The Diamondback: Redefined, and kinda nasty

Dan Savage, in his venerable and endlessly fascinating sex-advice column Savage Love, writes this week about his recent college tour that took him to the University of Lethbridge, State University of New York-Albany, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and, the alma mater of myself and many other people who read this blog,  the University of Maryland.

The column answers questions people submitted that he didn’t get to during the tour. This one is of particular interest:

Please assign new salacious definitions to the following terms, which are near and dear to the hearts of UM students: “Cornerstone,” “Fear the Turtle,” and “Diamondbacking.”

Cornerstone: When you get high in order to break through a sexual inhibition—like when pot helps you “turn a corner” sexually. “Sue wanted to peg her boyfriend Drew, but he just couldn’t do it until he got cornerstoned.”

Fear the Turtle: What a woman experiences when she realizes halfway through vaginal intercourse that her bowels are full and her enjoyment of the sex has been superseded by her fear of crapping the bed. “Sue had to ask Drew to stop fucking her because she feared the turtle. She got on the can for a minute, then hopped back in bed, and no longer feared the turtle.”

Diamondbacking: Consenting to anal sex in the hopes that doing so will inspire a boyfriend to propose. “Sue knew that Drew was totally into anal sex, so she let him diamondback her. Now they’re engaged.”

Savage, of course, has a successful history of attaching new definitions to words in acts of social protest. Most notable was his repurposing of the word “santorum” to mean a certain frothy mixture (click on the link for the full definition). Recently, he created a new meaning for the word “saddlebacking” to mean: the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities, as in: After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she’s saving herself for marriage. Unfortunately her parents found out because they got santorum all over the sheets.

please, let me know if you are fearin the turtle

please, let me know if you are fearing the turtle

For the uninformed, “Cornerstone” is one of the three college bars in all of the University of Maryland area (there may be one more now), and the one that typically caters to the sorority fraternity set (formerly known as The Vous, to old timers).

“Fear the turtle” is the university’s slogan branching out from the terrapin mascot, leading to all sorts of entirely jawesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles references during sporting events and elsewhere.

And The Diamondback is the university’s independent daily student newspaper, breeding ground for such names (famous and infamous) as Jayson Blair, David Simon, Aaron McGruder, Frank Cho and many, many other unrecognized talented people, including a large number of the recently elimanted staff of the Baltimore Examiner, dozens of other underutilized writers, editors and designers scattered nationwide, as well as the author of this post and many of his dear friends.

It’s also, I realized recently, probably the best newspaper I’ll ever work for, and not just because of the lack of future for the industry. It was a place where the rampant enthusiasm, tenacity and raw talent of young, curious minds had yet to be deadened by the crushing mediocrity and aversion to risk of the professional newsroom, where decisions to follow stories to the state capital, New York City or even to Ohio were made in a matter of minutes or hours based on news value and interest, and were not run through a processor of

a classic hede

a classic DBK hede

corporate needs and budget concerns. We screwed up a lot there, for sure, perhaps were overzealous in attacks against administration and city officials on occasion, and probably drank too much beer late at night in careless close proximity to thousands of dollars of newsroom equipment, because we were young and didn’t know better. At the same time, I rarely have been edited as well as I was at the Diamondback, and I know my writing hasn’t gotten that much better.

I’m amazed in retrospect at the amount of concentrated talent and ambition (from beat reporting to long-term projects) that passed through that newsroom in any given year. We were good, damn good some days, and we stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun on many stories, and outright beat them on others (at a journalism conference at Georgetown in 2002, the Post’s higher ed reporter straight congratulated DBK reporter Missy Rothman for scooping her on many details on the story of how  fraternity pledge Daniel Reardon drank himself to death).

So there were many a day years later when I sat in a comfortable desk chair at a professional newspaper owned by the second-largest chain in the country reviewing my health insurance and 401k options, mulling some of the unambitious stories I saw appear in our newspaper and others, when I would start to think wistfully back to the scrappy days of skipping journalism class to go run through the woods of Bowie trying to get as close as possible to the scene of the latest sniper shooting, or frantically calling every police, legal aid and detention center phone number in the DC region I could find to try to locate my two reporters who had just been arrested covering a protest, or listening to Jeff Barnes recount stalking a basketball star around campus to determine if he was leaving for the NBA. The key quote from him that became a local media sensation: “Don’t ask me shit, dog.” There was an egdge to the work cobbled into a sharp point by people who wanted more than clips, who didn’t give a shit about running themselves ragged or skipping class to put out a good product.

I get the sense that students at Maryland asked Savage to define “diamondbacking” as some slight to the newspaper. Like every campus newspaper throughout the history of time, the DBK was the object of scorn for lots of students who derided its unprofessionalism and sloppiness, claiming they only grabbed it from the newsstand for the sports scores and crossword puzzle.

Anecdotal evidence proved otherwise, however, and it was clear that even by the low standards of college publications, lots of people read it, and students — even administrators, teachers, regular people in town who read it for city government coverage and ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt — cared about what went into the paper. You don’t have one of the best journalism schools on the East Coast without having a top-notch student newspaper running along side it.

One of the highlights of my tenure there was when the newspaper received a copy of a letter David Simon sent to the j-school, informing the dean in brisk, Simonesque language that they should never again ask him for money, that they were a bunch of wrong-headed assholes who promoted that “cokehead Jayson Blair” for editor of the paper over a more talented, DBK-staff supported candidate (this was several months before the Blair scandal broke, btw), and that he would e-mail all his friends in the industry to tell them to never hire anyone from the University of Maryland unless they had extensive” experience working at the Diamondback.

So all the kids who are cutting their teeth in that brick-walled DBK newsroom now, like generations of Diamondbackers before them, will suffer the derision of fellow students in Dan Savage columns or elsewhere. But, as the City Paper was wise to point out in August, there’s something about the enthusiasm of the college mindset that will ensure college papers will be around long after their big pro brothers are long gone.

It’s the readers out in the so-called “real world” who may find themselves diamondbacked by the lack of ballsy news coverage before long.

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9 responses to “The Diamondback: Redefined, and kinda nasty

  1. You missed a perfectly good opportunity to namedrop me

  2. I remember sitting in the fraternity room with Missy going over Dan Reardon’s death, and I remember Wilcox and his infamous quote. Though I wasn’t around for the Simon letter, I was there for a Kunkle letter that likened him needing another project like he needs “gangrene.” Those were the days…

  3. Barry, I just assumed you were going to enter the comments section with your trademark U-Pac article exclamation. Isn’t it time for someone to write another u-pac article by now?

  4. You forgot the late-night/early-morning Bojangles’ runs

  5. Wow, I wish I were a wee bit younger. Your time at the DBK sounds so much better than mine:( I’m sure my colleagues in the publications office will be excited to see this new use for our slogan!

  6. Diamondbacking: Slowly retreating from the edge of the South Campus Dining Hall roof during a roll party at first sight of campus police.

  7. What about a new definition for The Mitzpeh?

  8. Pingback: Soapbox friends: Jeff Barnes is okay « Inverted Soapbox

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