As the fall semester draws to a close, so does the 120th year of the University of Wyoming student newspaper.
Beginning as more of a literary journal way back in 1898, the paper was originally called the Wyoming Student. A couple decades went by before students decided that name was pretty awkward, and the Branding Iron as we know it today was born—although if things had gone differently you might now be reading the Wrangler, the Chaps and Spurs or just the Cactus. It’s too bad we didn’t end up as the Rustler.
The Branding Iron was an ever-present voice on campus as 20th-century history played out. During World War II, while Germany besieged Britain, an editorial declared that “The Battle of Britain is our battle.” The US wouldn’t enter the war for another three years, during which the paper served as a platform for conversation and debate about what the best course into the future would be.
Decades before kneeling in protest became a football fixture, the Black 14 were dismissed from UW’s football team for their planned protest of the game against Brigham Young University in 1969. The campus erupted in debates of racism vs decorum that could have been interchangeable with today’s, and the Branding Iron featured editorials and hosting letters to the editor supporting the 14 black athletes or defending the choices of the establishment of the time.
Today, the Branding Iron continues to inform the UW community, facilitate discussion of society’s pressing issues and produce high-caliber journalists like UW’s own Chad Baldwin, once a writer and editor of the Branding Iron and now the director of Institutional Communications.
“Long before I came here the BI had a proud tradition,” Baldwin said. “People I really looked up to and respected, and were like mentors to me as journalists in the state and out, were people who worked at the BI.”
Baldwin’s student journalism roots and a career in the private journalism world give him a unique perspective on his work as a spokesman for the university and a curator of its image.
Back in the private sector, Laramie Boomerang Managing Editor Joel Funke recalled that the Branding Iron was his first step as a wayward student looking for his purpose into the world of the Fourth Estate.
“I’d come to the University of Wyoming to finish my degree—I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Funk said.
After a friend arranged a job offer as a writer and the departure of the then-editor a few weeks later, Funk found himself in the role of editor-in-chief of the student paper.
“It was probably the transformative experience of my education that really set me on a career path,” Funk said. “God only knows what I’d be doing if Trevor hadn’t got me that job.”
The Branding Iron, true to a newspaper’s most vital role, was in a prime place to cover hot-button issues of Funk’s time as a student that otherwise may not have picked up much traction in public awareness, such as the rocky times of Robert Sternberg’s short term as UW president.
“It was really exciting to be the first line of media that was reporting some of these things surrounding the Sternberg administration,” Funk said. “That’s something that, if it hadn’t gone out in the media—it certainly helped point out that there’s a huge problem here and it’s going to get worse.”
Today’s president, Laurie Nichols, said she reads the Branding Iron “faithfully” and praised the paper’s dual role as a hands-on source of experience for journalism students and the legitimate provider of a news service for the campus—even if there are errors that need ironed out from time to time.
“It’s a great training ground for our students, that’s really what we’re really all about as a university,” Nichols said.
In a time of uncertainty in the journalism industry itself and ongoing spending (or saving) policy adjustments at UW, Nichols expressed hope that the Branding Iron wouldn’t reach the end of its rope before its time.
“I’m really glad we have it and I hope we always do,” Nichols said. “The student newspaper plays a really important role.”
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