COLORADO — An advisory panel is considering a proposalthat would convert Colorado State University’s entire student media departmentto an independent nonprofit corporation.
If the plan were approved in its entirety, all student outlets currentlyoverseen by the department — the Rocky Mountain Collegiannewspaper, College Avenue magazine, KCSU radio station and CTV –would move on July 1 to a new, independent nonprofit organization called theColorado State Educational Media Corporation. Students would constitute amajority 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 officespace from the school and still would receive a student fee subsidy for thebroadcast outlets. And although editorial control would immediately transfer tothe new body, much of the outlets’ financial operations would remain within theschool for a transition year, during which the publications would spend the restof their university funds and begin building independent assets.
The plan, prepared by Student Media Director Jeff Browne and thedepartment’s professional staff, was the only proposal submitted to the advisorycommittee by the April 3 deadline and was presented publicly April 10. The panelwill meet April 24 to hear public comments on the proposal and plans to submitits recommendations to university President Larry Penley by early May.
Similar ideas had been considered within the department as long as fiveyears ago, Browne said. But discussions about the organization of campus mediahad taken a back seat in recent years as the department placed more emphasis ondeveloping its multimedia capabilities.
The organizational discussions gained new relevance, however, after aseries 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 ofStudent Communications “admonished” Editor in Chief David McSwane for allowingthe use of profanity in the editorial but recognized the piece as protectedspeech. Two months after the editorial, the board’s interim president,journalism professor James Landers, resigned after expressing frustration withlimits on the board’s authority.
And in January, commercial newspaper company Gannett — whoseholdings include USA Today and a local newspaper, The Coloradoan— approached Colorado State with a proposal to purchase theCollegian. The proposal — ultimately rejected by the university– attracted heated opposition from the paper’s staff, who also wereoutraged they had not been informed about the closed-door meeting betweenadministrators and Coloradoan executives.
In February, the school formed the Collegian Advisory Committee to considerproposals to restructure campus media. Seven of the panel’s 16 members arestudents, including representatives from all the publications and the studentgovernment.
The committee is not limited to evaluating Browne’s plan as an “all ornothing” proposal and could offer its own ideas, said Anne Hudgens, executivedirector of campus life. Hudgens, a committee member, said the panel mightendorse the concept of forming a nonprofit for student media but likely wouldleave it to a different group to develop implementation details.
Browne said his proposal “morphed over time” as the department’s staffconsidered what to do with the Collegian and the other studentpublications.
“We realized that working together was very important to what we wanted theexperience for students to be here,” he said, leading staffers to the idea ofspinning 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 stationmanager and a member of the advisory committee. Dickinson said she still isreviewing the plan and has not yet decided whether she ultimately will decide tosupport it. But she is pleased the proposal keeps all the student media outletstogether.
“We’re still a family down here, so we don’t want to separate thoseentities,” she said.
McSwane said the proposal looks promising but would depend on whether “theuniversity in good faith wants us to be a successful [nonprofit].”
“I think that we’ve had a hard time trusting the university,” he said. “Atthis point, it’s beginning to look better.”