Centennial Edition: 1990s

By Jeffrey Ihaza

The Pitt News might be a college paper, but for Brett Taylor — the 1998 news editor who now… The Pitt News might be a college paper, but for Brett Taylor — the 1998 news editor who now works at The Wall Street Journal — it was a perfect reflection of his future work environment.

“It’s a lot like working in the newsroom at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. You could just be sitting in an office and yell across the room an idea for a story and people would be ready to collaborate,” Taylor said.

Just before Taylor’s tenure as news editor, the paper began publishing five times a week — an entertainment magazine, Impulse, was given the Friday slot. A website was created with the address www.pitt.edu/~pittnews. Soon, the staff was learning a skill that’s become invaluable in journalism: how to maintain a website.

Taylor said the staff benefited from having a few guys who could create professional websites. The Pitt News site was “on par with the Post-Gazette.  At the time, our readership was the largest in the city and our website showed that,” he said.

Though the office had the benefit of the Internet, there were only two “connected” computers and so information was hardly at the staff’s fingertips. Mark Gordon, the 1995 news editor, explained that, for the most part, stories still had to be done the old-fashioned way.

“Back then, we had to go out and find the story,” said Gordon, who is currently the managing editor of Gulf Coast Business Review.

Gordon had to pull many levers to get all the information possible for a piece. During his time as news editor, for instance, a story broke about an incident that took place at a party. An Oct. 17, 1994, article read: “A Pitt student, 19, has told police that she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party by a gang of males who charged into the bathroom when she was involved in intimate relations with another man.”

This was an unusually troublesome piece, and when Gordon found the police report, the first line read simply “While at frat party, girl was assaulted.” The next four lines were blanketed with white out. Eventually, however, Gordon managed to establish the details.

“I eventually developed a relationship with the new police chief and six months later was able to get him to speak on the record,” Gordon said.

During the latter half of the decade, The Pitt News continued uncovering scandals. Anthony Breznican, the editor in chief from 1997-98, hit on a huge story for the paper when he found that Student Government Board members had embezzled funds through dummy student groups and misappropriated the general student activity fund.

“It was a classic journalism story — there was a whistle blower,” said Breznican, who currently works for USA Today. “A student on SGB, who knew what was going on, gathered up a bunch of documents. He walked into our office and asked to speak to someone.”

Taylor recalled another tense incident. A Pitt police officer and reporter got into a dispute that ended with an officer throwing away the reporter’s notes, and then denying he did so.

Both Taylor and Gordon cite the paper as the place where they built their journalistic foundations.

“It taught me a lot about deadlines and interviews. Basically, The Pitt News was the bedrock of my career,” Taylor said.

The Pitt News of the ’90s was characterized by expansion — expansion to five print issues per week and to the Internet. During this time, the paper had a wide news focus — a story about Clinton’s 1992 election, for instance, was written by a Pitt News reporter. And in sports, like every newspaper, The Pitt News was enthralled by the O. J. Simpson debacle.

Even the University was conscious of the changing times, taking out a full-page ad in the paper to advise students what to do in the event of a Y2K technological catastrophe.

“The University has been addressing the Year 2000 problem since 1995,” the ad consoled students. Thankfully, The Pitt News was equally prepared for a new decade.

Highlights:

Feb. 6, 1991: The Big East launches its football network

Sept. 3, 1992: Ribbon-cutting at new Sutherland Hall dorm

Dec. 9, 1993: Students arrested after six-hour sit-in in chancellor’s office in debate over telescope project

Sept. 6, 1994: Pitt honors Tony Dorsett for his entry into Hall of Fame

June 7, 1995: Nordenberg, former law school dean, named interim president as O’Connor leaves

April 10, 1997: Salman Rushdie makes surprise appearance at Pitt, out of hiding

Sept. 15, 1997: SGB accused of misusing power, entire allocations committee resigns

Sept. 17, 1998: Pitt/PSU game returns after seven years (Pitt lost)

Nov. 16, 1999: Plans finalized for Petersen Events Center

News Editor Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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