I am writing in opposition to a Fort Collins Coloradoan-Rocky Mountain Collegian “partnership,” the prospect of corporate ownership of our campus paper.
Having spent most of my professional life teaching college and high school journalism (19/ years at Colorado State University), I am an ardent advocate of scholastic press freedom.
The Collegian has already published information about possible threats related to students working in a corporate environment. Although serious, these dangers pale by comparison to a larger risk at Colorado State University, the raison d’tere for the Collegian’s existence – education. This should strike fear among community, campus and student media members.
First, the Fort Collins area community learns from the Collegian, its student voice – reporting and editorial perspectives. College newspapers provide diversity in a one-commercial-newspaper town.
I grew up and practiced journalism where a healthy competition exists between the university of Iowa’s Daily Iowan (circulation 19,500) and the commercial Iowa City Press Citizen (circulation 15,594), with frequent Daily Iowan scoops.
The Collegian has scooped area newspapers and published stories that have been picked up and elaborated upon widely.
Secondly, Colorado State students rely on the Collegian, with research demonstrating many exclusively depend on it for national and global information. It offers its audience “free information” as needed, according to classical democratic theory. It prints discussions of racism, sexual orientation, alcohol abuse, the presidential election race and local entertainment.
Colorado State students reacted strongly to a controversial Collegian editorial fall semester. Hundreds were kept from entering a packed public hearing where students commented on the issue.
I witnessed a first-year student shake as he pled his case, using prepared notes. Discussions of that crisis occurred in and outside classrooms, with pages and pages of letters to the editor.
Finally, student journalists would suffer a major loss from a merger. The Collegian learning experience includes, among many benefits:
/ Reporting on the community one lives in, including the governmental
watchdog function of the press
/ Polishing research, writing, interviewing, editorializing, design,
photography, technology, advertising and promotion skills
/ Management of production, people, time, ethical dilemmas, crises
/ Coping with politics, unfairness, mistakes, gaffes
/ Social interaction, team work, building and maintaining source relationships
Because student journalists learn by doing, they become problem solvers. Given autonomy and responsibility, they rise to the challenge.
The Collegian has a rich history of awards. Its current editor-in-chief has received the highest award in electronic journalism, the Peabody Award. Outstanding professionals serve as the Collegian’s advisers.
Those who graduate with a journalism major complete a rigorous program of professional skills and concept courses that cover history, law, ethics, technology, diversity and international concerns. These students learn the comprehensive nature of freedom of the press – the marketplace of ideas and respect for dissenting viewpoints.
Working at student media may be their only opportunity to exercise press freedom truly, unfettered by corporate constraints. Press freedom is vulnerable in a context of media consolidation, commercial influence of editorial content, lowering of journalistic standards and increasing focus on celebrity and entertainment as news.
Our students need and deserve choices – choices about the information they consume, whether they wish to work for a corporation, whether they want to merely “fit in” or whether they plan to be instruments of change, decision makers and agents, as media consumers or professionals, who can tackle a media landscape that we educators can neither predict nor imagine.
Donna Rouner is a professor for the Department of Journalism. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.