The 48-year history of the Central Florida Future
When the University of Central Florida first opened its doors to students on Oct. 7, 1968 — five years after it was established in 1963 — the Central Florida Future was there to greet them.
At the time, both institutions went by different names: UCF was called Florida Technical University, and the Future ran under the masthead “FTU ???” for five issues before settling on the name the FuTUre on Nov. 15, 1968.
It was the brainchild of journalism majors and alumni Jonathan Gholdston and Linda Mettle, who learned early on that the new university did not have plans for a student newspaper. Together, they set out to meet with UCF’s first president, Charles Millican, in order to garner support for a student-run, independent news publication.
“We made a couple of phone calls and found out there was no paper,” Gholdston said. “We got an appointment to go down and talk to Charles Millican, who was at that time the president of the university. He thought it was a fantastic idea.”
Millican, who Gholdston described as a “prince among men,” gave the pair two IBM Selectric typewriters, a few cameras, a small office space in the school’s first student union and a supply of paper to help jumpstart the newspaper.
“Everybody was anxious to help us, but you have to imagine, the university was much more anxious to spend their resources on attracting new students,” Gholdston said. “We were pretty much on our own.”
For its first year, the paper worked closely with the school’s public relations department, which provided the use of its typeset printer for the paper’s first issues. Despite the university’s support, however, the future of the FuTUre remained in doubt.
“I honestly believe at that time we were such an afterthought that the expectation was that we would abandon it, because we really weren’t getting any financial help anywhere,” Gholdston said. “We were trying to sell ads, but that was us selling ads — we were printing the paper on campus, which at the time was a tabloid-sized paper, but we could only print one side of the paper at a time … The first issues were literally stapled at the corner.”
But despite the uphill battle for the paper to find its footing, Gholdston and Mettle were not deterred. They struck out to rally support among the local community, who responded with great enthusiasm.
“Orlando rose to that occasion: The idea of having a first-class university in Orlando was very, very exciting to the community at large,” Gholdston said. “So, when we went out to sell ads, it was more like taking orders than selling. People were just very interested to do what they could to help us and help the university.”
As the university grew in size, office space came into high demand; eventually, the paper was moved to a pair of portables — first near the water tower, then near a pair of art domes that were demolished in the ‘90s — where it would stay until it was moved off campus in 1993. Despite this reduction in office space, the publication grew in other ways: Its staff expanded to accommodate a managing editor, news, entertainment, sports and photo editors, a production manager, a stable of staff writers, freelancers and a business department, which included ad and sales staff.
Though the staff size would vary throughout the publication’s lifespan, ranging from two people at its start to around two dozen at its height, the paper remained a profitable venture for many years. During the tenure of alumna Lisa Lochridge, who was editor-in-chief of the paper from 1977-78, the paper acquired its own cold typesetting machine, which allowed its staff to change layouts and experiment with design in a way that wasn’t possible when sending copy off to a local printer for finalization. The paper also published its first color photograph on June 2, 1978.
“The good news was we had a great business staff, and we made money, and we were able to buy a cold typesetting machine — you’d just input the stories and they’d come out, you’d wax the type — but it allowed us a lot more flexibility to change layouts and just be a little more nimble,” Lochridge said.
Rick Brunson, who was a member of the Future’s staff from 1983-84 and is currently an associate instructor of journalism at UCF, described the production process during the newspaper’s typesetting days as considerably time intensive compared to modern, computer-assisted design.
“We literally pasted the paper up on these big paper boards,” Brunson said. “The stories would come out on photographic paper, and you would cut them and put them through a waxer and literally paste them up on a board. And then a big camera would take a picture of the page, and the negative would be turned into a plate, and then the plate would be loaded on a press and out would come the paper.”
Shortly before Lochridge graduated, FTU experienced several major changes: Millican retired, paving the way for the university’s second president, Trevor Colbourn, and the school officially changed its name to the University of Central Florida.
“The first president retiring was big news, and then of course the name change was a big deal, completely changing the vision and direction of the university,” Lochridge said.
The name change was Colbourn’s “first major goal as president,” and was approved by the state legislature on Dec. 6, 1978, according to the Dec. 8, 1978 edition of the Future. Colbourn was sworn in as president on Jan. 15, 1979.
The paper’s masthead changed shortly thereafter. On Oct. 9, 1981, University of Central Florida was added to the top of the masthead. On Aug. 31, 1984, the paper became TheFuture, and on Aug. 28, 1985, the paper was finally known as The Central Florida Future.
In 1989, Colbourn was succeeded as president by Steven Altman, who would become the subject of the Future’s largest story. Reporters for the paper discovered that Altman’s name appeared in a list of clients for a chain of massage parlors that served as fronts for an interstate prostitution ring. In the wake of the public outcry, Altman resigned as president on June 8, 1991, according to the June 12, 1991 issue of the Future.
That story was covered by Bill Cushing, who worked at the Future from 1991 to 1993. Cushing would later be involved in a scandal that wedged itself in the institutional memory of the paper and earned him the moniker of “the cursed editor,” since many people believed that it was his decision to run a vulgar cartoon of the school’s newly appointed president, John Hitt, that led to the paper being removed from campus.
The cartoon in question featured Hitt’s head superimposed on a black-and-white image of Adolf Hitler at a Nazi rally; a fabricated quote below the image, which we have chosen not to republish, featured Hitt railing against the use of skateboards on campus.
“Hitt had just come on; it was maybe his first or second semester there,” Cushing said. “What happened was, he was walking toward us and some kid nearly clipped him on a skateboard. We turned to each other and said, ‘Aha, by next week, skateboards would be forbidden on campus.’ Sure enough, about two weeks later, we get this handout coming down saying, ‘No more skateboards,’ you know, and all this other stuff.
