Media critic and University of Illinois professor Robert McChesney once described journalism as “the oxygen of democracy.”
As graduate students and recent graduate alumni of the Department of Journalism & Technical Communication at CSU who are studying and working for the media systems that provide such oxygen to this country, we are appalled that CSU would consider buying into the concept of corporate ownership of an independent media outlet that is, as yet, still freely able to contribute to informing a democratic society.
In our department, we are taught from day one that corporate ownership of media often negatively impacts the quality and type of content produced. Corporate standards replace the voice of the media outlet. Fair and balanced journalistic moral codes shift to make room for consumerism and biased reporting. News holes shrink; advertising increases; commercial interest drives editorial content. Allowing such a move on our own campus would be hypocritical of the education we have received.
We strongly oppose a partnership of any kind between Gannett Company, Inc. and the Collegian. After all, look what Gannett ownership has done for the quality of the Coloradoan. When Gannett takes over a newspaper, local coverage suffers. CSU students and alumni who have worked for the Coloradoan have complained of brutal schedules with no overtime pay, impossible deadlines and questionable job security, which is characteristic of Gannett papers across the country.
Presumably, then, CSU coverage would also be threatened by this possible “takeover.”
Media historians such as McChesney have traced the rise of professional journalism in the 20th century and noted how it has changed the media marketplace and sources of information. As it turns out, corporate ownership of a media outlet such as the Collegian would not likely “enhance educational opportunities for student journalists, enhance professional opportunities for student journalists, enhance journalism faculty advisory participation or improve services to the larger student body,” as President Penley has contended.
Instead, if distinct patterns in media history are any indication, it will allow a few people in power to dictate what we read every day by managing the content of major news stories – by controlling which sources are used, by dampening investigative reporting, by depoliticizing stories . you get the picture.
College campuses serve as an environment for students to learn and grow, and to raise their voices and have a say. This is where young adults learn to become the next generation of movers and shakers that dictate how our society will be run. The corporate purchase of our independent student voice would only serve to help its new owners “manage” what is said, which does not serve the interest of the student body or our community. Robbed of complete responsibility to make critical editorial decisions, students will not learn to think, to act, to serve their community, or to exercise as a free press.
In a recent Wiretap Magazine article discussing Gannett’s 2006 purchase of Florida State University’s FSView, Mark Goodman, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, noted that while public university student newspapers are well-covered by the First Amendment, corporate-owned student newspapers may not be. “When you’re part of a public university,” Goodman said, “student journalists are protected from the university.” When owned by a corporation, though, “The private owner can censor … It’s called editing.”
In that case, the purchase would certainly be a convenient move for those in power at CSU, given the recent attention the Collegian has received in its calls for a free press.
Perhaps corporate purchase would be acceptable to some people. But we will not and cannot let it happen in an independent, free-thinking college environment. If journalism is the oxygen of democracy, then we wish to continue to breathe the words of our fellow CSU students and not the distant wind blowing from a profit-driven corporation.