In 1975, a handful of Troy State University students began The Trojan Eye, a newspaper rivaling the Tropolitan. Not associated with the university, students had the freedom to publish more controversial content.
A local attorney and president of the Troy Arts Council, Joel Lee Williams, was one of these innovative students. While he was not in on the initial founding of the paper, he quickly became involved as a reporter.
As well as writing a weekly column titled “On The Other Hand,” Williams also reported on sporting events.
“And the great thing about it was, anything short of defamation, we could write whatever the heck we wanted to,” Williams said. “We used to have some front page articles about the Troy State administration doing some things that were contrary to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.”
Using the acronym to their advantage, they titled the article: “TSU gives ACHE a pain.”
“I’ll never forget that headline,” Williams fondly remembered.
“We published a lot of things that were not always overtly critical, but not always flattering to the university.”
When asked how The Trojan Eye compared with the Tropolitan at the time, he answered that it was similar in size and content, with slight variations here and there.
“I’ll never forget,” Williams laughed. “I remember reading an article by the Tropolitan in the ’60s complaining about parking. Well, I wrote an editorial about parking and just a couple years ago I saw a Tropolitan article about parking.”
Ken Johnson, the founder of the paper, hosted the staff in his off-campus home to complete their work.
“A couple days a week, I would go to his mobile home and sit at the kitchen table with a typewriter,” Williams said.
With limited supplies and experience, Williams said, “Our work product was so much better than it had any right to be.”
They distributed the paper free of charge on campus, where both faculty and students read it.
“It was a lot of work, which of course you know was good,” Williams said. “Of course, any time you’re in journalism there’s deadlines.”
“The pressure of putting pen to paper, that having to muster creativity when you didn’t feel like it. It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel like it. We got an hour. Write it. You develop a lot of characteristics that serve you well.”
Williams said that while the pressure honed his skills, the content was not always up to par.
“But you know it was a lot more than the quality of the journalism or the scholarship of the literature,” Williams said. “It was the work product, even if subject and verb didn’t always agree. If it wasn’t grammatically correct or typographically perfect, at the end of the day, we just had a paper.”
Williams’ friend wrote for the Tropolitan and many years later admitted that every week the Tropolitan staff would pore over it in the office.
He said they would say: “Look what they can do! How can they do this?”
Williams also emphasized the diversity of The Trojan Eye’s staff, stating that it was healthy and telling how they each learned from one another.
Among such was James “Shack” Thompson, a fellow journalist, student and friend.
“We’d see each other in the hall and stop for a few minutes,” Williams said. “I’d admire his stories; they were always the best.”
Throughout the years, the two friends remained in contact, always discussing their most recent writing endeavors. Williams described Thompson as a great guy with a brilliant mind.
Thompson was the associate editor as well as a staff writer. He too wrote a weekly column, his titled, “For What It’s Worth.”
Even with a natural gift for writing, Thompson agreed with Williams on the workload being tough.
“Each week was a chore,” Thompson admitted.
However, he said he definitely had fun with whatever task was at hand.
He fondly recalled writing a satirical article titled “Stuckies” about women on campus being stuck up.
“It was just funny, not meant to be serious,” Thompson said. “A lot of my articles were tongue in cheek.”
Being the only black student in Troy who had a column with his picture on it, Thompson used his voice to advocate for other black students.
One of his favorite pieces to have written was an editorial petitioning the university for more black instructors, emphasizing black students’ need to identify with them.
The paper ran for only a year, as the students involved grew weary of the excess workload, each being involved with many other activities.
“We all said, ‘Well, it was fun, but I’m tired,’ ” Williams said.