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Student newspaper considers corporate partner

For more than 100 years, the Rocky Mountain Collegian has been run by the students at Colorado State University without any corporate masters. On Tuesday, the school administration met with staff from the Gannett publication, The Coloradoan in Fort Collin

Josh Wolf first became interested in the power of the press after writing and distributing a screed against his high school's new dress code. Within a short time, the new dress code was abandoned, and ever since then he's been getting his hands dirty deconstructing the media every step of the way. Wolf recently became the longest-incarcerated journalist for contempt of court in U.S. history after he spent 226 days in federal prison for his refusal to cooperate. In Media sphere, Josh shares his daily insights on the developing information landscape and examines how various corporate and governmental actions effect the free press both in the United States and abroad.
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While some may contend that the primary role of college newspapers is to prepare students for work in the establishment press, school newspapers also serve a vital role in keeping the community informed. In fact, college newspapers have broken stories on many occasions that resonated in the mainstream press. Some of these stories may have never seen the light of day if it weren't for the bold actions of determined college students and the newspapers these students control.

For students at Colorado State University, it appears the keys to their student-run paper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, may soon be wrestled away and handed over to newspaper giant Gannett. According to a recent AP story, "Officials with The Coloradoan in Fort Collins met Tuesday with Colorado State University leaders to discuss a 'strategic partnership' to run the campus paper."

While it's unclear at this time what a strategic partnership would look like, this isn't the first time that Gannett has involved itself with a student newspaper. In August of 2006, a Gannett newspaper purchased FSView & Florida Flambeau, an independent publication that serves the student body at Florida State University. A year later, the University of Central Florida's newspaper was also sold to a Gannett publication. Unlike those instances, the Collegian is run by the university and, as The Student Newspaper Survival Blog points out, "if a deal goes through with Colorado State University, it would be the first time Gannett gets involved in a student paper that had been run by a public university."

The Rocky Mountain Collegian last made headlines in September of last year when the editorial board published a four word column that read, "Taser this - FUCK BUSH." While the editorial may not have been particularly insightful, and certainly wasn't nuanced, it is absolutely essential that the students be able to publish what they see fit. Despite any forthcoming promises not to interfere with the students' editorial control, it seems doubtful that they'd allow such an incendiary column to run without any form of response.

Not surprisingly, students at Colorado University have expressed concern and outrage over the news that their paper may become affiliated with Gannett. Jeremy Trujillo, the paper's newsroom manager, expressed concern that students were not invited to participate in Tuesday's meeting, he told the Student Press Law Center, "I think the way it went down was somewhat shady. They should've had a representative from student media or the Collegian to at least provide insight about how this place operates on a daily basis."

In Wednesday's edition of the school paper, an editorial titled "Collegian is not for sale," explains in no uncertain terms that the staff of the newspaper is opposed to any potential partnership with the corporate media outlet. "The Collegian is not for sale, not interested in a "strategic partnership," a one-night stand or any other form of fraternization with corporate media. We prefer independence, and we'll fight for it."

The column also questions the college president's willingness to contemplate such a venture. "Amid the secrecy, mistruths and rumors, one thing is certain: To our president, a businessman by trade, the CSU student voice has a price. And it's a dish best served mum, in the final hour and while students are still trying to find their classes. ... We're students, representing students, working for students. Who do you work for?"

It's comforts me knowing that the students at the Rocky Mountain Collegian will not take this advance by Gannett lying down, but their determination may not be enough to stave off the corporate interests.

The university has appealed to The Coloradoan to outline the advantages such a relationship would provide to its students and the school itself, but I think it's far more important to assess what's in it for the Gannett corporation and The Coloradoan. If The Collegian is already profitable, why share the profits with a major corporation when they can be spent on the university's students? If the paper is relying on money from the school, what would be lost in the transformation toward a profitable enterprise?

I won't speculate what changes the paper might undergo in the process, but it seems safe to say that both the paper's independence and integrity may be compromised in the process, perhaps even the integrity of the school itself. The Rocky Mountain Collegian has operated as a part of the school for more than 100 years. Why change things now?