The Collegian stands with the CU Independent

Forrest Czarnecki and Austin Fleskes

Dear readers, 

This past Monday, news broke that the University of Colorado Boulder was defunding the CU Independent, the editorially-independent student media outlet at CU, to focus on a faculty-led media outlet. The editorial team will soon be losing all funding from the university’s College of Media, Communication and Information, as well as their newsroom space entirely.

Reading that news was truly heartbreaking. 

Independent media, especially student media, is critical for upholding the democracy of any institution. Without an independent student media organization, journalism that’s true to its roots can’t be practiced by those looking to become the next generation of watchdogs. A university-controlled paper is not one that can really teach students the importance and necessity of a free press.

The CMCI has pledged support through the next semester as the CUI transitions and is forced to look for new funding methods and a space to use. But is that support worth anything when the outcome is possibly losing the only independent student press that reports on CU? 

Once the college retracts its funding from the Independent and starts their own faculty-led news organization, the university’s transparency and purported objectivity is called into serious question.

When the First Amendment was created, it was under the premise that an educated electorate depends on information from a free press — a press that is not bogged down with the interests of a higher power or hidden interests. 

How can an educated electorate, or, in this case, an educated student body, trust the reliability and authenticity of the information that is being presented to them when it comes from an institution that has an interest in portraying themselves in a good light? 

Under this new system, one of the largest higher education institutions in the state will be “reporting the news” on itself. 

Sounds suspicious, doesn’t it? That’s because most people would agree that under this system, news about the university that isn’t sunshine and smiles most likely won’t be allowed out of the house. The cloudy days and bad weather would likely be hidden from the public.

That should not come as a surprise, but it should be unsettling.

As student journalists, CUI reporters, photographers and editors are trained to operate as professionals and uphold the principles of ethical journalism; two of these principles are transparency and objectivity. With a massive institution interested in attracting and retaining students through a positive public image, the waters of transparency and objectivity become a little murky. 

Current and former CUI editors alike see how the clouds are getting darker. 

“(CMCI) training journalists to basically dig into CU and uncover things in a not-such-a-good light is completely against their best interest and is a huge conflict of interest,” said Carina Julig, a reporter for the Loveland Reporter-Herald and former CUI managing editor. “And hey, they teach journalism, so they already know that.”

Strong emotions within the CUI media leaders and other employees are obviously high, as Robert Tann, the current editor-in-chief of the CUI, told us earlier this week. 

“It is never easy to tell a whole bunch of people who put their heart and soul into something that there is a prospect that they are going to lose it all,” Tann said. 

Through this outright unfair and unjust process, we commend Tann and the CUI team for pushing through such a hard time with plans in place and a path forward being paved. Tann has maintained optimism and positivity through it all, something that we find incredibly admirable and to be proof that he will make a great journalist.

With the loss of a truly free press, Tann is worried the local democracy of CU will be hurt. We are worried too. 

“Over the years and even over the past semester, … we have really been able to tell amazing stories in the community, hold the powerful accountable and just do excellent work,” Tann said. “I know that is going to continue, and I think now more than ever it is going to be even better. I am optimistic in the face of it all. And (students) have to realize having us around is very, very important.”

But this does not forgive the outrageous mistake that CU’s CMCI program made in this decision. 

There were paths forward that we feel could have been taken that would not only illustrate the importance of independent student media, but also make it clearer to students what independent media really looks like. In short, the CMCI should have shown support for the Independent and their pursuit of great journalism, not drown it. 

This new venture is something that is dangerously ambiguous and provides more questions than answers. The college has claimed that students in this new venture will be “encouraged and allowed” to report on stories that are critical or harsh on the university. 

However, we have a hard time believing that this is the case. As Julig said, it goes directly against the university’s best interests to have students report on stories that make them look bad. So what will stop the university from protecting itself by snuffing out independent reporting?

At the end of it all, we say this; we stand with our fellow student journalists at the CU Independent. We stand with the independent, strong journalism that is taught to young writers across the nation, and we will stand with every journalist that reports for CU. We hope that their amazing team of dedicated journalists continues to forge ahead in the face of uncertainty knowing that The Rocky Mountain Collegian, along with so many other journalists, have their backs.

We hope that the student body at CU recognizes the importance of a free press like that of the CUI: journalism that is respected and dedicated and not tied up in the strings of bureaucracy and public relations.

Finally, we urge the University of Colorado Boulder to uphold and recognize the importance of the free press on a college campus. Full editorial control of student media is vital to not only learning the nature of journalism, but the foundations of the practice itself. Free press should come with no footnotes or caveats. 

Student media for the CU Independent and beyond deserve the namesake of the great outlet that serves the students, staff and community of CU Boulder: independence. 

Forrest Czarnecki and Austin Fleskes can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.