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The Settler celebrates 50 years of stories

Last updated on December 3, 2020

Joni Worsham supplied this picture from the first edition of the paper, she said that she is the second from the left in the front row but the picture did not have a caption so she can’t identify the rest of the staff 

The Settler Celebrates Fifty Years

By Madison West

In 1970 Volunteer State Community College, began accepting applications for enrollment. Joni Worsham, Joni Steinhauer at the time, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, recalls being the second person to apply.

“I remember Wade Powers rushing in with the application and a big number two being in the top corner,” Worsham said.

After gaining acceptance to Vol State, Worsham became the editor of the school paper, The Settler, where she worked closely with the editor of the Volunteer State Community College Yearbook, Phillip Worsham, who she later married.

Worsham compared her time as editor to what a journalist does today.

“Think about working as a journalist 50 years ago, without technology we have now it couldn’t be done. Especially in a pandemic,” said Worsham.

Worsham noted that being the editor of the settler was time-consuming and said that she was not the editor of the paper her second year.

“You have to understand that we didn’t have a computer, we had to physically cut with a razor and paste onto paper. It was much more time consuming especially when you were working 40 hours a week, plus the time you spent at school,” Worsham said.

Worsham talked about the struggles that came with being the editor.

“It was really hard to get people to actually turn in articles, everyone worked and had full schedules,” she said.

“Looking back at the first issue, the person who printed our paper would fill in the empty spots with a cartoon or an ad and we actually had, I think, Doonesbury was printed on the back. Doonesbury wasn’t even popular yet,” Worsham said.

Worsham’s family did have an impact on the Vol State campus aside from the newspaper.

“My dad was in the legislature at the time and was one of the people instrumental in passing the legislation that got Gallatin a community college,” said Worsham.

John Steinhauer, Joni’s father, is also the namesake for the Steinhauer-Rogan Black building on Vol State’s Gallatin campus.

“Diane Black, a congresswoman from Gallatin, really became close with my dad, even though they didn’t agree politically. She and Dave, her husband, donated the funds for the building and chose the name to honor my dad,” Worsham says.

Worsham noted that most everyone on the original staff went on to be successful, and Worsham attributed that success to the experiences they shared on The Settler staff.

Throughout the years, The Settler continued, but in 1998 was in danger of shutting down for good.

“I was the adviser for The Settler student newspaper from 1998 to 2003. The Communication Department chair asked me to take over as adviser. That chair was esteemed Virginia, or Ginny, Thigpen, one of Vol State’s founding faculty members, whose husband was the college’s first librarian,” said Dr. Shellie Michael, a professor in both the Communication Studies Department and English Department at Vol State, “Ginny told me our college newspaper was in danger of cancellation because the staff had dwindled and the content was thin. She gave me the challenge of resuscitating The Settler.”

Michael noted that her first year was still in the “pre-digital era” and her staff would use scissors, glue and rulers to cut and paste every article, picture and ad onto storyboards which were delivered to a printer, much like the original version of The Settler.

“The move to computer production was under the leadership of an extraordinary editor named Kristin Clark. She researched the necessary hardware and software, and we worked with the college to obtain the equipment. We had great support from the Humanities Division, Student Services and IT, though we slowly had to build up from just a couple of computers and one digital camera,” said Michael.

A big goal in rebranding The Settler was attracting staff.

“The first semester I was the adviser, our whole staff consisted of three students. As the content became more substantive and looked more professional, more students were drawn to join, so we begin to have a positive spiral upwards,” Michael said, “Eventually, students came to work as reporters, copy-editors, photographers, layout specialists and advertising salespeople.”

As the newspaper grew, so did the need for further education.

Michael notes that the ad revenue funded student trips to national college media conferences.

“The staff would return from those trips with new ideas and new energy, and they applied what they learned to build a better paper,” said Michael.

Eventually, Michael felt her work was complete.

“I was thrilled when The Settler was on firm enough footing for the Communication Department to hire Clay Scott to take over the journalism program. He was exactly the right person to take The Settler to the next level,” said Michael

“What I hope the college community realizes about The Settler is that it is a student newspaper. When I was adviser, I would get questions about why the paper had errors in it, asking why I did not just fix those. My answer was this: sure, given my education and professional experience, I could make an error-free paper, but that is not the point,” said Michael. “A student newspaper is the chance for students to gain their education and experience. After the publication of each issue, students and advisers look together at its strengths and shortcomings, and those are teaching and learning opportunities,” Michael said.

Michael said one of her proudest moments was when Ginny Thigpen thanked her for helping save the paper.

Today, The Settler student newspaper has transitioned to and is still written, photographed and edited by students at VSCC.

Velma Crochet, the current editor of The Settler, is proud of her title.

“I love the paper and appreciate everything I have learned along the way, writing the last two years and being editor this semester. I am so proud of the group of women writing this semester with me,” said Crochet.

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