MSUM’s first student newspaper shut down for swearing and ‘mischief making’

As Minnesota State University Moorhead celebrates more than 50 years of The Advocate, a look back at its predecessor that ruffled more than a few feathers.

Staff of the independent student paper "The Mystic" at work, Oct, 1969. From left Patty Storeim, Fergus Falls; Editor Dave Brawthen, California, and Dorothy Schultz, Fargo
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MOORHEAD – American student journalists of the late 1960s were an entirely different breed - communicators created from cultural unrest. Surrounded by protests over the Vietnam War, women’s rights, and racial unrest, it was probably challenging just to write about who was on the homecoming court.

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A modern-day "pen is mightier than the sword" where journalists challenged the status quo, rocking the boat like a dinghy in a hurricane.

And student newspapers in Fargo-Moorhead were right in the eye of the storm. Writer Rob Deckert summed up the new brand of journalism in a 1971 Forum story.

“Some called it a new awareness, some called it radicalism, some called it obnoxious arrogance. It generally meant one thing: trouble.”

Nowhere did this ring more true than on the campus of what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead, where “stop the presses” almost meant forever.


A ground-breaking paper

In 1924, Minnesota State Teacher’s College created what would become the only college newspaper that was completely student written, edited, and printed on campus. Originally called The Bulletin, it would evolve into The Western MiSTiC and later just The MiSTiC. (The M, S, T and C are capitalized to stand for Minnesota State Teacher’s College.”)

From The Forum, Nov. 27, 1949. "From the slot of the copydesk in the MiSTiC office, editor Bill Hannaher, Moorhead, issues instructions to staff members seated around him. From left to right, they include Mary Ann Heder, Hoople, N.D.; associate editor, Garth Stouffer, Winnipeg; circulation manager, Helen Pfeilsticker and James Rosenber, Fargo, reporters. Dick E. Adams, in his first year as MiSTiC adviser, watches from the left.
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In 1949, the school marked the 25th anniversary of the publication with a full-page spread in The Forum.

But 20 years later, the celebrations (at what had become Moorhead State College) had turned into conflict. During his first address to students in the fall of 1968, new president Roland Dille criticized the MiSTiC for inaccurate reporting and the use of “four-letter words.” The comments came after the paper put the blame on Dille for the school not rehiring a popular humanities professor who had been active in military draft counseling. Dille had said the decision was based upon academic credentials.

“Mischief Making”

The situation escalated in 1969, when the MiSTiC chose to publish excerpts from two articles that had been banned for publication in the college literary magazine Convivio.

President Dille called it “mischief making.” He particularly objected to one of the four-letter words used, slang for a part of the female anatomy. There were also other words and expressions not usually seen in newspapers. On May 2nd, Dille suspended the newspaper until he said, "my confidence can be restored in it."

In the following days, some students wore white armbands in protest of Dille’s action and blue armbands in support of starting an independent paper free of the administration’s control.

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The Mystic

One week later, the staff of the MiSTiC published The Mystic, a paper by students for students paid for without college funds. It operated on a shoestring budget out of a garage, as the paper was no longer able to operate on campus or use campus facilities.


For his part, Dille applauded the effort and said giving sole control of the paper to the students would be a great learning experience.

The new publication received some help from fellow student journalists at the University of North Dakota. The Dakota Student editor (and later long-term columnist at the Grand Forks Herald) Chuck Haga gave one page of the UND paper to the staff of The Mystic to tell their side of the story. That issue of The Dakota Student was also distributed at the MSC campus.

The Mystic started off strong, but eventually wasn’t able to attract as many advertisers as it needed or sell as many copies as they would have liked. The paper folded. Two other independent papers, Moorhead Independent News and the tri-college venture The Paper also folded. But the presses would start up at MSC soon.

The Advocate

In September of 1971, for the first time in more than two years, Moorhead State College published an on-campus student subsidized newspaper, with Vol. 1, No. 1 of The Advocate.

The paper was a cooperative experiment by the Student Senate, college administration, and the mass communications Department.

Those involved said they were going into the new paper with the idea that it would be permanent.

Dille said he wanted the paper to serve both faculty and students and be more than a “bulletin board.”

He said there would be opinions, “but probably two or three shades less than before.”


Dr. Charles E.P. Simmons, the administration’s representative on the creation of the paper said the survival of The Advocate was based on one thing.

“The students must like the paper,” he said.

As former staffers gather this weekend to remember the creation of The Advocate after years of chaos, it's pretty clear the experiment worked. After more than 50 years and countless lessons learned, "The Advocate" appears to be doing something right.

Next week: A closer look at how student papers at North Dakota State University and Concordia College were fighting their own battles over drugs, sex and censorship.

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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