Spectrum editor leads paper to top prize
Published April 12, 2013
On a January day, Spectrum Editor-In-Chief Linda Vasquez sits behind the desk in her private office.
“I’m kind of nervous,” she says about the interview she is about to be the subject of. She is usually asking the questions.
On this day, Vasquez had a semester as editor-in-chief behind her, but it doesn’t look like she’s moved into her office. The items in the uncluttered room look inherited – a vase of artificial orange roses on the desk, a file cabinet, metal shelving with green-bound volumes of Spectrums from years past.
Later, she reveals why. She rarely uses the office. She spends 20-plus hours a week in the newsroom lined with white iMACs. In fact, she has spent much of her NDSU college career in that newsroom banging out concert reviews, health stories and fashion features.
Soon after she enrolled at NDSU, she took the advice offered to new students: Get involved. She joined the Spectrum staff as an office assistant and staff writer for arts and entertainment. By her second semester, she was promoted to features editor. She continued to work as features editor her second year at NDSU and added the role of managing editor to her responsibilities. For her senior year, she landed the Spectrum’s top leadership job after facing stiff competition and a committee of 15 interviewers.
Just four short years ago, Vasquez, a Los Angeles native, could not have imagined she would be editor-in-chief of a student newspaper in North Dakota.
A fresh start
Vasquez was 20 and a student at California State LA when her mom broke the news. Their family was moving to Fargo, N.D., for her stepfather’s job. Born and raised in southern California, Vasquez couldn’t quite picture where Fargo was.
Another 20-year-old in her position might have chosen to stay in LA. After all, Vasquez had started her adult life, living on her own and studying criminology. She had an exciting social life with access to Hollywood parties that most college students only hear about through the media.
But Vasquez had a moment of clarity: family was more important to her than anything. She would move with them to North Dakota, to the unknown.
And from somewhere deep inside, Vasquez knew she needed a fresh start. She had been a good student through middle and high school, but felt lost in college, not enthused at all by the biology and criminal justice classes she needed to become a criminologist. As a child, her close-knit family had been her world. After she left home, she spent most of her time hanging out with friends.
Once in Fargo, Vasquez started researching local colleges and universities. While out shopping, she noticed people wearing Bison gear. Her interest was piqued.
She arranged a tour of NDSU and found the kind of campus she saw in movies. Stately buildings. Manicured lawns. Smiling faces. She was sold.
Vasquez started as a psychology major and criminal justice minor, trying to use credits she took at Cal State. A communication class convinced Vasquez she needed to change her major. She had always loved and excelled at writing but resisted it as a career choice. “People sometimes confuse being good at something as taking the easy path,” she says. “That’s the world telling you what you should do.”
Once Vasquez changed her academic focus to journalism and advertising, she found her groove. She loved storytelling. “It’s fascinating to hear about other people. Everyone grows up differently,” she says. “I never get bored. There is always a different person to learn about and hear their story. That’s what’s great about communication.”
At the Spectrum, she built her portfolio, with the goal of becoming editor-in-chief. And she started forming a vision for the newspaper. On her watch, she wanted to make an impact on campus, to build readership and to produce stories and papers effectively.
Under Vasquez’s leadership, the Spectrum won first place in its category at the Associated Collegiate Press’ Best of the Midwest College Newspaper Convention in February. She says it is the first time since 2003 that the Spectrum took the top honor in the four-year, non-weekly newspaper category in the convention’s Best of Show competition.
“Our reaction when our name was announced was pretty much screams, hollers and claps,” Vasquez says. “My reaction was ‘after all our hard work, we did it! I did it!’ ”
Vasquez attributes the Spectrum’s success to strong collaboration by staff members, new processes and risks with design, stories, photography and social media.
“This has been a year of tremendous growth for the Spectrum, especially in expanding its social media presence,” says Andrew Pritchard, Spectrum adviser and graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Communication. “I've been pleased to watch Linda take charge of that process and move the staff in that direction.”
Vasquez has spent her final year at NDSU living on her own for the first time since she left California. In August 2012, her stepfather was transferred for his job – this time to Colorado – and the family moved again. But this separation has been different. Vasquez is completely focused on her goals and finds motivation from her family. “I work for my family,” she says. “They make me keep going and not quit.”
After graduation in May, Vasquez plans to stay in Fargo and to launch a magazine someday.