A new year and a new path
Editors at 3 schools prepare for their outlets' first years of independence
When student editors decide to go it alone, the road can be a rocky one. At Quinnipiac University, Jason Braff looks at his online publication’s bank account. It’s empty. Meanwhile, Aaron Montoya of Colorado State University wrangles with the Internal Revenue Service as Bobby Melok of Montclair State University sits with his lawyer drafting paperwork.
These student newspaper editors, from Connecticut to Colorado to New Jersey, all have one thing in common: They are moving their newspapers away from the shelter of the university and into the outside world.
Rocky Mountain Student Media
On June 3 Colorado State University announced it would spin off its student-run media outlets from the school. The Board of Governors approved a measure that allowed Student Media — which consists of the school’s student newspaper, radio station, television station and magazine — to form a nonprofit 501©(3) corporation.
The newly formed Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation has filed paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State and the IRS for official recognition as an independent nonprofit company. Other universities, such as Michigan State University, Iowa State University and the University of Texas, have taken similar steps to form nonprofit corporations for their student media operations.
“We’re stressing the fact that we’re no longer a university department,” said Aaron Montoya, editor in chief of Student Media’s newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian. “Our goal is still to be here for students, but we work for the corporation now.”
The move to reorganize Student Media, which includes the Collegian, College Avenue Magazine, KCSU radio station and CTV television, came after a Sept. 21 editorial in the newspaper that read “Taser This…Fuck Bush.”
The editorial created a media firestorm that prompted officials to look for a way to restructure the newspaper, and eventually all of Student Media. Several ideas were thrown around, including selling the paper to media giant Gannett. Eventually, a university committee endorsed a plan to form a nonprofit corporation.
The Board of Governors gave Student Media a deadline of Aug. 1 to make the switch to their new structure.
“The last couple of months have been a little hectic because the timeline is fairly short,” Montoya said. “We’re working day and night to make sure things are in place.”
Larry Steward, president of Student Media, said forming the nonprofit was the best thing the university could have done with the program.
“We’re going to be more student-oriented and more student-focused,” Steward said. “Students will be protected from all forms of prior restraint and content censorship.”
In July the university released its formal operating agreement with Student Media. A nine-member governing board — composed of five students and two members of the university, as well as Steward and Ray Caraway, president of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado — will run the corporation.
Under the deal, Student Media will receive $1 million in assistance from the university for transition funding, broadcast services and a subscription fee to the Collegian and College Avenue, as well as for providing an educational laboratory experience for the 2008-09 year. According to the agreement, the university must hand over $500,000 of that amount by Aug 1.
The agreement, which ends in July 2011 if it is not renewed, calls for funding levels to be renegotiated in May 2009 and May 2010 for the following year.
One of the first things Steward said would happen is updating the radio and television stations’ equipment.
“The TV and radio station has been under-funded and needs to be upgraded,” Steward said. “That’s a high priority. These kids need the right tools to do a good job.”
Although Montoya said forming Student Media was done at a breakneck pace, he expects everything to be up and running by the time Colorado State students begin classes on Aug. 25.
“Our goal is to have readers not notice a difference because of the change,” Montoya said. “Our professional advisers will notice changes, but we don’t want our readers to notice a thing.”
The Quad News
After wrestling with Quinnipiac University officials over who should have control over the newspaper, then-Editor in Chief Jason Braff, along with 20 other editors, walked out of the Quinnipiac Chronicle’s newsroom, refusing to work for the paper.
“We thought they were taking too much control out of our hands and at that point thought it better to walk off and start our own paper,” Braff said.
Braff and his team of editors formed an online-only publication called The Quad News, which they expect to launch in the fall. They have the assistance of a Quinnipiac law student who is volunteering to help the new outlet become a limited liability company.
“We’re going to operate just as the Chronicle did, except that it will be all online and we can publish events when they’re happening,” Braff said. “We’ll have all the same stories plus more.”
