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Home > Reading Room > Gannett-owned student newspapers: An update

SPJ Reading Room

Gannett-owned student newspapers: An update

By Lee Anne Peck

In August 2006, Gannett Co. bought its first independent student newspaper: the twice-weekly FSView & Florida Flambeau, which covers Florida State University in Tallahassee. In February 2007, Gannett purchased its second independent student newspaper, the Central Florida Future, which covers the University of Central Florida in Orlando and publishes three times a week.

The two college newspapers are affiliated with Gannett daily newspapers: The FSView & Florida Flambeau with the Tallahassee Democrat and the Central Florida Future with Melbourne-based Florida Today.

When the FSView & Florida Flambeau was purchased in 2006 from businessman Robert Parker, reactions toward the acquisition were mixed among journalists and journalism educators; however, the general consensus was that the newspaper must continue to have its independent student voice. When Gannett purchased the Future in 2007 from Knight Publishing, skepticism continued, but the same mantra continued: The newspaper must retain its student voice.

How are these two independent student newspapers faring several months later?

The FSView & Florida Flambeau

FSView & Florida Flambeau general manager Chris Lewis said student editorial control continues. The newspaper operation is “actually the same,” said Lewis, who did advertising sales for the paper for six years before becoming general manager in fall 2007. The editorial content of the paper is still “100 percent student-run.”

FSU has no journalism program, and Tallahassee reporters and editors are available for consultation, but Lewis said students rarely take advantage of this help; but if students do ask for advice, that’s what it is: advice. Recent FSU graduates who worked for the newspaper are also welcome to apply for jobs with Gannett Co. although Lewis said so far only one student has asked him about the process. Both ethics and editing training have been provided, however, by Florida Today staff, which Lewis said he views as a plus.

Lewis said “there is no rigid corporate mentality” at the FSView & Florida Flambeau. “Contact any of my editors and writers at any time . . . our doors are open,” he said, referring to the continuing editorial independence the newspaper.

Tallahassee Democrat president and publisher Patrick Dorsey said from his perspective, “the purchase has worked out very well.”

“The student journalists continue to run the news side of the operation just as we said they would,” Dorsey said. “They continue to have complete editorial control.” Most of Dorsey’s interaction with the newspaper is with the general manager Lewis, who reports the paper’s financial updates.

“We have actually adjusted staffing slightly and have more students filling sales, production and design jobs and less full-time professional staff,” he said. Advertisers in both the Democrat and FSView & Florida Flambeau can streamline the process of purchasing space in either product.

“I don't think their readers, the students, have noticed any difference in the publication more than a year and a half after purchase,” Dorsey said. “It is the same high-quality student newspaper that it has always been.”

Central Florida Future

The Central Florida Future left its campus home in the early 1990s. Rick Kenney, an assistant professor of journalism at UCF, explained no official record exists of who owned the paper after it left campus. "It's all very murky," he said. However, Heissam Jebailey, a 2000 UCF graduate, and Brian Linden became publishers of the newspaper in 2001, creating Knight Publishing.

Kenney was asked to be the adviser, or editorial consultant, in August 2005, by the Jebailey and Linden. His position was supposed to last a semester; however, it continued until December 2006. Kenney said he continues as an “unofficial adviser” today.

Jebailey and Linden were “desperate for advice,” Kenney said, after they became the publishers in 2001. They had no newspaper editorial experience although Jebailey’s UCF degree was in advertising and public relations; however, the Future was a money-maker and eventually became an award-winning paper, and Jebailey and Linden in due course sold their Knight Publishing company to Gannett. Jebailey remains with Gannett as university director. Ray Bush, formerly with Florida Today, is now the general manager at the Future.

The self-proclaimed “anti-corporate” Kenney said, “Nothing has changed at all under the hands of Gannett. I haven’t seen any problems. ... It’s worked out well so far. Right now we don’t see the downside to it.”

The College Media Advisers listserv had a lot of negative discussion about the purchase of student newspapers by Gannett, but Kenney said he read “no good arguments about why it was a bad thing.”

Abe Aboraya, a recent UCF graduate who was a Future editor and reporter as a student and continues to work for the Gannett-purchased Knight Publishing, said, “Overall, Gannett has done everything to ease the fear that the corporation is coming in.” From an editorial standpoint, he said, it’s been strictly “hands-off.”

Aboraya said it was a shock, however, when the staff learned the paper had been sold to Gannett. He said he wished there would have been more warning. But, he said, students are now paid regularly instead of once a semester, which he thinks is good, but best of all, the Future now has lawyers because of its connection with Gannett. “It alleviated a lot of fears,” he said.

Future acquisitions?

Tara Connell, Gannett’s vice president of corporate communications, said the two university newspapers were examined individually before Gannett acquired them. “These two were good because of the market and because of their exceptional business components,” she said.

Purchasing additional college papers “would have to make sense from a business standpoint, from the market and how they fit with the local newspaper,” Connell said. “The same would be true with any other opportunity—although there are no hard and fast rules.”

In late January, Gannett’s Fort Collins Coloradoan editor Bob Moore and publisher Christine Chen met with the President Larry Penley of Colorado State University about the possibility of a potential partnership with the Rocky Mountain Collegian, which is CSU’s student newspaper and a non-profit publication, and ,therefore, in a different situation than the two Florida papers, which were for-profit when purchased.

President Penley said in a public memo via e-mail Jan. 23 that he had asked for additional information from the Coloradoan publisher and executive editor about how a partnership would work and wrote:

“Should the Coloradoan choose to move forward, we will make the consideration of the proposal a public process whereby input from students, faculty and staff will guide my advice to the Board of Governors in making any decisions. Ultimately, the board and I want to seek opportunities to improve the student experience — including educational and career opportunities - at Colorado State University.”

Darrell Blair, a former Coloradoan employee who now serves as adviser for The Mirror, the University of Northern Colorado’s student-run newspaper, said he still remains skeptical of Gannett purchasing any student newspaper.

“Student newspapers are profitable, and they hit that 18- to 24-year-old market,” Blair said. “It’s a win for Gannett, but are they for the best interest of the student journalists?”

For those involved in the purchases of the Florida student newspapers, however, there are no shortcomings — yet.

Related link: Gannett: CSU turned down sale of Collegian, partnership dismissed (Rocky Mountain Collegian)

Lee Anne Peck, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Northern Colorado.

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