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Talk of 'strategic partnership' with Gannett leaves student paper's staffers on edge at Colo. State
School officials did not inform student journalists of 'preliminary' discussions with commercial media giant
January 23, 2008

COLORADO -- A closed meeting Tuesday afternoon between leaders of the Gannett-owned newspaper the Coloradoan and Colorado State University officials left some student newspaper staffers outraged that they were excluded.

Staff members at The Rocky Mountain Collegian are worried the meeting was the first step toward Gannett, a national commercial media chain that owns USA Today, among other outlets, buying the student newspaper.

Collegian staff members also are suspicious about the motivation behind the Gannett talks, coming just months after a nationally publicized controversy over the student paper's profane editorial broadside at President Bush.

"I think the way it went down was somewhat shady," said Jeremy Trujillo, Collegian newsroom manager. "They should've had a representative from student media or the Collegian to at least provide insight about how this place operates on a daily basis."

Colorado State officials insist it was a preliminary meeting to discuss a strategic partnership between the Coloradoan and the Collegian.

"(It's) a rumor that's gotten way ahead of things," said Brad Bohlander, a university spokesman. "They had heard information that we were selling the paper, and that's just not true."

But Collegian staff members remain skeptical. The student paper reported Wednesday that Coloradoan leaders had discussed plans to buy the Collegian with Greg Luft, chairman of the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication.

Luft told the Student Press Law Center he had a phone conversation Tuesday with Robert Moore, executive editor of the Coloradoan, about the newspaper's interest in buying the Collegian.

"(Moore) said they were interested in operating the paper as a for-profit while allowing students to maintain editorial control," Luft said.

"In retrospect, given the fact that this was preliminary meeting by Gannett ... I can see a reason not to get a whole bunch of people involved," he added.

In the meeting, Colorado State officials asked the Coloradoan to put together a formal proposal, which the university would then make public, Bohlander said. The university wants to make it a "very open process," he said.

The Collegian reported that Moore and Coloradoan publisher Christine Chin had been discussing partnership and expansion opportunities for some time before choosing the Collegian.

"You're talking about a city of 140,000 people, and more than 30,000 of them have direct ties to the university," Moore told the Collegian. "It's an important audience for us. It's a part of the community we've been wanting to serve for a long time."

Neither Moore nor Chin returned phone calls from the SPLC seeking comment on Wednesday.

Bohlander said any potential partnership would leave students in charge of the Collegian.

"We will ensure that students remain the journalists and editors, that this is a student-run publication with student-generated content," Bohlander said.

But an editorial that ran in Wednesday's Collegian said the "Collegian is not for sale" and "not interested in a 'strategic partnership.'"

"I can understand the frustration of the Collegian staff with not being informed," Luft said. "There have been some controversies concerning the paper and everyone's on edge because of that."

The meeting comes months after a public fallout between university officials and Collegian Editor in Chief David McSwane over a September editorial that read "Taser this...F*** Bush."

Colorado State's Board of Student Communications voted to "admonish" McSwane for running the piece but recognized it as protected speech. The board's interim president, Professor James Landers, resigned in December, citing tensions between him and the Collegian over the role of the board.

The Collegian would not be Gannett's first student paper. Gannett already owns the student-run newspaper at Florida State University, the FSView & Florida Flambeau, and the student newspaper at the University of Central Florida, the Central Florida Future.

By Emilie Yam, SPLC staff writer

© 2008 Student Press Law Center

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