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CM Life … for life

Student newspaper alums took what they learned on campus and turned it into newsworthy careers

Contact: Heather Smith


​​​​​​​​​By Terri Finch Hamilton, '83 –​ former CM Life reporter and news editor
Reprinted from Centralight Fall 2016​​

It all began by walking through the CM Life office door for the first time, knees probably a bit shaky.

From there, "Lifers" learn hands on what it takes to produce one of the top college newspapers in the country.

CM Life is a big deal: It's earned the Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker award – the highest national honor in college journalism – more than a dozen times since 1975. Most recently, the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Collegiate Press Association recognized CM Life as the 2015 College Newspaper of the Year for its division.

It's the perfect training ground for eager, driven journalism students.

CM Life alumni are leading national news coverage, working at global communications firms, designing pages seen by millions and putting their stamp on the world in lots of other ways.

But so much more than great college journalism happens in that newsroom, whether in the iconic basement of Anspach Hall years ago or in the sleeker Moore Hall office today.

"We created a sense of community," says Jim Wojcik, who was the campus newspaper's adviser for nearly 30 years and a father figure to many Lifers.

Going back decades, working at CM Life has meant late nights laying out the paper three times a week, spirited debates over controversial and hard-hitting stories, and so much takeout food.

Bonding happens there. And the start of something big.​

Wayne Kamidoi, ’87, dreamed of being a sports writer covering the Detroit Tigers.

The eager freshman from the tiny village of Capac, near Port Huron, showed up at the CM Life office and said, “I’ll do anything.”

They gave him the women’s field hockey beat. Kamidoi had never even seen a game, but he shrugged, dug in and spent the next four years helping publish a 13,500-circulation campus newspaper.

Today, Kamidoi is art director at the New York Times.

“At Life, you could do whatever you wanted. Write stories. Take photos. Edit copy. Design pages. Write a column,” he says. “While you were still in school, you got a pretty well-rounded education of how a newspaper works.”

He loved studying the paper, noticing how great the sports photos looked when they ran big. He remembers late nights laying out the paper with then-adviser Jim Wojcik dependably supervising in the background.

“At CM Life, we worked seemingly around the clock,” Kamidoi recalls. “At the end of the night, you were tired. Maybe you had an exam the next day. You just wanted to finish. Then Woj started asking the hard questions. It set us up for how real life would be.”

After graduation, he spent seven years on the design team at the Detroit Free Press, considered one of the top design papers in the country.

These days, Kamidoi loves pushing design boundaries: He once published a blank page to illustrate the lack of inductees into the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame.

For the Times’ annual United States Open preview, Kamidoi created an innovative scrapbook layout about Serena Williams.

He’s won more than 50 awards from the Society for News Design and was honored as Sports Designer of the Year in 2007 and 2012.

“No matter how big or small the project, I want the end result to be better than everyone anticipated,” Kamidoi says. “I want it to be the best it can be.”

He still thrills at the simple pleasure of watching people read the paper.

“I ride the bus into Manhattan every day, and I see people reading the paper,” Kamidoi says. “People bring it to their kid’s soccer game. I’m fascinated that they’re reading the newspaper and with how they’re digesting it. It’s the best affirmation of my work.”

Sandy Petykiewicz, ’75, showed up to freshman orientation excited to be a teacher.

“Then they said, ‘If you’re planning to be a teacher, find something else,’” recalls Petykiewicz, former editor and publisher of The Jackson Citizen Patriot. “There were no jobs.”

Stunned, she thought fast. What else did she love? Writing.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says. “I fell in love with journalism.”

As news editor at CM Life, Petykiewicz supervised 80 reporters and discovered she loved management.

“There were a lot of balls to juggle, and I could do it,” she says. “I just really enjoyed being on top of things, always knowing what was going on.

“I saw so many friends end up in jobs they hated because their jobs weren’t like college,” she says. “At CM Life, you learned if you liked the job. There’s lots of stress in reporting and in deadlines. You found out if you could handle the stress.”

She could.

Petykiewicz was the first female editor in the Booth Newspaper chain and was editor of the Jackson Citizen Patriot for 12 years before being named publisher in 1999.

“I think it was duly noted at the time, but I don’t remember a lot of hoopla,” she says of her pioneering role. “I was proud of it and yet didn’t want to be known just for that.”

She also was CEO for Ann Arbor Offset, a commercial printing company formed when the Ann Arbor News closed in 2009.

During her 36-year career in journalism, Petykiewicz was a reporter at The Washington Post, was selected as a Pulitzer Prize juror and served many years on the Michigan Associated Press Editorial Association Board, for which she was president two years.

