David Meni: Create a student board to bolster campus publications

This is the second in an editorial series about creative writing at GW.

Walking into the old Marvin Center office of The GW Review felt like walking into an undiscovered crime scene. Decades-old issues of the literary arts magazine were strewn across the floor and desks, along with old artwork portfolios. Some empty wine bottles rattled around in drawers.

The Review hasn’t published a journal since spring 2013, when it quietly closed its doors. Founded in 1980, the magazine was one of the longest continuously running publications edited by GW students. It accepted submissions from authors and artists from around the world, and was recognized nationally.

What happened to The GW Review is just one example of how much more vulnerable student-run creative writing publications are to yearly changes in the student body. The reason the journal folded may not have been a lack of interest in literary arts at GW, but rather a lack of the expertise needed to publish regularly.

Many of these students need better support – and their best source is one another. Student groups at GW that self-publish – including The Globe, Omnibus, GW Undergraduate Law Review and Wooden Teeth – should stop working separately toward common goals and instead come together to form a council.

By uniting under a student publication board, these groups would be able to share the knowledge and skills they’ve accumulated, form a unified front to address similar problems and collectively increase readership. This would go a long way to ease some of the headaches that come with running a publication, especially a young one with little experience.

I should note that this list of student publications may not be comprehensive. There are likely many more students at GW interested in self-publishing than the ones in just these few groups – whether it’s poetry, podcasts, paintings, policy papers or sassy blog posts – but they may simply not have the infrastructure to do so. A board that could provide institutional support, consulting and training would help them get their ambitions off the ground.

Since these publications are not news organizations and serve different niches, they aren’t in direct competition with each other. Even in cases when there may be audience overlap – as with the two policy journals, The Globe and Omnibus – groups would benefit from a symbiotic relationship, engaging in dialog and sharing readership.

Running a student publication is one of the most challenging and time-consuming extracurricular activities. Printing can be prohibitively expensive, and usually it cannot be fully covered by a group’s Student Association funding. In my work with the Roosevelt Institute, for example, we found that publishing just 100 copies of Omnibus would cost us $500, more than double our SA allocation.

On top of that, finding out which publishers to use is often a trial-and-error process. And things can get dicey when nobody in the group has any experience with layout software like Adobe InDesign. The absence of someone with that knowledge can mean a printed journal is nothing but a pipe dream.

A council would enable groups to share fundraising, cost-saving and production strategies. Perhaps in the future, a student board could act as an umbrella organization to receive and dole out SA funding to smaller publications.

There are some excellent examples of other schools that have organized student resources in a similar way. Up in Tenleytown, the American University Student Media Board represents the collaborative effort of eight media organizations, from the literary magazine to lifestyle publications.

Now, the AU board includes not just creative writing groups but also news organizations, but the principle is the same: If you visit any of those groups’ websites, you’ll see all the other board members represented at the top of the screen. This way, all of these publications can share web traffic and support each other, even though they may have unique goals.

Many other schools, like Case Western Reserve and the University of Idaho, have similar structures. There is already precedent for this on our campus, too, in the form of the Student Theatre Council, a coalition of performing arts groups.

Maybe if a publication board had existed sooner, The GW Review would still be around today.

David Meni, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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