New Novel About College Media Written By Former Student Newspaper Editor

She looked back into my eyes, saw the pain I felt and it looked like she could feel it herself as she looked on the verge of tears. Our mutual look into each other’s eyes lingered and for that reason I felt myself more vulnerable than I had in many years. Steadying myself, I collected my emotions, offering my hand in friendship. She graciously accepted  and leaned in to give me a gentle peck on the cheek. 

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Author John Guzzardo

The tender scene above is a snippet from the upcoming book The 38 Day Education by John Guzzardo. The novel from Solstice Publishing — set to drop early next month as an ebook and paperback — sports an honest-to-goodness student media focus.

As The Suncoast News reports, “The story . . . is told from the perspective of Jay Ferragamo, a college sophomore who is thrust into the role of editor of The Scope, only to learn the publication is almost completely broke. Ferragamo must navigate the treacherous waters of student government to gain the necessary funding to continue publishing. He must then seek justice after learning the newspaper’s finances were wrecked by pilferage by the daughter of one of the town’s most powerful families.”

Powerful family pilferage — OK, so it’s not the most common cause of college media censorship or funding strife. But it hopefully makes for one heck of a story. And the tale overall is based generally on the author’s own student newspaper days. In the mid-1990s, Guzzardo served as editor-in-chief of The Sou’Wester at Georgia Southwestern State University.

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According to Suncoast News, “In his first week [as EIC], Guzzardo found out there was only $15 left in the newspaper’s fund to pay staffers and produce the weekly paper. He spent the rest of the year mending fences with student government, the paper’s main source of funding, and getting the paper up and running again. The time it took from the day he became editor to the first issue of the revived paper was 38 days, hence his book’s name. ‘I learned more in 38 than I did in 2 years,’ Guzzardo said.”

In the exclusive Q&A below, Guzzardo lays out more details about the book, his own student editing days and his belief in the power of the student press.

The book is loosely inspired by your time as editor of The Sou’Wester. What are your memories of that experience?  

You mean aside from the blood-pressure elevation and ulcer-inducing worry? Well, aside from that, the adrenaline rush and euphoria of victory, I remember learning that listening to others and learning to understand are the most effective tools to resolving a crisis — that and the fact that nobody on my campus, and I do mean nobody, expected me to not only become editor, but pull off what I did.

Why did no one expect you to be named editor and turn the paper around financially?

It was against the odds for me to be named editor because I was a sophomore. Sophomores in leadership positions was traditionally not something which happened on our campus and the administration and faculty were both very concerned about a green sophomore who barely knew anything about the college being in charge.

Moreover, the odds were against us turning the newspaper around because my predecessor made a sport out of criticizing student government and the administration for mistakes and perceived injustices. This, in and of itself, wasn’t grounds for refusing funding. However, our account was poorly kept and spending was poorly controlled, which led to the question I’ll never forget: “Mr. Guzzardo, considering the fact we had already given the Sou’Wester $15,000 . . . why should we continue to fund this publication?” That was asked of me during my presentation for emergency funding.

Describe the book’s main editor character, Jay Ferragamo, a bit. How is he like, or unlike, the classic student newspaper editor?

Jay is very unlike the classic student newspaper editor because he really doesn’t have a “crusader” mentality. He doesn’t like to start fights, but he will do everything in his power to finish them. He surrounds himself with trusted friends who will tell him where to go at a moment’s notice, cannot tolerate “yes men” and is about as dorky as they come in terms of social standing. Maybe what really sets him apart is the complete lack of faith he has in his own abilities, and how he outwardly overcompensates with an appearance of near-insufferable arrogance, but is really a soft-as-mush guy on the inside who has a knack for saying really stupid things at bad times. [He] fortunately has an extremely loyal staff who protects him.

What dramas does Jay face when taking over as editor, and how prepared is he to handle them?

He’s barely prepared to handle anything. He faces winning back the support of a very hostile student government, an already apathetic student body and an administration which waffles between supportive and standoffish. Add to that the fact that one of his former staff members and a dear friend is murdered in the interim and he becomes one of the stories which has to be covered. In fact, it is his senior editor Craig Johannsen, an experienced junior, who offers the greatest counsel. Johannsen is actually modeled after my original senior editor Chris Shoemaker, whose counsel during this difficult time was invaluable.

Your book possesses fortuitous timing, arriving just as financial troubles befall evermore student newspapers. Are you a believer in the student press and hopeful college papers are able to continue on their campuses?  

I absolutely believe in the student press and believe it is essential to the intellectual and ethical health of a campus. I truly hope they can continue their function as a part of the community because they are, in many cases, the only safeguard most students have against administrations, faculties and student leaders with delusions of power and godhood. Sorry to sound dramatic on that last statement, but I’ve witnessed it. College students deserve nothing less than confidence that their student-run publications can survive and thrive free of outside interference from any special interest.

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