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Gannett may buy student newspaper

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  • Gannett Co. met with Colorado State University leaders to discuss a possible partnership with the student newspaper
  • Members of the the Collegian were not invited to the meeting
  • Staff on the Collegian are worried that the discussions have something to do with the "Taser This, (expletive) Bush," editorial published by the newspaper in September
  • Media advisers say many independent college newspapers are successful but warn that students may lose their voice in a private company
  • Students at Colorado State University's newspaper The Rocky Mountain Collegian expressed qualms after university leaders discussed a potential partnership with Gannett Co., a company that owns 85 newspapers, including USA Today.

    The publisher of the Coloradoan, in Fort Collins, Colo., which is owned by Gannett, met with university president Larry Penley and student body president Katie Gleeson, last Monday to discuss a partnership, said Gregory Luft, journalism tech communication professor at Colorado State, Fort Collins.

    "They're pursuing a hyper local policy across the country and they are very interested in acquiring niche operations that have an established audience," Luft said.

    Staff at the Collegian, a university-owned paper, was not invited to the meeting, said Jeremy Trujillo, newsroom manager.

    Trujillo said his staff is strongly opposed to the partnership.

    The staff is writing letters to the president, planning a possible rally and is in talks with the Student Press Law Center for advice on the matter.

    "We've been a student run organization for 117 years, and we intend to keep it that way," Trujillo said.

    Tara Connell, vice president of corporate communications for Gannett Co., said the meeting was a preliminary conversation and the university said the paper is not for sale.

    She said although Gannett Co. owns two independent student papers at Florida State University and the University of Central Florida, Gannett does not have a strategy for buying college newspapers.

    "We look at opportunities, college newspapers depending on the circumstances, depending on how they're set up, this was just a conversation," Connell said.

    Colorado State's journalism department has been asked to be a part of the discussions, Luft said.

    He said the university leaders are deciding whether it is the right thing to do.

    "The journalism faculty in general are quite concerned about the prospect of students using their independent voice," Luft said. "There is not indication that the university intends to do this."

    Students are primarily concerned about a lack of student-controlled content in the newspaper.

    Trujillo said a September editorial that received national attention for saying, "Taser This, (expletive) Bush," may have something to do with the discussions.

    If the Coloradoan buys the student newspaper, the students would not be able to use inappropriate language, said Ron Spielberger, executive director of College Media Advisors, an organization that advises student media professionals.

    "It may well be a subtext in here with the editorial not flattering to President Bush," Spielberger said. "It's just a troubling thing, anytime you have private enterprise and take over a student media corporation."

    Even though the Gannett-owned Tallahassee Democrat purchased the independent student papers at FSU and UCF, students still run their own editorial news section, said Patrick Dorsey, president and publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat.

    Since the takeover last August, the newspaper has expanded its student staffing, added a general manager and sales manager, and offered previous advertisers a new college market.

    The newspaper, which circulates 52,000 daily and 61,000 on Sunday, also runs an internship program because Florida State doesn't have a journalism program, Dorsey said.

    "We'd be kinda stupid to try and go and tell students what should benefit their paper," Dorsey said. "We provided a nice stability for the publication."

    Dorsey said people's fear of a corporate takeover is ungrounded. Real world experience would be positive for students, he said.

    Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said there are many successful independent campus newspapers, but owners must be careful of not to intrude too much on student-generated content.

    The Student Press Law Center is advising the Collegian in their rights to be present at meetings and be entitled to public records, LoMonte said.

    He said it's important that the students remain in control of the paper.

    "The risk you run in any sale like this is obviously once a state institution is out of the picture then you lose the ability to claim First Amendment protection if the management of the paper censures your speech," LoMonte said.

    A hands-off approach by the owner would be beneficial in easing students' concerns about censorship, he said.

    The Bush editorial does, however, raise suspicions about the discussions, he said.

    "It's unfortunate that the editors had to learn indirectly," LoMonte said. "And the secrecy of the meeting created a climate of distrust that is exacerbated by the timing of following so shortly after the controversy of the Bush editorial."

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