'Incredibly fortunate': Notable alumni reflect on impact of time spent at student newspaper
Hands on her hips while looking off into the distance, Jennifer Aniston wore a white tank top and gray Central Michigan University shorts.
To those that caught the small detail in the 2008 film "Marley & Me," John Grogan is the one to thank. Representing the Chippewas through her attire, Aniston was playing the role of Grogan's wife. The movie was based on the Central Michigan alumnus and Central Michigan Life writer's autobiographical book about his dog.
"The CMU shorts were the result of the film’s research team, whose job it was to add little details to bring veracity to the film," Grogan said. "Since I graduated from CMU, they put her in those shorts."
His wife, Jenny, actually graduated from Michigan State University. That probably would've been a more accurate option for Aniston's attire. But Grogan didn't have a problem with his alma mater getting recognized, even though it should've truthfully been an institution 70 miles south on US-127.
"I loved seeing my school logo on the big screen," Grogan said.
Grogan is the No. 1 international bestselling author of "Marley & Me." After Marley, his yellow Labrador retriever, died in 2003, he wrote a column about the loyal and loving dog in The Philadelphia Inquirer – the newspaper Grogan was working for at the time. Readers connected with the column, and it became the basis of Grogan's understanding he had a more in-depth story to tell to a much larger audience. That's when he penned "Marley & Me." The book, told in a first-person narrative, was published Oct. 18, 2005.
Grogan isn't the only former student journalist at Central Michigan Life to succeed in national media. Others include Wayne Kamidoi an art director at The New York Times, Adam Graham an entertainment reporter at The Detroit News, Jessica Fecteau a former People Magazine writer and Edelman employee and Lorrie Lynch, the former editor of USA Weekend magazine and director of feature content for AARP Magazine.
The list goes on and on with journalists in every region of the country, all tied together by one common experience – Central Michigan Life.
Grogan graduated from Central Michigan in 1979 as a double major in Journalism and English. His time writing for CM Life was the "best part" of his four years at the university. He learned the basics of journalism, made close friends, developed a sense for time management and, most of all, it gave him the confidence to come out of his shell as a person and embrace all that the world had to offer.
"I got a solid grounding in the craft of journalism at CMU, and at CM Life, I got to practice what I learned and hone my skills," Grogan said.
His work at CM Life fully equipped him to become the police reporter at The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph, Michigan, for his first full-time job out of college. After earning his Master's degree in Journalism from Ohio State University in 1986, Grogan was accepted as a fellow at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.
After the fellowship, he was hired as a bureau reporter at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. In 1999, he was the managing editor of the Organic Gardening magazine. Three years later, already having moved to Pennsylvania, Grogan was hired as a columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
But before Grogan made it to The Philadelphia Inquirer, he had to work his way up in the business. His journey began with a story he published in 1977 for CM-Life. Grogan broke the story that the FBI was doing surveillance on a student group called The Young Socialist Alliance. His story was picked up by several major news outlets around the state, and he received formidable recognition for his work.
Digging for the facts, writing and publishing the story was a thrill. Due to that story, Grogan realized his capabilities as a journalist and made it a priority to build a career as a reporter.
All because of the opportunity to write for CM-Life.
"That's where my career as a journalist, columnist, and eventually bestselling book author all began," Grogan said. "I owe a big debt of gratitude to the newspaper and the journalism department and its wonderful professors for that solid grounding."
'I pretty much lived in that place'
Now working as an art director for projects and enterprise in the News Print Hub at The New York Times, Wayne Kamidoi began his journey during the first week of his freshman year in 1983.
Kamidoi's sister, who was a senior and a designer for the Chippewa yearbook, walked him to the Anspach Hall basement to meet CM Life's staff. He joined the sports desk.
"I pretty much lived in that place for the next four years," Kamidoi said.
His first beat assignment was on the field hockey, covering the team alongside current MLive multimedia journalist John Gonzalez. Even though Kamidoi didn't know anything about field hockey, he quickly learned.
