In 1979, if you wanted news, you read a newspaper.
At Princeton, that meant The Daily Princetonian.
There was no Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. No blogs or dist lists or blast emails or the internet.
So when Marc Fisher ’80 and David Remnick ’81 convinced Bob Fagen ’82 to create the Nassau Weekly in 1979 as an alternative to the Prince, it was a big deal. It was the vanguard of the technology driven revolution in journalism that continues today, forty years on.
Until the 1970s, publishing a newspaper required roomsful of expensive and noisy and dangerous equipment operated by specialists.
By the late 1970s, digital typography had dramatically changed the way newspapers were composed. Publishing a newspaper became much cheaper and a lot easier.
In 1979, the state of the art in digital typography was a $50,000 digital typesetter called the Compugraphic EditWriter 7500. It was the size of two file cabinets and an old-fashioned TV. And it could be leased for about $800 a month.
So anyone who could sell enough advertising to pay for the lease could start a newspaper.
Marc and David and Bob had figured this out. But they didn’t know how to operate the Compugraphic EditWriter 7500.
I guess I got the job designing Nassau Weekly because no one else knew how to use a Compugraphic EditWriter 7500.
Like dozens of my fellow freshman who were admitted to Princeton in September 1979, I had been a high school newspaper editor.
But unlike most of them (I guess), I had developed a passion for newspaper design.
So much so that the summer before college I got a job at a print shop.
When the shop leased a Compugraphic EditWriter 7500, I quickly figured out how to push the limits of this new toy.
During my freshman week in 1979, I was trying to figure out my place at Princeton. I mentioned my interest in newspapers to my RA and her friend, Elena Kagan ‘81, over lunch at Commons. Elena told me that a friend of hers, David Remnick, was starting a newspaper – an alternative to the Prince— and offered to introduce us.
Only at Princeton can you be introduced to the future editor of the New Yorkerby a Supreme Court Justice. At the time, I was just pleased that these juniors seemed to take me seriously. As a freshman, I felt very young.
We must have designed the Nassau Weekly logo and chose the look of the paper within just a few very intense weeks because the first issue came out in September.
I can remember perusing Firestone Library’s collection of newspapers from around the world. El Pais, published in Madrid, was the paragon of newspaper design. I tried to emulate its then avant garde modular design.
Nassau Weekly’s writers were outstanding. Almost every one of them went on become the leaders of their generation of American journalists: writers like David Remnick ‘81, Marc Fisher ‘80, Alex Wolff ‘79, and Lisa Belkin ‘82. Publisher Bob Fagen became a scholar of Robert Frost and biographer of Leonard Cohen. Lisa’s profile of a Dinky conductor in the first issue is still one of the most affecting and memorable profiles I have ever read.
Money was always tight. Andrew Carnegie Rose ‘82 and David Buchbinder, the business managers, were always hustling for ads. One had a car; the other, a credit card. Sometimes the car broke down; sometimes the credit card was maxed out.
Like any good start up, I remember many all-nighters to get the paper out. One time I fell asleep during an early morning art history class. I woke up when my head hit the desk during a slide presentation. After class, I went home and showered and went to sleep.
The Nassau Weekly felt like a really grown up thing, probably the first for me.
So forty years on (how it pains me to write that), I’m grateful that the Compugraphic EditWriter 7500 helped me find my place at Princeton and put me in the company of so many talented people at the Nassau Weekly, at the beginning of the revolution in journalism that continues today.