Student journalists at the FSView & Florida Flambeau now share something in common with reporters at USA Today: Their publications are owned by Gannett.
The Tallahassee Democrat, whose parent company is also Gannett, has bought the twice-weekly newspaper (weekly during the summer) that serves Florida State University. Terms of the deal were not disclosed on Wednesday.
Media observers say this is the first time that a major newspaper chain has purchased an independent, privately owned publication that is geared toward students, faculty and administrators. The Flambeau has been independent since 1971. The then-floundering newspaper merged with FSView in 1998, and the publication has a circulation of about 25,000 readers during the academic year.
FSView & Florida Flambeau is unlike most college newspapers, which are generally nonprofit or affiliated with a university journalism school.
Patrick Dorsey, president and publisher of the Democrat, said FSView & Florida Flambeau will remain student-run. The newspaper's mission will remain the same, as will the pay scale, he said. Editorial content will be independent from the Democrat's.
“They do a great job covering their audience -- covering university life,” Dorsey said. “We can provide stability that helps ensure their future.”
Dorsey said his newspaper is planning to provide professional mentoring to the student journalists, some of whom he has already met. Florida State does not have an undergraduate journalism program.
Robert Parker, former publisher and owner of FSView & Florida Flambeau, said Gannett approached him about a possible sale.
"We weren't out there looking for new owners, but this is a good fit," he said. "Because of our unique situation, this isn't the kind of thing that could happen anywhere. It's good for a paper not to be reliant on a journalism program or on student fees for funding."
Ron Spielberger, executive director of the College Media Advisers, said given the Flambeau’s history of private ownership, he is "less concerned" about what the sale will mean for the student journalists. He said his larger concern is corporate-owned newspapers coming into college markets.
Mike Hiestand, a legal consultant to the Student Press Law Center, said he is taking a wait-and-see approach on the sale.
“I hope this isn’t the first of a big wave of things to come," he said. "There are dangers of students losing their voice and being absorbed by a corporate structure. I do hope they maintain the student autonomy.”
Added Dorsey: “Corporate doesn’t tell me what to put in our local paper, so they wouldn’t tell a college newspaper what to put in, either."