A fresh look at the Vanguard

This spring the Vanguard began an internship program with Wilson High School. The goal was to give high school journalists the opportunity to work at a college newspaper and hone their journalistic skills by immersing them in a fast-paced work environment while taking them through the steps of the newswriting and editing process.

Katie Streinz, Elizabeth Ford and Lindsay Baltus, the inaugural trio, all work at their school newspaper, The Statesman. Apart from working on news, the interns also contributed to other sections of the Vanguard. The following articles by the interns are based on an assignment for the Opinion section.

We sent them out of our sub-basement office to talk to PSU students about the Vanguard in order to compare perceptions about the Vanguard to their own experience in the office. They came back with both positive and negative feedback, and used that information to sum up what their experience of working at a college newspaper was all about.

Elizabeth Ford
Two months ago, I came to the Vanguard as an outsider, and it was here that all my experience writing for my high school newspaper was thrown out the window.

I realized quickly that I was a child coming into an office of adults. These people can vote, smoke and buy porn legally – sometimes all at the same time. Even further, they can say things in print that we would be suspended for at school. For instance, the Vanguard can say “fuck.” F-U-C-K! I once got in trouble for saying “ovulating” in my high school newspaper, and these crazy college coeds are allowed to drop the f-bomb. Needless to say, I was floored.

On my own comfortable paper, I didn’t find myself pushed beyond “all hope of survival” regularly. Working on the Vanguard, I experienced the feeling that I didn’t ever want to write another word, and this helpless emotion was unfamiliar.

I finally shed my skin as an outsider here, much to my own surprise, when our boss instructed us to interview people milling around campus and ask them about their perceptions of the paper. One interviewee had told me they didn’t even bother picking up the paper in the morning, and I found myself defensive. It hit me then: I was part of the “pessimistic,” “urban” montage of verbal vomit, simply by the small act of association.

However, many students impressed upon me that the paper was interesting to them and “snarky, with substance.” Living up to this standard isn’t easy. The writers and editors here are in constant search of an angle, the whole story, and they impress upon me the importance of finding the seldom-heard view, as opposed to a play-by-play recount. This includes permanently addressing the question: “Why should we take time away from ‘The OC’ to read this?”

I have learned to embrace the fact that I’m not up on different facets of the Portland scene. However, I have pushed myself to be able to say, “I don’t know what that is,” and in doing so, expose my ineptitude. As affirmed during my interviews, the paper targets this same idea every issue: With every article comes the desire to inform students about something that isn’t necessarily on their radar.

So now, two months later, I still am the clean-cut high-schooler I started out as, but I have gained an appreciation for the story, the angle and the meat that comes along with everything in life. During our first meeting, Stephanie (the intern cattle driver) told us that being reporters would begin to open our eyes to the stories that were all around us. “Anything is a story and you begin to see articles everywhere!” I have to admit, I can’t automatically pull articles out of trashcan lids on the side of the street, but I do recognize the potential that such objects possess. This, I figure, is about three-fifths the battle of journalism.

Lindsay Baltus

When I applied for this internship I knew what it would entail. I knew that I would be working with college students and that they would have more experience than me.

I pictured a very intimidating Vanguard staff that would criticize me to get me to improve. I knew this would probably be a lot harder than my little stint as A&E editor on my school newspaper. The second I walked into the building, I was afraid – very afraid.

What I found was a small, quiet basement cavern, with a few writers and editors milling about. A happy dog was sniffing around their ankles, and a small, blond child giggled on the sofa. When they saw me walk into the room, they smiled!

Over the next two months, I found that this daily college paper is very different from my monthly high school publication.

At my high school paper, every word we write is scanned by the watchful eyes of our advisor, our vice principal and the parents of all 1,600 students that receive our publication. There is no room for morbid jokes or slightly inappropriate political commentary. There is hardly room for political commentary at all. But what I’ve learned at the Vanguard is that it’s OK to be a little racy sometimes, if that’s what your personal voice sounds like; I also discovered that I can have one of those – a voice.

Another thing I’ve learned at the Vanguard: Working at a newspaper means you have to talk to people you don’t know. With a written list of questions in hand I asked complete strangers what they thought of the Vanguard.

Half of the people I talked with don’t even read the paper.

How incredible! How unbelievable that this entire world exists in the basement of PSU – where students slave away at computers and notepads and telephones, where they eat nothing but popcorn and ramen for hours on end, where they deal with what seems like infinite frustration about whatever unreliable electronic device has failed them this time – and many people don’t even read what they publish!

And most people who do read the Vanguard didn’t have much to offer in the way of opinions about it. The overwhelming sentiment was that they got what they expected out of a college publication in a liberal urban center: underdeveloped opinions (bad) and a student-centered attitude (good).

I have my own thoughts about this. Perhaps this lack of substance in the editorials actually stems from the fact that the rest of the newspaper is so student-centered.

To the PSU student who is perhaps trying to break out of the college bubble and into the big world, the Vanguard must seem very small. The editorials published in it are about issues that exist inside this bubble, and this must be frustrating. But to me, this paper is huge.

On my first day of this internship, my world with all of its thoughts, worries and fears revolved around the Vanguard newsroom. In the newsroom, the world revolves around the paper. The paper revolves around PSU students, and they are always looking to revolve around something bigger than themselves.

Maybe that’s why some people are dissatisfied with this paper. But I swear to any of these people: Look at this publication from the eyes of a high school intern, and you will see truly great things.

Katie Streinz

It has been interesting to get to see what it’s like to put out a newspaper four days a week. Even though it seemed at times like the newspaper process was going slowly, the newspaper was put out every day, and successfully done, too. There was more last-minute changing and editing than at my monthly high school paper, and it was more like what working on a real newspaper would be like. I enjoyed getting that aspect of it.

When I started working for the Vanguard, I thought I should begin reading it. I was impressed with what I read and saw, but surprised at how short it was. Then I realized it’s short for a reason. The staff is small, making it difficult to get a lot of stories written.

To get an idea of what PSU students thought about the Vanguard, I went out with Lindsay and Beth to speak to students about what they liked, disliked and generally thought about the Vanguard.

About half of the people I spoke with didn’t read the Vanguard because they didn’t like it or didn’t have the time. I found that many people agreed on the same points, such as the paper being too short and not having enough information.

Others said they stopped reading it because there isn’t enough content to make it worthy to read and that the newspaper doesn’t really inform students about as many campus issues as it could.

Some international students I spoke with wanted to see more articles that appeal to all types of students.

Other students also believe many articles take a one-sided stance on an issue, such as a republican or democratic view. Two students said they’d like to see differing opinions on the same subject side by side.

Unlike the people I spoke with on campus, I understand why there isn’t a larger newspaper. It’s difficult to put out a paper four times a week with a relatively small staff. I don’t think that the Vanguard lacks content, because all of the articles thoroughly address the issues being discussed and give good information to readers.

But readers aren’t always loaded with criticism. Students like that the paper is easily accessible and that they can find it many places on campus.

I do think that more news stories could be printed, but understand that the time and ideas that go into that require more staff members. I believe that the news stories that are included are well written and provide a good amount of information for anyone who reads them.

From going out and talking with students, I learned that not everyone will be in love with what is put into the paper, and not everyone will read it, but enough people will read it and will gain information from it that it is worth all the effort.