Sunday, March 12, 2006

Observing the Portland Spectator

I don't think it's unfair to refer to Portland's conservative movement as a powerfully disempowered minority; on that basis I feel a little bit for them. As comparison, the national Democrats are somewhat better off than the city's far right; at least their guys can make the news shows to bring up important legislation that will go nowhere. Here, however, other than the declining audience of Lars Larson there is little outlet for the traditional conservative to thrive in Portland.

Which brings us to the Portland Spectator, perhaps the most metaphoric recent expression of the conservative will in the City. Seemingly always in transition, changing editors amid controversy and allowing publish dates to lapse, the magazine has once again returned to the halls of Portland State. And of course like any savvy student publication in the 21st Century, they have returned to the, maybe not so much.The links don't go anywhere and the Latin appears to be gibberish, but the cover is catchy and of course the Cafepress store of "your website here" crapola is open for business. Why does it all look like Mormon underwear (except for the thong, I guess)?

OK, perhaps they're all about being a bricks and mortar retailer of the news. The print's the thing, eh. They do have an immediately recognizeable aesthetic--possibly because it's exactly the same one that The Economist has built for itself somewhat prior to the exuberantly immature pedigree of The Spectator. It's not clear if March's issue of the 'Spec is aiming for the same clientele as well, highlighting a headless babe in a tiny bikini for their cover under the banner "The Naked Truth." Semi-naked, at least.

Following up on the Vanguard story above, Crystal Rea indeed assumed the oft-vacated title of Editor in Chief, with other pictured member Cam Turner--who I mistook for Topher Grace researching a role--as senior editor. I can see why losing the only guy who knew the publishing software kept them from putting the thing out; the layout is crisp and is on high quality paper with great print quality, but it's pretty obviously a cookie cutter job from a software template. There is no font theme that ties the pages together; every page is done differently, often with surprising color schemes.

The content starts out well enough with a letter to the editor, the as-long response underneath. The topic is student fees from the re-premiere issue; the writer wants to know how the magazine rails against fees while publishing entirely on fees themselves. Rea throws up her hand and says in a perfect world (whose?) the paper would run on private donations, but the sad fact of the free market means they must lean on student fees to perform their vital function. But OSPIRG? Filthy streetwalkers--cut the teat! As if to showcase this bit of chutzpah, the opposite page of briefs includes...a rant against student fees. Here's something I'd like to know about fees: if you give a student publication $25,000 to put out a magazine, and the editor fucks off and doesn't put it out, so that they'll get at best only 2/3 of their issues out that the students get the rest of their money back on that one?

From the "supporting our Mission Statement" news desk comes an article by Turner decrying the radical left stickers on his professor's door. Why? Because some students might be offended by his ostentatious speech. Nothing says "staunch conservative" like someone who gets offended by cartoons...wait, bad example. Among the powerful arguments made for taking the stickers down: "because, well, it just reflects badly on the [professors]--that's about the only appeal I can make." No doubt.

It must be said at this point that a major service is done by the magazine in giving free space to candidate slates for student government, even if they do take the opportunity to rap one slate as hypocrites in a following article. With participation rates reportedly at around 10% or less, the 'Spec is correct to try engaging more students into the process. (And I have to say, if there really was a motion to rename PSU Nelson Mandela University by the so-called 'progressive slate,' they deserve being lampooned).

The rest of the magazine is a hodgepodge of single-issue articles, a couple by staffers but many by apparently professional writers, not least among them big cheese of God James Dobson. The editor tries to debunk charges of animosity towards minorities today, by reminding people who freed the slaves 100 years ago and cornered the Dixiecrats 40 years ago. The smoking ban in public spaces gets the usual once over, on let-the-market decide grounds. That argument always makes me laugh a little: under that premise, if you can't enforce laws to protect workers from cigarette smoke, then why should we be able to enforce laws preventing dog meat from going into Big Macs? Do employees really have to quit in order to avoid cancer?

If you're a PSU student, pick up a copy of th' Spec and see if you got your $25,000 worth. For the rest of us, it's great to see another voice flower in the wilderness, although things do grow well amidst manure. Keep reaching for the stars, try to find a better proofreader, and try to matter, as June Carter used to say.