An hour after leaving the New England Classic’s weekly editorial meeting, I received a seemingly innocuous email from its managing editor thanking me for writing about the unofficial campus satirical newspaper’s 10th anniversary. At the bottom of the email, tucked under the signature, a link to a folder titled “Incriminating NEC files (do not open!)” drew my attention.
I clicked on the link. What secrets could wait on the other side? Was the New England Classic actually a front for an illicit dorm room candle-smuggling ring? Or maybe it was secretly run by a band of rogue Jesuits, out to mock Boston College. These files might hold the key.
The page loaded. I scrolled through.
The folder contained 16 pictures of abacuses.
As I scrolled back and forth, I started clicking on the different pictures. Abacus. Abacus. Multi-colored abacus. No documents. No meeting minutes. This was just a folder with 16 pictures of medieval adding tools.
I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. Someone had bothered to put together this folder of abacuses (abaci?), titled it “Incriminating NEC files (do not open!),” and sent it to me. Did the Classic staff keep this folder handy to send to anyone it might apply to? Or was it just a joke they put together to mess with me? If so, who came up with the ‘let’s send this kid 16 pictures of abacuses’ idea?
I still have no idea, but I know it was weird, and unique, and really funny. It was a small, personal version of the weird, unique, really funny stuff the New England Classic has been doing for 10 years now. The team at the satirical paper has a significant cultural impact with their joke headlines and widely shared articles—from “Tragic: Hundreds of Boston College Students Are From New Jersey” to “Old Dude in Rat Really Going In On Hot Dog.”
The day I received that email was the day I got the chance to step behind the scenes of the Classic and see what’s kept this satire machine running smoothly since 2007.
“Watch out, there was a mouse that ran over there maybe 10 minutes ago,” said Josh Artman, MCAS ’19.
We were in a musty Carney classroom on a Wednesday night, the chairs arranged in a lumpy circle. A half hour before the Classic’s weekly editorial meeting, Artman was preparing to lead the group of 30 or so students who would soon show up.
Artman is the “managing editor” of the New England Classic. The title is in quotes, because the Classic doesn’t have an official masthead. Its articles are anonymous, and since it isn’t a registered student organization, it doesn’t need to bother with too much procedure. Despite lacking the University-recognized, student services-stamped, officially-sanctioned club status, Artman, as managing editor, is experiencing “the real club phenomenon.”
“We used to just be a small group of people,” Artman said. “You could kind of just join if you sent an email to right person or Facebook messaged the right person.”
This year, the Classic accepted applications. They received between 30 and 40 applications and had to reject roughly two dozen applicants. They have weekly meetings to organize headlines, brainstorm jokes, and plan future issues and projects. Artman tries to decipher the wacky machinations behind Facebook’s algorithm, which determines if a post is at the top of a person’s newsfeed or buried under a pile of memes and vacation photos. They’ve published video projects and are expanding their Instagram presence. Just a few weeks ago, they had an official merchandise sale.
That’s a far stretch from the New England Classic this year’s seniors saw when they first came to BC. Four years ago, the Classic was still primarily a print publication with little online presence.
“We started as a print paper and printed 1,000 copies of our first issue,” said Katie Curley, who founded the Classic in 2007, in an email.
Curley and her roommates had decided to start the paper in the style of The Harvard Lampoon and convinced friends to hand it out around campus. Students enjoyed the satire, and the new operation started to recruit a small team of writers, getting up to about 15. For the paper’s first seven years, they remained in that same print-focused position.
One day in the fall of 2014, two students walked up and down the tables in Bapst library, dropping single white pages on each table. They then stopped at the back of the library, under the confused, watchful eyes of the studying masses, and hugged each other in a theatrical end-of-the-world sort of way, before fleeing the library. The sheets they left behind were that fall’s print issue of the Classic. That Classic staff would go around the entire campus dropping off sheets like this, full of gag headlines and short, satirical articles. That day in 2014 was one of the last times that the Classic’s readership was primarily students thumbing through black and white print editions.
That’s because, around that time, the Classic began to change. Anthony Perasso, BC ’17, whose time at the University has been extensively covered by The Heights—including by me—had been rejected from three comedy groups his freshman year and chose the Classic, one place he wouldn’t be rejected, for his comedic outlet. Along with the rest of the Classic team, many of whom are currently running the paper, Perasso expanded the Classic’s Facebook reach and helped turn it from a loosely connected Google Drive of funny ideas into a moderately-organized-but-still-fun organization.
The results are clear from the numbers. Four years ago, the Classic had a Tumblr page and a barely existent Facebook. Now they have 3,208 likes and growing.
Artman talked about this history as we waited for the meeting to start. With about 20 minutes left, the door opened again and Rachel Loos, MCAS ’18, walked in the room. Loos is the editor-in-chief of the Classic and is responsible for some of their most notable content.
“I know you,” Loos said. “You do an opinions column also.”
And with that quote, she perfectly took care of the full disclosure part of this article, in which we have to mention that in addition to running the Classic, Loos is also an opinions columnist for The Heights.
Loos has been a major part of the Classic’s transition to online and “real club” status.
“We’re trying to figure out how big we can be while still being productive, and also how disorganized and casual we can be while still being productive,” she said.
For this reason, Loos and Artman have shied away from strict two-articles-a-week type requirements and try to maintain the spirit of the club without sacrificing the quality of the content. A major part of this effort has been trying to find freshman to refill the ranks, which has proven to be harder than most clubs, since the Classic is not a registered student organization.
