To paraphrase Adam Protextor, auteur of the Resist Evil trilogy, “Resist Gannett”

NY Times February 18, 2008
Media
College Paper Vows to Fight a Takeover by Gannett
J. David McSwane, the student editor of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, was looking forward to a quiet spring semester at the Colorado State University after drawing global attention last fall for a four-word editorial criticizing President Bush.What he got instead was another storm.On the first day of classes in January, Mr. McSwane learned that the university president was meeting with representatives from the local daily, The Fort Collins Coloradoan, which is owned by Gannett, to discuss a potential “partnership” with the student newspaper.

The Collegian, now worried about its future as an independent student newspaper, is planning to fight any possible takeover by a media company. And Gannett and The Coloradoan have become targets for harsh criticism from college newsrooms and journalism departments across the country, who portray Gannett as a “dark lord” that wants to rein in student press freedom.

“If The Coloradoan were to take over The Collegian, only Gannett would win,” The Daily Nebraskan, the campus newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in an editorial.

Gannett dismissed any suggestion that it planned to conquer student journalism.

“There is no grand Gannett strategy,” said Tara Connell, a spokeswoman at its headquarters in McLean, Va. “Gannett is not looking to buy college newspapers. We look at all sorts of things.”

Gannett owns two student newspapers in Florida, however — The Tallahassee Democrat owns The FSView & Florida Flambeau at Florida State and Florida Today owns The Central Florida Future at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Both are for-profit newspapers, although the vast majority of student newspapers, including The Collegian, are nonprofit.

Media companies find college newspapers attractive properties for several reasons: operating costs are low because student labor is inexpensive, sometimes even free. Advertising is on the rise. And perhaps most important, the newspapers are read — frequently — by a young audience with relatively deep pockets.

In 2006, MTV acquired Y2M: Youth Media and Marketing Networks, whose subsidiary, College Publisher, is host of Web sites for 450 campus newspapers.

“College communities are fairly healthy economic engines. There’s a constant influx of students coming in with cash,” said Kevin Schwartz, the general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “The underpinnings of a healthy market are found in a state university town.”

According to Alloy Media and Marketing, which places advertisements in college publications, advertisers spent $30 million on ads in college papers in 2006. Alloy also estimated that advertising in college newspapers increased 15 percent in 2007, from 2006.

And as John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst in Silver Spring, Md., noted, college newspapers have a captive audience. A 2006 survey conducted by College Publisher found that 44 percent of undergraduate students read their campus newspaper twice or more a week — compared with 28 percent who read the local newspaper that often — and 77 percent read it at least once a month.

College print publications are still beating their online counterparts as well — only 24 percent of respondents said they read the college paper online twice or more a week. (Of national publications, USA Today, Gannett’s flagship publication, has the second-highest readership on campuses, behind The New York Times, the survey noted.)

College newsrooms are also relatively immune to the market pressures of the industry. “Our primary focus isn’t bringing money to stockholders, it’s providing opportunities for students,” said Mr. McSwane, The Collegian editor, who is a junior from Arvada, Colo. “We don’t ever have to worry that someone’s going to come down and say, ‘Hey, we have to cut our newsroom budget because someone in Kansas isn’t making enough money.’ “

That independence from the bottom line is what keeps student journalism fresh and irreverent, or so holds the common wisdom in college newsrooms, and journalism professors tend to agree. “If there is free press, it’s probably on the college campuses,” said Donna Rouner, a journalism professor at Colorado State who wrote an op-ed for The Collegian criticizing any deal.

No proposal has yet been submitted, but an advisory committee composed of students, including a representative from The Collegian, and Colorado State faculty members held its first meeting Thursday to decide whether a deal with Gannett or any other media company was worth pursuing.

Blanche Hughes, the vice president for student affairs, who sits on the committee, said its goal was to gauge how the proposal would work for students as well as the university. She said the committee would look for job and education opportunities for students and assurances from any company that made a bid for The Collegian that the quality of the newspaper would be maintained.

Mr. Morton said he doubted that Gannett’s ownership would change a student newspaper. “I’m sure Gannett has absolutely no interest in having anything to do with the editorial product,” he said.

But buying student newspapers, Mr. Morton said, made financial sense. “It’s a way of enlarging your footprint,” he said.

Mr. Schwartz, the general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, said he thought Gannett was going after young readers. But he said campus newspapers, with their easy availability and focus on community-based journalism, helped to instill the newspaper habit in students.

