The end of the college newspaper…

Many of you reading this blog, and all of us posting on it, have been involved with the student press. We all took it pretty seriously – seriously enough, anyways, to try to produce a quality newspaper that served the students who paid for it (the paper was free, the student levies were not). We served on the editorial staff and on the Board of Directors, ensuring the paper was both a literary and financial success.

We did not know it at the time, but there was danger in that. The FSView and Florida Flambeau was recently purchased by The Tallahasse Democrat, owned by Gannett. Though it seems unsurprising that the first student newspaper to be purchased by a major publisher was bought by those who bring you USA Today I’m still a bit shocked.

What does this mean for the freedom of student press? Gannett is not interested in promoting free speech on student campuses. It’s interested in making money. The heartiest debates I have ever taken part in regarding student press is whether we tell students what they want to hear (beer, sex, etc.) or what we think they should hear (student government over-spending, etc.). For the FSView and Florida Flambeau, it seems that debate has already been decided.


  1. You know, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner, particularly in the United States.

    Some of you may remember that summer when I created that huge database of every English-language campus paper on Earth, or at least the ones that published on-line editions. I looked at a lot of U.S. campus papers in that time, and what amazed me most was how much they imitated the mainstream press in both form (mock broadsheet, daily circulation) and content (it wasn’t unusual for them to run AP wire stories on the Iraq war, for instance). My understanding of their governance isn’t as good, but it seemed most of them were run by appointed es-in-c and professional boards of directors rather than elected volunteers.

    The moral of the story, perhaps, is that the campus media reaps what it sows. Emulating the mainstream press has been a good strategy for the rich papers — the Harvard Crimsons and Stanford Dailies — which are extremely slick, well-written and sometimes break some really hard news. But the small papers at the state universities are screwed, because the more they butt heads with the major dailies, the easier they’ll be crushed and the harder it’ll be for students to tell the difference after the crushing occurs.

    (For another perpective on this subject, check out this Talahassee Democrat columnist, also a FSU alumnus, mourning the loss of his old campus paper.)

    Could this happen in Canada? I suppose, but it would be more jarring and unpopular. The Canadian student press is a naturally clannish and self-protective institution — thanks in large part to CUP — and campus newspapers have arcane democracies that a corporate owner wouldn’t have the patience to deal with or the guts to abolish. Also, I suspect (and hope) that the recent death of Dose has scared the big companies off thoughtless experimentation in youth-oriented newspapers.

    But there is precedent for chain-owned campus media in Canada. In the mid-1980s, when a U.S. think tank was handing out seed money for conservative campus papers, a McGill student talked his way into a few grand and set up a short-lived chain of right-wing rags. I also remember that either the CFS or one of its predecessors tried to start up a national student magazine in the 80s, but that went bottom-up.

    Thoughts, guys?

  2. I am placing a bid of $1 for the charlatan.

    More seriously your worries are a bit late. The Papers you mentioned were *NEVER* owned by students they were privately owned and operated.

    FSView and Florida Flambeau went bust in the 80’s and were absorbed by a former students paper that was geared toward the campus. It was the first privately owned paper to be given a monopoly for an entire campus – part of the deal involved hiring students and having limited control over editorial direction (what that means is anyone’s guess.) I looked into their setup back in the Charlahell days – needless to say it was interesting but a non-starter.

    This maybe where a number of campus publications will end up: bankrupt and absorbed by either larger print organizations or bankrupt and absorbed by their student unions (read: fulcrum).

    If students at FSU wanted an independent publication the opportunity is still there but I doubt anyone would care – they’ve been happy with a private company owning their paper for almost 20 years.

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