A group of Portland Community College students are developing a new student paper, which they hope to publish online and eventually in print.
The new publication, tentatively titled Axiom: The Student Free Press is being launched in response to a series of incidents at The Bridge, PCC’s official student paper, including the firing of managing editor Mike Booth, and a perceived threat of censorship from the PCC administration. Booth is now leading the effort to create the new publication.
“Basically our goal is to be a voice for the students, but also be completely independent of the administration,” Booth said.
Booth was hired as managing editor for The Bridge late last summer. During his time there he noticed what he thought were unnecessary positions on The Bridge staff and, as he understood his job description, felt it was his responsibility to examine the work The Bridge employees were doing.
“Between the time that I was hired and the first issue I noticed a lot of improprieties,” Booth said. “We had a lot of helper people hanging around not really doing anything.”
The Bridge Staff Handbook states that the managing editor’s responsibilities include, among other duties, “recommend[ing] to editor and general manager amount of tuition waiver that should be issued to staff members under their jurisdiction.”
Booth presented a memo detailing his questions regarding various staff positions to his superior, general manager Tami Steffenhagen. Steffenhagen then fired Booth.
Steffenhagen declined to comment about Booth’s firing, other than to acknowledge that Booth did file a grievance.
Booth said the reason Steffenhagen gave him was insubordination, characterized by his convening of secret meetings away from the general manager.
Booth dismissed allegations of secret meetings, stating he only held one meeting which he didn’t tell Steffenhagen about, and it was only for discussing story ideas.
Following Booth’s firing, then photo editor Tim Bobosky filed a grievance with PCC detailing similar concerns.
Booth was told by Dean of Students Craig Bell there wasn’t any recourse for his firing.
Bell was once a member of the Bridge’s Community advisory board, which is charged with approving the hiring of editors and managing grievances. The roster of the advisory board has dwindled in the past two years to just Steve Clark, president of Community Newspapers, and Steffenhagen.
Booth was asked to speak to the PCC student senate about the situation at The Bridge. After the senate meeting, an e-mail sent by PCC manager of Community Relations Neal Naigus was posted on the door of The Bridge offices stating that “no articles shall appear in The Bridge that relate to the operation of the newspaper or any of The Bridge staff members” until the situation was fully resolved. Naigus’ e-mail also stated he would notify the staff when that time came.
Steffenhagen described the e-mail as a precautionary measure, postponing publication of related stories until the grievances were resolved.
“They responded to both of our grievances before the story was printed, they had sent a reply letter to me about a week before the story went out,” Booth said.
Both Booth’s and Bobosky’s grievances were dismissed by PCC. A week after Booth’s appearance at the student senate meeting, an article was submitted by staff writer Dan Kroll relating to Booth’s firing and allegations. Editor Amanda Richter and Bobosky argued about the story’s inclusion.
“There were space issues; if anything it just would have been held until the next issue,” Steffenhagen said.
The story ultimately ran, but Bobosky felt that Richter was trying to censor the paper, following through on Naigus’ e-mail.
A second piece by Kroll detailing Booth’s experiences and the PCC administrations actions has been postponed to the next issue, which will run in December.
Booth is convinced the piece won’t run.
The student senate is compiling information regarding The Bridge and will be conducting a survey to examine it’s purpose and distribution.
Likewise, Naigus is conducting an investigation into how other college and university papers are run and will report to PCC President Jess Careon in January about his findings.
Bobosky is concerned about censorship at The Bridge, even though he has left The Bridge to work with Booth on Axiom.
He cites a 1981 court case that determined The Bridge was a “public forum” and not an internal college newspaper, thus making censorship by the administration a violation of first amendment protections.
Bobosky and Booth have received a cool reaction from the administration regarding their new publication.
“We’ve tried to be really diplomatic with them at this point, and they’ve completely shut us out for the most part,” Booth said.
Booth is most concerned about distribution. While The Bridge benefits from campus-wide distribution at each of PCC’s locations, Axiom’s chances of blanket coverage is at this point unsure.
The first step is to obtain advertisers. Booth wants Axiom to be self-sufficient for the most part.
“We’re in the process of making a mock up right now,” Booth said.
In order to get Axiom running without any official connection to the PCC Public Relations department which The Bridge is a part of, Booth and Bobosky needed to start a club.
With support from the senate, that club has been started and the paper is on its way.
“We’ve got about 20 people in a journalism club,” Booth said.
Booth and Bobosky hope the first issue sees publication before the end of the year.