Living a Legacy
Three generations personify journalism’s changes, and challenges
Images from the life and times of a family steeped in BU journalism are in the slide show above.
At family gatherings I hear stories of how Harry Agganis (SED’54) told my grandmother she had nice legs or how my father was trapped for days in Myles Standish Hall without electricity during the Blizzard of ’78.
In the depths of Mugar Library, my grandmother’s and father’s yellowing clips awaited me like buried treasure. As I write my way through college, I wonder what legacy I might leave here as the third Webster generation to slave for a newspaper at Boston University.
My grandmother, Gloria Mander Webster (CGS’51, COM’53), has always been good with words; she crushes competitors in Boggle and can complete a crossword puzzle in less than an hour.
Her love of words started 60 years ago, when she applied to college to study journalism. Her father insisted that she get a higher education, an opportunity he never had.
“I went to school not long after World War II, and because of the G.I. Bill there were men who seemed old to me in my class,” she says. “My generation was very serious about getting an education.”
In the early 1950s, BU was primarily a commuter school. Gloria’s father wanted to keep a watchful eye on his oldest daughter, so she lived at home; for four years she took the commuter rail back and forth from Medford every day. Women were not permitted to wear pants, except for one day during a frigid snowstorm. Of 35 in her graduating class majoring in journalism, 7 were women. Earning credibility as a female journalist was not easy.
A contemporary, Barbara Byers (CGS’50, COM’52), was a sportswriter for the BU News; she used the pseudonym “Bobbie” so no one would know she was a woman. Her peers could relate.
“For the first fire story I had, I walked into the station and was very nervous. They said they had never talked to a woman reporter before,” Gloria says. “Turns out, my sex worked in my favor, and they gave me great stories.”
The BU News was a student-run paper funded by the University, predating the Daily Free Press. During the 1950s, most advertisements were for cigarettes, pages were created by hand, and a hot type machine would cast each sentence into a block of metal to be laid on the printing press. As a copy editor in 1953, Gloria learned how to edit copy upside down and backwards — that’s how the hot type machine produced it, so it would print properly on the page. The position paid the entire $550 tuition senior year.
“To this day I can read upside down pretty well,” Gloria says.
Her position at the BU News opened doors. She interviewed celebrities like Red Sox first baseman Agganis and composer Igor Stravinsky, who visited campus to conduct music for a play.
When Gloria graduated from BU in 1953, she left with a Scarlet Key Award, a Who’s Who Award, and a journalism degree. That earned her a reporting job that paid $45 a week, less than her father’s secretary (who never attended college) made.
In her footsteps came my father, Steve Webster (CFA’78). In 1974, he entered the University, experiencing the dorm life his mother never knew. Danielsen was a new dorm, and his roommate had a Grateful Dead poster tacked to the wall. The Vietnam War was ending; the undergraduate mindset was shifting.
“Before our time there was an emphasis on changing the administration; if you weren’t part of the solution you were part of the problem,” he says. “We were the ‘me’ generation. What can everyone do for me?”
When my father joined the BU journalism world in 1977, nearly every issue of the Daily Free Press had a story about teachers or students protesting against John Silber, the University’s president. Dad looked to Silber as a voice of reason and authority, although many of his peers and professors did not.
During junior and senior years, he focused his graphic design talents on the Freep as art director. He drew many advertisements by hand and spent late nights at the office laying out pages. Each story was pasted up on a board, photographed, and taken to the printer by the end of the night.
“Things would go wrong, the Photostat camera would break down at the last minute, it was nuts,” he says. “At one in the morning I’d be walking home thinking about the four-hour drawing class and four-hour painting class I had, starting at 8 a.m.” By the time the paper arrived at his dorm the next morning, the issue looked like old news.
Working as production manager on a student-created magazine called Common-wealth during senior year also proved a valuable lesson in responsibility and deadlines.
After shutting themselves in an office on Bay State Road for an entire weekend, with only catnaps on the couch, the Common-wealth staff produced 48 pages covering student life in Boston, movie reviews, current events, and politics. The finished product was distributed to BU and surrounding colleges.
Now a freelance creative director, Steve creates graphics for Web, video, and print for companies like Hasbro. During his time at BU, he worked with future Pulitzer Prize winners and renowned photographers such as John Tlumacki (COM’78) and Ken Glass (COM’81). “At the time, they were students, but now they are out in the world and you realize how talented they are down the road,” he says.
Now I know why my father gives me a knowing look when I tell him what hour I returned home from the office after working on a piece. Now I understand why my grandmother doesn’t tease me about the voice recorder I carry around in my purse.
Perhaps someday someone from another Webster generation will look back at my Freep clips or my work for BU Today and make a family connection. Perhaps that Webster also will come to appreciate what has changed, and what has remained constant, at the University and in Boston. I hope so, and this fall, the family has doubled the chances: my brother Doug (ENG’13) is a BU freshman, with a legacy scholarship.
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Anna Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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