, was spending Thursday nights in The Gatepost office working to inform the student body and upholding the professional journalistic standard set by her predecessors. 

“Through debate and collaboration, and all the good things that happened at that little hotbed at The Gatepost, the better product would prevail,” she said. “Not just because I was editor-in-chief, but because we had a lot of smart and talented people coming together on a weekly basis to create a fantastic and top-notch news product.”

Among McDonald’s most notable pieces was one article she said really solidified her appreciation for the service that The Gatepost could provide not only to students, but to the broader community.

McDonald wrote an article for her capstone journalism class concerning student credit card debt and how credit card companies were taking advantage of students by placing credit card applications in classrooms. 

“Our local state rep saw our article in The Gatepost, and proposed legislation that credit card applications can’t be hung in classrooms,” she said. “That was pretty powerful. That you could do a really good job on an article and that it would have that kind of an impact overall.”

After graduation, McDonald earned her master’s in journalism and communications from the University of South Carolina-Columbia. From there, she worked for a number of newspapers, primarily as a copy editor. After leaving her job as a copy editor at The Boston Globe in 2008, she started her own content and SEO company, “Designated Editor,” which she later rebranded to “Angles and Insights” where she works as a marketing consultant.

McDonald also has worked an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island and at FSU. Last spring, she taught  Writing for Online and Social Media for the FSU English department.   

When taking into account all the positions she has held since graduation, McDonald said her job as editor-in-chief was her “closest comparable role” to her job of being C.E.O. of her own company.

“You’re managing a staff of 40 students, and that’s a lot to manage when you are also going to school full-time,” she said. “You learn how to pick up [your staff] when they are down – when they are overwhelmed with school and working and life. … You learn a lot about how to help people do their best work,” she said. 

Steve Katsos

Class of 1996

Like McDonald, Steve Katsos, who served as editor-in-chief during the 1995-1996 academic year, was also motivated by his staff’s dedication to creating a high-quality product.

It was his work at The Gatepost that inspired to him to start a talk show, he said. Nine years ago, Katsos began producing his  television program, “The Steve Katsos Show,” a talk show based in Arlington that spotlights artists and comedians.    

“I enjoyed seeing a product that people were putting together and how it would grow,” he said. “Every week, it would get better and better, and that’s kind of why I started producing the show. I wanted to make a product that would keep getting better and better, he said.

Katsos said under his leadership, The Gatepost was able to print in color for the first time. 

“The skills I learned while working at The Gatepost gave me the ability to run another organization,” Katsos said.“When you’re in college, being able to have a group work together like that for a whole semester or year, you end up learning each other’s weaknesses and strengths, that by the time you reach the end, you really have the best product you can make with that group. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved.”

Outside of his role as a talk show host, Katsos, works in audio and television production and aids in setting up television production equipment for sporting events in venues such as Gillette Stadium, he said.

John Hilliard

Class of 2003

Boston Globe reporter and producer John Hilliard, an associate editor during the 2002-03 academic year, said, “What’s great about The Gatepost was that it gives students who are attending a much smaller school that doesn’t have the name brand that the bigger schools toward Boston have … the opportunity to do work that is high caliber. You can really get involved in the kind of work that if you pursue it, can really take you somewhere.”

Hilliard said an internship he obtained with English professor Elizabeth Banks, who was a GateHouse Media editor at the time, helped him get his start in journalism.   

After graduation, Hilliard worked as a reporter for local newspapers and as a technology writer for TechTarget, before obtaining a master’s in business journalism degree from Boston University.

From covering immigration policy to writing about the rivalry between late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and actor Matt Damon, Hilliard said his job “varies so much day-to day.”

Additionally, Hilliard works on The Boston Globe’s website and takes care of “all the geeky HTML stuff” so readers get “a good reading experience.”

Hilliard said he wishes scholarships were available for Gatepost editors so they could focus on producing the best journalism they could. 

Referring to the English department’s journalism concentration, Hilliard said, “It’s such a great little program that has just endured.”

Brad Petrishen

Class of 2008

When Brad Petrishen, editor-in-chief during the 2007-08 academic year, first entered The Gatepost office, he was hooked. 

