In a suprising move, Gannett has bought up Florida State University‘s independent newspaper, the twice-weekly FSView, according to a report from Inside Higher Ed.
This news strikes close to home, as I was a former metro editor at the Independent Florida Alligator, another independent student paper nearby in Gainesville, Fla.
It’s generally quite difficult for college newspapers to support themselves as independents. It’s harder even to make the leap from being college-run to independent. Usually, it’s only possible at larger campuses.
The paper’s existence can be seriously threatened by the death or illness of the owner. A professional staff is difficult to come by. Competition from other local newspapers can make it a headache to retain the best student writers and editors.
Corporate ownership could be a saving grace. In Gainesville, the Alligator’s best writers are often swept away by the Gainesville Sun, which arguably offers more prestige but also little to no pay and generally lousier assignments (the pros usually take the really hot stories).
Perhaps being owned by a larger entity can provide some of that prestige and stability so that student editors can focus on doing good journalism. Furthermore, there would be a professional infrastructure for providing things like national advertising, information technology and even a network of professionals for guidance.
But corporate ownership could also diminish the independent voice of student journalists, which often gets them in trouble with student groups and school officials. Will Gannett be willing to stomach the fallout when a paper does something highly controversial like, say, publish the “f-word” in a cartoon? An incident like that would certainly trickle up to affect the corporate parent’s good name.
During the protests and boycotts resulting from the Alligator cartoon, much of the campus called for the heads of the paper’s editors. For better or worst, they kept their jobs and learned many a lesson in having to deal with readers’ adversarial sentiments.
A corporation would likely have dropped the axe.