The Breeze celebrates 100 years of chronicling JMU history

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by Sarah Eccleston (’23)

Photo illustration by Caroline Serrano ('23)

SUMMARY: Since its debut on Dec. 2, 1922, The Breeze has covered the news and trends affecting campus and the local community, while providing a place for student journalists to hone their skills.

The Breeze, JMU’s student newspaper, has been a fixture of student engagement at Madison for more than a century, according to General Manager Brad Jenkins (’99). The publication’s commitment to covering all sides of the story impartially has prevailed through major campus, community and world events.

The first issue of The Breeze was published on Dec. 2, 1922, and was only four pages. The six-member staff had held many discussions on what to call the publication, including The Lunatic, The Maniac and Dingledine. They eventually narrowed it down to The Campus Cat or The Breeze, with a coin toss deciding the tie vote.

Since then, The Breeze has covered the latest news affecting students and the community, from new campus buildings to trendy hairstyles to COVID-19 pandemic regulations. The news organization has undergone a number of changes over the years, including the addition of a website, Breeze TV, a brief name change to Genesis II in the 1970s, the coming and going of student editors and faculty advisers, and new print schedules.

The Breeze is highly regarded in the world of collegiate journalism. This year, the Associated Collegiate Press recognized its website with a Pacemaker Award, college media’s most prestigious honor. Sports Editor Grant Johnson also received a national first-place award for an in-depth story about mental health in student-athletes. Among The Breeze’s many alumni are two Pulitzer Prize winners, Jeff Gammage (’82), part of a team of journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer who won for public service in 2012, and Bob Leverone (’79), a member of The Charlotte Observer team that won the Pulitzer in 1988.

Beyond the classroom
Through it all, The Breeze has allowed students to gain real-world journalism experience, something that News Editor Kasey Trapuzzano (’23), a Media Arts and Design major, has valued throughout her undergraduate career. “It’s cool that I get to do what I love before actually graduating,” Trapuzzano said.

Courtney Rukan (’00), former editor-in-chief who is now deputy multiplatform editing chief at The Washington Post, echoed this sentiment. She oversaw The Breeze when the murder of two JMU students took place at a local restaurant. During the investigation, The Breeze went head-to-head with Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record in reporting important updates in the case. While covering the story, Rukan realized that although The Breeze was a college newspaper, “we can do real-world stuff, like make an impact in the community,” she said.

Trapuzzano is no stranger to reporting on difficult topics and sensitive subjects. She has written in memoriam pieces on Bill Posey, former assistant director of the Marching Royal Dukes, and Tatiana Benjamin, an assistant professor of justice studies and co-coordinator of the African, African American and Diaspora Studies Center. “Sometimes you have to listen more than ask questions, and you have to be kind of more of a human than a journalist,” Trapuzzano said.

She said The Breeze also taught her how to be more outgoing and adapt to other staff members’ writing styles. After more than a year at the newspaper, Trapuzzano said there are times when she has felt like “being a Breeze editor makes me want to scream,” but she appreciates the beyond-the-classroom experience.

Not only did The Breeze help her learn valuable skills, it also illuminated the career path she wants to pursue. Trapuzzano started in the School of Media Arts and Design with a concentration in Creative Advertising, but after joining The Breeze, she found her passion and switched to the Journalism concentration.

Breeze alumnus Dwayne Yancey (’79), executive editor of Cardinal News, majored in Political Science at JMU and planned to become a lawyer after graduating. However, he found his law firm internship to be “deadly dull,” and in The Breeze he discovered his true calling. “The Breeze taught me journalism,” Yancey said.

Breezy days
Through good times and bad, The Breeze has reported it all. Yancey was editor-in-chief in the late ’70s and described production nights as “kind of a big party.”

Back then, Breeze editors wouldn’t start putting the newspaper together until 10 p.m. or later, in part because they played darts with the X-ACTO knives used to assemble the paper. Those who stayed up until dawn working were part of the “sunrise club.” In the era before computers, their only deadline was to drive the newspaper to the printer in Elkton, Virginia, by the time the presses were turned on the next day.

“Working for The Breeze was fun. We were almost like our own little fraternity or sorority,” Yancey said.

In between dart games, he and his fellow editors covered some significant national stories. When Deng Xiaoping, leader of the People’s Republic of China, came to visit former President Jimmy Carter, Yancey and Photo Editor Lawrence Emerson (’79) scored press passes by finding the White House’s phone number in a stack of old papers and calling multiple times.

Yancey titled the story, “How two college kids from the boonies got the best seats on the South Lawn.” He described his Breeze days as “a very different time.”

Although the chances of securing White House press passes now are minimal, some things never change — The Breeze is still having fun. 

Photo Editor Abi Middleton, a sophomore double majoring in Studio Art and Psychology, said they love shooting JMU Athletics events with other Breeze photographers. “I’ll send a text from the other side [of the field] to be like, ‘Did you see that?’ It’s so fun,” they said.

Middleton added that joining The Breeze was the best decision they made since attending JMU. “I couldn’t imagine a better group of people.”

The advisers who helped along the way
In 1980, SMAD professor Roger Soenksen, who teaches Mass Communication Law, started unofficially advising The Breeze on the Freedom of Information Act, moral and ethical implications, and what the paper was generally able to publish. Rukan still uses the principles of communication law and free speech imparted by Soenksen every day at The Washington Post.

Soenksen played the role of mediator when police stormed The Breeze’s offices in 2012, seizing more than 800 photos of an on-campus riot. He held the photos during discussions over whether The Breeze or the police had the rights to the photos.

In 2006, Jenkins became The Breeze’s general manager. As a student, Jenkins was a news editor and the late Albert “Flip” De Luca was the general manager. He said De Luca liked to ask his students a lot of questions to guide them to the right answers, something Jenkins employs with current students.

Breeze advisers in the past 100 years have made their marks on Madison. In October 2022, two former advisers, David Wendelken and De Luca, received the Pioneer Award from the Associated Collegiate Press for leadership in collegiate journalism. They each advised The Breeze for 25 years, and are still remembered fondly by their mentees.

Relationships that never end
Another valuable part of The Breeze, Rukan said, were the lifelong connections she made with her fellow staffers. “Some of the people I met there, I may not talk to them all the time, but there’s a bond that never ceases to exist,” she said. “I mean, I could be 100 years old, and it would still be the best. I met some of the most amazing people … driven, intelligent, funny — very funny — and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.”

Middleton said they couldn’t imagine a better job on campus. “I just love the community,” they said. “I feel like we’re just such an open and welcoming group of people. They’re like a family to me.”


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Published: Friday, May 26, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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