“It just started off being a cool place to be,” Petrishen said.

During his freshman year, one of Petrishen’s friends suggested he come by the office one night since the atmosphere was “pretty fun.”

“So I did, and I pretty much never left,” he said.

Petrishen said the most important lesson he learned at The Gatepost was the value of journalism.

“I had fun not only writing news stories about what was going on  in the college, but really, having a voice in the editorial process and writing editorials about the direction of our school and what we thought of our administration.”

When looking back, Petrishen said Gatepost Advisor and English Professor Desmond McCarthy is integral to the paper’s success.   

“He is one of the most important people on that campus,” he said. “He’s always made sure to help students understand how important it is to have a voice in their college and how important it is to be the voice for the students. And then at same point, not only helping students with journalism, but with life. Desmond has been such an important person in so many people’s lives.”

During Petrishen’s tenure, The Gatepost earned a Region 1 Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for editorial writing. The following year, Petrishen, along with other members of the Gatepost staff, also earned a Region 1 Mark of Excellence Award for breaking news coverage. 

Petrishen said it was nice to work at a local college newspaper, because “you can measure the impact you have,” whereas at a professional newspaper, the audience is broader. 

“At a college campus, it’s immediate. If people like what you do, they’ll tell you, If they don’t like it, they’ll steal the newspaper, which happened. Or you’ll have an administrator who walks the other way when they see you, or doesn’t what to answer your questions. That is a sure-fire way to know if you either did a really good job or a really bad job.”   

Today, Petrishen works as a general assignment reporter for The Worcester Telegram and Gazette  and covers the city. He recently won two second-place awards for Investigative Reporting and Right-to-Know in the New England Better Newspaper Competition. 

Alexandra Smith

Class of 2008

Having graduated college at the height of the economic recession, Alexandra Smith, an associate editor during the 2007-08 academic year, struggled to find a job until she connected with former Gatepost editor-in-chief Suzanne McDonald.

“She was actually starting her own business. So she was the first connection I made where there was a freelance opportunity identified.”

While that job helped Smith find more freelance writing opportunities, after a year, Smith decided to go back to school and got her master’s in communication management from Emerson College. She graduated in 2012.   

Today, as the Director of Communications & Media Relations at Wheelock College, Smith still calls her Gatepost contacts on a regular basis.

“Working in public relations, it’s beneficial to me personally to have connections who are reporters and who are journalists in different capacities,” she said “I have on different occasions reached out to personal contacts, friends of mine, who I have worked with at The Gatepost to pitch stories to them. So those professional connections have been very valuable for me.”

Smith remembers her time at The Gatepost being one of the “most engaging and exhilarating teamwork experiences I’ve ever had in my career.”         

She added, “Being on The Gatepost provided me with a network of professional contacts [and with] friends who had a similar interest as me. It provided me with a purpose.  … I did not mind being there till 3 a.m. I sometimes minded being there till 6 or 7 a.m., but I didn’t mind working all night on this publication, because it was something I cared about. It was something I enjoyed.”    

Madison Dennis

Class of 2010   

Madison Dennis, editor-in-chief during the 2009-10 academic year, said her most memorable college experiences didn’t happen in the classroom.

“What made college really great and helpful for me were the extracurricular experiences that I had – The Gatepost, the internship,” Dennis said. “I’m a big believer that college is really what you make of it. No matter whether you go to a big-name college or a small college, there are opportunities everywhere to get outside the classroom and get involved.”

Dennis, who now works as a social media community manager at MAPFRE, said her work at The Gatepost helped her recognize her love for public relations and marketing as well as her love for journalism.

“The Gatepost was a good jumping-off point for me, for sure,” she said. “I think in any type of marketing role, in any type of advertising role, or communications role, one of the most important skills you can have is being able to talk to people, to get information, to tell those stories to a broader audience, and that’s what journalism is.”

Dennis said that of all the articles she wrote, one sticks out in particular.

