The Cigar Celebrates Fifty Years of URI Student Journalism

Rebellion, growth, teamwork: how we made it here

Written alongside editor-in-chief Kate LeBlanc

Time to Celebrate!

In 1971, a team of passionate, enthusiastic, spitfire journalists found themselves together in an office on the third floor of the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union, ready to make some change and cover the issues that mattered most on the Kingston campus. 

Fifty years after the birth of The Good Five Cent Cigar, URI’s student-run newspaper, it’s safe to say that only one thing has changed: our office is now in the basement of the Memorial Union. 

2021 marks half-a-century of the Cigar’s place at URI. It’s our quinquagenary, our semi-centennial, our golden jubilee. And we couldn’t be more excited to celebrate. 

To commemorate the occasion, we talked with Cigar reporters, editors and contributors from our 50-year history to learn more about their time working for one of the quirkiest-named college newspapers in the country. 

The Beacon Goes Out 

Fifty years ago, The Good Five Cent Cigar was born out of controversy. 

The Cigar, as it is known, emerged out of the failure and resistance of The Beacon, the University’s first student-run newspaper. In December 1970, disputes among editors at The Beacon and The Beacon’s board of directors over editorial policies grew, resulting in the resignation of many editors at the time. 

“It all started with a gunshot,” Richard Rader, a founding member of the Good Five Cent Cigar, said. 

According to Rader, then-Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon Bruce Daniel altered a story in which he removed the name of a student who had shot a firearm in Bressler Hall on URI’s Kingston campus. 

“The staff rebelled because he had done that, and the editorial staff, most of which were journalism students, quit,” Rader said. “[Daniel] continued to put out a paper, but he couldn’t put together a sufficient staff to do a very good job.”

Monday, Feb. 15, 1971, was the final edition of The Beacon to be published at URI, and it was one to remember. The front page featured an editorial written by Daniel entitled “Nothingness – you deserve it,” followed by 15 blank pages. In the piece, Daniel resigned from his position at The Beacon but defended his work. 

“I have given my best to this newspaper,” Daniel wrote. “The newspaper has given little to me. The student body has given little to anything.” 

The Cigar Band 

Soon after the conclusion of The Beacon, a group of students went before Student Senate and got a constitution approved for a new student newspaper. 

On March 3, 1971, volume one, issue one of The Good Five Cent Cigar was published. 

The inaugural issue of the Cigar featured front-page stories that covered a denied co-ed dorm proposal, budget cuts to the Talent Development program and Student Senate holding a special two-day election to fill open positions. The inside pages of the paper featured a prominent editorial section, where the staff wrote pieces on race at URI, the Vietnam War and various Student Senate referendums that affected the Cigar and student-body alike. 

One of the first editorials published in the Cigar was an explanation of the quirky, newfound namesake of the paper, featured on page __ of this newspaper. It was titled “Have a Cigar,” and signed with the initials “RAR,” identifiable as Rader now. 

“We knew the phrase ‘what this country needs is a good five cent cigar,’ [but] none of us knew who had ever said it,” John Levesque, a founding member and first news editor of the Cigar, said. “I was calling the library. I was calling my mom back in Coventry because she had a good set of World Book Encyclopedias, and we had pretty much nothing in the Cigar office. I think she was the one who found out that it was Thomas Marshall who said [it].” 

The name, which many members attribute the creation of entirely to Rader, was meant to make a stand against authority and administration directly. 

“It was meant as a ‘thumb in the eye of authority,’” Bill Loveless, an early member of the Cigar, said of the paper’s namesake. “The Good Five Cent Cigar; take that, URI Beacon. I think that was illustrative of the times: we [took] [The Beacon], an institution [that] reflected institutional norms, and trashed it, and started a new one immediately and came up with this outrageous title, The Good Five Cent Cigar.” 

With the creation of the Cigar came the creation of the “Cigar Band,” the title by which the editors at the time referred to themselves as. Unlike the editions of the paper that began in the late 1970s and continuing until today, the early Cigars were published without editorial titles. There was a defined editorial board with specific positions, yet the editors simply published their list of names in a simple text box labeled “Cigar Band.”

“A lot of us were journalism students together and had been on [The Beacon] staff before, but I think there was a lot of goodwill and a lot of trust there,” Lucia Droby, a founding member of the Cigar, said. “Out of those relationships and that experience of having worked together, the atmosphere in the newsroom became much more positive. It was much more of a team effort and collaborative effort. That was a really powerful influence in the work we did, but also in my life.” 

