Corporatization of Student Newspapers: Boon or Bane?

By August 3, 2006

An article in Inside Higher Ed today discusses the purchase of a student newspaper at Florida State, the FSView & Florida Flambeau, by Gannett, the parent company of USA Today and of Tallahassee’s own newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. The student newspaper has a circulation of about 25,000 readers during the academic year, which surely must make it one of Gannett’s smallest properties.
 
The paper will apparently stay student-run, and the publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat has said that the student paper’s editorial content will remain independent from that of his paper. But according to the article, Ron Spielberger, the College Media Advisers’ executive director, has expressed some concern about corporate newspapers invading college markets.
 
Spielberger’s concerns are understandable. A great many people are concerned about the consolidation of media under companies like Gannett or News Corp. However, corporatization may also have some advantages for student journalists, as it may make jobs with the same journalism company easier to come by, and is likely to make working for a student paper a closer analog of what it is like to work for a city newspaper.
 
The article also features a quote from Mike Hiestand of the always-excellent Student Press Law Center: “I hope this isn’t the first of a big wave of things to come…There are dangers of students losing their voice and being absorbed by a corporate structure. I do hope they maintain the student autonomy.”
 
That’s certainly a concern. However, it’s worth noting that while a stultifying corporate uniformity is, to my knowledge, largely a speculative concern, bald-faced college and university censorship is a real and present concern. The independent student media has been under attack for some time, not just through individual cases of censorship like those at Harvard, Stetson, UCSD, Craven Community College, etc., but also through court decisions like that in Hosty v. Carter. If corporatization of student media gives student newspapers the resources to fight this trend, the benefits could well outweigh the costs.