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The Branding Iron

Some of my happiest moments at the University of Wyoming were those moments when I was working for The Branding Iron—the student newspaper in Laramie.

Certainly the BI—as it was known—was not a major newspaper. Usually it had between 8 and 12 pages with occasional issues that would weigh you down with 36 pages just before major sporting events. Maybe it got bigger than that once or twice a year—but I doubt it—unless you counted the bizarre Greek Inserts that appeared occasionally to promote some “worthwhile” cause.

The BI’s competitive advantage was that it was free and that the quality of its writing was, in general, better than that of the local rag, the Laramie Daily Boomerang. (And no, I am not making that name up.)

From my perspective, it was a fun part time job that let me meet quite a few people around campus and do things that I wouldn’t have other wise done—like meet the university’s president, attend boring student government meetings, and watch over the death of the university’s baseball team (it was expensive, the local weather uncooperative, and Title IX gender equity is one heck of a law—imagine having to provide equal opportunities to women—the nerve of Congress!).

Now that I am an alumnus, I rely on the BI to keep me up to date on the going ons back on campus.

Unfortunately the BI is in a sad state: For a long time it didn’t even have a website.

Now I know that the BI had a website back in October 1998. It was just after I’d graduated, and it was in the online BI that I read about a UW student being murdered. They hadn’t specified why, but it was shortly thereafter that it exploded in the national news: Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay.

At the time the BI fulfilled an important role for me (and a lot of other people) by giving me the local perspective on what had rapidly become a global media circus.

The website vanished after that, and like my other search, occasionally I searched for the BI over the last several years. The closest I could get was the “corporate” website for the Student Publications division which revealed some disturbing facts—like the fact that one of the professional staff members who was hired shortly before I graduated is still in the same position today. I suspect this is one reason that the BI has gone nowhere: sometimes turnover in the professional staff positions is a good thing.

Sadly, Wyoming was the only non-militaristic member of the Mountain West without an online student newspaper: BYU, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, and TCU all manage to have one. I can forgive the Air Force Academy for not having one: they operate under substantially different rules from every other college and university in the US: they have a base newspaper, with the exceptions of West Point and Navy.

Notice though that it is in the past tense—because something has opened up—a glimmer of hope. For a couple of months this fall they were posting PDFs of the printed newspaper online. Wonderful because they finally got off their asses and did something; not so wonderful because its in a nasty to read online format. Bad because it stopped.

The people running the BI need to get their asses in gear and do something. The University of Wyoming’s current tag line is “New Thinking.” Online newspapers—professional or student—are no longer new. They’re a no brainer.

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