“I remember once, I wasn’t editor-in-chief at this time, we covered a bomb scare,” Dennis said. “It was just very fast. Everything just happened fast and we needed to make sure we were getting pictures and covering the story and being fairly accurate in how we were covering it.”

Dennis also fondly remembers being on The Gatepost during President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

“That was a really cool thing   being able to cover that and take a stance as a student,” she said. “We covered it not like The New York Times covered it, but we did cover it, and I think it’s what gave me a broader view of the world and made me focus on the world around me and politics more than I would have if I was just an average student and not doing The Gatepost.”

Sara Mulkeen

Class of 2010

Sara Mulkeen, FSU’s manager of digital communications and interactive media, and a news editor during the 2009-10 academic year, credits some of her technical expertise to the work she performed while at The Gatepost.    

While at the paper, Mulkeen said she was initially reluctant to place her stories on the layout software herself since she was “afraid of messing it up.” By the end of her time there, however, Mulkeen’s proficiency in Quark and Adobe InDesign impressed prospective employers.

“Learning Quark and learning InDesign, because they switched to InDesign my senior year, that was actually something I put on my resume and that was something almost every employer asked me about,” she said.

After graduating from FSU, Mulkeen worked as a content creator at two digital marketing agencies – first at an organization in Boston and then at one in Rhode Island. 

After she was laid off from her job in Rhode Island, Mulkeen dusted off her steno-pad and worked as an editor and reporter at The MetroWest Daily News.

And although she would have “stayed there forever,” when she saw FSU’s job listing for a web content coordinator, Mulkeen jumped on the opportunity.

“They wanted someone to be able to write for [the website] and develop content for it that would make it more engaging, and that just seemed really interesting to me. It seemed actually to pull together the weird set of skills I gained both through college and all my jobs I got after college,” she said.

Lauren Finnegan

Class of 2011

When Lauren Finnegan, editor-in-chief for the 2010-11 academic year, is face-to- face with senior colleagues at her job at Dell EMC, she isn’t intimidated. 

That’s because Finnegan has had experience dealing with people in positions of power, thanks in large part to her jobs as a reporter and editor, she said.    

“When I was at The Gatepost, I would go meet with Dale Hamel or the president or whoever it was. You just have this confidence that in the kind of industry that I’m in now, where a lot of people are more senior than me, and have a lot more experience, and titles mean everything, I definitely can hold my own in a conversation.”

Today, Finnegan works as a Product Marketing Manager at Dell EMC and is currently enrolled in Brandeis University’s master of science program with a focus in digital marketing and design.   

Although Finnegan isn’t actively working in journalism, she still applies the lessons she learned as a journalist in her current role. 

“You can’t really look at something and say it’s all positive. You have to see if there is anything we can improve upon or to ask the hard questions.” 

When looking back at her time at The Gatepost, Finnegan said she couldn’t help but notice how many friends she made she wouldn’t have otherwise. 

“I think that’s one of the things any editor or staff member would tell you – ‘You would never be friends with those people unless you met them through the newspaper,’” she said. “And I still talk to people from the newspaper. People were in my wedding from the newspaper.”

Additionally, she is still in contact with Gatepost Advisor Desmond McCarthy, whom she said she still talks to on a regular basis, either to catch up or to ask for job advice.

Linsday Chase

Class of 2011

Going into a regular Gatepost interview with FSU’s Chief Information Officer Patrick Laughran, Lindsay Chase, an associate editor during the 2010-11 academic year, had no idea she would be leaving with a reference that would help her obtain her first and only job after graduation.

“We were just sort of chatting before the interview and he asked me what I wanted to do after graduation, and this was [in] April of 2011, and I just sorted shrugged and said, ‘I have no idea.’”

Laughran offered to be a reference for her for a technology company he helped cofound and run: TechTarget.

In the six years she has worked at the company, Chase said she has been promoted multiple times. As the Assistant Director, Chase has a variety of roles, including managing a small group of people who copy edit TechTarget’s daily web content.

Chase said she wouldn’t have been able to find a job if weren’t for The Gatepost and its advisor.

“My whole resume was just Gatepost,” she said.

