As the Beacon turns 80, alums reflect on their days as student journalists
Beacon alumni from 2004-2008 reunite in Seattle.from left to right): Jake Wiederrich (KIRO-7 Seattle), Caitlin Moran (Seattle Times), Ame Phitwong, Jessie Culbert, Thomas Ngo, Anna Walters (Willamette Week), Andy Matarrese (Ellensburg Daily Record), and Michael Houston.
Blair Thomas, Class of 2007
Beacon Position: Sports and Features Reporter
Current Job: Instructor at the Gov. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida State University
What jumps out about the time I spent writing for The Beacon above all else was the people that I worked with. From my time (2005-2007), I came to recognize pretty quickly that I was surrounded by students that oozed talent matched with a larger vision for the paper and their own lives. A decade later, that has not changed a bit.
During my first planning meeting, I had the sense at the beginning that I could have been in a situation where I was over my head. I used to joke that the only reason I was probably hired was because I had inside access with what the athletic teams were doing and I knew about stories that a lot of students had probably never heard about. Come to think of it, maybe our editors were ahead of their time, trying to do what TMZ is doing to sports now.
I am amazed by how The Beacon has this uncanny ability to attract uber-talented students to work for them. When I see and hear about what people like Ben McCarty, Caitlin Moran, Thomas Ngo, Jake Wiederrich, and countless others are doing, I honestly cannot say that I am shocked by any their success. If you spent 30 minutes in St. Mary’s on a night when everyone was working, you just knew that they would be stars in whatever career choices they made. Sitting on those gaudy 1970’s couches was often inspiring for this reason, and it is a tribute to the people and advisors that have served on the paper.
One of my students last semester covered part of Florida State University’s Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston’s legal troubles for the campus newspaper. His coverage of the events provided as much, if not more clarity and factual information, than anything The New York Times featured. The Beacon has covered Portland’s events in much the same way. At 80 years old, The Beacon is as important and relevant as ever on campus.
Writing for The Beacon was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made, especially during the time I spent on The Bluff. It provided a forum to dream, take chances, and to be surrounded by talented people that challenged me in ways that a classroom setting couldn’t. All of these are elements that have served me well in every step of my life along the way.
Maia Nolan-Partnow (Maia Nolan), Class of 2001 Current Job: Director, Special Content at Alaska Dispatch News
Applying to work at The Beacon was more or less the first thing I did when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1997. I started out as assistant news editor, eventually working my way up to editor-in-chief, experiencing all the usual Beacon rites of passage along the way: computer crashes, late-night deadline crunches, scuffles with administrators, throwing stuff off The Bluff (I mean, come on. It's right there).
It wasn't until I became editor-in-chief that I really appreciated the impact The Beacon has on the campus community. A single controversial column kicked off a campuswide discussion. An editor resigned. Administrators got involved. It came up in classroom discussions and among my neighbors and friends. It became a talking point in the ASUP election (an election made all the more ridiculous when the unrelated "Beergate" scandal broke -- still one of the favorite headlines I've approved in my career). Every day I was confronted with reminders that what we did at The Beacon was important to people, and that it was important that we do it well.
Since leaving UP, I've written about arts and politics and reality TV. I've blogged and freelanced, I've helped launch a digital startup and I've managed a newsroom. I've edited stories sent in by text message from the Iditarod Trail, experienced the fallout after my boss was handcuffed by a Senate candidate's private security guards, and helped manage the transition when our online startup bought the local McClatchy newspaper. And along the way, I've thought again and again about my time at The Beacon and what a great education it gave me in why it's important that we do journalism well.
The Beacon chronicles the history of the University of Portland just as every local news organization chronicles the history of its own community. What we publish matters, whether we're serving a small campus or the biggest state in the union. Editing The Beacon taught me that. Being held responsible for your work by your classmates is excellent preparation for being held responsible for your work by readers who don't know you or have to get along with you because you're assigned to the same group project. Every person we write about and every person who reads our work is a human being with a story and a perspective of their own. We owe it to each of them to do our jobs to the best of our ability -- and to make sure that ability keeps growing so we are always improving.
Also, one time I watched Joe Freeman throw a frisbee from the old newsroom through a partially-open window and over The Bluff. I didn't learn a lot about journalism from that, but it remains the single most impressive feat I've ever witnessed in St. Mary's. And that's saying something.
Thomas Ngo, Class of 2008
Current Job: Digital Communications Coordinator at New York Housing Authority
My most memorable moment was being yelled at by John Goldrick outside his home because he wouldn't respond to our emails. To be fair, we helped land him as Willamette Week’s "Rogue of the Week” in 2005. We also produced some memorable gems in The Bacon, Bluff Sightings, and the Public Safety Report.