She retired in 2011 after helping lead the eight Michigan newspapers owned by Advance Publications into a digital future with MLive Media Group.

You can take Petykiewicz out of the newsroom, but …

“I pitch stories in Florida,” she says. Petykiewicz spends winters in Bonita Springs and has landed stories about her community in area papers – including on page one of the business section.

She laughs.

“I know how to work the system.”

Randy Lovely, ’86, gets bored easily. He picked the perfect career. He knew that, even as a rookie college journalist.

“At CM Life, the guiding force is that the world in which we work as journalists is changing rapidly,” says the man who – three decades later – is vice president of community news for the USA TODAY Network in Washington, D.C.

Lovely oversees the editorial content strategy of Gannett’s newsgathering operations around the country. The 109 papers he guides used to be independently operated but are now part of a collaborative nationwide network.

Before taking this role a few months ago, he was senior vice president of news and audience development for the Gannett-owned Arizona Republic, where he ran the state’s largest newspaper, a website and a TV station.

He’s had to be nimble and grounded – basics he learned at CM Life.

“Nothing you would call flashy,” he says. “Solid reporting. Accountability. Fairness.

“This is my 30th year in the business, and I still draw on those CM Life experiences,” Lovely says. “It’s in my DNA. The questions I ask when talking to reporters and editors – they’re baked in.”

Lovely started at The Republic 14 years ago as managing editor and steadily worked his way up. During his time there, the paper twice was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

But times have been tough. The Great Recession sent the U.S. newspaper industry into a tailspin in 2008, forcing mass layoffs and a reorganization of the industry. The upheaval left a newsroom workforce that’s 20,000 positions smaller than 20 years ago.

“The last decade has been devastating for all of us,” Lovely says.

“I’ve had to sit across the table and deliver bad news to some really talented journalists. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I thought I should close this chapter and look for something new.

“But the public is consuming information at a pace unparalleled in history, and that gives me hope,” he says.

“People are deciding who they can rely on for information and who they can’t, and I hope that bodes well for us.”

Sarah Opperman, ’81, was fascinated as a young journalist covering the CMU Board of Trustees for CM Life.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool – they’re making really important decisions,’” says Opperman, who retired in 2009 after a 28-year career at Dow Chemical. “I thought, ‘I’d love to do that someday.’”

Opperman planned to be a business journalist and had a double major in business and journalism.

She showed up at the CM Life office ready to write. Expectations were high.

“It’s about real events and real people, not a class assignment,” she says. “I knew that what I wrote better be my best.”

But her business journalism plans were nudged aside after Opperman had a public relations internship at Dow Chemical. She was hooked on using her business and writing skills there.

“I realized that rather than reporting on the news, I could be a news source,” she says.

Opperman started at Dow as a communications representative and worked her way up to jobs in media relations, financial and business communications, and various leadership roles, retiring as vice president of global government affairs and public policy.

“Throughout my career, I used the tenets of accuracy, timeliness and tenacity I learned at CM Life,” Opperman says. “As you work there, you mature and grow as an individual, so what you do after college, whatever that is, those life lessons stay with you.”

In 2009, Opperman was appointed by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to the CMU Board of Trustees – the same board she covered during her CM Life days.

“I wanted to give back to the university that always believed in me, nurtured and drove me,” she says. “Serving on the board goes beyond giving back to looking forward – to investing in future generations of students.”

Ken Stevens, ’85, made people smile long after he took their photo. His own smile and warmth were contagious.

The beloved Muskegon Chronicle photographer was devoted to helping develop young photographers. He’d pore over their portfolios, offering tips and tricks he’d learned over a lifetime of award-winning newspaper assignments.

When Stevens died of a brain hemorrhage in 2014 at 51, he left a family and community in mourning and a void for student photographers who craved inspiration.

Stevens coordinated the Chronicle’s highly respected internship program and often shared his time and talents with students at CMU.

He’ll continue to make a difference for student photographers at CMU through the Ken Stevens Endowment Fund. Contributors have donated $35,000 in less than two years. The endowment will fund a scholarship for students pursuing media-related internships and will award the first one this fall.

“It’s two of the things Ken loved most,” says his wife, Teresa Stevens. “CMU’s journalism program and fostering talent in young people. He can’t share his life experiences anymore, but …” She pauses for a moment.

“This is a way for him to still have an impact.”

Ken loved CMU, she says. He started as a business major, but after his first year at CM Life, he switched to photojournalism.