In Kamidoi's opinion, that's what CM-Life is all about – expanding one's journalistic knowledge outside of the classroom and stepping out of your comfort zone. He was able to build a portfolio of clips while he learned to take responsibly for his work and to successfully contribute to a much larger product.
"Our adviser, Jim Wojcik, stressed that we not cut corners, and not publish our work unless you were comfortable with its factualness and thoroughness," Kamidoi said. "Woj definitely called me out a few times for cutting corners. That was not pleasant."
Kamidoi covered Central Michigan men's basketball legend Dan Majerle over the next two years, along with various other athletes and sports. He became the sports editor as a junior and served as the editor-in-chief and managing editor as a senior.
His favorite memory was when CM-Life received a congratulatory letter from President Arthur Ellis for the design of the 1986 back-to-school issue.
Working alongside then sports editor Ken McDonald, who is now a graphic design instructor in the journalism department, Kamidoi spent six months developing the newspaper's redesign.
One year after his graduation from CMU, Kamidoi landed a job at the Detroit Free Press. He stayed put until the labor strike in 1995. That's when his friend, who left the Free Press a couple of years earlier for The New York Times, called about a job opening at The Gray Lady.
"I figure they will have to drag your old body out of the Free Press upon retirement, but would you be interested in a job at The Times," the friend said, as Kamidoi recalled.
"He may have been partially right because I loved working for the Freep," Kamidoi said. "I had no intention to ever work for the Gray Lady, but I took him up on his offer."
Kamidoi is now in his 25th year at The New York Times.
'I feel incredibly fortunate'
From the moment Adam Graham stepped on campus in August 1996 to his graduation in December 2000, the film critic for The Detroit News worked for CM Life. Graham was also a film critic at CM Life, but he also wrote about pop music, delivered an occasional pop culture column and served as the entertainment section editor for a semester.
One of Graham's greatest takeaways from his time in the newsroom was learning exactly what he didn't want to do.
"I learned that was not a path I wished to follow," Graham said. "I consider that a valuable experience."
Graham had internships at the Grand Rapids Press and The Detroit News before his graduation. He was hired at The Detroit News in 2002 and has held different titles – general assignment features and pop music critic – that weren't related to his current position as the film critic.
"Without CM-Life I wouldn’t have had those experiences and wouldn’t be doing what I am now," Graham said. "I found the experience of CM-Life far more valuable than anything I ever learned in a classroom."
Even though it seems odd, a few of Graham's favorite pieces at the professional level are related to pro wrestling. He went on a three-day road trip in 2007 to cover WWE through southern California to preview WrestleMania 23, which was later held at Ford Field.
Another story that Graham's proud of was a lengthy oral history of WrestleMania III that he put together with the help of Detroit News sports reporter Tony Paul.
He's also had the chance to interview and write about famous artists.
"Eminem stands out because it took me years of climbing that mountain to finally get to the top," Graham said.
'CM-Life was my home base'
Jessica Fecteau has met hundreds of celebrities, entered the homes of Hollywood's most famous stars and attended a multitude award shows.
Fecteau hung out by the pool at Courteney Cox's house, interviewed Will Ferrell on the red carpet and made many other career memories while working for People magazine from May 2014 to February 2019.
She also fulfilled her greatest dream in life – interviewing Ryan Gosling.
"Working for People was always a rush," Fecteau said. "I started as an intern and worked my way up to an editorial assistant and then a writer. I loved the fast pace and being surrounded by incredibly talented people."
None of that would've been possible without CM-Life, a place Fecteau described as a "home base" from her freshman year until graduation in 2014. Fecteau learned about teamwork, reporting, editing, designing and managing, all skills she continues to use as a senior account executive at Edelman in Los Angeles, a global public relations firm.
Her greatest accomplishment throughout her time at CM-Life was becoming the student life editor, working directly with the art team to create weekly specials that resonated with students.
