It’s 1982 at Montclair State University. The radios are blasting Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Students are smoking in class, snubbing out their cigarettes in the ashtrays provided. Others are hitting up the pub, the Rathskeller, sampling beer or wine.
It was a different era of college and with it, a different era of the campus newspaper, The Montclarion. With 10,000 copies printed each week, the paper was thriving with then Editor-in-Chief Meryl Yourish’s weekly humor column and rigorous reporting.
“I had to publish a correction to a story that we did where I reversed the numbers in a survey,” she said. “I didn’t write it, just the headline was wrong. Every other news article I wrote, I never had to publish a single correction. Nobody ever complained that I got them wrong.”
Meryl Yourish is a born-and-raised New Jerseyan, and lived in North Jersey until 2002.
During her time in New Jersey working at The Montclarion, Meryl Yourish had many accomplishments. She organized a statewide student strike and helped create an underground newspaper when the Student Government Association (SGA) briefly shut down the campus paper. Due to her willingness to accurately report on hard news stories, she had the privilege of riding in a helicopter with Vice President of Administration and Finance Elliot Mininberg.
“When Meryl would feel that something was wrong in life, she would lead the charge to correct it,“ said David Yourish, Meryl Yourish’s brother and fellow Montclarion staff member at the time.
Meryl Yourish worked hard on many enterprise stories, including her most notable one about Montclair State’s president reorganizing the college to become an official university.
“The headline was ‘Dickson Discloses Reorg Reasons,’” she said. “The head of the teacher’s union saw me walking across campus one day, and he stopped to shake my hand. He’s like, ’None of us got that. You’re the only one that got that.’ So this is why I got a helicopter ride from Dr. Mininberg.”
Besides her esteemed reputation as a reporter, Meryl Yourish was involved in the SGA for a period of time. Her initial foray into the legislature stemmed from when there was going to be a tuition hike for Montclair State students because they planned to funnel money into the colleges that really needed it. However, they quickly changed their agenda and said they would instead take the money from the colleges and put it into tuition and grants.
Meryl Yourish’s journalist senses tingled, and she questioned this immediately at a meeting held at Rutgers University. She brought up the idea that this situation called for a student strike, but Rutgers shut her down.
“When somebody tells you that you can’t do something that you really think is important, I have a tendency to say, ‘Watch my dust,’” she said.
Meryl Yourish returned to Montclair State and gave a speech that rallied student supporters behind her before spreading them across the state to deliver the message about a strike.
“We got enough students on board that we shut down about 80 percent of the state colleges in New Jersey,” she said. “Most students stayed home on that Monday and Friday. We got on the front page of the Star Ledger on Monday.”
Despite her success at the strike, Meryl Yourish’s relationship with the SGA was not always peachy. After The Montclarion endorsed the losing candidate in an election, the winner investigated their funding to silence the paper’s voice in the campaign thereafter.
“That was so much fun,” she said. “It was the microcosm of the real-world politicians versus journalists.”
The SGA managed to freeze the newspaper’s funding, resulting in the printer not being able to print any copies of the paper. However, the staff did not back down.
“We were all outraged,” she said. “We decided to write an underground newspaper. It was four pages and 72-point type and the headline was ‘Prez Stops Presses.’ We stayed up very late that week.”
Meryl Yourish considers these times on the newspaper “some of the best years of my life.” The Montclarion readers can thank her for the annual April Fool’s Day issue that she first created in the late 70’s.
“Her humorous columns and stories about college life in general were fun to read,“ David Yourish said. “It was a nice feeling when people asked if I was her brother.“
It is now 2018 at Montclair State University. Music blares from iPhone speakers and the Rathskeller is only known for their swipe combos and personal pizzas.
Meryl Yourish is no longer in college. Instead, she self-publishes her books with publishing skills gained from her experience at The Montclarion. Her series, The Catmage Chronicles is set to finish this spring with its fifth book. She lives a quieter life now in Virginia with her two cats but still holds onto her journalistic morals from those years ago.
“That would be my advice to anybody who wanted to go into journalism today,” she said. “Number one, get all of your facts right. Number two, be objective.”
More of Meryl Yourish’s work can be viewed on her website http://merylyourish.com/.