The college newspaper that mis-spelled its own name . . . and almost got your Crap Archivist arrested
Several issues of The Pratt American
Date: 1993 - 1994
Publisher: Pratt Community College, Pratt, Kansas
The Cover Promises: "Exhibit brings culture to campus."
"Hello out there. How is your day going? Mine? Not bad but there is something that is bothering me, racism." (Editorial "Ignorance Has Got to Go," Oct. 28, 1993)
Way back in 1993, your Crap Archivst discovered a newspaper that mis-spelled its name on its own masthead. The Pratt Amercian, as it often called itself, was the product of the journalism students at the community college in Pratt, Kansas, a town of some 6,000 not far north of central Oklahoma, an area that seems determined to by-God out-Kansas the rest of the state.
They meant well, I'm sure. And to the staff's credit, many of their most risible headlines bear traces of real wit:
- "Clowns Enjoy Their Hobby"
- "Student Finds Technology in America"
- "Parents Day Deemed a Success by Officials"
Each is a bleak, perfect joke. The first dismisses clowning even as it purports to stick up for it; the second satirizes middle-American expectations of foreign primitiveness; the third makes clear that college newspapers are often little more than mouthpieces for college administrations. I'm also not above a giggle at Pratt's mascot, the beaver, especially in headlines like this: "Lady Beavers Give Strong Effort in Losing Skid."
But the theory that The Pratt American is some proto-Kansas Onion doesn't survive an encounter with the music review column "Hot Jams." Your brain might not either. I dare you to read the second paragraph aloud.
(Basic decency has led me to blot the names of Pratt's authors and photographers, but that photo belongs to the universe.)
In another issue, "Hot Jams" shows its superior Shaq-Fu:
The writing tends toward incomprehensible even in the news reporting:
The cartoons aren't much better. This one stirred honest-to-God outrage on the letters page and even grumblings of censorship from the Pratt Community College Student Senate.
You might ask, "How could any editor let this into print?" There's a clue in this ad soliciting contributions:
I understand that a small staff at a community-college newspaper might not have to time to proofread everything. Or run a spellcheck. Or ask just how many times a writer should point out Kriss-Kross' penchant for backwards clothing. But, still--
Anyway, In 1993 your then-very young Crap Archivist worked for a Kansas community college newspaper myself. When The Pratt American started turning up in our office at Johnson County Community College, I was so delighted that I fired off a pissy letter asking what was in the water down there.
They ran it.
For some reason, this inspired me to send them more mail, a couple times a week, unsigned but bearing my postal code. I sent them cryptic postcards, murky photos from around the office, scraps of nonsensical writing. Things like these, which I recently unearthed as I prepared for a move:
I kept this up for weeks and then redoubled my efforts once this notice ran on the Pratt American's Valentine's Day message page:
Unfortunately, I don't have copies of most of the nuisance mail I sent. This includes what I considered my masterpiece. At a newspaper conference in Dallas earlier that winter, I had blown an entire roll of film on the the world's most famous book depository.
The developed shots I distributed to anyone I knew who was leaving town for spring break. I sealed the photos in envelopes addressed to the Pratt American and relished the thought: 24 disturbing photographs postmarked from 24 separate cities, all arriving in Pratt within a week of each other.
Knowing I could never top this, I dashed a cheery farewell on one before mailing it from Las Vegas: "I've had enough of this, guys! See you at the conference in Wichita!"
My first day back from spring break, I had to join in a lengthy conference call with a dean, my newspaper advisor, and the sheriff of Pratt County, Kansas. At issue: whether or not I was planning an assassination attempt on Pratt American staff members at the upcoming Kansas Associated Collegiate Press conference.
As I tried to explain this had all been in fun, that of course I would like it if someone did this to me, my dean paged through a folder stuffed with every bit of nonsense mail I had sent to Pratt. It wasn't an absurdist game to them -- it was evidence.
Eventually, the dean destroyed it. Me, I'm more sentimental, so I've not done the same with the pile of demented glory that Pratt, Kansas, had sent to me: its college newspapers.
POSTSCRIPT: That spring, The Pratt American was ranked the third best community college newspaper in Kansas at the Kansas Associated Collegiate Press awards in Wichita. Nobody got killed in Wichita, but my editor got so drunk that when he got up in the middle of the night he mistook a friend's polo shirt for pants. Today, the thick first paragraph on the Pratt American web-page has for some reason been cut-and-pasted so that it's the third paragraph as well.
[The Crap Archivist just moved to Los Angeles, but he still originates his on-line Studies for the Voice's sister paper in Kansas City, The Pitch.]