One of Central Oregon Community College’s longest-running institutions — The Broadside student newspaper — has been shut down.

The university announced last week that the 65-year-old newspaper will not receive any more funding from the school due to minuscule readership and shrinking staff levels, said Ron Paradis, school spokesman.

“Journalism’s changing, and most young people don’t read papers,” Paradis said. “Therefore, the thought of writing for one isn’t something that’s as popular as it used to be.”

The school paid a part-time adviser $50,000 annually with benefits, and $35,000 per year from student fees went toward operations, Paradis said.

In February, the school created a task force to investigate whether or not to continue The Broadside, which was made up of seven people representing the Broadside Publications Board, COCC faculty and administration, as well as other groups.

According to the task force’s recommendation, a 2014 COCC survey found that more than half the school’s students didn’t know there was a student paper, and only 7 percent read it consistently. The group attempted to survey housing students this year, but only eight responded, including four who said they didn’t read The Broadside.

The paper’s staff had shrunk to 10 students to cover editing, sales, photographers and reporters. The task force reported that The Broadside used to have 20 writers.

Katya Agatucci, The Broadside’s final editor-in-chief, confirmed this, saying that during the spring 2017 term, she was the only active reporter for the entire paper.

However, once she became an editor in the fall, she said The Broadside began aggressively using social media to recruit new writers, which temporarily increased staff numbers until many quit because they felt overloaded with classes and didn’t have time to write.

Agatucci, 20, said although she and adviser Cathy Carroll were invited to the first couple of task force meetings, she felt like she was kept in the dark regarding The Broadside’s future.

“I did come to (Director of Student Life) Andrew Davis a couple of times … but he’s really busy, and I get that,” Agatucci said. “But with something really important, like seeing whether The Broadside is going to be around during the next term, it’s important to us, and we didn’t get a whole lot of answers, or communication.”

The task force recommended to the administration that The Broadside adviser’s salary should go toward an adjunct faculty member who would teach journalism classes at COCC. Anyone writing for the paper would need to enroll in a one-credit journalism lab, and any editor would have to either be enrolled in or have completed a three-credit journalism class.

The administration rejected the recommendation last week, and the timing rankled task force member, retired COCC professor and former Broadside adviser Michael Van Meter .

“Given it was midsummer, very few students on campus, few faculty on campus, it was easier to shut it down,” he said. “It sounds like a conspiracy theory, and it probably is a little bit, but I think it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t done more openly during the school year.”

Van Meter did remark that the paper’s recent quality of journalism was “particularly weak,” especially when it refused to cover the sentencing of Edwin Lara, a former COCC security officer who pleaded guilty to murdering 23-year-old Kaylee Sawyer in 2016.

“There were some serious issues with the willingness to cover hard news,” he said.

Davis, the director of student life and a task force member, said he would be surprised if The Broadside’s disappearance caused student outrage.

“I think there’s going to be some who were involved who are going to say, ‘Oh, this is weird,’ but I think most students look for news in other ways now,” he said. “And they’re certainly not writing for it anymore.”

Van Meter said The Broadside was a necessary check against the school’s bodies of governance.

“Issues with student government and administration aren’t going to go away … and they need to be accountable. And there’s nobody to do that anymore, at least in the college community.”

Former Broadside editor-in-chief Scott Greenstone, who now covers homelessness at The Seattle Times, said he was “really upset” when he heard about The Broadside’s termination and that he wouldn’t have entered journalism if not for the student paper.

Greenstone said both sides of the political aisle — conservatives angry about Ivy League “elites” stuffing newsrooms and liberals concerned about President Donald Trump’s anti-media remarks — should be dismayed by COCC’s decision.

“This is an awful time to be doing this,” Greenstone said. “I think (ending The Broadside) is absolutely wrong no matter where you stand.”

—Reporter: 541-617-7854; jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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