Free papers threaten student press

While we can appreciate the Collegiate Readership Program’s willingness to provide University dormitory residents with USA Today, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press for free, the plan is not without a catch. It represents the local version of a rather direct two-pronged threat to student newspapers nationwide.

When this program starts to tailor publications for a college audience – and it will – the three corporate media giants owning these newspapers will begin to target the advertising business that represents around 60 percent of The Minnesota Daily’s revenues.

Gannett owns USA Today and leads this program; Knight Ridder owns the Pioneer Press, and McClatchy owns the Star Tribune.

The program’s administrators have already approached the Minnesota Student Association on multiple occasions to request help in funding the “free” newspapers. Thankfully, MSA has turned them down so far. But their opposition could end one day, leaving the fees committee with a choice: Fund free professional newspapers or local student-produced news. We hope it never comes to that, but the potential for such a choice becomes more realistic as the Collegiate Readership Program spreads steadily across the country.

And if anyone missed the idea that this program is all about money, it is. This local program represents only one facet of a huge push by corporate media giants nationwide to lock up college-aged readers. To this end, Gannett recently launched newspapers designed to catch new readers and the advertisers’ dollars that follow them. If you are looking for more evidence, consider that other corporations have launched the Sports Illustrated Campus Edition and the Wall Street Journal’s Campus Edition, both of which have run in the Daily during the past 12 months.

We do not oppose the idea of providing free products to college students, nor do we oppose an effort to increase those students’ propensity to read a newspaper. But as programs like this develop and evolve, they will become threats to student newspapers – including the Daily – across the nation, and that is something we will never support.