Although the Cigar members didn’t publish their editorial titles at the time, they still held elections that determined leadership positions. John Pantalone, current chair of the journalism department and 1971 URI graduate, ultimately became the first editor-in-chief of the Cigar Band, Anne Foster became the first executive editor, Levesque became the first news editor, among the many others on the editorial board. 

Some of the Cigar Band’s most distinctive memories include the field trips they would take together, according to many of the early members. Levesque, Foster, Carol Cioe Klyman, Catherine Winters and Susan Roy all traveled together during a break from classes to work at the Great Speckled Bird, an underground newspaper based in Atlanta that put out its last issue in 1976. Many Cigar staff members also traveled together to Washington, D.C. to attend a peace and anti-war march on Washington in 1971. 

The close-knit group that emerged from the early days of the Cigar persevered through the controversy surrounding the creation of the paper itself. Many of the early members including Foster, Levesque, Winters and Cioe Klyman, admitted surprise that the Cigar’s name has stuck around for so many decades. 

“The fact that the Cigar is still with us; it’s amazing,” Winters said. “I’m really thrilled to think that we started this paper, and it’s still alive and thriving.” 

Building a Legacy 

By the late 1970s, the Cigar emerged as the University’s pre-eminent newspaper. Dave Lavallee, the sports editor in 1978, said that the Cigar required serious work and significant effort.

During Lavallee’s sophomore year, the Cigar switched to a format where they published a newspaper four times per week. 

“It was pretty intense,” Lavallee said. “It fell on us to run four days a week until we graduated, and that remained in place for several years.”

Lavallee’s time as sports editor also came a few years after Title IX was passed, meaning Lavallee was among the first editors to cover women’s sports.

“We didn’t have quite the number of women’s sports that URI has now,” Lavallee said. “I don’t believe we had women’s soccer. But I made [the commitment to cover the ones they had].”

He noted how far URI’s women’s sports had come too, noting a story where the women’s basketball coach said that the Cigar couldn’t have the box score which showed the players’ stats after a loss because it could make the players feel bad. Now, Lavallee said, the women have much nicer facilities and uniforms, and coverage of women’s sports has changed for the better.

Lavallee now works as the University’s assistant director of communications. When asked about the differences between the Cigar now and then, he said there have definitely been changes, but he is “thrilled” with the Cigar today.

“I deal with [the Cigar] a lot,” Lavallee said. “And the persistence and commitment to get stuff right, I’m dealing with multiple people multiple times a week with the Cigar. That’s a good thing because you’re interested in getting facts.”

A period of growth

The 1980s were a developmental period for the University as an institution, and, in turn, for the Cigar. The decade was defined by a change in the drinking age, as the Rhode Island legislature decided to slowly raise the legal age from 18 to 21. 

Proving a difficult adjustment for students, it also was a great challenge for the Memorial Union’s pub, which would ultimately close as a result. URI also dealt with great backlash after The New York Times ranked the University as one of the worst in the country, which the Cigar reporters covered extensively. 

In 1988, the Cigar expanded itself from a campus newspaper to an Associated Press wire service that covered more than just current events in Kingston. The editor at the time, John J. Phillips, described the shift in coverage as “the most important transition since [the Cigar’s] inception” in a 1987 editorial. 

As the Cigar expanded its coverage into the 1990s, the University celebrated its centennial and got a new president, Robert L. Carothers, giving the Cigar staff members much to write about as he worked to expand the quality of education offered at URI. 

Josh Fialky was a weekly columnist for the Cigar from 1996 to 1997. His column was called “Maybe So, Maybe Not,” and published in the editorial section of the daily-printed Cigar once a week. According to Fialky, the column ranged from serious topics to silly anecdotes about the happenings of his friend group. 

Although Fialky was working for the Cigar and producing his column weekly, he was also elected Student Senate president, a role he served in 1996. Being both a leader of Student Senate and a consistent presence at the Cigar proved to be a convoluted role for Fialky. 

“I have this great love for the Cigar, even though there was probably a year where the Cigar didn’t love me so much,” he said. “There’s some articles that reference me as my time as president. It was an interesting time, but a time where there were people criticizing me, editorials against me, some interesting stuff, but I have thick skin. I don’t think there’s been too many journalism people that have gotten that far in Senate.” 

