Student leaders, staff and faculty are crying foul after CSU President Larry Penley held a closed-door meeting to discuss a potential takeover of the student newspaper by the Fort Collins Coloradoan — a move that could forever change the operation of independent student media at the university.
Bob Moore and Christine Chin, the executive editor and publisher of Gannett-owned newspaper The Coloradoan, attended the meeting in which they proposed a “strategic partnership” with the Collegian.
Gannett currently owns and operates two college newspapers at Florida State University and the University of Central Florida.
Neither Student Media professional nor student staff were privy to the meeting. Katie Gleeson, president of the Associated Students of CSU, said the meeting was planned weeks in advance and, according to a release from Penley, had been proposed late last year.
Collegian staff became aware of the secret meeting an hour prior through an anonymous tip.
J. David McSwane, Collegian editor-in-chief, caught Penley outside his office minutes before to attend the meeting. But McSwane and Collegian reporters were denied access to the meeting.
Several confused ASCSU leaders met up with Collegian staffers outside the meeting, wondering, too, why they had not been informed of such a drastic proposal.
When McSwane questioned university spokesman Brad Bohlander about his exclusion, Bohlander said Gleeson served as an appropriate student representative, and that the meeting had been nothing more than an introductory chat.
“Its entirely preliminary,” he said. “There’s no news work, no information, no decisions, no recommendations, no thoughts of where they might go. We just wanted to hear what they had to say.”
But one faculty e-mail alludes to more than a preliminary discussion.
Greg Luft, chair of the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, sent an e-mail to his department about his discussion with Moore, which detailed “taking over management of the Collegian and taking it private, as a for-profit entity, while allowing students to direct the publication.”
Later Tuesday, Penley released a university-wide statement to address the meeting, saying he agreed to meet with Moore and Chin based on a strong relationship between the university and the Coloradoan.
As a result of the discussion, Penley asked Moore and Chin for a formal proposal of their plan, one that would argue how a partnership with the Collegian would enhance opportunities for student journalists, faculty participation and services to the student body.
In his statement, Penley said the process will be transparent and the CSU community will be included in the discussion.
“Should the Coloradoan choose to move forward, we will make the consideration of the proposal a public process whereby input from students, faculty and staff will guide my advice to the Board of Governors in making any decisions,” Penley said in the statement.
Bohlander said that the university’s concern regarded the students involved and what possible benefits would become available in a strategic partnership.
“Obviously our concern is what’s best for the students: Could they come in and provide student scholarships? Could they come in and provide a direct, clear pathway to the nation’s largest newspaper corporation?” Bohlander said.
But McSwane said a Gannett-controlled student media would be anything but and that his exclusion from the meeting was suspect.
“They knew what I was going to say: That the Collegian has been here for 117 years, and it’d be a disgrace to be sold to a media giant,” McSwane said. “(Penley) has screwed up by not letting students and staff take part in this discussion.”
Donna Rouner, technical journalism professor, said she believed a partnership would have a negative impact on the Collegian, resulting in the loss of competing voices as well as a loss of local and university coverage, something she said she has seen with other Gannett-owned papers.
“The more voices we can have in the marketplace of ideas, the better,” Rouner said. “We certainly need a student voice in this community.”
Moore said he and Chin discussed partnership and expansion opportunities for the past two years, eventually setting their sights on 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 said. “Its an important audience for us. It’s a part of our community that we’ve wanted to serve for a long time.”
Chin discussed the idea with Penley late last year, and soon after, set a formal appointment, Moore said.
While Moore said it is too early to predict what a “strategic partnership” would look like, he said he is interested in bringing his own journalistic philosophy to the paper, creating an environment that fosters and encourages civic engagement among its readers.
“I really believe that good journalism brings that to the lives of the community,” Moore said. “I would hope a good student newspaper would become more civically engaged. knowing what was going on with their community. That’s the only reason I’m interested in any of this.”
When asked if he thought current Collegian staff had failed to address such a philosophy, Moore said he had not read the paper enough to pass such judgment.
News Editor Erik Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior Reporter Cece Wildeman contributed to this report.