She added McCarthy “will do anything for anybody, which is probably one of his biggest strengths, but also probably one of his biggest flaws. He doesn’t get enough sleep,” she said.

Spencer Buell

Class of 2013

Looking back a few years after graduation,  Spencer Buell, editor-in-chief for both the 2011-12 and the 2012-13 academic years, said he sees The Gatepost as essential in teaching him “the basics of writing and journalism.

“One of the things that has been really helpful to me in my career is being mostly typo-free,” he said. “Oddly enough, the thing that was really useful to me was sitting around the table and doing edits the way that we used to do them because it’s just a good way to learn how to write sentences that don’t have any problems.”

As a digital news writer for Boston Magazine, Buell has never forgotten the lessons he learned during those late Thursday nights in the McCarthy Center. In fact, he puts them into practice almost every day.

And for Buell, The Gatepost is as legitimate as any local or national newspaper.

“You get to cover real issues, and you have a real responsibility to get it right, and that doesn’t change in the professional world,” he said. “It’s exactly the same, but instead of covering a college campus, you are covering a city, or a small town or whatever you are doing.”

Buell said, “The Gatepost has always been the little paper that could. It’s always managed to attract the most interesting, smartest people into one room and managed to put out a damn good newspaper.”

During his tenure, The Gatepost earned  five Region 1 Mark of Excellence awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Buell’s 2012 feature,“My Name is Owen: One transgender student’s journey into manhood,” won first place for feature writing.

Buell is “incredibly grateful” for Gatepost Advisor Desmond McCarthy and journalism professor Elizabeth Banks, who played big roles in his journalism career at FSU. 

When thinking of his most cherished Gatepost memories, Buell said they “all blend together. 

“It was just week after week of so much work. There was really so much passion in that room. People would put in dozens of hours to make sure that thing came out, and we did it because we really loved it. We cared about the paper. We cared about each other. And I’ve never really forgotten that feeling.”

He added, “A paper that’s been this good for this long isn’t going anywhere.”

Joe Kourieh

Class of 2015

Like Buell, whenever Joe Kourieh, an associate editor from 2012 to 2015, writes or edits most of his work, he can’t help but remember those late-night, caffeine-fueled copy-edit sessions at The Gatepost.    

“The important techniques and the important know-how gets drilled into your mind by the people you are learning from,” Kourieh said. “You kind of develop a voice in the back of your head that is Desmond or is Liz Banks. Their voices stick in the back of your head after you’ve done it enough. So it becomes impossible to gloss over anything that would compromise the quality of the work that you are in charge of.”

Upon reflection, Kourieh said his favorite Gatepost memories are mostly “the brain-dead moments of triumph when you finally finish the paper.

“We would work so hard and so late on it that the feeling of relief, and the feeling of success that you get when you do finally say, ‘It’s done’ and you have produced yet another top-notch publication, that’s unparalleled and that’s what you seek. It becomes addictive.”

It’s from those “brain dead moments that” you develop “friends for life,” Kourieh said.

For Kourieh, The Gatepost is “the best source of information” on campus.

He added, “Your only other source of information is word of mouth, hearsay, rumors and gossip. There’s plenty of ‘that’ kind of talk on a college campus, but our talk is not just people yapping. It’s backed-up by facts. It’s backed up by figures and it’s backed up by unparalleled access.”

When taking note of The Gatepost’s 85-year legacy, Kourieh said, “It’s important not to look at an anniversary as some kind of ending, but rather a call for action and a call for continuity. It’s important that the staff, the administration and the student body give due respect to the publication and do their part, whatever that part may be, to keep it going, to keep it accountable, and to keep the standard high.”      

Today, Kourieh works as a social media and PR specialist at The Warren Group, where he manages both their online and social media presence.    

Zachary Comeau

Class of 2012

Milford Daily News Reporter Zachary Comeau, an arts and features editor during the 2011-12 academic year, remembers his time at The Gatepost as being “a lot of work.

“It really slaps you in the face with how much work these kind of jobs are,” he said. “You put in hours and hours on Thursdays to put the paper out.”

Even with the stresses that came with working at the paper, Comeau is thankful for his time at The Gatepost, as it instilled in him a love for journalism and allowed him to break out of his shell.

