From ‘ragtag team’ to winning national awards: the Barometer’s groundbreaking achievements, evolution

Former Daily Barometer assistant director and ad manager, Kami Hammerschmith, shares memories of her experience with The Baro. Founded in 1896, The Daily Barometer has been operated by student journalists determined to report the stories that matter most to the Oregon State University community.

Sukhjot Sal, News Contributor

In The Daily Barometer’s 125 years of history, the newspaper has experienced and published groundbreaking events; from implementing historical changes in the newspaper structure to covering controversial stories that inspired change.

The Daily Barometer first began on March 16, 1896 as The College Barometer, making it the second oldest student medium on Oregon State University’s campus—the Beaver Yearbook started just two years before, in 1894. At this time, the College Barometer functioned more as a literary magazine than a newspaper.

Following the newspaper’s conception, it went through a series of changes as it adapted to the times and needs of the community, including the changing of its name from the College Barometer to The Daily Barometer.

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In 1907, The Daily Barometer became a weekly publication, and in 1923, it transitioned to being a daily newspaper.

The summer edition of The Barometer was added in 1970, and the Barometer website was introduced on March 16, 1996, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the paper.

According to former Barometer adviser Frank Ragulsky, who worked with the newspaper from 1982 to 2009, The Barometer was the first four-color college newspaper in the country.

The four-color process refers to publishing all photos in color rather than black and white. “We had a great printer in Albany and they wanted The Barometer to be a show piece for their business,” Ragulsky said. “They gave us a great price and they won the bid.”

Ragulsky said The Barometer was the envy of most college daily newspapers, and a showpiece of college media. To them, what made the newspaper groundbreaking was its exemplary reporting.

For instance, during Ragulsky’s time as Barometer advisor, The Barometer achieved one of the greatest feats in its history: winning Best-All Around Daily Student Newspaper from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2002, for content produced in 2001.

“Here’s what we did to help the paper succeed,” Ragulsky said. “We offered help anytime they asked for help and we let them go. Our only requirement was that they make sure they were accurate and responsible. I normally didn’t read stories or editorials prior to publication but this group asked me many times. I was even called at home late at night from editors or reporters seeking help.”

Ragulsky explained that they simply let the students do their work as they wanted to.

“We let them go because they were the best at their reporting,” Ragulsky said. “Mind you, The Barometer was competing with the best in the nation—The Daily Texan, The University of Georgia Red and Black, and the Minnesota Daily, among others.”

Troy Foster was part of the award-winning Barometer team, leading the staff as editor-in- chief from 2000 to 2001 before handing over the position to Scott Johnson four months into 2001.

For Foster, the award was a total team effort.

“One of the main things we did around that time I felt really took the paper to the next level was a major redesign of its appearance,” Foster said. “We did it during the final few weeks of summer 2000 between summer school and the start of fall term when the campus was mostly empty. It was a labor of love. Scott and I spent weeks on it. Unpaid.”

Foster said the redesigned website stuck around 10 to 15 years after they all left, which made him very proud. According to Foster, parts of The Barometer’s current website design still reflects the one they created.

“At the time our web presence was not a priority, so Scott and I felt the best thing to do to improve the paper’s reputation was give it a cutting edge new look,” Foster said. “I felt it was the sharpest-looking student newspaper in the country. Maybe I was right.”

For Foster, the experience of working for the Barometer was very real to him, and he said he valued the experience more than any internship he was fortunate to have.

“Oregon State had lost its journalism program more than a decade before the people from my era showed up at the university,” Foster said.

When Foster was editor-in-chief, he said he was obsessed with beating The Daily Emerald for the state’s top award as the best college newspaper in Oregon.

“They had cleaned our clock every year since the journalism degree died,” Foster said. “We were a ragtag group of non-journalism majors at The Barometer and we fed off each other’s drive and ambition. We ended up reaching the main goal, which was taking the top award in the state for the 2000 to 2001 school year. That made me very proud.”

