by Billy Clouse
For most of it’s history, the University Journal, formerly known as The Thunderbird, has existed as the only student media organization at SUU. However, Brandon Schrand, a former professor at the University of Idaho and full-time writer, created an alternative source before many current SUU students were born.
Schrand, who graduated with a degree in English literature, started The Thunderground in 1993 because he felt the campus paper was too controlled. The university instituted a “steering committee,” of which he was a member, that according to Schrand, “routinely sidelined any story that was deemed controversial and pressured the editorial staff to write only positive and uplifting stories.”
This caused Schrand to leave the University Journal to start his independent news source.
“Several things about this committee struck me as problematic, the first of which was its very existence,” he said. “Second, the committee was exclusively white, LDS and predominantly male. Third—and I could be wrong on this—but it is my recollection that the general student population didn't know that it existed.”
The first edition of The Thunderground, which debuted in 1993, and was a single page of paper. SIxty copies were put around the Student Center.
In his book “Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior,” Schrand talked about what it felt like when the first edition hit newsstands.
“We half-expected the police to teargas us,” he wrote. “We half-expected helicopters to bob over the campus green. We half expected the FBI to ramrod our doors. We half expected anarchy. And we secretly wanted it.”
But there was no reaction. At least at first.
During the controversy revolving around the university’s new GLBT Club, The Thunderground published an unpopular opinion by saying the club should continue. After this, The Mosquito, another independent newspaper, was created to respond to The Thunderground. Although The Mosquito only lasted one issue, The Daily Spectrum published an article about the two papers.
I stopped for a cup of coffee in the student center and watched in teeth-gritting anger as a high-level administrator gathered up my stacks and dropped them one by one in the trash.
Thunderground articles began to cause people to talk after this.
“It wasn’t just the language or subject matter that would have been unseemly (though they would have added to the unseemliness),” Schrand said in his book, “but our little rag aimed to rock the boat in a decidedly don’t-rock-the-boat-if-you-know-what-is-good-for-you culture.”
A few years after starting The Thunderground, Schrand realized he hit a nerve.
“One morning after I had circulated my current issue, I stopped for a cup of coffee in the student center and watched in teeth-gritting anger as a high-level administrator gathered up my stacks and dropped them one by one in the trash,” he said in his book. “It was the clearest and most vivid sign that Orwellian powers were at large and that my paranoia wasn’t paranoia at all. How else could I interpret such an act, such brazen censorship?”
During his five years with The Thunderground, Schrand dove into hard-hitting issues, such as student elections and administrative meddling in the radio station.
He received tips from students, staff and anonymous sources, and in his final year, he redid the paper in a magazine format.
Although The Thunderground died off as Schrand’s graduation approached, one of his fraternity brothers revived it for a short time with a few friends.
In the more than 20 years since the initial underground newspaper made its way around campus, there have been a couple of revivals, but they have been short-lived.
But now, the independent organization is taking a digital turn.
Introducing an all new Thunderground
A letter from the Editor-in-Chief
Similar to Brandon Schrand, I left SUU’s news program because I didn’t like how the administration was trying to control the University Journal.
The organization hired me last summer, and I went from the only freshman on staff to the Editor-in-Chief within five weeks.
I worked with a wonderful team, and we more than tripled the Journal's print readership, built a new website and introduced The Wingspan, a new, student-oriented magazine. The year was great, but we hit a few bumps in the road.
Soon after becoming EIC, a former Journal staff member contacted me about a series of opinion articles I was writing about why parents shouldn't circumcise their future children. She told me that university administrators came to her to voice their complaints about my first piece.
According to her, members of the administration didn't want me to publish any more of these articles, and I had apparently caused one of the deans to pick up the paper for the first time in years.
Despite her multiple attempts to persuade me not to publish the rest of the series, I went through with it. Although I understood that some of the administration wouldn’t agree with my viewpoint, I thought they would be glad because the two articles generated over 250 comments on our website. In addition, an intactivist organization shared the first article to their Facebook page, which earned over 300 reactions and 45 shares. According to our website's statistics, these were the most talked-about articles the Journal had ever produced.
...the semester after I shared my infamous foreskin opinions, members of the department asked (an SUU professor) to try to get us to censor series of opinion pieces.
Later in the year, I met with a professor to talk about the Journal, and he told me that the Communication Department greatly disliked our opinion section because it leaned too far left. He also informed me that the semester after I shared my infamous foreskin opinions, members of the department asked him to try to get us to censor series of opinion pieces.
In high school, my journalism organization faced censorship from our school and the school district. We almost weren't allowed to publish an article because it talked about LDS missions, we had to water-down a piece on political correctness, we were forced to drop a story on the Starbucks holiday cup controversy, we almost had to remove every instance of the word "Christmas" and we were blocked from publishing a piece on the school's crappy AP program.
I was able to fight censorship last year because the Operations Manager understood the importance of a free press, but meetings about administrative changes made me feel that I would have to fight for every article that didn't line up with the department's right-leaning worldview.
Working for a news organization that might try to block the voices of students didn't sound like a fun place to work, and given the fact that administrators were trying to unofficially merge the Journal and the Marketing Communications Office, I knew it was time to leave.
However, I didn't want to give up journalism. While writing my letters of resignation, I heard about The Thunderground from a friend, and reviving it seemed like the right thing to do.
Even though the initial version of this organization ended before I was born, I’m glad to be able to bring it back, allowing SUU to have a second voice in student media. Over the next few years, we will strive to publish insightful investigative stories, relevant opinion and news pieces and provide meaningful feature articles.
If you would like to help write the new history of Thunderground, contact us to submit opinion pieces, provide tips or become a regular contributor.