Talk of ‘strategic partnership’ with Gannett leaves student paper’s staffers on edge at Colo. State

COLORADO — A closed meeting Tuesday afternoon between leadersof the Gannett-owned newspaper the Coloradoan and Colorado StateUniversity officials left some student newspaper staffers outraged that theywere excluded.

Staff members at The Rocky Mountain Collegian are worried themeeting was the first step toward Gannett, a national commercial media chainthat owns USA Today, among other outlets, buying the studentnewspaper.

Collegian staff members also are suspicious about the motivationbehind the Gannett talks, coming just months after a nationally publicizedcontroversy over the student paper’s profane editorial broadside at PresidentBush.

“I think the way it went down was somewhat shady,” said Jeremy Trujillo,Collegian newsroom manager. “They should’ve had a representative fromstudent media or the Collegian to at least provide insight about how thisplace operates on a daily basis.”

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

“(It’s) a rumor that’s gotten way ahead of things,” said Brad Bohlander, auniversity spokesman. “They had heard information that we were selling thepaper, and that’s just not true.”

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

Luft told the Student Press Law Center he had a phone conversation Tuesdaywith Robert Moore, executive editor of the Coloradoan, about thenewspaper’s interest in buying the Collegian.

“(Moore) said they were interested in operating the paper as afor-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 puttogether 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 publisherChristine Chin had been discussing partnership and expansion opportunities forsome time before choosing the Collegian.

“You’re talking about a city of 140,000 people, and more than 30,000 ofthem have direct ties to the university,” Moore told the Collegian. “It’san important audience for us. It’s a part of the community we’ve been wanting toserve for a long time.”

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

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

“We will ensure that students remain the journalists and editors, that thisis 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 ‘strategicpartnership.'”

“I can understand the frustration of the Collegian staff with notbeing informed,” Luft said. “There have been some controversies concerning the paper andeveryone’s on edge because of that.”

The meeting comes months after a public fallout between universityofficials and Collegian Editor in Chief David McSwane over a Septembereditorial 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’sinterim president, Professor James Landers, resigned in December, citingtensions between him and the Collegian over the role of the board.

The Collegian would not be Gannett’s first student paper. Gannettalready owns the student-run newspaper at Florida State University, theFSView & Florida Flambeau, and the student newspaper at theUniversity of Central Florida, the Central Florida Future.

By Emilie Yam, SPLC staff writer