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Oct. 30, 2008, 12:32 p.m.

Quinnipiac: A study in loss of institutional control

Two events that may seem unconnected but aren’t: Tuesday’s announcement of The Christian Science Monitor leaving the daily print world and Wednesday’s editorial in The New York Times damning the administration of Quinnipiac University for clamping down on a new online student publication, Quad News.

The first is all about shuffling off the cost of daily print distribution in exchange for the freedom to try a new model. The second is a story of how that new freedom isn’t always appreciated by all parties involved.

At Quinnipiac, some students became concerned about the university administration’s attempts to control the established student newspaper. Not exactly a new phenomenon, particularly at private colleges. But these students decided to launch Quad News as an online-only alternative newspaper. The administration has responded by hounding the new publication, issuing gag orders to university employees approached by its reporters and threatening to toss the school’s SPJ chapter off campus for being too friendly with the rebels.

College journalism has always been in the odd position of being an enterprise funded by the very powers journalists seek to question, investigate, and sometimes criticize. By the same token, college administrations often end up trying to shut down the voices of the very customers paying to learn the craft of journalism. (Quinnipiac has an average “cost of attendance” of $45,300 for the typical student.) And that funding model is what gives the administration its primary power.

I suspect over the next few years, college newspapers will be the most likely publications to follow the Monitor’s lead and do away with paper and ink. With the primary costs of a college paper eliminated (few have paid staff), there’ll be little keeping those journalists from breaking free of their universities’ control.

Meanwhile, the past year has seen booming growth in what might be called the college gossip market — sites like Juicy Campus and Bored At which allow students to post whatever libelous rumors they want about their peers. These sites rely on college administrations for nothing: not funding, not interviews, not a stamp of approval. And as a result, colleges have no control over them. It’s strange to think of the Juicy Campuses as being on the same continuum of independence as the serious-minded Quad News. But administrators will eventually have to come to whatever uneasy peace they can with both models, plus whatever iterations sprout up in between them.

POSTED     Oct. 30, 2008, 12:32 p.m.
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