First Amendment

Gannett Company already owns two Florida college newspapers.

AEditor’s note: This article is the second in a five-part series looking at First Amendment issues.

after their winter break, the staff of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Colorado State University’s nonprofit, independent newspaper, came back in January to surprising news. They were possibly about to be purchased by media giant Gannett Company.

Gannett, which owns 1,008 U.S. media entities, including USA Today, and earned $245.3 million in 2007, already owns two Florida college newspapers.

On Sept. 21, 2007, an editorial using an explicit word referring to President George W. Bush ran in the Collegian. Colorado State received some backlash for allowing the editorial to run.

Sean Reed, the editorial editor at the Collegian, said a school official told him that the editorial caused the school to look into the Collegian’s operations.

“It’s a matter of liability,” Reed said. “If we were under control by a private entity, CSU administration would not be held responsible.”

Reed said he also fears that Gannett’s business practices might cause the quality of the newspaper to decline.

“We don’t think a private company working for profit is necessarily going to have the students’ interests at heart,” Reed said.

Money is a major factor that could affect the content of student newspapers, Amy Sanders, an assistant professor at the University’s journalism school, said.

“Corporate entities typically operate in their financial best interest,” Sanders said. “Often times, free speech is left out of the bottom line.”

Gannett bought Florida State University’s for-profit newspaper, FSView & Florida Flambeau, in August 2006. Florida State doesn’t have a journalism program, and benefits from being corporately owned, the newspaper’s general manager Chris Lewis said.

Now the newsroom staff can receive help from the editorial staff at the Gannett-owned Tallahasee Democrat, Lewis said.

“They’ve come over here and conducted some basic journalism-type seminars,” he said. “They’ve also given us a certain amount of staff that’s at the students’ disposal.”

However, Lewis said that The Democrat’s staff doesn’t influence the Florida State newspaper’s content. But The Democrat staff critiques students’ work, he said.

“Sometimes it’s unfair for the students here who really do work hard to produce 100 percent student content,” Lewis said. “Their work is kind of questioned and that’s unfair to them.”

The training student journalists receive at independent newspapers, like evaluation of news judgment and having editorial control, may be affected by corporate control, Sanders said.

“They allow students to take skills from the classroom and put them to work immediately,” Sanders said. “Depending on the level of corporate control, this could all disappear.”

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell told The New York Times in February that Gannett isn’t looking to buy college newspapers, but an assortment of things. Connell declined to comment further.

As for the Collegian’s future, the Collegian Advisory Committee, of which Reed is a member, looks at any offers the newspaper receives and makes suggestions to the university’s board of governors, who make the final decision.

“We’re just hoping for the best,” Reed said. “We’re hoping the Collegian Advisory Committee comes to a decision that will preserve our paper for another 116 years.”