“I was a shy high school kid, and here I am running all over campus asking people questions and bugging them for Campus Conversations,” he said.

For Comeau, The Gatepost’s role “is to tell the story you aren’t going to hear at the football house on Thursday night or in your dorm room while you are studying for finals. There’s a lot of stuff that happens at a college campus that people don’t know about, and that’s the nature of journalism.”

Cassie Russo

Class of 2014

Cassie Russo, a news editor during the 2013-14 academic year, said, “I learned more at The Gatepost than I did in most of my classes.”

Russo applies many of the skills she gained at The Gatepost at her social media and public relations job at Stratton Mountain, a ski resort in Vermont.   

“I have my AP Stylebook on my desk right now and I look at it not on a daily basis, but pretty [often],” she said.

Russo credits her internship at The MetroWest Daily News as the reason she was able to get her current job. And she credits being able to get that internship to her work at The Gatepost.

“I have my dream job right now, pretty much everything I wanted right out of college,” she said.

For Russo, The Gatepost’s longevity is due its “inviting” and “accepting” atmosphere for new, inexperienced writers.

“You can come in not knowing anything about journalism, and we’ll teach you and guide you along the way,” she said.   

Kaila Braley

Class of 2015

When Kaila Braley, the editor-in-chief for 2014-15 academic year, first thought about going into journalism, she was reluctant.

Because she was reserved and shy as a freshman, she didn’t know if she had the personality to be a journalist.   

When she really got invested in The Gatepost, however, Brailey’s timidness receded and her journalistic instincts kicked in, she said.

“By the time I was a senior, I was meeting frequently with the president of the college, with the police chief – things I would not have imagined myself doing as a freshman,” Braley said.

In addition to help “shaping” her character, Braley credits The Gatepost for giving her an extensive list of contacts.

Braley said Gatepost alum and former editor-in-chief Spencer Buell helped her get her current reporting job at The Marshfield Mariner. 

“He had an opening in his office and he suggested I apply and it turned out it was too far away, but they really liked me, so they recommended me for the  job I have now,” she said.

 She added, “The Gatepost is honestly the best part of my college experience.”

Sara Silvestro

Class of 2016

When Sara Silvestro, an associate editor for the fall semester of 2015, first stepped through the door of The Gatepost office, she was “a totally different person” than she is now, she said.

“I wasn’t as confident. I liked talking to people, and I liked saying hello, but I didn’t really establish the kind of person I was or how much I cared about the people around me. Coming back to The Gatepost reminds me of how far I’ve come, and how far I’ve grown,” she said.

Silvestro said being a journalist gave her “thicker skin” and a set of skills she actively uses in her job as a marketing assistant at Yale Appliance and Lighting.

“I feel like an editor most of time, because I have to edit those blogs, but first, I have to assign them. I have to come up with topics, talk to my sales people, and figure out what their customers are asking them. Then, I have to help them structure these topics and how we can lay it out to a successful blog that is read. So part of that that job is just like layout. It’s just like coming up with a good story.”

While Silvestro no longer sees her former Gatepost colleagues as often as she used to, she still considers them to be some of her closest friends. 

“I’m now 23 years old and trust me, I’m still hanging out with most of those Gateposters. You know, I’ve always looked for someone that was my clique, that [were] my group of friends, and I found it right here,” she said.

Brad Leuchte

Class of 2016

Brad Leuchte, a photos editor for the 2015-2016 academic year, said The Gatepost is as integral to the campus as “the bricks you walk on” and the buildings students enter every day.

Leuchte, now a video marketing associate at Yale Appliance and Lighting, said his experiences at The Gatepost have helped him understand the dynamics of working in a collaborative group setting.

Looking back at his time at The Gatepost, Leuchte said, “The people around you are really what make you what you are and make the experience what it is. I could have gone anywhere and been a part of any newspaper and taken photos and written some features, but The Gatepost – it’s going to sound cheesy – is really special because you feel like everyone is a family and is working toward the same goal. Everyone wants everyone else to accomplish something great.”

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