Proposal would make student media at Colo. State independent

COLORADO -- An advisory panel is considering a proposal that would convert Colorado State University's entire student media department to an independent nonprofit corporation.

If the plan were approved in its entirety, all student outlets currently overseen by the department -- the Rocky Mountain Collegian newspaper, College Avenue magazine, KCSU radio station and CTV -- would move on July 1 to a new, independent nonprofit organization called the Colorado State Educational Media Corporation. Students would constitute a majority of the company's governing board and would "continue to be the final decision-makers for all content," according to the proposal

But the company would be allowed to lease its current equipment and office space from the school and still would receive a student fee subsidy for the broadcast outlets. And although editorial control would immediately transfer to the new body, much of the outlets' financial operations would remain within the school for a transition year, during which the publications would spend the rest of their university funds and begin building independent assets.

The plan, prepared by Student Media Director Jeff Browne and the department's professional staff, was the only proposal submitted to the advisory committee by the April 3 deadline and was presented publicly April 10. The panel will meet April 24 to hear public comments on the proposal and plans to submit its recommendations to university President Larry Penley by early May.

Similar ideas had been considered within the department as long as five years ago, Browne said. But discussions about the organization of campus media had taken a back seat in recent years as the department placed more emphasis on developing its multimedia capabilities.

The organizational discussions gained new relevance, however, after a series of controversies involving the Collegian this school year.

In September the paper drew heavy criticism for printing a four-word, large-print editorial: "Taser this ... Fuck Bush." The university's Board of Student Communications "admonished" Editor in Chief David McSwane for allowing the use of profanity in the editorial but recognized the piece as protected speech. Two months after the editorial, the board's interim president, journalism professor James Landers, resigned after expressing frustration with limits on the board's authority.

And in January, commercial newspaper company Gannett -- whose holdings include USA Today and a local newspaper, The Coloradoan -- approached Colorado State with a proposal to purchase the Collegian. The proposal -- ultimately rejected by the university -- attracted heated opposition from the paper's staff, who also were outraged they had not been informed about the closed-door meeting between administrators and Coloradoan executives.

In February, the school formed the Collegian Advisory Committee to consider proposals to restructure campus media. Seven of the panel's 16 members are students, including representatives from all the publications and the student government.

The committee is not limited to evaluating Browne's plan as an "all or nothing" proposal and could offer its own ideas, said Anne Hudgens, executive director of campus life. Hudgens, a committee member, said the panel might endorse the concept of forming a nonprofit for student media but likely would leave it to a different group to develop implementation details.

Browne said his proposal "morphed over time" as the department's staff considered what to do with the Collegian and the other student publications.

"We realized that working together was very important to what we wanted the experience for students to be here," he said, leading staffers to the idea of spinning off all the outlets together.

Student media leaders have given the plan a warm reception.

"It's a very appealing proposal," said Christina Dickinson, KCSU's station manager and a member of the advisory committee. Dickinson said she still is reviewing the plan and has not yet decided whether she ultimately will decide to support it. But she is pleased the proposal keeps all the student media outlets together.

"We're still a family down here, so we don't want to separate those entities," she said.

McSwane said the proposal looks promising but would depend on whether "the university in good faith wants us to be a successful [nonprofit]."

"I think that we've had a hard time trusting the university," he said. "At this point, it's beginning to look better."

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