1996 also marked the Cigar’s 25th anniversary. The newspaper put out a celebratory paper dedicated to the quadricentennial event a year late in April 1997, commemorating the paper’s accomplishments, featuring editorials from early editors like Levesque and Loveless.

The final few years of the ‘90s were defined by race-related tensions that were perpetuated by the Cigar editors at times in the final years of the decade. The Cigar published some controversial cartoons in the paper that proved to be offensive and inappropriate, causing tensions and damaging relationships throughout the University. 

At the turn of the century, however, the Cigar staff produced an edition of the paper that celebrated the past 100 years of the URI campus and the Cigar’s coverage of it, making way for the paper to continue its work into the new millennium. 

The Turn of the Millennium

The 2000s saw many major news events for the Cigar to cover. Nicole Benjamin, formerly Nicole Dulude, first heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center while in a political science class.

“I immediately rushed to the Memorial Union,” Benjamin said, “It was just sort of the natural thing for everyone to do, and within minutes, the newsroom was full of everybody on staff ready to take assignments and find out what we were going to do so we could properly cover the news.”

Given URI’s relative proximity to New York City, things became a bit more personal as students from New York and New Jersey struggled to reach their families throughout the day. 

“It was really a moment where I had to stop and think, as a reporter, about those who I was interviewing and what they were experiencing,” Benjamin said.

9/11 wasn’t the only major event that the Cigar covered during Benjamin’s time. Much closer to home in 2003, the Station nightclub in West Warwick caught on fire, killing 100 people and injuring many more.

Benjamin, who at that point was the editor-in-chief, was tasked with covering the major story that had occurred so close to home.

The Station nightclub fire also had a much more personal element to it. Benjamin said that a recent graduate of URI was among those killed in the blaze, and the Cigar honored his memory with an obituary.

Benjamin said that she remembered being contacted by a family member of the deceased asking for copies of that paper.

“I remember being pretty proud of that,” Benjamin said. “You know, we’re able to provide a family who’s grieving with something to remember their loved one by.”

This period in the Cigar’s history also saw the beginnings of technological advancements that have been furthered in its recent history. Among them was the creation of the Cigar’s website. During Benjamin’s sophomore year, the Cigar purchased the rights to ramcigar.com and started publishing stories there as well as in print.

“That was a whole new world of opportunity to be able to publish the stories on the internet,” Benjamin said.

The Cigar’s website can now be found at rhodycigar.com.

Although the website grew in prominence, Benjamin said she remembers drivers heading to a printing press in Warwick every night to print the physical copies of the paper. Occasionally, there would be errors and the staff would have to work even later in the night.

“I might be asleep for an hour or two when the phone would ring, and it was the printing press saying that there was a corrupt file, or there was an error in the upload,” Benjamin said. “So I would hop back in my car and drive to the Memorial Union.”

Josh Aromin began at the paper as a contributing reporter for the entertainment section but later moved up the ranks to become managing editor from 2009 to 2010. At the time, the Cigar was still being published multiple times a week.

“In retrospect, it is kind of crazy if you stop and think about it,” Aromin said of their frequent publications. “I just remember those late nights editing and working with the production manager to get the layouts together.”

A Decade of Change

The 2010s brought about major changes for the Cigar. The once-daily paper turned into a weekly publication, hitting newsstands across campus every Thursday morning. 

In another sign of the Cigar’s recent changes, Emma Gauthier served as the first-ever web editor her sophomore year.

While the paper had a previously established website, it wasn’t until her time that there was a position that solely focused on its maintenance. Gauthier said that being the first person to hold that position was an intimidating experience.

“I was really nervous because I had done a little bit of web design and web editing in high school, but I had never taken ownership of it the way that I did when I joined the paper,” Gauthier said.

Web editor wasn’t the only new position added during Gauthier’s time at the Cigar. During that period, the Cigar’s newscast started as well, with student Marissa Tansino taking initiative on the new project. 

Gauthier, a member of the Class of 2018, would later become the Cigar’s editor-in-chief in her junior year. She recalled her biggest moment with the Cigar as publishing a piece written by a girl who was raped at a social, which was covered up by her sorority. 

“It was super important, I think, to start having these conversations,” Gauthier said. “And so we actually did that throughout the whole semester.”

The backlash from the story was heavy, as Gauthier said that Greek Life threatened to sue the Cigar. Additionally, she noted there were rallies on campus following the release of the story, with students who did and didn’t believe the story making their opinions known.