So we put a story out about that. To us, the only reason it occurred was because he almost got hit by this kid screaming through campus.”
Cushing described the incidents — the publishing of the cartoon and the paper losing its campus offices — as a coincidence.
“A lot of people went, ‘Well, that’s what got the paper taken off campus,’” Cushing said. “Well, no, we knew we were getting kicked off — in fact, we went into that year knowing that we weren’t going to be on campus much longer. We’re in this portable, they’re doing this building — they’re going to be bouncing us out.”
On Oct. 20, 1992, Cushing submitted a letter to Hitt’s office requesting that the Future be granted office space in the Visual Arts building, citing an “unwritten agreement” with Altman that the paper would be given “primary consideration” for space in what was then a new building.
Additional documentation in the request painted a bleak picture regarding conditions in the Future’s portables. In the “Justification for Request” addendum, the trailers are described as “condemned… a potential fire hazard … unstable … infested with insects … an eyesore and a source of ridicule.”
Mark Schlueb, a reporter for the paper from 1992-93 and a current senior communication coordinator for UCF, recalled that the trailer was in such poor repair that a tree had begun to grow through the floor of its restroom.
“It was pretty beat up,” Schlueb said. “The toilet leaked in the restroom, and that water soaked down into the floor and into the ground underneath the trailer, which fed a tree that grew up through the floor and then behind the toilet in the restroom. And that was pretty much indicative of the overall condition of the trailer at the time.”
Cushing’s request for space was denied. John Bolte, the former vice president of administration and finance, was paraphrased in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel that “it is not the school’s responsibility to provide a home for the financially and editorially independent newspaper. UCF does not recognize The Future as a student organization.”
The portables were later bulldozed to make space for a parking lot, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Shortly thereafter, the paper was acquired by local businessman Windsor “Windy” Hall, who was unavailable for comment.
Heissam Jebailey, a UCF alumnus and the paper’s former publisher and co-owner after Hall sold the publication, said the Future moved offices several times during this period, starting in a location north of campus along Alafaya Trail before relocating to an office space on the corner of University Boulevard and Dean Road. It later moved to an office space he owned on High Tech Boulvard near the Plaza at UCF before being shifted back to the space along University and Dean, where it resides now.
The Future launched its first website, ucffuture.com, in February 1998. It was hosted by College Publisher in 1999, and its domain was changed to ucfnews.com in October 2002, Jebaily said.
Jebailey was first brought onto staff as the paper’s publisher, tasked by Hall with overseeing general business operations.
“At the time, it was a once-a-week newspaper, you know,” Jebailey said. “It was out every Wednesday; it was a black-and-white publication. My goal was to make it bigger and better than it was at the time, and we ended up doing that.”
In 2001, Hall placed the paper up for sale; Jebailey and his partner, Brian Linden, purchased the paper for an undisclosed sum. Under Jebailey and Linden’s ownership, the paper went from being published once per week to three times per week. Additionally, the paper underwent a redesign that turned it from a semi-tabloid format into a proper broadsheet, featuring a new typeface and its current black-and-gold coloring.
“We saw the potential, at the time, to make this paper bigger and better than it was at the time, you know, and we definitely did that,” Jebailey said. “We always bragged that, within four-and-a-half years, we weren’t even ranked as a school newspaper, then in four years we were ranked No. 1 in the country.”
In 2007, the partners sold the paper for an undisclosed sum to Gannett, which also publishes USA TODAY.
On Aug. 14, 2014, the paper underwent another series of major design changes: The broadsheet was turned into a weekly tabloid and the website, which was formerly hosted on College Publisher, was moved onto Gannett’s in-house online publishing system, Presto, bringing its digital footprint in line with the other digital properties in the USA TODAY Network.
Jessica Saggio, an alumna and the paper’s managing editor from 2012-15, helmed the Future during its print and digital transitions.
“It was pretty much the brainchild of Florida Today’s executive editor at the time, which was Bob Stover, who has since left,” Saggio said. “He viewed it as a way to kind of update the newspaper, to make it more trendy, to make it more appealing, to give it a better look. If you look at the broadsheet, it was very traditional; I mean, the lettering, everything at the top was very old-school … but they wanted to capture that [university] audience and get new people in.”
She cited the biggest change being the shift to Gannett’s web platform Presto, which enabled the paper to be much nimbler in covering breaking news.
“Presto changed everything for us,” Saggio said. “It made us more digital-focused than we have ever been, because we now had these new tools available to us that enabled us to be that way. So that was maybe the best gift Gannett ever gave us.
“We did a heck of a lot more breaking news after our website shifted to [Presto]. I’m not gonna say we weren’t doing breaking news before, because we absolutely were, but when we changed to the tabloid and when we changed to Presto — all that happened at once — we became a seven-day-a-week operation. We were no longer just students coming in two days a week and turning the paper out: We became an everyday digital operation.”
On July 21, 2016, Gannett’s regional president Jeff Kiel announced that the Future would cease publication on Aug. 4, 2016. “The recent investments Gannett has been making to build out the USA Today Network nationally and in the state of Florida have created new demands for our time and attention,” Kiel said.
The Future’s current staff is now exploring options to ensure that UCF retains a source of independent, student-run news in a push led by Alissa Smith, Christopher Davis, Jillian James and Shana Medel.
“Being part of the Future absolutely shaped my career as a journalist,” Brunson said. “It was just a fun place … we did it because we loved it, and it was a great thing to be a part of.”