A two-day forum was recently held by Portland State student media, and the topic on everyone’s mind was a proposed merger between two publications, The Rearguard and the Portland Spectrum (previously known as the Portland Spectator). The two monthly publications have dealt with staffing issues and poor availability of content this year.
Jake Stein, editor-in-chief of the Spectrum, admits that he and his staff felt apprehensive prior to the forum.
“Yeah, I would say we were definitely nervous,” Stein said. “It was mainly the fear we wouldn’t have people to fill positions. Now we’re giving ourselves more time, broadcasting that these positions are open. We’re a lot more optimistic now.”
“I saw, I guess, the practical side of having two small publications merge into having a bigger pool of resources, writer [and] editor-wise,” said Amanda Martin-Tully, editor-in-chief of The Rearguard. “But I think it would be a shame to lose the distinct personalities that each paper has.”
With near unanimous forum support, the two publications will remain separate for the time being. The merger discussion will be tabled and efforts will go toward improving the problems each paper has faced.
Reaz Mahmood, coordinator of student media, spearheaded the forums and explained the outcome.
“[They’re] not going to merge in the near future,” he said. “It’s something we could revisit again next year if there are problems that continue like they did this year. It just depends on, do we have enough students to run each of the organizations?”
The Rearguard, which operates with a three-person staff, was only able to produce one issue during winter term for distribution. Two other issues were printed and delivered, but disappeared. The cause is unknown, but currently believed to be the result of a miscommunication between The Rearguard and university facilities.
“We don’t know why this has just started, but we’re going to fix it,” Martin-Tully said.
Also, one of the four outdoor, all-weather boxes where The Rearguard stores papers was stolen earlier this year.
For The Rearguard and the Spectrum, distribution falls on editors, and sometimes writers, to deliver their papers around campus. One solution student media is looking at is combining the distribution for the Vanguard, Spectrum and The Rearguard.
Another issue which both publications have faced this year is finding enough student writers to provide content.
“If you have publications funded, that’s one thing, but we just need human beings who are willing to run them,” Mahmood said. “It’s been a struggle for all the news publications this year to some degree.”
For the Spectrum, issues revolved around finding certain student perspectives, because while they were the Portland Spectator, their mission stated that they were a conservative publication. However, Stein said that the PSU student body seems to lack conservative writers who wish to have their work published.
“They only got one conservative submission this whole year,” Mahmood said. “That’s unsustainable. So they themselves just decided to evolve.”
This evolution called for a new mission statement and change in publication name, which was approved by PSU’s Student Media Board on April 21.
“We’re not labeled conservative, but we accept conservative opinions,” Stein said. “We accept the whole spectrum of opinions.”
Looking to the future, Mahmood, in his first year as coordinator, hopes to bring more consistency and exposure for PSU’s news publications.
“Based on my observations this year, I think we could have improved outreach, improved marketing, greater visibility of student media throughout campus,” Mahmood said. “We need to certainly develop online presence in different ways. If students can’t consistently expect a publication, that’s a problem.”
Both The Rearguard and Spectrum pride themselves on being the university’s alternative news outlets. They provide a “voice for the voiceless” as well as stories which would likely not appear in a more traditional publication.
Martin-Tully finds that opportunities for offbeat writing are becoming more difficult to find.
“I think the emotion has been lost in modern journalism in the age of technology and 144 characters. It’s really hard to get that feeling and that personalization. We want to bring that back,” she said.
After the forums, both publications were relieved that no merge was imminent. However, they were held as a chance to gather student feedback and make everyone aware that while no change is happening now, it’s been considered a viable option.
“I think some people had a misperception about the forums, where the perception was, is there some decision coming right away or is there an attempt to basically finish off The Rearguard or something. And that’s not true at all,” Mahmood said.
“My two goals were student expression and sustainability, and how can we do that. I’ll do everything I can to support them, we just have to have some way to keep them going. Otherwise, if both of them exist and there just aren’t enough students, that’s where we have to try and figure out what solutions are there.”