Working on The Beacon was the most rewarding time I had at UP. Even though I don’t work in journalism, much of my professional career actually builds from my skills honed in on Wednesday nights, fueled by soda and pizza. After graduating in 2008, I worked in communications for TriMet and I now help manage social media at the New York City Housing Authority.
There was great camaraderie during my four years on staff from 2004-2008. Many diverged in different paths. A few became soldiers and others became nurses. Most of our core went into journalism or communications, and most of the core ended up in Seattle. It was fitting to have a small reunion there at the beginning of 2015 (photo attached). I’m lucky to still have my former colleagues at the Beacon—as well as an awesome former student media adviser—as friends.
Being on The Beacon gave me some of the strangest, most challenging, yet fun memories of college. Being a reporter, I was forced to push past my introverted nature and get to the bottom of what was happening on campus and in Portland.
I got to meet so many different people at UP because of The Beacon, and learn more about UP than I ever would have as a normal student. Working the late hours of Wednesday night into the early hours of Thursday morning to put the paper to bed was always an adventure, even if there weren't any last-minute crises.
I credit The Beacon for many sleepless nights, my everlasting Red Vine addiction, my neurotic passion for AP Style and giving me crucial tools to succeed in any field I ultimately choose.
Some fun memories (of many) in particular:
One late Wednesday night (more like Thursday morning), Living Editor Kate Stringer and I were some of the last ones to leave after finishing that week's Beacon issue, and that night it happened to be a thunderstorm. We weren't used to the dark walk home from the newsroom, so we were already a little on edge. But then BOOM! A huge thunder followed by lightning ripped through the sky and scared us and so we grabbed each other and ran all the way home.
Late-night competitions to see who could write the punniest, cheesiest headline. I think Kate Stringer and I once spent about an hour trying to come up with punny headlines for a story about penguins.
After we put out the final issue of the Beacon last year, us Ed Board people who were of age went to the Sundown Pub that night to celebrate. When we were all sitting together, this random drunk guy came over and started bothering us and asked us if we wanted to play pool with him. We were a little taken aback so we said no. Then the bartender sent us free jello shots as an apology for that drunk guy making us uncomfortable. Such service!
My fondest memories of working for the Beacon as a student are of those late Wednesday nights (and early mornings!) when I would hang out with the other writers in the Beacon office, which at the time was located in the basement of Christie Hall.
I hung on the editors as they went over my copy, like white on rice, arguing for every word, sentence and paragraph that would appear in an article with my byline somewhere in the Beacon the next day.
These were the days, of course, before the Internet, so everything was done with mocked up copy pressed onto boards and with blue-inked editing pens. (To this day, I don't care much for light-blue.) The camaraderie and esprit de corps we enjoyed on those nights, though, were palpable. We were newspaper men and -women, after all, who took immense pride in our little paper.
Here's what I remember from my two years on staff: Pizza. Oxford commas (not in my house). Pitching the same story every single week to the groans of fellow staff members (earthquakes, you guys). Administrative skirmishes. That time the server went down – and with it all of our pages – and Nancy told us it would be a good life lesson (as always, she was right). Later that same night, Living section editor Roya crying tears of joy when her pages reappeared. The sense of pride and accomplishment I felt seeing a classmate pick up an issue from the newsstand and knowing that we did that – and praying that I hadn't missed an Oxford comma along the way.
It was one of the best choices I ever made. For me, I can’t see a college experience without The Beacon that would have been as remotely as interesting or valuable. Through the shared experience of page design-induced existential despair, hustling for articles, general journalistic hellraising and epic parties, I forged some of my most treasured friendships.
I served three years on staff and figured I was having such a good time I should make a job out of it. I went to grad school to better my prospects and I now work at the Daily Record in Central Washington.
In not a lot of time, I’ve reported from wildfires, courtrooms, Congress, county fairs and, once, the top of a wind turbine. I’ve grown to think there’s no great trick to journalism: Hustle, find the facts and report them fairly. Much of learning how to do that well started at The Beacon, and I thank the paper for it. And , probably, for a dozen other things I imagine will reveal themselves with time.
Jake Wiederrich, Class of 2006
It's only fitting that we are celebrating another milestone for The Beacon, because more than anything else, The Beacon was there to chronicle our own triumph and tragedy on the bluff. As I scan through three years' worth of newspapers that I helped to produce, I read about everything from murder (Kate Johnson) and scandal (The Vagina Monologues) to rivalry (Kerry vs. Bush) and victory (women's soccer).
