Jan 282009
Authors: Aaron Hedge, Shelley Woll

Responding to a request from the CSU administration, student government is planning on absorbing student media’s portion of student fees next year, which could foster what one college media organization’s adviser said is “not a good model.”

“That would be like the Texas legislature deciding whether the Dallas Morning News would get money,” said Kathy Lawrence, the University of Texas’ student media adviser. “It’s a conflict of interest.”

The potential change comes just months after student media became a separate entity from CSU after decades of being part of the university. Before the split with CSU, all funding for student media was funneled through the university’s pay system, making student media a public institution.

Student government officials said the policy was drafted because private companies can’t be funded directly from student fees. The Associated Students of CSU has to approve student funding that goes to non-student entities.

“Student media is always funded by the students, and in order for student media to still receive funding from student fees since they are now private, they have to be part of the university (through ASCSU),” said Quinn Girrens, the chair for the Student Fee Review Board, which is charged with recommending fee packages to ASCSU.

The proposal was brought to the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation’s governing board at their monthly meeting at the beginning of December, but advisers and student employees didn’t know about the measure until Wednesday morning.

RMSCM President Larry Steward said he didn’t understand during the December meeting that an actual change was being proposed, so he didn’t inform the professional staff and students at the company about the pending shift.

“That was my fault,” Steward said in an interview Monday night.

Steward said it’s not an entirely bad idea if the proper oversight is put in place before anything is drafted to ensure that student government has no editorial control and can’t cut funding if, for example, they don’t like the paper’s endorsement for student body president.

Frank LoMonte, the director of the Student Press Law Center, said that on the surface, the model is innocent.

“The short answer is that it legally ought not to affect student media’s coverage of the university,” he said. “Even though a government entity is an entity that holds the student media’s purse strings, the First Amendment says that they can’t cancel your funding . or retaliate against you because they disapprove of the editorial decisions you make.”

But he added that legalities aren’t bulletproof.

“The temptation is always there when you have a student government directly controlling a newspaper’s funding,” he said. “There could be an implied threat that compromises your independence, so it’s not the ideal way to have a newspaper set up, for sure.”

And, University of Texas adviser Lawrence said, other student media organizations have student fees doled out by their student body, but that “It’s not a good model.”

RMSMC’s split was born after talks with the administration about a possible separation stemmed from a secret meeting at the beginning of spring semester 2008 between former President Larry Penley and Fort Collins Coloradoan officials in which they talked about a possible buyout of the Collegian.

Student media employs five different entities, including a TV station, a radio station, the Collegian, a magazine and the Colorado High School Press Association.

The TV station, CTV, and the radio station, KCSU are funded by student fees, while the Collegian and the magazine, College Avenue, are funded solely by advertising dollars raised by students, so CTV and KCSU will be the only entities affected.

RMSMC official will present a fee proposal to the SFRB in April to decide whether student media will keep its fee package.

Development Editor Aaron Hedge and staff writer Shelley Woll can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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