That’s when the newspaper went on to win the national award for the 2001 calendar year. “In the process of obsessing over being No. 1 in the state, we ended up putting out a hell of a good paper,” Foster said. “We were operating as if we were a real paper, not a pretend paper made by school kids. We started having daily news budget meetings, where the different editors would lobby for certain stories to be on the front page.”

Like Foster, Ragulsky attributed The Barometer’s win to the dynamic crew who were on the Barometer staff at the time.

“We didn’t have a major but the students were self taught,” Ragulsky said, referring to the fact that OSU did not have a journalism department at the time. “All of the departments were staffed by strong staff, from photo, news, sports, design and copy editing to proofreading.”

Ragulsky added that Barometer staff also included a team of students who sold advertisements because the newspaper was not funded by direct student fee money.

Kami Hammerschmith, who was assistant director of Orange Media Network from 1995 to 2016, also noted that The Barometer had been completely self-supporting from advertising revenue.

“However, like its commercial counterparts, when the economy took a downturn and budgets tightened our advertising, revenue declined and we had to start asking for student fee support in 2009,” Hammerschmith said.

There are myriad examples of stories published by The Barometer that, through the publishing of something revealing or controversial, have served as valu- able lessons for both the media and the wider OSU community.

According to Hammerschmith, one of the most controversial stories was called ‘Blackout Reser.’

“In fall 2007 the newspaper published an image on the front page of a man wearing black face paint encouraging fans to wear black to the weekend’s home football game,” Hammerschmith said.

Hammerschmith said the image was reminiscent of the minstrel era, when primarily white actors would use Black-face in racist comedy routines and skits in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“The OSU community was offended by the image and upset that The Daily Barometer chose to run it,” Hammerschmith said. “The image had the student in black face paint and what looked like an afro wig. It resulted in community forums sponsored by the then Office of Community and Diversity. There were many columns in the paper discussing the issue. Some students, faculty, staff and community members peacefully protested outside the stadium before a later football game.”

Initially The Barometer staff defended their right to print the image, Hammerschmith said. “There was a lot of discussion and lessons to be learned,” Hammerschmith said. “Ultimately, recommendations for staff diversity training came out of it. There were requirements that staff members have taken at least one Difference Power and Discrimination course and the department began hosting diversity presentations for staff.”

From former Barometer editor-in-chief Marcus Trinidad’s column in 2017 that urged OSU to rename buildings named after alleged racists, to the reporting of historic Vietnam protests and the origins of Black Student Union, The Barometer has evolved with the times to report on current events efficiently.

Throughout its long history, The Barometer staff has evolved and achieved milestones, as well.

According to Hammerschmith, Pat Glenn, later Pat Hagood, was the first woman editor of The Barometer campus newspaper, selected in 1944.

“She graduated from Oregon State in 1945 in Home Economics Education and served as a reporter and technical writer for the OSU and Washington State University news bureau and with several Washington newspapers,” Hammerschmith said.

Ragulsky also commented on this turning point, explaining that before 1944, women had a 9:30 p.m. curfew and had to report to their dorms at that time.

“The paper was not usually done by 9:30 p.m.,” Ragulsky pointed out. “So the reason it was in 1944 was because most men were fighting in World War II. Too few men working on The Barometer.”

Recent breakthroughs in The Barometer staff—such as the first editor who was a person of color—are more difficult to track.

Public Services Archivist Rachel Lilley, who works in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at OSU noted that while it’s possible an OSU publication may have specifically mentioned the first person of color serving as editor, the further back in time you go, the less likely it is that this milestone would be discussed or pointed out.

Additionally, Natalia Fernández, SCARC’s interim director and curator of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and Oregon State Queer Archives, explained that this kind of research can be challenging, and in some ways problematic—almost like engaging in racial profiling, unless the researcher has a full name, date range or time period to investigate with.

However, senior faculty research assistant with SCARC, Chris Petersen, provided insight into the matter.

“The first person of color to serve as editor [may have been] Joy Estimada, whom I knew tangentially,” Petersen said. “She was on the [Barometer] staff in late ‘90s and served as editor from ‘98 to ‘99.”