While Gauthier said that she didn’t have any involvement in writing the story, she still said that it was the most important thing she contributed to the Cigar.

“I felt like it was my position to make sure that people have their voices heard, and that drives a lot of the things that I value today,” Gauthier said.

Zack DeLuca, a former entertainment editor from 2018, had a great experience working on stories that involved connections made through the Student Entertainment Committee (SEC).

“This is a great thing about school and working at URI, you get these opportunities through celebrity programs,” DeLuca said. “I interviewed Woody Harrelson when he came to URI… that was a fun thing, being able to make those connections through the SEC.” 

The Cigar is still lit 

Today, the Cigar continues to publish once a week both online and on newsstands, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coronavirus-related reporting began in the early months of 2020 when students began to get sent home from the University-related study abroad programs, sparking great concern from students across campus and those on international territories. 

Theresa Brown, who was editor-in-chief throughout 2020, tackled COVID-19 reporting with many of the editorial members that are still presently in their positions.

In addition to the beginning of the Cigar’s pandemic-related coverage, Brown also sees her legacy defined by the increase in multimedia journalism in addition to the print newspaper. 

“Going into my term was that big switch to multimedia with the newscast and [the] podcast, fixing our website, doing the PDF [of the print paper], stuff like that, I think that we did a really good job of making it more available,” Brown said. 

Brown also served as one of the only known students to ever serve as both a managing editor and editor-in-chief of the Cigar.

“It was something that I fell into that I never really even considered for myself,” Brown said. “It was towards the end of the second semester of managing editor where I kind of looked around and thought ‘who would be next, other than me?’ and there was nobody. Not that it was forced, but it was kind of the only option, and I didn’t mind because I felt like there was still a lot more I wanted to do.”

As Brown plans to graduate in the spring, you can find her now contributing to the Cigar under another new title: editor-in-chief emerita. 

The significance of the occasion 

To all the Cigar alumni, 50 years represents so much, and to all, a different thing. 

Cioe Klyman went on to have a career in journalism, working at newspapers all across the country. She changed her career later in life, however, going to law school and now working as an attorney.

“I tend to focus forward rather than backward, but looking back to that time in anticipation of our interview, I realized that I had forgotten how the Cigar years shaped my life in significant ways,” Cioe, a founding member of the Cigar, said in an email. “My dear lasting friendships, my newspaper career in Florida (visiting a Cigar friend, which is also where I met and married my husband 37 years ago), my worldview and my politics. Who would have thought it?” 

Foster, another founding member of the Cigar, also pursued a career in journalism but shifted towards public relations over time. Yet, she recalls her memories of her time learning how to be a reporter fondly. 

“For me, the journalism department at URI and then the experience at the newspaper were the best things about my academic career,” Foster said. “It gave me a founding sense of principles in journalism. It gave me a form of expression and experience in leadership. It gave me some lifelong friends and a community which I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Droby, in reflecting on the years she spent as a student working on the Cigar, saw how powerful an influence the paper had on her life. She even went on to work at the Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta after she graduated from URI. 

“My experience with The Good Five Cent Cigar really did change the course of my life,” Droby said. “We were engaged in a lot of the social justice issues of the time. I think that The Good Five Cent Cigar, the name and the collaboration, really represents some of the excellent values that were a part of that moment. We weren’t frivolous. We weren’t posturing. We were trying to do really good and serious work that represented the best of the movement of the time.”

Similarly, despite working on the present-day Cigar, Brown has realized first hand the power of the Cigar historically, and how monumental the anniversary has become. 

“50 years is crazy because you don’t realize how many people are in that,” Brown said. “From what I’ve gathered… the Cigar means so much even to the alumni that come after it… That’s a lot of years of family and connections and finding your home at URI.” 

Thank you 

Throughout the past 50 years of The Good Five Cent Cigar has evolved with time. We’re no longer covering the protests against the Vietnam War and the smoke-ins on the Quad, but instead, we’re focused on giving you the news of today: COVID-19 updates, discussing antiracism efforts on campus and preparing for a new university president come summertime. 

Things are certainly different, but the mission of the Cigar has remained the same: representing the student voice since 1971. And some things will never change. 

Happy birthday to The Good Five Cent Cigar! 

This story was published in the Good Five Cent Cigar’s 50th Anniversary Edition, released on Feb. 4, 2021.

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