Paper Mill: Louis Fowler’s time in the Oklahoman’s “Newsroom 101” program

By my sophomore semester at the Classen School of Advanced Studies, I had begun to make a name for myself locally with the publication of my self-produced magazine – Damaged. It had raised such a ruckus that my videography teacher, the late Kathianne Osburn, thought I’d be a great candidate for the Newsroom 101 program.

In that nearly-forgotten year of 1996, I was a believer in the fourth estate and the information they provided, naïve to the conglomerates that really run newspapers. The Oklahoman was the local news outlet that dutifully sponsored this student-heavy foray into journalism, one that I would spend the next couple of years immersed in.

It took up our Saturday mornings for three months; I attended with my not-so-secret crush, an out-of-reach girl that was bathed in the pleasurable scent of cheap cigarettes and expensive perfume. Every weekend we’d drive to the former OPUBCO building on the Broadway Extension—usually stopping at a low-rent convenience store nearby for crispitos and smokes—and then met with our sponsors before breaking off into teams.

Our instructors, by the way, were the all-star Oklahoman staff of the nineties, including Brian Brus, Sandi Davis and, of course, Steve Lackmeyer. Working within a program entitled “Print Journalism: Principles and Practices,” at the end of the course this group of teenage reporters from all over Oklahoma City produced a tabloid-sized, eight-page newspaper; one was entitled “Within Reach” while, the next year, it was called “What Time is It?”

As you could guess, I vocally disliked both of these trite titles.

Filled with the usual teen-centric pieces about school security, dress code violations, and profiles of winning sportsmen, there were also surprisingly hard-hitting articles about racial prejudice in schools, the issues with redistricting and a particularly pointed op-ed entitled “Safest Sex No Sex for Teens,” which I think most of learned wasn’t very true.

Still, I was able to selfishly fill the papers with many of my own interests, including profiles on young filmmakers, reviews of Desperado and Suspiria, and a decent article about my magazine and other zines like Hitch, Psychotronic and Factsheet 5, which sold me many copies of my then current issue throughout the district, earning many readers for years to come.

By the end of the program we had earned a certificate of achievement, but I also gained a new group of friends—both personal and professional—a few that I still talk to today, and a few I miss sometimes if I think about it. It was thirteen weeks of crash-course journalism, one that I wonder if the Oklahoman still does…probably not, right?

And while I know I carried that adolescent know-it-all attitude with me all throughout the course, I do feel like it was a well-meaning and inspirational-enough program that kept me on the (somewhat) straight and narrow, even if we usually arrived a few minutes late with the unforgettable smell of GPCs on our hair and nails.

They did spell my name wrong though.

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.