In addition to the 20 editors who left the Chronicle, Braff expects about a dozen reporters to leave the Chronicle in the fall and write for the Quad News instead.
Braff’s disagreement with Quinnipiac officials spanned his run as editor in chief at the Chronicle during the 2007-08 year. In December Braff met with university officials to end a policy that restricted the Chronicle from publishing stories on its Web site until the printed newspaper had been delivered. That policy has since been repealed.
The newspaper next took issue with the university’s new policy for selecting Chronicle editors. The university, as part of a two-year “trial structure” that was set up to gauge whether the paper could survive a total break from the university, had the vice president and dean of students, Manuel Carreiro, make the final selection of student editors out of a pool of applicants recommended by the paper’s editor in chief and other managing editors.
The policy, which Braff rejected as unfair, broke with Quinnipiac’s past policy of allowing the editor in chief, managing editors, faculty adviser and the dean of students to select editors together in a round of interviews.
After the walkout, Griffin McGrath was named student publisher of the Chronicle. Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, believes the paper will do just fine without the experienced editors.
“We have a fresh crop of ambitious, extremely talented young people, many of whom recognize the importance of building a resume with experience at a student newspaper,” Bushnell wrote.
One of Braff’s biggest concerns lately is finding funding for The Quad News.
“Right now, we have no money whatsoever,” Braff said. “We’re working with College Publisher to host our Web site for free. They’ll generate advertisement dollars and hopefully we’ll boost our market share to make some money.”
On July 24 the Montclair State University Board of Trustees approved a measure that will raise the student activity fee by $3.80. Those funds will help pay for the student newspaper’s operating budget, as well as needed supplies.
The Montclarion drafted paperwork to be filed with the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of State to officially break with the university’s Student Government Association and form a nonprofit corporation.
“I think it’s the best situation for the newspaper right now,” said Bobby Melok, The Montclarion editor in chief. “This is everything we need to get up and running.”
The move came after months of talks with both the SGA and with university officials. The newspaper formerly had been a subdivision of the student government and received its funding through the SGA.
Support to break the newspaper from the SGA came when the organization froze the Montclarion’s budget in January, claiming the paper had improperly spent its funds when it hired attorney Sal M. Anderton to advise the paper on its claim the SGA violated state open-meeting laws. SGA officials demanded the paper turn over all its correspondence with Anderton before they would release the funds. Anderton and the paper refused, citing attorney-client privilege.
After its budget was frozen, the weekly newspaper published one online-only edition before the student government issued 30 days of emergency funds.
At a Feb. 27 SGA meeting, University President Susan A. Cole said that by July 1 The Montclarion would no longer be a part of the SGA and that the university would ensure the newspaper would have enough funds to print for the rest of the academic year, in case the SGA decided to pull funding for the paper again.
Later in that same meeting the SGA, in a 7-to-7 vote that came down to a tiebreaker from the SGA vice president, voted to unfreeze the newspaper’s budget for the rest of the year.
The separation deadline was pushed back until the Board of Trustees meeting, which guaranteed funding for the new corporation. The university will not fund The Montclarion’s entire projected $120,000 budget. Karen Pennington, vice president of student development and campus life at the university, said some of newspaper’s funds would come from outside sources such as advertisement revenue.
“All we’re doing is giving them seed money because they’re starting from scratch,” Pennington said. “We’re giving them an opportunity to get up and running.”
In mid-July, members of the SGA began removing some office equipment from the newspaper’s office.
“The SGA is taking two computers, a desk, a couch, a keyboard, a paper cutter, a stapler, and two pairs of scissors,” Melok said. “It’s not really much at all. We still have almost everything and ordered all new computers and furniture.”
Melok said the university’s money will go toward buying new equipment for The Montclarion newsroom.
Melok and Pennington agree the Board of Trustees’ latest move is the first step in their eventual goal of having The Montclarion able to support itself with little or no university help.
Fall 2008, reports