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Former Crimson White editor returns as OSM editorial adviser

They say you can’t go home again. That’s not quite true. You can go home again, but don’t expect it to be the same home you left. In my case, it’s not even close. It’s better than before.

I’ve returned to the University of Alabama after 32 years. I hardly recognize this place. The campus is massive, compared to the rather compact landscape I left in 1978.  Back then, there were less than 16,000 students. Today there are more than 30,000, even though academic requirements are more stringent than ever.

I served as sports editor of The Crimson White in 1976-77, and then as editor my senior year—1977-78. It was all we could do to edit and publish two issues a week and still maintain a full load of classes. Today, the CW staff produces four issues a week, and they’re doing an outstanding job of balancing their work with the demands of their classrooms.

(Don’t tell them I said this… but they look so young. Were we ever that young?)

I’ve said through the years that I believe there is no higher calling than helping advise and direct young people who are enthusiastic and eager to work at a high level. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be here now.

During these past three decades I’ve served as editor-in-chief of two magazines in New York (House Beautiful and Art &Antiques), one in Iowa (Traditional Home), and another in Birmingham (Southern Accents). Before that, I spent 10 years as a reporter and editor at USA Today, and worked, as well, as a reporter with United Press International.

It’s been a long, wonderful journey, but nothing is more satisfying than coming back to Tuscaloosa to work with very talented students. It’s also a privilege to work with Paul Wright, director of the Office of Student Media, and Joel Mask, associate director, who together have built one of the strongest student media programs in the nation. But it’s also up to each of us to help make it even better.

With this new website, we’re hoping to reconnect with as many of you as possible. “Paying Forward” may be a cliché, but it’s very appropriate. Our students need your support, your counsel and your expertise. We hope you’ll become interactive with us on this site as we move forward.

There are various links where you can participate, but you can also reach me directly at msmayfield1@sa.ua.edu, or call anytime at 205-348-6453.  Be warned, I’m going to put you to work helping out around here. After all, if you’re like me, you remember this place as the very best training ground any student could have as they prepare for a future in journalism.

To be sure, the landscape has changed not only literally on campus, but also figuratively out there in the industry. Like some of you, I remember writing articles and editorials on an old manual typewriter with sheets of yellow pulp paper. There were no personal computers, no internet, no cell phones, no DVDs or even VHS tapes. Most of us had three or four channels on our television sets.

While I was here, we edited by pencil from those yellow pages pasted together with rubber cement, and strewn across the floor or tables. The edited text was then typed into a word processor, producing settype, which would then be pasted onto layout sheets. It was one step removed from the old linotype days of my predecessors.

Now, of course, everything is digital. Computers have not only changed the print industry, they’ve changed all of our lives in ways our parents and grandparents could not have imagined.

Although the print industry itself has taken a hit in recent years, you can be sure it is strong and viable here at the university. And of course, the students are adapting  content to multiple platforms as well.

These may be challenging times in journalism, but there are more opportunities than ever. We truly live in a remarkable time.

Still, as I’ve walked around campus in recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of not only my past here, but yours as well. Over near Woods Hall and the Ferguson Center, there are trees planted by various student groups over the years. I walked by a couple of them the other day and noticed small plaques which indicate they were planted in 1978, my senior year. The trees are probably 30 feet tall now, and cast long shadows across the sidewalks and paths. They are sturdy against the wind, and look like they have been thereforever. Yet, long ago as a student, I walked this same ground before thesetrees ever existed.

It’s a reminder, of course, that time is fleeting. But it also underscores the old adage that we reap what we sow. Our work here today can have an impact on the next generation of journalists.

It’s good to be home.

Mark Mayfield has joined the Office of Student Media staff as the new assistant director for editorial. He and his family will be moving to Tuscaloosa later this fall from New York. Mark is a former editor-in-chief of House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Southern Accents and Art & Antiques magazines. He was also a member of the founding editorial staff of USA Today, serving for 10 years as a reporter and editor for the national newspaper.


He is the author of two books, including Southern Style (published by Bulfinch/Little Brown in 1999) and The Spaceflight Vault: A History of NASA’s Manned Missions, released earlier this year from Whitman Books, and available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Amazon.com.