As Student Media undertakes historic changes this summer, separating from the university to reform as a not-for-profit corporation, it’ll be up to Larry Steward, a former director of the organization, who was charged with heading the transition by CSU’s governing board.
But it will be anything but easy for Steward, who plans to reorganize the behind-the-scenes operations of the paper before his Aug. 1 deadline.
“These startup parts are very awkward,” Steward said. “It’s going to be clumsy, there’s no way around it.”
The shift comes after a tumultuous year for Student Media, during which a controversial editorial and the potential of corporate buyouts stirred students and university officials into rethinking the organization’s connection to CSU.
Weeks of discussion among a committee of university officials, community members and student representatives resulted in a recommendation to the CSU System Board of Governors to separate Student Media from the university and reform as a private entity. The board unanimously approved the recommendation earlier this month.
When asked if there would be any significant changes to Student Media, Steward said most students probably wouldn’t notice a difference at first glance, save for a name change: Student Media will tentatively become the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation in August.
Steward said offices and equipment likely won’t be relocated, and current professional staff will be invited to join the new corporation for the same salaries and benefits they received as university employees, though they will be required to reapply for their positions.
He added that the 2008-2009 fiscal year budget approved last spring by the Board of Student Communications, the current overseer of Student Media, will be honored.
Steward said student employees could expect freedom of expression to remain an “absolute cornerstone” of the corporation.
Blanche Hughes, vice president of Student Affairs, said beside securing freedom of expression for Student Media, the separation allowed for transformation.
“[The separation] gives [Student Media] an opportunity to think outside of the box,” Hughes said.
And behind-the-scenes, the transformation has begun, as Steward plans to significantly alter the boards and committees operating Student Media.
In his vision, Steward said the responsibilities of the BSC, which dissolves when the separation is made official on August 1, would be split among two assemblies, the first being a board of directors largely responsible for finances, delegating responsibilities and approving of the first set of bylaws. Two university representatives, two community members and five students will comprise the executive board.
The two university representatives have been selected: Mike Ellis, the director of the Lory Student Center, and Greg Luft, head of CSU’s technical journalism department. Steward declined to share the names of those he approached for the seven remaining seats.
“What I’ve been trying to find are nominees that have a lot of experience or at least some experience working for a not-for-profit corporation and understanding how they operate.” Steward said.
Steward said the board of directors would not be the primary decision-makers on issues of content.
“[A board of directors] should be focused on executive-level issues like what is the long-term plan financially, the issues and implications of what’s going on.” Steward said. “They shouldn’t be operating down into student decisions about what they should print and not print.”
Instead, Steward has proposed that such decisions be made by a Student Media Committee, a group compiled of professional journalists from nearby media outlets, Student Media alumni and current student employees.
The committee would be divided into two subcommittees: one monitoring the print publications, the other overlooking the broadcast stations. Responsibilities for the subcommittees would include the hiring and firing of editors-in-chief and station managers.
Steward said he felt that a board consisting of members closely involved with production would be far better decision-makers than previous boards.
“The most essential flaw of the Board of Student Communications was it was too involved in student operations,” Steward said. “They didn’t really have the expertise of the operations of the organization to be able to do that.”
The Student Media Committee, however, remains a proposal, subject to change following feedback from students and staff.
Steward said an early version of the committee was likely to begin meeting during the summer to plan a final version, which will form in August when more students are available to offer feedback.
“There’s not a step-by-step recipe for how this is going to work,” Steward said of the committee. “Even though it’s a struggle to have to figure out the role of the committee, I think it’s a great learning experience and opportunity for students to actually get involved in trying to figure out those issues.”
Staff writer Erik Myers can be reached at email@example.com.