A spokesperson with media giant Gannett told the Collegian Thursday the company’s initial interest in the student-run paper was entirely focused on a purchase of the paper, not a “strategic partnership,” as suggested by CSU President Larry Penley earlier this semester.
In an announcement she says the company had been “saying all along,” Gannett spokesperson Tara Connell said the company was told in a closed door meeting with Penley, Jan. 22, that the paper was not for sale and that the company was never interested in any partnership with the Collegian — short of acquisition.
“We said we’d like to perhaps buy the college newspaper,” Connell said. “CSU (officials) said ‘The CSU paper is not for sale,’ and from our point-of-view, that was the end of the conversation.”
After harsh criticism from the Student Media, students, faculty and community members, Penley authorized an “advisory committee” to review a proposal from Gannett and other interested parties, promising transparency in any changes to the Collegian.
But no official proposal has been submitted, and Gannett maintains the conversation ended before the forming of the committee, which until Thursday was discussing a partnership with Gannett despite the company’s dismissal of any partnership.
Connell added that there had been some confusion in how Gannett’s interest had been cast.
Following the Jan. 22 closed-door meeting with Bob Moore and Christine Chin, respective editor and publisher of Gannett-owned Fort Collins Coloradoan, Penley issued a university-wide statement addressing concerns and questions of the public.
“Based on a few questions from faculty and the many students who stopped by my office today, I want to update you regarding inquiry from the Coloradoan – a Gannett owned newspaper – relative to a potential strategic partnership with the Collegian,” Penley said in the e-mail.
Moore, who spoke with the Collegian following the meeting, said the Coloradoan had not sought to buy out the Collegian.
“Strategic partnership is the phrase that Dr. Penley and Christine have been using, and I think that’s probably just as good a phrase as any,” Moore said in a Jan. 22 interview.
Connell’s contradicting comments were raised during Thursday’s meeting of the Collegian Advisory Committee, in which members expressed concern over the committee’s purpose.
Dell Rae Moellenberg, a university spokesperson, said that from what she knew, the closed-door meeting between Penley and Gannett representatives centered on nothing but a partnership.
“That spokesperson was from the corporate office . Their spokesperson, I believe, didn’t have the full story,” Moellenberg said. “From what I understand, they approached us about a partnership, and we said if you want a partnership, please put together a proposal. At no point has the president’s office ever said that they were approached for a sale.”
Katie Gleeson, president of the Associated Students of CSU, was present at the closed-door meeting, and says she does not remember terms of purchase being offered by Moore and Chin.
“From my recollection, there was never really any discussion of price or buying, I don’t really recall that being any part of the conversation,” Gleeson said.
But Greg Luft, chair of the Journalism Department, told committee members that in his e-mail conversations with Moore, the executive editor had expressed interest in a takeover of the Collegian.
“Bob Moore told me directly that they didn’t want to buy the paper, but they wanted to acquire the paper and operate the paper as a for-profit entity,” Luft said. “. They were interested in running a business.”
Following discussion over the latest confusion, Amy Parsons, associate legal counsel for CSU, said the Board of Governors, who oversee Board of Student Communications, the Collegian’s publisher, had not looked at the bylaws of the committee for the past twenty years, even though bylaw changes had been made during that time without the approval of the Board of Governors.
“Now is the time to change that,” Parsons said. “The administration receives a phone call from Gannett out of the blue that says ‘We’re interested in talking with you,’ and so we say ‘Alright, now’s the time, we’re gonna look across the board: Should we keep the same system? Should we think about a partnership or a sale? Should we do this?”
Christina Dickinson, committee member and station manager for KCSU, the student radio station, then responded, saying she felt the committee had shifted its original focus from potential proposals for bettering Student Media to changing the BSC bylaws in response to a September editorial in the Collegian that used the F-word in large print next to the president’s name.
“It seems more or less that we’re looking at the Collegian . because of the editorial in the fall, because the university wants to take action, but it can’t because of the BSC bylaws,” Dickinson said. “As a student, that’s what it appears to me to look like.”
Parsons later said the CSU Board of Governors intends to change the bylaws, regardless of the advisory committee’s recommendation. She suggested the committee make a recommendation to the BOG on how to approach such a change.
“I know that there probably has to be a change in the BSC bylaws . That’s the only thing, from my perspective, that has to happen out of this, and regardless of this, that’s going to happen,” Parsons said. “I just see this as an opportunity to look at all the options, and that’s a perfectly legitimate recommendation out of this group.”
Moore did not return phone calls or messages from the Collegian Thursday.
News Editor Erik Myers can be reached at email@example.com.