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"We'd sit in my grandmother's office, pour a drink of bourbon, and if we didn't have enough copy, we would write something up."

Patrick Cather smiles as he reminisces about the early days of the Kaleidoscope, the student newspaper that just celebrated its 50th anniversary. On the nights before the paper went to press, Cather, the founding editor-in-chief, often held editorial meetings in the office of his family’s printing company. He and assistant editor Jim Palmer (who became the second editor-in-chief) would work until midnight or 1:00 a.m. to finish each issue. “I have good memories of that time,” Cather says.


Something Big

When the first issue (pictured) arrived in 1967—two years before UAB became an independent university—the Kaleidoscope had four pages of news and photos, with no ads. But it already knew the campus well. The newspaper’s name was chosen by editors to reflect the school’s diversity and its changing nature, as well as the paper’s goal of entertaining and informing the student body. (The name also gives a nod to Centerscope, the campuswide newsletter that preceded the paper.)

The first issue covers the growth of sports on campus and parking issues—stories familiar to students picking up the paper today. “Some things have not changed, even after 50 years,” Cather jokes.

The Kaleidoscope was a monthly paper for the first eight issues, after which the staff lobbied to publish it biweekly. “There was a lot of interest in the paper, so we wanted to do it more often,” Cather says. They also began selling ads to subsidize the paper’s expansion. “By then, people realized that UAB was going to be something big, and businesses saw it as a good medium for reaching students,” Cather says.

Following his year as editor, Cather continued at UAB, but left before completing his degree to manage his family’s company. He also worked in the rare-book business and was a part-time writer and editor. “I haven’t strayed far from that editing and journalism background,” he says.

Making Headlines

By the 1990s, UAB had a Department of Communication Studies and a Student Media office, which meant an increase in students pursuing journalism. As a result, the Kaleidoscopebegan attracting notice beyond University Boulevard. “In Birmingham, we were at the center of the action,” says Tim Stephens, a Kaleidoscopestaffer from 1991 to 1995, and 1994 editor-in-chief. “We wanted to make a community impact by covering important issues. We broke a lot of stories that were picked up by local media”—for example, UAB’s move to Division I sports and the formation of the Marching Blazers band.


“We were ambitious and aggressive,” Stephens says. “We tried to be innovative in our approaches and have fun. Those [stories] were opportunities that shaped my career and my life.” Case in point: An interview with Gene Bartow, founding father of UAB athletics, led to a lifelong friendship. After Stephens left UAB early to pursue a journalism career, the legendary coach kept encouraging him to finish his degree. Following Bartow’s death, Stephens, then working at CBS Interactive and serving as president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, enrolled online and earned his communication studies degree in 2015. Now he is back in Birmingham, heading his own media company.


News at your Fingertips

Today the Kaleidoscope publishes weekly. Sunday planning and design meetings run on pizza, not whiskey. And the paper is more than just paper.

Now everything is digital first, says 2017-2018 editor-in-chief Chandler Jones, a graduate student in computer science. “News is always happening, and we must keep pace with it and reach students where they are, whether on social media or on our website,” she explains. Jones manages both digital and print versions, a departure from most newsrooms. “There can be a vision executed for both, especially by a team that’s quick, smart, and accurate,” she says. “It’s a playground, and we have a blast.”

But the paper’s mission—and its lessons for students—have remained the same for five decades. “Some of my best memories in a long journalism career come from working at the Kaleidoscope,” Stephens says. “I made lifelong friends. I also learned about operating as a team, setting goals, executing projects, and juggling responsibilities.”

“I’ve had to change my mentality on what a newspaper is,” Jones says. “It’s a team effort in a family environment. You don’t do it for the money or the esteem. You do it because you love journalism.”


By Clair McLafferty - Photos By Kenzie Greer - Historical Images courtesy of UAB Archives