Posts Tagged ‘evil empire’

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

February 18, 2008
NY Times February 18, 2008
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.