Medias’ revival and the need for increased representation

Members from all campus media gathered on the Slab. Photo Credit: Bella Sanchez

By Tate DeCarlo

While the COVID-19 pandemic proved challenging for students, faculty, and staff, they weren’t the only groups hit hard by the yearlong shift to asynchronous education. The six campus media outlets also suffered during this period, with multiple ceasing publication or shutting down entirely. Now as students are back on campus in person, new life has begun to bring these outlets back from their hibernation.

Under the pandemic, multiple campus media platforms ground to a complete standstill. According to Austin Glock, the Editor-in-Chief of Elements, COVID brought publication of the University’s science magazine to a dead stop. “Last year, the 2021 to 2022 school year, Elements did not publish at all. There was no Elements,” he said.

Due to the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, the magazine remained out of commission until Glock was hired last fall. When the pandemic hit, students were sent home with little notice, and as a result, there was almost no documentation of the publication’s previous procedures. “There wasn’t a lot of continuity, so I kind of had to start everything from the ground up. I had a little bit of documentation from old files that they had used, but nothing really concrete,” Glock confirmed.

KUPS, the University’s student radio station, experienced challenges with continuity similar to that of Elements. Given the in-person nature of the studio, KUPS saw little traffic during the pandemic and was usually unable to host events or do much programming while adhering to social distancing mandates. Like Glock, Beck Barr (‘22), the KUPS General Manager (GM) from 2021-22, was left to figure out many of the station’s proceedings on his own. “There was almost no content that had been provided from previous GMs or staff in general that outlined the work that they had done, or what their positions even really entailed. So, it was kind of working off of anecdotal/experiential observations of what those positions had done,” he said.

Given that its predecessor operated as a semi-informal zine, Wetlands, the University’s social justice and intersectionality-focused magazine, was also not left with direction from its previous management. Editor-in-Chief Aurora Schneider explained that at the beginning of their work, it seemed as though the Wetlands team would have to start from square one. “I had a really hard time with the continuity stuff. I didn’t have access to the emails, I didn’t really have access to anything,” they said.

Crosscurrents and The Trail were the only University publications provided with any semblance of formal continuity reports. Co-Editor-in-Chief Maia Nilsson (‘24) credits Crosscurrents’ strong recovery largely to the continuity documentation curated by current Co-Editor-in-Chief and previous Editor-in-Chief Andrew Ellison (‘24). “I feel really lucky that Andrew was there because he has been running it for almost five semesters in a row, and he compiled for me this super intense continuity document complete with personal little anecdotes and references,” Nilsson said.

On top of challenges with continuity and structural rebuilding, many of these publications also struggled to reconnect with the student body. Nearly every organization echoed struggles of exposure, though student engagement was a more prominent issue for Wetlands and Elements, who had either published sporadically or not at all during the pandemic. Glock explained, “I think we had the same problem that I think a lot of organizations on campus have had since COVID hit, of just not a lot of people know about them. Word isn’t getting out.”

ASUPS Director of Media and Technology Services (DMTS) Charlie Dahle (‘24) engaged in diligent promotional work to spread awareness that these programs were up and running, even among students who had not attended the University before they shut down. “Posters, helping facilitate events, helping reaching out to students via email and seeing if they wanted to join, if they wanted to be a part of organizations really helped build exposure,” they said. Dahle emphasized that thanks to the hard work of its organizers, Log Jam was especially useful for spreading campus media awareness. “It was a really big deal in terms of inspiring growth within the community, and kind of helping them realize that these organizations did exist and were available to join,” they said.

As this awareness spread, organizations saw an increase in student participation. Soon, nearly every publication was able to fill every chair in the ASUPS media office for their weekly meetings. However, this proved to be a challenge for Crosscurrents, whose consistent publishing through the pandemic left them with an unprecedented number of submissions and general student interest. The number of people attending Crosscurrents meetings at the beginning of the first year after lockdown was lifted actually ended up hindering the review process. “Not everyone can get their opinions out because it’s just too loud. And now we’ve reached a bit of a happy medium where we have a good number of people rather than trying to fit 45 people in the ASUPS media room,” Ellison said. 

This year’s KUPS resurgence has had a similar scale. Current GM Eliana Goldberg (‘23) attributes the increased student engagement to the number of events hosted and promotional material produced by KUPS. “We are doing exponentially more events this year. We were able to bring the zine back. We’re able to do partnerships with organizations in ways that we didn’t do before, we’re doing paid gigs again, we have multiple music events happening. You know, we have all different types of events. We have 135 DJs, which we haven’t seen from even before the pandemic,” she remarked.

As student engagement began to climb, so has collaboration between the organizations. Ebony James (‘23), the DMTS during this spring semester highlights the importance of the Monday night media board meeting in granting media heads a designated space to coordinate work together. “The magazines would bounce ideas off each other, but a big part was that’s where they’d plan events,” said James. “They wouldn’t have to go out of their way to schedule a third meeting in their week. They could just all come there on Mondays and talk about what we had to talk about, there was a lot of collaboration between all of them.”

Ellison and Nilsson encourage further collaboration between the organizations and are hopeful about the community it will create. “I think trying to create that melding space between different groups of people on campus and different interests is an enormous success,” Ellison said. “It’s just really cool to see different medias interacting.”

Some platforms are also using their in-person return as a chance to redefine their identities and recover from preCOVID controversies. Both KUPS and The Trail experienced serious internal strife and toxic working environments prior to the pandemic. Barr explained, “It was just a really hectic situation right before we were all sent home. In a way that was almost – it feels weird to say — it felt like it was perfect timing for the organization because we were in disarray and benefitted from a step back.”

His sentiment was echoed by Trail Editor-in-Chief Audrey Davis (‘24), who explained that “The Trail actually fell apart pre-COVID,” after an offensive caricature of President Crawford was printed in the March 15, 2019 issue. While no one from the paper at the time remains on campus, reports and later printed issues indicate efforts to address the harm done. The Trail ultimately paused operations for the fall of 2019 to work on internal and systemic problems with the goal of resuming print in spring 2020, which was offset by the pandemic.

In fall 2021, both Davis and Robin Breedlove, an unbiased and highly experienced mentor with years of DEI training, were hired to return The Trail to print. Under Davis and with the guidance of Breedlove, The Trail has worked to reconcile with the paper’s problematic past and approach further publishing with heightened awareness regarding marginalized groups on campus. 

While the pandemic offered an opportunity for organizations to reset and rectify prior issues, past wrongdoings cannot be undone by time and it is paramount they not be forgotten. In order not to reproduce previous mistakes and exclusionary practices, they must continue to use this postCOVID rebuilding period to work toward achieving representation and inclusivity.

James emphasizes the need for further racial diversity within campus media, which, despite their growth, still remain one of the least diverse areas on campus. While offering some strategies like outreach to identity-based clubs, James also urges ASUPS to consider resurrecting some of the other publications that have been dormant for far longer than the pandemic. One such example is the Black Ice magazine, a publication of the Black Student Union, whose last issue was produced in spring of 2016. James acknowledges the work medias are doing, but pushes for more publications dedicated to marginalized voices. “They’re working now to become more inclusive because they have to be, but back then when there was the Black Ice magazine there was an outlet for more students of color. So, I think it’d be cool to bring some of those back and maybe make a new one.”

As media organizations on campus flourish after their post-COVID reset, James reminds the Puget Sound community of the importance of inclusivity and representation. “There are obviously DEI issues when there isn’t any diversity,” she said. As the sources continue to solidify their presence on campus, it is vital that they continue to prioritize fostering inclusivity and diversity in each respective organization.