How The Red & Black taught me to appreciate the Collegian’s independence

The Collegian staff spent almost all of last week in our offices in the Lory Student Center basement, spending long hours in training sessions, planning meetings and on the phone with sources, all as part of an effort to put out the best possible product for our first week of school.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Georgia were fighting for the survival of their own student newspaper, The Red & Black.

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Last week, almost all of The Red & Black’s staff  resigned from the paper because of decisions made by the paper’s governing board severely limiting student control. This included promoting the editorial adviser to an editorial director with prior review over all content, and increasing the role of the paper’s professional staff in production.

If this wasn’t enough, the higher-ups at The Red & Black also decided to limit the number of stories that made it into the paper that were critical of the university and other institutions, in exchange for content they rendered more favorable.

While discussions on Friday between Red & Black staffers and the paper’s governing body demoted the editorial director back to an adviser and eliminated prior review, The Red & Black’s fight to be an independent student media institution is far from over.

And it also raises a far larger question: Why is it important for a student media organization, like the Collegian, to be independent? After all, some of you are probably thinking, if our adviser had the power of prior review, and all we did was write “good” content, some of our mistakes would have never seen the light of day.

A short answer is that independent student media organizations exist to be “learning laboratories.” Learning cannot exist without the freedom to make mistakes, a power that students would not have had under The Red & Black’s new system.

“The CSU football team would be a lot better if Peyton Manning could be the quarterback,” said Larry Steward, the president of Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, the Collegian’s parent company. “But the development process is the hallmark of what we do.”

“I don’t think you can fully learn what it means to be a journalist until your decisions have real implications,” said Mike Humphrey, the Collegian’s journalism adviser.

It’s true. Any decision this paper makes this semester will entirely rest on my shoulders. And it will come with a steep learning curve. It will mean sleepless nights, and it will almost certainly mean that I will inadvertently make a mistake that pisses at least one person off. But I would not want to have it any other way, because I know that when I leave this basement, I’ll have an education that I could never get in a classroom.

But beyond learning, I think that student media has another role: Giving students at the university a voice, and advocating for students in a way that another media organization, like the Fort Collins Coloradoan, can’t.

And you can’t have a voice unless you’re entirely independent, especially when you’re on a college campus.

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After all, CSU is essentially one giant marketing machine. From the clean-cut, polo shirt-clad tour guides to our image as a “green” university, everything that you think you know about CSU has been as carefully cultivated as everything that you think you know about any corporation.

The university, like any other organization trying to make money, wants to shy away from any press that can make it look bad. That’s why the Collegian isn’t directly affiliated with the university (although we do receive roughly $520,000 from the Associated Students of CSU). We need to have the power to be a watchdog, something we couldn’t do if anyone with a vested interest in the university had prior review.

I don’t think the Collegian would ever face the hurdles that students at The Red & Black faced last week, in part because we have a financial incentive. Our funding from ASCSU comes with the caveat that we have to be entirely student run, whereas, as far as I know, The Red & Black had no such agreement.

Regardless, it’s worth it to take a moment, and treasure the Collegian’s independence. No one read this column before it was published other than my student editors, and that’s the way it should be.

Because although this newspaper has made some mistakes, it’s far better than the alternative.

Editor in Chief Allison Sylte is a senior journalism major. Her column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.