Centennial Edition: 1980s

By Tony Jovenitti

While Thomas Starzl was innovating organ transplants at UPMC, The Pitt News was still using a… While Thomas Starzl was innovating organ transplants at UPMC, The Pitt News was still using a typesetter and paste-up boards to publish a paper three times a week.

The paper went through some changes during the ’80s, including a renovation of the office — in conjunction with renovation of the entire William Pitt Union — and the switch from publishing three days a week to four. But one thing that stayed constant was the now-primitive way of putting together the paper.

Gabrielle Paese, a 1985 Pitt graduate who is now an editor with ESPN, said that it took all of the paper’s employees to put it together at night.

Everyone, not just the editors, would put the paper together on big paste-up boards, and they used a typesetter called the Varityper.

“Talk about a dinosaur,” Paese said.

“At the end of the night, we would carry the boards to a printer in South Oakland,” she said. “We had to literally walk it from the office down past The O, and to South Oakland where they would print it for us.”

In December 1984, tragedy struck South Oakland.

“Two Pitt students were wounded Dec. 19 when their Semple Street apartment building was sprayed with bullets from a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle,” The Pitt News said in its Jan. 9, 1985, edition. “Police were also fired upon as they arrived at the scene.”

According to The Pitt News, the incident was triggered by a domestic dispute, and Richard Marchese Jr. shot at and wounded Jeffrey Nee, an engineering student, and Doug McGinnis, of the School of Arts and Sciences.

The students recovered, and there was an interesting development when police transferred Marchese to the Allegheny County Jail.

“As police escorted Marchese into the jail, Marchese removed his pants and exposed his buttocks to the reporters and photographers gathered there,” the article said.

Toward the end of the decade, the Pitt community started to tackle other tough issues, such as gay rights. In the Sept. 21, 1989, edition, The Pitt News ran a feature on the front page about how the Gay and Lesbian Alliance was fighting for rights.

The paper quoted Mark Smith, president of GALA, about his struggles.

“Almost everyone is touched by and is close to a gay or lesbian person in their lives, whether they know it or not. It upsets me when students just assume that the people they associate with are straight,” Smith said.

Some other exciting events The Pitt News covered included Dan Marino returning Pitt football to its glory years, Starzl performing liver transplants and Jerome Lane shattering the backboard in what is considered the best dunk in college basketball history.

Just like it is today, The Pitt News was a starting point for students interested in careers in journalism.

Paese covered some of Pitt’s smaller sports, including gymnastics, swimming and diving for the paper. Twenty-five years later, she is doing the same thing.

“I guess it was a good career move that I followed the lesser sports,” she said. “I subsequently made myself a little niche covering tae kwon do, tennis and sports like that.”

She worked for the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico for 20 years, where she covered a number of high-profile events, including the World Series, the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Now, she is the general sports editor for ESPN, where she edits all the content on ESPN.com for sports like tennis, golf and motorsports.

She came to Pitt partly because her brother was here, and also because of the football team, which featured greats like Marino and head coach Jackie Sherrill.

But after her freshman year, when Pitt won the Sugar Bowl, she said the team’s success faded.

She never covered football for The Pitt News. She “was strictly a fan.”

But she wasn’t a fan of the team’s antics in the dorm.

“The football players ran Brackenridge Hall,” said Paese, who was a resident assistant in Brackenridge. “On weekends, they would break the elevators, throw cans of Nutrament — a precursor to protein drinks — on the floor and once they even all shaved their heads in the hallway of the second floor and left all the hair there.”

Since that time, the technology has changed dramatically.

The renovation of The Pitt News offices helped the paper prepare to use that new technology in the future. Even though the Union had been a Pitt building for nearly 30 years, all of the original walls from the Schenley Hotel were still in place.

Maria Sciullo — a 1980 Pitt graduate and former Pitt News sports editor — said that the paper’s office was full of quirky little nooks and small rooms.

“You could really tell it used to be a hotel,” said Sciullo, who is now a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There were a lot of creepy, tiny little rooms that used to be closets or bathrooms.”

So in the summer of 1983, the Union was converted into open offices, rather than just hotel rooms used as offices.

“There were still some odd nooks and crannies,” said Paese, who worked in the renovated offices.

Paese remembered taking a mandatory computer class at Pitt and being very confused by the new language she had to learn.

“All the ‘ifs’ and ‘thens’ were tough to understand, because nobody had their own computer back then,” she said.

In the same 1985 edition where the shooting-spree story ran on the front page, The Pitt News ran a story called

“Computer boom” about how “CMU’s recently received contract with the U.S. Defense Department is expected to create many new jobs.”

The ’90s would be the decade where The Pitt News shifted to digital production, but the transformations in the ’80s paved the way for the technological future.

Additional headlines include:

Nov. 24, 1980: 7-Eleven opens on Forbes Avenue.

No. 20, 1981: Pitt joins the Big East in basketball.

Sept. 19, 1983: A computer supply store opens in Oakland.

Oct. 7, 1983: WPTS receives FM status.

Feb. 3, 1984: The Pitt News runs a front- page story on “A new way to bank” —– ATM machines.

Sept. 7, 1984: Joe Luxbacher named men’s soccer coach.

Sept. 26, 1988: Hysterical headline typo —– “University tries to deal with forein T.A. linguistic problems”