Jan 282008
 
Authors: Kris Kodrich

As a tiny shareholder in the nation’s largest newspaper chain, I wish Gannett Co. stock would stop losing value.

And as a former city editor for a Gannett daily, I often give the company kudos for such company strengths as diversity in its newsrooms and management.

In other words, I’m not anti-Gannett and I’m certainly not anti-profit.

Yet, as a journalism professor who wants to see his students thrive in an atmosphere where independent and critical journalism still matter, I think a discussed linkage between the local Gannett newspaper, the Coloradoan, and the CSU student newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, is a lousy idea.

Certainly, it won’t be in the best interests of CSU students – not just journalism majors who have an incredible learning opportunity awaiting them every day at Student Media, but all students who appreciate an independent voice on campus.

Anybody who reads the Coloradoan regularly knows that it delivers information and advertising, but little news.

The best newspapers tell us what’s really going on in the community. They develop sources, scrutinize budgets, seek public records, and show initiative. Now, the journalists I know at the local daily are good journalists, they just don’t have the time to do much reporting. It too often seems quantity, not quality, is the bottom line.

Yet this model somehow is supposed to help our students become better journalists?

I don’t think so.

***

The journalism world is at a critical moment. The so-called Mainstream Media are bleeding readership and viewership. Media companies’ huge profit margins of the past are much harder to maintain. As a result, their stock prices have come crashing down.

Yet instead of focusing on delivering a better product, investing resources in newsrooms, hiring more good reporters and editors, the Mainstream Media are slashing newsroom budgets. Editors these days are fired for not laying off enough reporters. News corporations around the country are delivering a mediocre product and wondering why they are becoming less relevant.

Unless media companies quickly realize they are in a downward spiral and make bold moves to reinvigorate quality journalism, the future for the Mainstream Media isn’t bright. Instead, more and more of the public will turn to alternative news sources – investigative magazines, quality independent news blogs and Web sites, and other non-corporate media such as National Public Radio.

The pressure by stockholders and corporate executives to turn out huge profits is not working for the Mainstream Media. The news media have a sacred, constitutionally protected role in society – journalism isn’t just another business. Yet too often the news media forget about social responsibility – and the crucial watchdog role the media play in a society.

To me, it’s clear we need alternatives to corporate media.

***

I don’t think anybody knows what journalism is going to look like in 10 or 20 years. As educators, we can best prepare our students by focusing on quality journalism – how to gather the facts about important issues, how to tell accurate stories in an engaging manner, and how to deliver that news quickly and responsibly across a variety of media. Flexibility and the ability to learn are vital ingredients, along with a deep commitment to core journalistic values like truth and fairness.

No individual news outlet is going to be perfect. Even among the best, you’ll find ethical lapses and reporting failures. Consider the problems at the New York Times the past few years. And here at CSU, certainly the student newspaper is not perfect. From sloppy editing to childish editorials, the Rocky Mountain Collegian sometimes drives me bananas.

But for a student-run newspaper, it’s a pretty darn good one. Its professional staff is top-notch. Its training programs are rigorous. Numerous regional and national awards attest to the quality of the Rocky Mountain Collegian. Although personally I’d like it to do more investigative reporting and enterprise stories, the Collegian does provide students with a diversity of views that might disappear under a different structure. Yes, occasionally, it even evokes emotion – but that is a vital ingredient for a lively newspaper.

Certainly there is room for discussion about ways to improve the Collegian. The newspaper, for instance, could become even stronger by becoming an independent not-for-profit organization. Perhaps top editors should be required to have completed classes in newsroom management and ethics. The possibilities abound.

But entering into an agreement with the Coloradoan is not the answer.

In an age where the need for quality, independent journalism is more crucial than ever, the corporate model is not the way to go.

Kris Kodrich is an associate professor of journalism and technical communication at CSU. He has a dozen years of experience as a city editor and reporter for daily newspapers in Florida and Wisconsin. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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