For sentimental sods like me, the news out of College Park this week arrived with a sense of nostalgia and inevitability. The University of Maryland’s student newspaper, The Diamondback, is closing its print run after 110 years.

The nostalgia’s easy enough to explain. Like a lot of other folks we used to laughingly call ink-stained wretches, I got my start in the newspaper business on The Diamondback.

The sense of inevitability’s also easy to explain. This is what’s happening around the country. College papers with long and distinguished and proudly combative histories are, like The Diamondback, giving up their print editions and going strictly online.

“A very logical, natural step that The Diamondback is taking to get in touch with the University of Maryland community,” Leah Brennan, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said in a story breaking the news. “This is where our readership is, so we’re trying to meet them where they are.”

In my era on the paper, we went beyond the ancient college coverage of campus queens and fraternity dances. We covered demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, racial issues, drugs, student rights, and what we considered gross insensitivity and incompetence on the part of coaches and campus administrators.

We weren’t competing with other college papers. We felt our competitors were the professional dailies in the area – The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the Evening Sun, the News American and the Evening Star.

Note that most of those papers haven’t gone online — they’ve gone to their graves.

“When students walk across campus, they’re looking for news on their phone,” Brennan said, “not necessarily picking up the paper along the way.”

But, for more than a century, big stacks of The Diamondback could be found each morning in the front hallways of scores of campus buildings. If you wandered past classrooms where professors were delivering mind-numbing lectures, you might see half the class reading the paper instead of taking notes.

Some pretty good journalism names came out of the paper’s lineage: David Simon, Annie Groer, Norman Chad, Jerry Ceppos, John Purnell, Aaron McGruder, Ira Allen, Rob Wishart, Joan Jacobson, Gary Gately, Hollace Goldberg, David Mills, Jeff Valentine, Jim Day, Gene Boyars, Dave Bourdon, Arthur Schwartz, Steve Parks, Dave Postal, Stan Goldberg, Hening Christoph and Carl Harris.

The energy and the intelligence and the idealism that such people put into The Diamondback became the paper’s standard. The Diamondback’s reputation has stayed high and proud for decades.

Nobody’s saying that’s going to change. Only the delivery system’s altered.

But for those of us who wrote our stories on old gadgets called typewriters, or ran stacks of copy down to the printers, or stayed up late into the night putting it all together — and always considered The Diamondback our real college education – it feels like a piece of our history has been removed from the culture, and one day soon, from all memory.  

A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

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