It suited him – not just because he was a skilled photographer, but because his warmth and kindness made people feel at ease. He was the guy who kept the popcorn bowl filled in the Muskegon Chronicle newsroom.

“He had a compassionate heart,” says Kendra Stanley-Mills, a friend and fellow Chronicle photographer for 13 years. “It was his heart that made him a great photographer. He just really cared.”

The feeling is mutual.

“It will be two years in October, and it’s amazing to me how many people continue to remember him,” Teresa Stevens says. “Ken never would have expected this kind of outpouring. But he obviously touched a lot of people in a profound way.”

To donate to the scholarship, visit https://donate.cmich.edu/campaigns/ken-stevens-endowment-campaign/

Back when Google news alerts were new, Chad Livengood, ’05, set up alerts on all the CMU officials as he covered the administration for CM Life.

It’s how he found out President George E. Ross, vice president of finance at the time, was a finalist for a job at another university.

“I went to a Board of Trustees meeting to ask Ross about it,” recalls Livengood, now a political reporter at The Detroit News Lansing Bureau. “He said, ‘How do you know this?’ He didn’t even know he was a finalist.”

Livengood laughs.

“He was quite stunned that I learned the news before he did.”

It was a sign of things to come. Livengood is known as a guy who knows things first.

He broke the shocking story this year of the affair between State Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, and Courser’s phony email alleging he paid for gay sex behind a Lansing bar to direct attention away from the affair. That coverage won awards from the Michigan Associated Press, Wayne State University’s journalism department and the Metro Detroit Society of Professional Journalists.

He also played a key role in covering the Flint water crisis – one of the most devastating public health crises in state history.

Livengood was named one of the nation’s best state political reporters of 2015 by The Fix, a daily political blog for The Washington Post.

He honed those skills at CM Life.

“I learned how to dive into stories that are sometimes uncomfortable for public officials, how to hold public officials accountable,” he says. “I learned not just how to write the story, but how to get the story. Critical thinking. Analysis of documents. Looking under all the right rocks. All things I’ve used in my career.”

He takes it all very seriously.

“I consider journalism a form of public service,” Livengood says. “I like getting up in the morning and knowing what I do is important to people. It’s important that they have information and that they use it to vote.

“I really do love this job. It gets me out of bed every day.”

Hundreds of CM Life alumni hear Jim Wojcik in their heads.

No use trying to tune him out.

“‘Never burn a bridge.’ ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’ When I face a professional or personal decision about how I should behave, I hear his voice,” says Sheila Gruber McLean, ‘82, a former editor of CM Life and now senior vice president at MSLGROUP, a global communications firm.

“And it’s not just me,” she says. “Hundreds of people will tell you the same thing.”

As adviser for the student newspaper from 1972 until 2001, Wojcik was responsible for two significant upgrades. He transformed it from a tabloid into a broadsheet newspaper, and he made it financially self-supporting.

“Money gives you power and freedom,” says Wojcik, who teaches in the CMU journalism department and advises two student public relations groups. “So we built up the advertising program to get a good stream of revenue coming in. We didn’t have to ask the administration or the student government for money. We could cover anything we wanted.”

They did and still do.

CM Life has a stellar national reputation and a host of national and state awards. Editors know a CM Life alum is a great hire – you’ll find them in successful careers all over the country.

Where? Ask Woj.

“Somehow, he always knew what you were up to,” says Wayne Kamidoi, ‘87, art director at The New York Times, “without you even telling him.”

“He was a father figure to a lot of students, myself included,” says Sandy Petykiewicz, ’75, who retired in 2011 as editor and publisher of The Jackson Citizen Patriot. “He helped a lot of us get jobs. Then, when I was an editor, he came to me, suggesting I hire his students.”

She often did.

“He’s everybody’s dad.”

That is, if your dad is funny, sarcastic, honest, doesn’t miss a thing and won’t put up with any crap.

“My philosophy, as corny as it sounds, was to push every student as hard as I could, so they could work to the best of their ability,” Wojcik says. “Some, I could push right to the wall. I could challenge them and frustrate them, and they’d get better, just to prove the old Polack wrong.

“I’m proud of them,” Wojcik says. “They accomplished things because they wanted to. I might have pushed a hot button, prodded at the right time.”

He pauses.

“Or maybe I just listened,” he says. “I did a lot of listening.

“We were family down there,” Wojcik says of the students who worked in the Life offices in the basement of Anspach Hall. “We worked on the whole person. The common goal was they wanted to be good journalists. My end goal was to make them feel they could do it.”

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