“Let us make them newspaper readers for you,” he said.

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One Response to “To paraphrase Adam Protextor, auteur of the Resist Evil trilogy, “Resist Gannett””

  1. dewey cheatham Says:

    If your school is approached by the Gannett/USA Today Collegiate Readership Program, I hope that you will consider this: They want to steal your college newspaper advertisers! They will financially beat your college newspaper down by drastically reducing your ad revenue so that they can either take over your college newspaper if it has potential for profit or simply put it out of business.

    The USA Today Collegiate Readership Program has been cleverly marketed to colleges and universities across the country as a way to enlighten our students and improve the journalism skills of the campus newspaper writers. On Feb. 15, 2008 a joint initiative called Quadrantone was announced by Gannett, The Tribune Newspapers, Hearst Corp and the New York Times. This program creates an unprecedented on line advertising platform that will allow this newly formed oligopoly to offer localized on line advertising on their member online newspaper websites to local advertisers who have relied on the college newspaper to reach students. With Quadrantone, even the on line editorial content can be customized to reach different demographic groups.

    Here is the bottom line- This USA Today program is nothing more than a surreptitious way to curry favor with students and administrators under the guise of providing a valuable educational service to our community. Make no mistake about it. The goal of the USA Today readership program is not to enlighten our students and broaden their perspectives as they would have you believe. Their sneaky plan involves bringing USA Today and usually the New York Times on campus along with the local metropolitan newspaper (usually a Gannett publication)- often “free of charge” to the students but paid for by the college administration or student government association. That way the program can count all of their newspapers on campus as paid circulation to justify ad rate increases. The typical metropolitan newspaper is written on an 8th grade reading level. Is that the kind of education and enlightenment that our students can look forward too?

    Once the USA Today Collegiate Readership program gets the local metropolitan newspaper on the college campuses, their goal is to steal college newspaper advertisers by offering below market display ad rates to local advertisers and below market on line ad rates through the Quadrantone platform. Gannett and the other large newspaper conglomerates share a common goal- put the college newspapers out of business or buy them for a fraction of what they are worth.

    Why are they doing this? The average age of today’s metropolitan newspaper reader is 56 years old! The newspaper industry has the same dilemma as the tobacco industry. Their older customers are hooked but the new generation is not buying. When today’s readers die, so goes their readership. Therefore, to survive, Gannett and the other Quadrantone members are aggressively trying to establish a foothold on college campuses.

    A few days after the local metropolitan paper and the two national papers are made available for free in nice shiny racks on the college campus, the multitude of ad reps for the local metropolitan paper and Quadrantone will be calling on every local business within a 10-mile radius of the campus and they will of course call EVERY national advertiser that has used the local college paper in the last 5 years. They will offer the college newspaper advertiser a display ad rate so low that the advertiser will jump ship. Now that Quadrantone can offer locally targeted online advertising, the college newspapers that have local online advertising revenue will no longer be able to compete.

    “Citizen Kane” is often considered by movie critics to be the best
    >movie EVER PRODUCED.

    “Citizen Kane” is a 1941 mystery/drama film. Released by RKO Pictures,
    it was the first feature film directed by Orson Welles. The story
    traces the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a man whose career
    in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but
    gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power.”- Wikipedia

    It supposedly centers around the life of William Randolph Hearst, the
    undisputed giant in the newspaper industry in the early 1900’s. He
    tried everything he could to ban the movie from reaching the theaters
    and almost succeeded. If you want to see what corporate greed in the
    newspaper industry looks like, watch the movie.

    But don’t worry. When all looks lost, Gannett or some other newspaper giant might come to the rescue and buy out your college newspaper if it has the potential for profit. If not, they will just kill it by practically giving away their ads to the college market advertisers. If the college paper gets bought out, the students that are left now work for a huge multimedia conglomerate, and they can kiss goodbye the editorial freedom they have taken for granted.

    If the students start working for Gannett, they better not say something that Gannett does not agree with in the college paper, especially when it comes to politics. Study Gannett’s political mindset and commit it to memory or risk being shown the door. Gannett knows how the game is played. Gannett has already bought an independent college newspaper in Florida and is about to buy another student newspaper in Colorado. This is just the beginning. The alarming fact is that the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program marketers have duped students and their administrators into thinking that their motives are purely altruistic. That should insult the collective intelligence of our future leaders.

    The student newspaper, the last bastion of true freedom of expression in the print media, is slowly being destroyed by a modern day Citizen Kane.

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