Working for The Beacon was wildly fun, but immensely challenging. We faced administrators who had doctorate degrees in cover-ups and black belts in bullying. We faced the type of intensity full-time professional reporters deal with every day--all without an advocate in our corner, or a teacher as our guide. So, we soldiered on and we managed to publish content that makes me very proud (most notably, the arrest of Deniz Aydiner in connection with the on campus murder of student Kate Johnson).
A current colleague of mine describes covering "history and hysteria" throughout his reporting career. I can't put into words how true that is, and The Beacon was the first place where I got to experience that.
Name: Rosemary Peters, Class of 2012
I saw the Beacon turn 75, and it’s great to see it turning 80. This momentous occasion has made me nostalgic for my time on the Bluff, especially the moments spent in that aged, wooden room at the back of St Mary’s. Mixed in amongst these memories are innumerable life lessons, two of which seem worth sharing:
It’s the people who make the product. Every Thursday when I saw the Beacon on stands around campus, I was acutely aware of how many people came together to make that issue happen, from the kind souls at Espresso UP who poured us coffee on deadline night to the editors who would stay in the office until the paper was finished. I learned that life’s victorious moments are rarely achieved in a silo, and it is worth remembering to show gratitude to the people helping you achieve your goals.
Cherish every moment. Your time at UP is fleeting – it will be over in the blink of an eye. While achieving good grades and results are important, those aren’t the memories you’ll look back on – they’re the fun times spent with great people.
Happy 80th, the Beacon! You don’t look a day over 79.
Kate Stringer, Class of 2014
Current Job: Reporter for the News-Review, Roseburg, OR
It’s going to eat me. That was my thought as I exited The Beacon newsroom at 1 a.m. and collided with a deer grazing in the moonlight. I froze, wondering what deer did to college students who discovered their nightly campus patrol.
The deer glared at me. Now you know my secret, it seemed to say. Think of all the things you wouldn’t know if you were asleep at 1 a.m. instead of publishing a student newspaper..
Oh deer, that list is long.
For example, I didn’t know how artistic I was until Wednesday nights when stories needed rewriting and the Internet was breaking and reporters needed me to be the crisis-solving queen I was not, so I coped by hiding under my desk and drawing portraits of the editorial board with crayons.
I didn’t know how much I adored Oxford commas until I found my Beacon editors holding the AP Stylebook butcherknife over my precious punctuation marks with blood dripping from their pens.
I didn’t know how hard it was to write a headline. I didn’t know how good at headline writing I could be if I did it in the margins of my notebook during class. That's probably why I still don't know much about William Wordsworth.
I didn’t know journalism was something a quiet, introverted English major could do until my editors and adviser encouraged me through awkward interviews, irate sources, and multiple story drafts with patience and purple ink.
I didn’t know how much I’d miss a small cupboard in St. Mary’s Student Center until I was in a professional newsroom 150 miles south, staring at cubicle walls, a stack of stories on my desk but none of those creative crazy Beaconites to help me tell them.
And now you know, the deer said to me, as the stars held their 1 a.m. salute and my heart beat from the adrenaline of bad coffee, words,words,words, and the stories of 4,000 University of Portland souls pulsing under my pen.And now you know.
Joe Freeman, Class of 1999
Current Job: Sports Journalist for Oregonian Media Group
When I stepped foot on The Bluff for the first time as a wide-eyed freshman in 1995, one of the first things I did was waltz over to St. Mary’s Student Center and check in on The Beacon offices.
I was 18. I was excited about college and living on my own for the first time. But even more, I was excited about finding my footing and figuring out what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” I was pretty sure I wanted to be a journalist— I had my sights set on being a newspaper reporter — and I figured the best way to make that happen was to join the newspaper staff and start writing.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Nineteen years later, here am I, covering the Portland Trail Blazers for The Oregonian — Portland’s daily newspaper. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do.
And it all started with that walk to The Beacon offices. I was challenged academically at the University of Portland through a rigorous, diverse and fun course load. But for journalists — for writers — the best way to hone your craft and find your voice is to practice. And practice means writing. It means reporting. It means learning how to build relationships with people and figuring out how to get them to open up and tell you their stories, so you can write those stories.
Oh, sure, I took plenty of writing classes with plenty of gifted professors. They no doubt helped. But it was the countless hours I spent reporting for The Beacon, the long days I devoted to writing stories that would appear every Thursday in its pages, that helped me the most.
There was no greater thrill than waking up Thursday morning and seeing my name on the front page of the paper. My friends, my peers, even total strangers, were reading my work. And that kept me on my toes. I had to be good. I had to feel proud about what I wrote.
But working for The Beacon did more than empower me. It did more than prepare me. It set up my future.
