(Web)master of your domain
As college newspapers go online, editorial independence and advertising limitations have made students question where they base their site
The staff of the Kansas State Collegian was trying to create a publicly accessible gopher, a document browsing and searching system on the Internet, so the community could easily access its archives.
But news of the gopher prompted many students to ask if the Collegian would be going online.
“That was when HTML was in its infancy stage,” said Ron Johnson, director of student publications. “We had a certain need, and we saw so much potential with the technology.”
The E-Collegian, which went up June 1994, now receives upward of 70,000 hits a day, Johnson said.
“The rest of the university did not know what to make of the online Collegian,” Johnson said. “Fortunately, the university realized that there was an educational opportunity.”
K-State is one of the luckier schools. Through correspondence with almost 40 schools, the Student Press Law Center found online newspapers appear to choose between school or commercial Web sites based on a desire for editorial independence or for advertising opportunities.
Vincent Chesney, a former editor of the Mount St. Mary’s College newspaper in Emmitsburg, Md., said he encountered numerous roadblocks while trying to post the newspaper online.
“If a student or club wanted to go online, it would have to be approved and passed by a committee. That was how the college censored different organizations,” Chesney said.
The Mountain Echo online is hosted on a server not affiliated with the college. While the administration promised two years ago to provide links to the newspaper, to do this day, no such link exists, Chesney said.
Since limited precedent exists addressing the relationship between a Web server and a user, especially for student newspapers, the SPLC contacted college newspapers nationwide to see how they have handled the choice of staying on a Web address affiliated with a school, an “.edu” address or moving to a commercial site, like “.com” or “.net.”
In the informal survey of 38 online student newspapers, 22 used “.edu” addresses while 15 used “.com” addresses. A little over half of the college newspapers were housed on the school Web server.
The Gradual Move
Mike Lazerow, founder of U-wire, a wire service for college newspapers, said he has seen a transition in college newspaper URLs, the addresses of Web sites.
“For a while, two years ago, when we launched U-wire, we noticed most [student newspapers] were on ‘.edu’ and at that time only a handful,” Lazerow said. “As the Internet expanded, we saw a lot of newspapers jump to a ‘.com.’”
Spurred by administrative restrictions, some newspaper editors have been able to go to a private site and cover the costs ? with their arrangements with their Internet Service Provider (ISP), a company that provides access to the Internet.
John Valerio, executive editor of The Anchor at Rhode Island College, said his newspaper cut costs by trading advertising space in the print edition of the newspaper with a local ISP for server space.
“We chose to go with an off-campus service in order to bypass any potential problems with the administration,” he said. “We knew there would be concerns about our content appearing on their site and of how we would access our pages.”
The Push for Advertising
Although censorship is always a looming threat, advertising limitations was also a consideration for many schools. Of the survey respondents, only six said their schools allowed online advertising on the school Web server – 17 respondents said the school did not allow advertising on the school server and 16 did not know.
While there is no legal precedent indicating that an “.edu” site cannot host advertising, many schools believe they are not allowed to do so. (See the Legal Analysis on page 24 for more details about the law.)
Some school newspapers chose a “.com” address for this reason.
Donald Cross, acting publisher for the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University, said the staff opted to pay $75 a month to a Canadian ISP rather than deal with the school’s administration.
“After a couple of go-arounds with Indiana University ‘.edu’ police, we decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle,” he said.
“They told us that we could not have paid advertising on our side and remain on the ‘.edu’ server. They gave us a process and a time, but our staff decided that it wasn’t worth the time and energy it would take to get this monkey off our back.”
In the legal vacuum, some schools have instituted their own policies.
Michael E. Agin, student media adviser to the Kentucky Kernel at the University of Kentucky, said the school’s policy places the newspaper on equal footing with every other student organization.
“The student newspaper competes online with the wide Internet market, including the powerful UK athletics department, which, too, had to go to a ‘.com’ site so it could display advertising,” Agin said.
“Any student group or university department now has to have the resources to compete in the marketplace for advertising and readers, and pay the costs associated with that effort.”
At the University of Pittsburgh, the administration instituted a policy on Internet usage after an incident last year when some students used the school’s Ethernet connection (an Internet access system that networks individuals that many schools use) for commercial purposes, said Vanessa Manz, business manager at The Pitt News.
While The Pitt News is currently hosted on an “.edu” address, advertising limitations has the staff searching for an alternative.
“We have to go to great lengths – we had to find a low price dial-up [an Internet connection from a computer using standard phone lines] and a host on a virtual server [a server located at a remote site],” Manz said.
Despite the university’s cautious approach to advertising on an “.edu,” Manz said the administration has been helpful.
“[The university] has been very responsive to our inquiries. It’s just very new to the university. They just want to cover themselves completely.”
The OK from some administrators
At some universities where student publications are separately incorporated, newspapers have been able to work out agreements with their school.
Pennsylvania State University is one example. Like the Kansas State Collegian, Penn State’s The Daily Collegian is hosted on an “.edu” address, though the newspaper has its own server.
In 1997, however, Penn State instituted a no online advertising policy. The Daily Collegian asked how the policy would affect the publication.
The newspaper staff argued that the Web advertising experience would be an educational experience for students, and the newspaper used its own hardware and software though it used the school’s Ethernet connection.
The school agreed to continue to allow The Daily Collegian to run ads on the “.edu” site.
“In general, advertising in an online student publication is no different than advertising in a print student publication,” said Gerry Hamilton, general manager for the Collegian, Inc. at Penn State. “If students are substantially involved with the advertising as part of their normal activities with the student newspaper, then the advertising is an educational activity.”
While university response to advertising online on “.edu” sites vary, Lazerow offered some advice to schools trying to decide between a school or outside ISP.
“We do a lot of speaking at the college media conventions,” said Lazerow, “ [and] my standard response is that if you want to do it ? move off campus because that takes care of a lot of issues that might bite you down the road.”
However, Lazerow also said he noticed a change in attitude among administrators about online newspaper advertising.
“On the most part, universities are beginning to understand the educational value.”
Fall 1998, reports