Student-run media group struggles to put out signal

A handful of students from the School of Urban Studies and Planning (USP) are trying to start up a new student group, which could potentially make Portland State a leader in media development. Sustainable Community Media formed last year with three students in Portland State’s School of Urban Studies and Planning, a $17,000 grant and some help from the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). Autumn Pardee, co-chair for the group, says the grant enabled them to purchase enough equipment to create a professional-quality production studio.

“We have a full-on professional setup: video cameras, mic systems, editing, lighting and production equipment,” Pardee says. “What we want to do is create some sort of creative venue for student voices on-campus and in the community. We’d like to focus on community justice and social justice issues through the eyes of students.”

The group consists of about 20 people right now, and over the past year they have organized several events and cable-access productions. Two PSU students created a series of TV shows called “Portland Buffet,” a half-hour “social justice variety show,” according to Pardee, that dealt with issues around Portland and included an interview with Ralph Nader.

An outreach effort last year involving members of the local media community served as a forum to discuss the usefulness of a community-based media group at PSU. “We got lots of positive feedback (at the forum),” Pardee says. “There’s this amazing potential and lots of interest, we’re just trying to find out how it’s going to happen. We’d like to give students a voice.”

Sustainable Media is currently filing an appeal with the Student Fee Committee (SFC) after being zero-funded for the coming school year. “We knew that first-year student groups usually get about $3,000,” Pardee said. The group created an ideal plan and a budget and presented it to the SFC, and “we decided to just tell them, if we had this much, this is what we could create, so we asked for $30,000,” he said.

The SFC denied their request for funding, stating (according to Pardee) that there was no proof of any student, university or faculty support, despite what they considered proof of community interest. “We had given them an entire notebook filled with all our correspondence, everything we’ve done over the past year. We already have strong connections with distance learning on-campus and OIT,” he said. Sustainable Media will appeal their zero-funded ruling the first week in February, and Pardee encouraged all students who might be interested in the program to attend the hearing or e-mail the SFC with their support. Pardee says that even if the group doesn’t get SFC funding, they’ll still find another way to exist. “We’d have to focus more on the revenue side (if we didn’t get SFC funding), but that’s less student and community involved than what we want to be,” he said.

PSU was once a powerhouse in training students for media production. On the fifth floor of Neuberger Hall, up a nondescript stairway and past a sign that says “Television Services” is a treasure trove of 1950s-era technology. In the ’50s, Portland State (then Portland State College) had a media studies major, and what was, at the time, a state-of-the-art television studio. Students wrote, directed and produced short programs and films on-campus. However, in the ’70s the media studies major was lost in a round of aggressive budget cuts, and since then the equipment has sat idle.

Sustainable Media hopes to eventually take over that space, and, if properly funded, purchase new equipment to again give PSU a state-of-the-art television production studio. Pardee also hopes that as the group grows in membership, funding and equipment, the university will recognize the increased interest in media studies and revive the long-defunct major. “We want to be the catalyst for a media studies major at PSU, so the university can once again have a strong presence in the media community.”

For more information on Sustainable Community Media, contact Autumn Pardee at [email protected].