Fecteau didn't always want to go into journalism. She planned on becoming a teacher.
That quickly changed.
"CM-Life prepared me for my career in so many ways," Fecteau said. "I discovered my passion for writing and reporting and never looked back."
At Edelman, Fecteau is an "earned media specialist," meaning her job is to take what she's learned as a reporter and teach companies the best way to communicate with editors at media outlets to secure the coverage that the organization wants.
Even though she's no longer a magazine reporter, Fecteau still gets to do what she loves – brainstorm ideas and tell stories of people.
"Although People was a dream job, I was ready to shake things up and I'm so glad I did," Fecteau said.
'CM-Life was the core of my college education'
During Lorrie Lynch's senior year, in the 1974-75 academic year, she served as CM-Life's editor-in-chief.
Lynch began working for the student newspaper at the end of her freshman year and was an assistant news editor and news editor during as a sophomore and junior, respectively.
"The times I had with colleagues on staff there are the strongest memories I have of my four years at Central," Lynch said. "My affection is deeply felt."
Lynch was on the start-up staff of USA TODAY in September 1982, and she called it the "most exciting" career move she's ever made. She covered Nancy Reagan's side of Ronald Reagan's time in The White House as president, Princess Diana's visit to Washington and Sarah Ferguson's wedding to Prince Andrew in London.
Once Lynch became a mother in 1990, she moved from USA TODAY to USA WEEKEND. She was a senior editor and took over the coverage of celebrities and personalities.
"I wrote cover stories on some of the biggest names of the time – Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Sharon Stone and others – covered awards shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes and became something of an expert on entertainment journalism," Lynch said.
Like other notable alumni, Lynch's experience in the professional field began with the lessons she learned at CM-Life. She gained insight on how to write about any topic that was assigned to her, find a way to interest readers and discover expert sources who could help her tell those stories.
"I learned to pick up the phone and call people I didn’t know and ask nosey questions," Lynch said. "All of these are skills I still use today."
Lynch has since moved on from USA WEEKEND. She joined AARP, the largest membership organization in the county, in 2010 after the organization decided to pull three separate editorial websites together.
AARP needed a digital editor, and Lynch answered the call.
"I am now in a position, as I was in the beginning of USA TODAY, to greatly influence what our website will become," Lynch said.
Grogan, Kamidoi, Graham, Fecteau and Lynch all delivered words of advice to current journalists at Central Michigan.
Grogan: "My advice is to not listen to the naysayers who will tell you that there are no jobs in journalism or that it’s next to impossible to get a book published. If you have the talent, ambition, and commitment, you will find a way to make a living doing what you love. Work hard, read good books, ask hard questions, write every day even when you don’t feel like it. Good things will follow."
Kamidoi: "Try as many different roles as you can whether you are comfortable with it or not. Be a better listener and observer of others who are doing good work. Be a team player. Take chances. Learn from your mistakes. This process all started from the day I stepped foot in CM LIFE office."
Graham: "Do as much as you can. Do what you really love, then spend a semester doing something that you know nothing about. Go cover cops. Pick up a camera and teach yourself how to shoot. Try your hand at editing. The more skills you have, the more versatile you’ll become, and the more marketable you’ll be in your career. And it will help you find out what it is that you really want to do."
Fecteau: "Say yes to everything! I spent so many hours in Moore Hall but it was all worth it because of where I am today. Take on every reporting assignment you're given because you will always learn something new. Stay curious and ask questions, bond with your fellow newspaper colleagues and remember at the end of the day, you only have these college years once, so really soak it all up and if you work hard, great things will happen."
Lynch: "Practice. Write for CM Life. Find an internship and a mentor. Read and listen to all sorts of other media and learn to tell great stories. Set high standards for yourself and others, stay curious, put the cell phone down every now and then to really see your surroundings. Practice the art of conversation – both talking and listening. It will make you a successful interviewer."