State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University Columns—Best of 2010: Part I

by on December 31, 2010 6:46 AM

Over the past year, columnists have given you plenty to discuss: Global warming and personal finance. Joe Paterno, Evan Royster and a latter-day Thorstein Veblen. We’ve given you another reason to love a cheeseburger, and popularized a phrase in the Penn State lexicon: the Woo people.

As the year winds down, we’ve compiled a year-end Best Of list. For each of our current columnists, we cite the piece that drew the most attention, conversation and interest. In some cases, we offer a postscript, whether it’s a reader reaction or some perspective from the writer on why the piece took off or whether his or her opinion has changed.

Whether you’re revisiting a column or reading one for the first time, we hope our 2010 list gives you something interesting to share as you click your way into 2011. We present part one of our list today.

Mike Poorman

Mike Poorman knows Joe Paterno. He’s penned dozens of pieces about Penn State’s legendary coach. But in the column that generated the biggest response with our readers, the real story was our never-ending thirst for news about JoePa—even when that news is false.

Poorman sets the record straight, putting JoePa’s name in the headlines once again. “Debunking the Paterno Rumors” was linked by, (the official Penn State football site), many newspapers and Penn State fans with big e-mail chains. The story generated 28 comments (not including e-mails to Poorman himself) and 482 Facebook “likes,” possibly our most ever.

Of course, without Facebook and other social media, this wouldn't be a story at all. “The column shows the power of the Internet,” Poorman said, “not only in the dissemination of wild, unfounded and unattributed rumors, but in the rampant distribution of that misinformation as well.”

Russell Frank

In August, Russell Frank introduced us to the Woo people: a “semi-nomadic people” who move to Happy Valley at the start of the school year, turning an otherwise sleepy town into a modern-day Animal House:

The return of the Woo people was heralded by the stained and rancid sofas that sprouted curbside when their Aug. 1 leases took effect, much as the sprouting of snowdrops and crocuses more prettily heralds the arrival of spring.

Residents, “a former sorority girl,” and one particularly harsh critic weighed in, inspiring Frank to revisit the topic later in the year. In “How to Rein in the Woo People, Part I,” he proposes early classes and compulsory attendance as a solution. In Part II, he says if we really want to tackle the student-drinking problem, we need to get students to take school more seriously. Interestingly, the only people who took offense to these follow-up reports were students. In “Reining in the Woo People: Readers Respond,” he addresses their criticisms.

Patty Kleban

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a member of the Penn State football team in your class? Patty Kleban, an instructor in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management, has stood in front of athletes from every sport at Penn State. In “Teaching Evan Royster,” Patty shares her experiences with her most popular student yet: the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history.

After the article was posted, she heard from Dawna Royster, Evan’s mother:

Over the last several years I have read countless articles about Evan, but none have made me as proud of my son as you have in your writing…Evan's accomplishments on the football field do not begin to tell the story of what a fine young man he has become. You have.

Adam Smeltz

In “Who Is Veblen? Anonymous Local Blogger Allows A Glimpse Behind His Curtain,” senior editor and news reporter Adam Smeltz conducts an e-mail interview with the acerbic writer behind the “Left of Centre” blog, which scrutinizes Centre Region news and trends, particularly those involving Penn State. University President Graham Spanier is a frequent target of Veblen’s missives. When asked about the Spanier administration, Veblen wrote that he believes that its "corporate authoritarian management style (stands) in opposition to the academic ideal of shared governance ... ."

Veblen, who has been anonymous since his blog debuted in 2006, continues to post comments on and elsewhere, keeping the local media on their collective toes. 

Despite Smeltz’s column, some people, it seems, are convinced that Smeltz is in fact Veblen. “For the record,” he says, “I am not.”

Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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