As Liberty University’s Homecoming weekend arrives, the Liberty Champion newspaper celebrates its 30th anniversary and reflects on how it has changed — from the publication’s first advisor to its current advisor.
In 1983, when Liberty was called Liberty Baptist College, Ann Wharton was hired to be the first faculty advisor for the new university newspaper. She then recruited a team of students to assist her in creating the publication.
“Our first editor, Lawrence Swicegood, was an excellent editor who stuck to the project through thick and thin throughout the first year,” Wharton said. “We applied Jerry Falwell, Sr.’s exhortation – don’t quit.”
Wharton also said acquiring a routine was critical during the first few weeks of publishing.
“We had to be prepared to have things turn topsy turvy in a minute,” Wharton said. “As the owner of the Pawn Shop from Pawn Stars says, ‘You never know what will come through that door.’”
During that time, technology and the printing process was not up to speed like it is today. According to Wharton, editors were required to make a dummy for each page, indicating where each article, photograph, headline and graphic would go.
Because of that, the writers had to write to the length by determining the words per inch.
“The photographer had to shoot, develop, print and then size each picture so that the original photo could be decreased or increased in size to fit the hole in the layout,”
According to Wharton, her favorite part of the Champion was working with the students.
“Teaching them, guiding them and preparing them in such a fundamental way for their future was rewarding to me,” she said. “We applied ethics reinforcing our worldviews and faith.”
Wharton trained professor Deborah Huff to take over her role as advisor of the Champion in 1996, Huff said. According to her, the newspaper has made changes in technology, web presence, photography, printing and staff, but, most importantly, in its coverage of events.
“Students are affected by what happens in the community, and the community is affected by what the students do,” Huff said. “It is kind of neat that our paper is going off campus and not just restricted to on campus. Of (all) the changes, that is probably the biggest one. People in the community read us.”
The newspaper has covered several newsworthy events, Huff said. She remembered when the staff pulled together to put out a special tabloid that was a tribute to Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. after his death.
“We had already put our last issue to bed,” Huff said. “We were done for the spring, and (the staff) came to me and said, ‘Mrs. Huff, we have to do a paper.’ They went to work, and in 24 hours, they had a beautiful tabloid dedicated to Dr. Falwell … I stayed with them, but they did it themselves. They wanted to do it, and that inspired me and encouraged me. More than 80,000 copies of the tabloid were distributed, which was the largest run ever.”
According to Huff, her main goal as the advisor for the Champion is training champions for Christ in the newsroom.
“A lot of our students that are on staff are going to wind up in public relations, some of them are going into journalism, some of them are going to go into broadcast,” Huff said. “So, to me, it’s important that they take those communications skills and their Christian faith with them wherever they go. That is my goal.”
Overall, Wharton and Huff agreed the purpose of an advisor is to teach and provide a laboratory where students can mature and become successful.
The Champion staff now publishes 22 issues per academic school year, unlike the four issues that were published when the Champion originally started.
To view historical copies of the Champion between 1983-2012, visit digitalcommons.liberty.edu/paper.