When the Echo became a Whisper

Zully Sosa, executive editor 

On Dec. 9, 1969, the first edition of a subsidiary organization by the Echo was published. In their introduction statement, they explained the reason for creating this separate entity was to “continue Echo operations in the face of continuing budget [loss].” Allegedly, the Echo was radicalizing quickly during this time, presumingly catching negative attention, and its confirmed by the 1971 yearbook that their budget suffered from a “student government financial disaster.” Thus, the Whisper, a collection of thin papers containing type-written articles and handwritten ads, was born. In the spring semester, the Echo published three issues while the Whisper had 14. We haven’t heard the Whisper since. 

One year later, on Dec. 10, 1970, the Echo published its last issue of a very long year. The Vietnam War and all of Nixon’s resulting decisions were regularly protested on and off campus. Speakers invited on campus included Lee Weiner, one of the Chicago 7, and various members of the Black Panther party. There are reports of students making dummies labeled “Nixon,” “Mitchell,” etc. and burning them in effigy. A banner hung off the balcony of Christensen Center reading, “END THE WAR.” On the last page of their last issue, the Echo ran an ad for legal abortions in New York titled “Pregnant? Need Help?” 

Immediately, admin stopped off-campus distribution to avoid alumni, parents and Board of Regents members from seeing the promotion. While those 300 copies of the publication were never delivered, it didn’t stop a thousand to be distributed around campus into the hands of students and faculty. Word spread fast. News outlets including the Star Tribune and WCCO-TV ran stories about the Echo’s halted mailing and backlash received. As expected, most non-students reading the Echo were outraged. Back in the 50s, female students were required to have escorts when going off-campus. Alumni who remember that era couldn’t begin to tolerate the idea that young ladies of Augsburg would travel to New York to terminate a pregnancy. After everything that occurred on campus in the past year, an ad printed in a newspaper may not compare in our modern minds, but the Echo is a publication under Augsburg’s name and that is where the line was drawn. 

Naturally, an apology from the Echo was expected. Steve Frantz, editor of the Echo at the time, called the ad a mistake after seeing the press coverage and being informed about a “1909 statue in the penal code that prohibited such advertising.” In this statement he explained the staff had an interest “in presenting a topic that [would] perhaps be the first order of business in the next session of the legislature.” The bill that legalized abortion in New York at the time is considered a model for Roe v. Wade and required no proof of residency for the medical procedure be performed. It’s reported that 60% of women taking advantage of this bill came from out of state. Similar ads were run in other Minnesota colleges newspapers, but as a very Christian establishment at the time it was an unignorable controversy at Augsburg. Frantz delivered written pieces from local representatives with opposing views in the first issue of the spring semester, as promised in his statement.  

Judging from what has been put in the Lindell Library’s archives, his statement wasn’t enough to save the budget. Perhaps it wasn’t seen as sincere enough, considering it was titled “OOPS!” We only have 10 issues of the Echo from 1971, far under its normal 20+, and the labels in the archives lab lead me to believe only around 12 were published. So, what happened? 

If the Echo lost a majority of its funding, it begs the question: Why not continue publishing weekly by relying on the small budget needs of the Whisper? It’s possible they even could have gotten away with the abortion ad if it had been published there. The Whisper did not establish itself as an Augsburg publication; you will not find the name on its cover – except for their first edition, which has the tagline “The Augsburg Way of Death.” It’s unclear whether it distributed off-campus, but it’s likely that the Whisper was just using a local print shop to make mimeographs of the original copy made on typewriters in the Echo office, not sending anything to a printing press. They probably only had a couple hundred copies of each issue to pass out. We only have copies of the Whisper from the spring semester of 1970, before the abortion ad, and it never makes another appearance. 

The few times the Echo did come back that year, we can see it adopted some aesthetic choices and tone of the Whisper. Covers are proud political cartoons that don’t shy away from bias or revolutionary statements, articles have a little less care about who may disagree with them. This faded by January of 1972: the Echo again resembled a traditional newspaper format. 

It’s possible that the Whisper faded away on campus for the same reason other passion projects do – graduation. Loss is the only option if there is no one to recognize the need or importance of something. This is the case for many good things on a university campus that cycles through its population every four years. Alternatively, it’s worth speculating that after Frantz’ graduation in 1972, the new editors of the Echo agreed not to continue the Whisper and focus on hard journalism instead. 

In the Echo office of today, we are missing copies of the Echo from 1969-1973. The Whisper has been seemingly forgotten, and no publishing choices have been nearly as controversial as the abortion ad of 1970. The Echo’s “good behavior” over the past 53 years is likely why we have a stable printing budget today. It’s about time we cash in! 

Creating a special edition issue has been in the back of my mind all three years I’ve spent on the Echo, and at the absolute last minute, it has finally come together. The Echo is dedicated to high journalistic standards and giving coverage of various topics each week — it isn’t built to give the proper attention to larger social issues happening. So the Whisper will be revived! The passion I read in the pages of the Whisper reminded me of the voices of classmates I talk to everyday, and I want to put some of it on paper like they did. 

The first edition of the Whisper in this century focuses on the issue of displacement and can be found around campus next week. All saved editions of the Whisper, and the Echo in the early 1970s, can be found on the Augsburg Archives website. The 2023 edition of the Whisper will be available online on the Echo website.