When newspapers and magazines and blogs and public relation firms look to hire writers — even for internships — they want to see proof that the person they are hiring is competent, capable and talented. And they don’t solely judge that based on a college degree or a GPA. They want to see writing samples. When I applied for summer internships while I was at UP, I didn’t just submit a resume and a cover letter and a few references, I also submitted 10 “clips” — stories that I had written at The Beacon.
Those clips helped me land my first internship. And then, when I was a senior at UP, the combined clips from that internship and The Beacon helped me land an internship at The Oregonian. It was a snowball effect. My work at The Beacon led to one internship, which led to another, which led to the job I have today.
I was a good student. I studied, went to class, did my work. But not one recruiter or editor asked me about my college classes or my GPA when I was applying for internships or jobs. They wanted to see my writing samples. It was the work I put in during my time at The Beacon that led me to my future career as a journalist.
What if it hadn’t worked out? What if I hated working at The Beacon? What if the long hours at St. Mary’s proved to be too much? Well, I would have moved on to something else, found another field that interested me, and forged ahead toward a different path in life. But it would have been beneficial either way. And even still, 19 years later, I would look back on that walk to The Beacon and think:
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Caitlin Yilek, Class of 2012
Current Job: Lead Producer at the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota
I was sitting at a kitchen table in Salzburg, Austria, my sophomore year during an advising meeting with the director of studies abroad. I had dropped my biology major and was at a crossroads. I liked to write, I potentially wanted to work for a fashion magazine, so it was suggested that I apply for The Beacon.
After college I moved back to St. Cloud, Minnesota — my hometown. I worked as a copy editor, moonlighted as the opinion editor when the real one was on vacation, and reported on stories such as income inequality, the increasing use of food stamps and changing demographics in central Minnesota.
As the journalism industry evolves, so do newsroom positions. Gannett, which owns the St. Cloud Times, reorganized its newsrooms, eliminating copy editing positions. I now lead a team of digital editors as we navigate into the digital-first world.
That wouldn’t have happened without The Beacon or Beacon adviser Nancy Copic. Nancy pushed us to pay attention to good journalism and learn from it. The more we read, she said, the better we’d get.
I’ve carried that advice with me into my professional career. I’ve expanded that advice to focus on more than writing. How are news organizations working with longform? What’s working on social media? How can we better reach millennials?
Pay attention and learn, as Nancy said.
It may not always work, but you’ll be a better journalist for trying.
Even just two years after graduation, when I look back on my time at UP, I identify working for The Beacon as the most formative part of my college experience. It was a place I could work and be creative at the same time, and it helped me build confidence in myself and my photography. Student media provided me with leadership experience, work experience, and general life experience I would recommend to anyone, regardless of their major.
Highlights of my Beacon experience included:
- Meeting Macklemore for an interview, and then embarrassing myself in front of him when he asked me to demonstrate what “Zumba” was.
- Photo-documenting Occupy Portland.
- Accomplishments and awards that helped me get job interviews.
- Collaborating with some of the most interesting and fun people on campus.
I’m not sure if it was slicing up long reams of typeset copy with an exacto knife and laying out pages of The Beacon late at night – keeping an eye out for the other slap-happy staffers with a penchant for lighting fire crackers – or all the black and white photo developing chemical fumes I inhaled during the countless absorbing and happy hours I spent in the darkroom in the basement of Christie, but my years at the University of Portland set me out on a journey to tell true stories about the way we live that has taken me from New York to Wyoming and South Carolina, from the White House and halls of Congress, to homeless shelters, fields of rare orchids, bat caves and Haitian coups.
Margaret Mead used to say that she was wise enough to never grow up, I imagine because she found such joy and meaning in her work. I feel the same.
The Beacon helped light the way.
Name: Emily Sitton, Class of 2010
Current Job: Compliance Specialist for Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in the Wage and Hour Division
For one of my journalism classes at the University of Portland, I had to write a blog. Because I was an editor on The Beacon, I recorded my time in the 70s-throwback, wood-paneled newsroom. The following blog entry sums up my experience as an editor on The Beacon:
“Every Wednesday the four section editors, the design and copy editors and the editor-in-chief stay up until 2 a.m., sometimes 3 a.m., editing, designing and double-checking our pages. These late nights usually mean a lot of cursing, caffeinated drinks and pizza. Our main source of ire is InDesign, the ingeniously inefficient design program we use for our paper.”
While Wednesday nights were long and stressful, they were also full of YouTube videos, swapping funny stories, and putting out a pretty great paper every week. Working on The Beacon has undoubtedly helped me in my life and career. The Beacon helped me hone invaluable skills, such as writing well and knowing how to communicate with a variety of people.
Thanks to all of the Beacon alumni who submitted their stories for our 80th birthday! For an overview of Beacon history and vintage photos, click here.