“We applied for club status and were denied,” Curley said. “I had several professors who liked and supported the paper, but the administration overall didn’t have the same sense of humor that we did. Now, I think the paper operates best outside of club status.”
This renegade status is how the Classic staff found themselves sandwiched between the condom-wielding folks of Students for Sexual Health and the brewski-cracking fellows of the underground frat on the corner of College Road and Hammond, recruiting on the small swatch of campus BC can’t control. When the off-campus recruiting attempts didn’t yield the best results, the Classic went rogue and tried infiltrating the involvement fair. And by infiltrating, I mean talking to freshmen and giving out information along with every other club, which ended up being quite the problem.
“We tried to set up just to pass out fliers and this one same lady kept coming back,” Loos said.
Whenever they were shut down, they would disappear and then re-appear later somewhere else, like whack-a-mole. And every time, the same woman would find them and smack them over the head with the rubber hammer of administrative disapproval.
“She was like, ‘Really guys?’” Artman said, crossing his arms.
But the recruiting, however inconvenient, still worked. Years ago, Loos and Artman both got their spots on the Classic through Facebook messages, and now they’re reading through applications and setting up a formal-ish staff. As the Classic grows, it’s understandable that the administration wouldn’t be ecstatic about their unofficial recruiting efforts.
The Classic has posted a number of stories that criticize and satirize the administration, most recently a story in response to the racist vandalization of several Black Lives Matter signs. Shortly after the story broke, they posted on Facebook—“Anonymous Scumbag Selflessly Brings Attention to Campus Race Issues.”
A few hours after the story broke, Loos wrote a draft of the article, they re-worked it twice over to make sure it accomplished everything it needed to—punching up, making a point, being funny—and published it.
“It makes it easy to digest, when it’s a humor paper,” Loos said.
In between goofy posts, what Loos and Artman call “stuff we find funny,” easy-to-digest posts that drive likes and traffic, and the occasional theme week (such as The Spook England Classic), the Classic releases stories such as the “Scumbag” one, which take a critical look at shortcomings of campus culture and administrative response.
“We definitely do have a responsibility to do that,” Loos said.
Other such posts include “BC Installs Oil Rig as Symbol of Dedication to Fossil Fuel Investment,” “Boston College Administrators Apparently Under Impression That Wheelchairs Have Jetpacks,” and “Leahy Prays To Top Donors, Trustees For Guidance On Gender-Neutral Bathrooms.”
These posts almost always receive significant traction on social media.
“There’s definitely people who might not read The Heights that read this,” Loos said.
As we wrapped our discussion of satire and social responsibility, all the while keeping an eye out for that malicious mouse, the room started to fill with the Classic’s staff. Within a few minutes, there were about 30 students jammed into the circle. After opening the meeting, Artman pointed to a list he had chalked onto the board titled “Good Jorb.” It listed some of the best posts of the week and gave credit to each writer/Photoshop aficionado who had contributed.
“Can we have a bad job column?” a staffer quickly responded.
The room broke out into a quick series of jokes spinning off of that. This rapid-fire humor barrage continued for the next part of the meeting, in which the staff talked about ideas for the future. Jokes were thrown out for Love Your Body Week, then Thanksgiving and Movember ideas were shouted out at random clips.
“Something about pubes?”
“Comm. Ave. bus breaks down under added weight of Movember pubes?”
After that gem, one of the writers pointed at me and said “write that down,” something that continued throughout the night. And I did write it down.
Eventually, they broke into two smaller groups to go over a Google doc full of potential headlines for the weeks ahead.
After the two small groups split up into different classrooms, one erupted into raucous laughter while the other was still quietly reading through the document.
“I feel like we’re the sad group,” Artman said, listening to the laughter echoing down the hall.
“Everyone start laughing,” a staffer said. “3 … 2 … 1.”
A scream-laugh to end all scream-laughs rose from the small group, combating the joy coming down the hall.
Putting together stories, Loos and Artman keep in mind Facebook and building up a following, while also keeping the site an outlet for each writer’s humor. That means if Artman wants to write about Steve Addazio working as a ghoul at fright fest, then he will, even if the likes aren’t quite up to the heights of “Ivy League Who? We Ranked The Top Colleges In America And Put BC First!” which accomplished one of the Classic’s favorite feats.
“The best is when articles break into old people Facebook,” Artman said.
The outer limits of the Classic’s satirical reach extend to slightly bewildered elderly people and slightly oblivious alumni, who, on the Classic’s most-seen articles, will comment about knowing plenty of nice people from New Jersey or cheer the Classic on for putting BC first, screw those Ivy League snobs! In a weird way, that shows how far the Classic has come in the past decade. When once the only people reading it were BC students who got their hands on a print copy, now random old people with tangential BC connections are stumbling on the Classic’s special brand of campus satire.
For the first time in their history, the Classic went to the The Princeton Tiger’s National Intercollegiate Humor Conference at Princeton University, where they interacted with other satirical college papers from across the country. Once again, they’re experiencing the “real club phenomenon,” as they plan a second visit to the conference in April. After that, they plan to put out more video projects, expand their Instagram offerings, and keep pushing quality content through Facebook and Twitter. And they still put out a print issue at the end of every semester, a call back to days before print died its slow, grisly death.
But these big advances don’t change the day to day for the Classic. In the end it’s still about a group of friends sitting in a Carney classroom figuring out what they think is funny—maybe sending a Heights reporter a folder full of abacuses.
Featured Image Courtesy of Madie Chadwell