Taking CSU paper corporate a big gamble

The world of college media is in an uproar following news that the president of Colorado State University, which operates The Rocky Mountain Collegian, had a meeting with the executive editor and publisher of the Fort Collins Coloradoan to explore a possible takeover of the 117-year-old student paper.

The Collegian made national headlines last fall when it published a staff editorial that read only, “Taser this. F*** Bush.” After a firestorm of criticism, the paper suffered financially, claiming that it had lost 50 percent of its advertising revenue at one point. J. David McSwane, the paper’s editor-in-chief who has vigorously defended the editorial, narrowly escaped termination after the board that governs the university’s student media declined to remove him. To cope, the paper has cut back on staff and cut pay for those who remained.

The idea, while well intended by administrators, presents a slippery slope for college media. The Fort Collins Coloradoan is owned by Gannett Company, Inc., the largest newspaper corporation in the country. In 2007, the conglomerate bought the student newspaper of Florida State University which had been, like The Daily Illini, an operation independent of outside financial influence.

According to a story published in Thursday’s Collegian, a CSU journalism professor said that the executive editor of the Coloradoan had discussed “taking over management of the Collegian and taking it private, as a for-profit entity, while allowing students to direct the publication.”

University administration is claiming that no plans are set in stone. But in the meantime, CSU student government and faculty and the staff of the Collegian are harboring deep concerns about taking the paper corporate.

Faced with declining readership, Gannett appears to be trying to get its foot in the door of campus media, which could have dramatic consequences on media and the journalists they produce. Student media have historically been the places for young journalists to learn crafts, explore new ways of covering the news and yes, even making mistakes that we hopefully learn from.

College newspapers provide a place for students to live up to their principles by doing what they think is right, without the need for undue outside influence.

Indeed, in the months since the editorial, loyal Collegian staffers remain, overworked and underpaid, no doubt trying to produce the best paper they can. But after one rocky period, it is unconscionable for CSU to consider such a drastic step.

To consider replacing a proven educational environment with a structure that promotes profit over all else is not doing a service to readers or staff, regardless of the reason.