Russell Kohr sat at Northwestern’s Dyche Stadium, now Ryan Field, and watched the Fourth of July fireworks while at the Medill cherub program in 1937.
“They were the most beautiful I have ever seen,” Kohr typed in his diary. “They shot off six or more skyrockets at a time, and had huge army searchlights playing different colored lights up into the sky.”
Kohr’s diary, a record of his four weeks at the program, is one of the oldest documents in the cherub archives.
Journalism has changed since 1937. Rupert Murdoch has replaced William Randolph Hearst as a media mogul and front pages no longer have 12 to 14 stories. But the fundamentals of writing taught at Medill cherubs have mainly stayed the same, expanding to include multimedia, TV broadcasting and social media classes.
“Journalism is a business, not a romance, not glamorous, not literary,” Kohr typed in the diary after an evening lecture June 24, 1937, with an editor at Evanston News Index. “Newspaper writing is not literary. Briefness and conciseness is the word today because (a) people want it, and (b) newsprint is going up.”
In a lead writing class with one of the instructors, Kohr learned to “keep sentences short” and not to include time in the first sentence unless the story warrants it. He wrote news stories from facts dictated by instructors, critiqued pictures and discussed how to write good editorials.
In 2016, 79 years later, cherubs spent Sunday nights critiquing photos they took throughout the week and writing editorials, breaking news and feature stories after various classes with instructors.
“It is shocking how our descriptive writing seminar is so similar to a 1937 class,” Nora Crumley said. “[Instructor] John Kupetz told us we should never use adverbs and in Russell’s journal he underlines ‘be definite’ and to not use adverbs, which is a message that is mirrored more than 70 years later.”
In addition to learning newswriting, the 1937 cherubs also discussed in lectures how their world would change in the next few years. A New York Times writer told the 1937 cherubs how he foresaw a war coming between either classes or cultures. Five years later, after graduating from Northwestern with Honors, Kohr served as a communications and anti-submarine officer in World War II.
When he returned, he joined the Northwestern admissions department and received the Alumni Merit Award in 1971. Kohr died at 83 in 2003, but his diary will remain in the program’s archives.