The Selling of the Student Press

Sell student media? Why not:

Officials with The Coloradoan in Fort Collins met Tuesday with Colorado State University leaders to discuss a “strategic partnership” to run the campus paper, a university spokesman said.

The spokesman described talks over the school’s The Rocky Mountain Collegian as “very preliminary.”

“The Coloradoan had contacted us late last year … to talk about potential partnerships,” spokesman Brad Bohlander said. “The university had not sought to sell the Collegian… Today was in response to that, to set up the first meeting to see what they had to say.”

Bohlander said the university has asked The Coloradoan’s parent company, Gannett Co., to write a formal proposal.

The Collegian has been a campus paper since 1891.

And you know, why bother with a campus institution, especially one that with all the truth-telling and such, tends to get inconvenient when you’re trying to look shiny to potentialinvestors partners?

At some point Americans are going to have to decide whether they want their public universities to become wholly owned subsidiaries of large corporations. Because universities, starved for cash due to reactionary Republican legislators who fear the liberal influence of all that book-learnin’, have to get money somewhere, and if we’re not willing to support them, they’ll find corporations who will — after a fashion.

Quoth the newspaper staff: FUCK THIS.

The editor of Colorado State University’s newspaper is asking students to protest a possible partnership between the student-run newspaper and media giant Gannett.

Executives from a Gannett newspaper in Fort Collins, The Coloradoan, have met with university officials about the possibility of a strategic partnership with CSU’s Rocky Mountain Collegian.

“This is a takeover,” Rocky Mountain Collegian Editor David McSwain said today. “Students would lose their salary. The next thing you know, we are volunteering for big media. This has never been the mission statement of this newspaper.”

Gannett spokescreatures hasten to make the point that student editors would continue to be paid, but that’s not really the point here. Corporate ownership has been devastating for so-called grown-up newspapers, which see themselves starved for profits and sliced and diced until journalism is barely an option. The student press is one of the very few institutions where journalism is still the order of the day, and more money is put into the newsroom than into someone’s pocket. And in case you doubt how important the free student press is, consider this:

A lecture scheduled for Tuesday night in the Indiana Memorial Union was canceled after the speaker began feeling ill and after questions arose about the legality of requiring a public speech to be off-the-record.

Meghan O’Sullivan, former deputy national security advisor to President Bush, was sick to her stomach, said Gene Coyle, faculty adviser for the Student Alliance for National Security, the group that sponsored the event. The lecture, which was set to begin at 6:30 p.m., was delayed because of O’Sullivan’s sickness and legal issues surrounding her speech.

Adam Newman, assistant director of the group, said the lecture was going to be about what students can learn from the country’s experiences in Iraq and what to anticipate in the future.

At about 6:45 p.m., Coyle announced to the crowd of about 70 that the lecture was being delayed until the group leaders discussed the situation with the Indiana Daily Student. According to a press release from the group, the lecture was supposed to be off-the-record. However, because the event was free and open to the public, the IDS refused to agree to the speaker’s off-the-record stipulation.

More often than not, it’s the kids who stand up, to show the rest of us what standing up looks like. Remember all the stories we read in the run-up to the war full of “administration officials” lying through their teeth to willing reporters eager to get whatever “access” they could squeeze from those professional bullshit artists? Try to imagine if any one of them had had the courage to demand that those who speak to the public put their names behind their words. Where would we be now?

It’s no secret, my affection for the student press. I’m a product of it and I write about it and I have first-hand experience of its benefits and even its drawbacks. Not all student newspapers are editorially or financially free, not all are as aggressive or as well-funded as they should be. But the ones that are, the ones with rich histories and strong traditions and the ones that make noise (the Collegian recently took heat for publishing an editorial titled: Taser This: Fuck Bush) deserve kudos, not buyouts.

They’ve gotten to journalism from the outside in, and now they’re trying to get at it from the inside out, and universities should be resisting this kind of pernicious worming-in, not looking for the quick buck.

Send a message of support to the paper’s staff.

Hat tip to Jake.


6 thoughts on “The Selling of the Student Press

  1. Great catch Athenae. Now if you are interested in seeing how other student publications deal with this issue or want to read THE book on Student newspapers
    you have to read,’It Doesn’t End with Us” about The Cardinal the student owned newspaper at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
    Great book. I know the author too. Brilliant writer the book read like at thriller too. A real page turner.

  2. I can’t speak for the Colorado situation, but I can definitely talk about the comparison between the local newspaper and the newspaper of the college which is in town.
    I live in a small town in Missouri, county population around 17,000. University size, I believe, around 5,000 students. There is a local newspaper that does an OK job of reporting on local events, but they never ask, never probe and most of the news is pulled off AP. (as an example, in the elections they ask each candidate a stock set of 4 questions such as why are you running. Basically each candidate gets 4 column inches to say that they like babies, kittens and puppy dogs.) In many cases, the local paper avoids certain news items (controversial, embarrasing, etc.))
    OTOH – the college weekly newspaper has multiple pages on local issues. The kids do a really good job of asking questions (and like kids, they aren’t afraid to confront evasiness). I’ve tried to get a paid subscription, but they don’t have any way for me to do that.

  3. i have nothing to say about this development, other than i went to colo state u, and at the time we were pretty known for trouble, ie, student activism.
    i hope the collegian will stand up for itself.

  4. Before you can turn the national press into the historical revision branch of the government, you must first eliminate all independent voices. I’m sure that when this was being contemplated by the right wing in the late ’60’s, they were only worried about college papers and the occasional alternative rag in Cleveland, Dallas, New York, etc. They’ve been able to keep the plan moving forward and it seems now that CSU gets the “honor” of being the first take-over target.
    I wonder what they’ve got in mind for the blogs?

  5. The student press is pretty dear to me, too. I live in a college town, and the student press here had a similar situation a few years ago. Not a corporate takeover, exactly, but a confrontation with the administration. The student journalists stood up and they lost, but they put up a good fight. So, anyway, thanks for this. Just sent a signed copy of this letter to the EiC and the managing editor:
    I read about your efforts to resist the takeover of your student newspaper on the First Draft blog this weekend. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the courage that you demonstrated by insisting that Ms. O’Sullivan’s speech be on the record and asking students to protest the takeover.
    Government secrecy is the death of liberty. From my own experience in journalism, I know how difficult it can be to stand up to the pressure of the publisher and the advertisers, but I know that, when the integrity of your work is at stake, standing up is the only option. You are doing the right thing.
    Even though I am more than 1,000 miles away, I am with you in spirit and I pray that you succeed. If we are successful in rolling back the assault on our Constitution and beginning to truly take back our Republic, it will be because of people like you putting up a fight and daring to speak the truth.
    I hope you are receiving many more letters like this. Please pass these words along to your staff and your supporters.

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