A Note from Bonnie Bucqueroux
One of my mentors passed away yesterday. Bonnie Bucqueroux was the creator of SpartanEdge.com, Michigan State University’s first online campus news website. I joined SpartanEdge when I was 18 years old, a freshman in college still using my Livejournal to detail the reasons I wanted to marry Mr. Darcy. Bonnie was my JRN 108 instructor, and she encouraged me to write for a blog that would eventually become The Spartan Sweetheart.
I would eventually become Editor-in-Chief of SpartanEdge. During my involvement with our publication, I faced a lot of backlash, not only from other students/faculty, but from other news organizations and even other adults in the industry. I once sat in a conference room on a tour of a Detroit publication (I’d name names if I could remember but I honestly don’t) where I was told “blogs would never amount to anything” and that online journalism was a joke. Not one of my classmates nor my instructor stepped up to defend me.
Bonnie believed in us from the beginning. There was never an idea too ridiculous for her. She truly believed that any and every student could change the world. I loved hearing the stories of her amazing life (does anyone remember the full version of her encounter with RuPaul?) and even though her bold statements about the future of journalism terrified me, as my friend Laura Panjwani said, everything she was saying was absolutely true.
Bonnie helped give me the voice that started with The Spartan Sweetheart and currently lives on stage in my work with Story League. She instilled in me the pioneering spirit to try new things, to fight the man, and to keep affecting positive change no matter how rocky the road ahead may be. She knew online journalism was the future, and ten years later, it’s hard to believe there was a time when others had doubts.
Going through my college memorabilia, I found this email I printed out and saved. Bonnie wrote this to the members of SpartanEdge in probably late 2006 or early 2007. I always knew it was important. I never knew how important until yesterday. The full text of her message is below. I hope those who knew her will enjoy reading it, and I hope that we will all continue to inspire change using the values she taught us. May the spirit of Bonnie Bucqueroux live on in all of us.
I spent yesterday at the faculty retreat where SpartanEdge was held up as the example of where journalism is headed. The professors there were unanimous in their praise for all the hard work you have put in and the innovations in online journalism you are exploring. Your example has also persuaded them to revisit the prevailing wisdom that skills classes like JRN 200 must occur later, at the sophomore and sometimes even the junior level. The excellence of your writing, photography, videography and interactivity have inspired discussion of developing classes at the freshmen level where students can experiment with learning multimedia skills.
For a publication that is not yet a year old, you have succeeded in providing a concrete example of what can be done. By doing so, you have had an impact on what will happen in the future.
A special vote of thanks goes to Alex, Rachel, Courtney, Sean, Andy, Diane, Mitra, Kara, Audrey, David (Dowgiello), Will and John (Hudson) who have all been with us since last semester. For those of you who don’t know, the fact that the publication exists at all borders on the miraculous. Could a group comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores actually produce an online, multimedia publication each week?
I remember being so thrilled with the initial effort that went live on January 16 that I could hardly wait to get the word out to traditional journalism organizations. So I posted notices on Investigative Reporters and Editors, Newsroom, Editor and publisher. I expected to harvest praise to send to the group that had put together the first issue.
What we got instead was a tsunami of negativity. Many posters focused on The Spartanette and her blog on Bumpernuts as an example of everything that was wrong with new media. Some harrumphed about how I should be fired from my job for leading students astray this way. Another poster went on and on about how I was fooling myself — everyone can pull off an issue or two, but he didn’t expect to see us doing anything six weeks from then. Many insisted that this online stuff was a flash in the pan or a sneaky corporate plot to get reporters to do more for less.
Looking back now, I realize that you scared them. The feedback came working journalists scared to death that their jobs are disappearing — or that someone will ask them, so where’s the video? The ferocity of the backlash showed the depth of their fear. Imagine how threatened they must have felt to find a group of kids in Michigan not only doing all these clever things but having fun in the process.
What has happened since is that the smartest members of the journalism pack have had a chance to look at the future through vehicles like SpartanEdge. Many now say — hey, I’d like to help birth that future. What a great chance to use new tools in new ways.
Consider the reporter at the Detroit News who was assigned to cover the Dream Cruise. Here’s a man in his 50s being asked to carry an audio recorder to do podcasts and a cellphone to ship back some pictures. Hesitant at first, he soon found that these communication technologies provide new ways to tell a story. And using these tools is fun.
You are the generation who is building the future of online news. I sincerely do not believe I am overstating the case when I say that not only do all of you deserve to feel proud today for what you are doing, but I hope (and expect) the day will come when people will say to you — “You were part of SpartanEdge? Fantastic. You’re hired.”
Thanks again and now get busy doing even more great stuff.