What happens when you force college journalists to publish a newspaper with no computers?

Well, first they freak out. Then they get their hands dirty.

They write stories on manual typewriters and copyedit them in pencil. They shoot with film cameras and process the prints in a makeshift darkroom. They lay it all out with pica poles and proportion wheels. They paste it all up with X-Acto knives and rubber cement.

And they love it.

At least, that’s what’s happening right now at Florida Atlantic University. The student reporters, editors, photographers, and designers have turned off the newsroom iMacs and stowed the digital cameras – and they’re publishing their final issue of the summer on machinery that’s older than they are. A few of them have even dressed the part. Well, in their warped interpretation of ’70s and ’80s fashion…

The obvious question, and one I’ve been asked out of both curiosity and contempt, is: Why go backward? Why paste up when you can paginate? Why suffer when you can surf?

Or as one journalism professor sneered at me on a listserv…

What does it prove? What does it solve? Does it improve journalism? This is just a bad idea. But apparently some old folks can throw some $$$ at it, so all is good.

He’s half right: The Society of Professional Journalists threw some money at me, and we’re all having a good time.

It’s the debut of a new program about old-school journalism called
All On Paper. I replied to the pessimistic prof with some questions of my own…

1. J-schools teach History of Journalism, so why not live it for a couple weeks?
2. These days, we obsess about technology and don’t always focus on the old-fashioned skills of writing, reporting, shooting, and designing. Remove today’s tech, and guess what’s left?
3. For Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with having a little fun?

Or as editor-in-chief Gideon Grudo told me…

Retyping a draft for the third time because you can’t get past the first sentence without screwing it up is annoying. And today one of the ribbons on a typewriter stopped working. But no one has left or gotten antsy. We’re all working together. If this momentum continues, imagine what we can accomplish when our iMacs, HD cameras, and Google are given back to us. I think this project has single-handedly exposed us to the power of what we’ve had all along – and what we’ve completely taken for granted.

By the end of the week, the students will wrap up their computer-less issue. But right now, they need your help. They’ve designed two covers – one serious and one amusing – and they’re torn. Which should they run? Here they are (click to embiggen)…

Have a preference? Leave a comment. The staff will meet Friday afternoon to choose, and your persuasive remarks will be read aloud.

Next week, I’ll show you the entire issue, share the gritty details – and explain how you can borrow our ancient equipment so you can do All On Paper all by yourself.