The Criterion has recently opened up the conversation about seeking independence from Student Life, citing potential conflicts of interest as a motivating factor. Leaving Student Life would involve a new financial situation for the student-run newspaper.
For years at Colorado Mesa University, The Criterion newspaper and the Associated Student Government (ASG) have worked together, just as the ASG works with every on-campus student organization.
As Director of Student Life Shane O’Neill said, “A lot of the student fee-funded organizations fall under the Student Life umbrella.”
Things look like they may be changing, however, as Criterion Editor in Chief Alec Williams is expressing a desire for the newspaper to separate from Student Life entirely.
“The Crite has been around since 1931, and for the vast, vast majority of its time, it was reliant on advertising,” Williams said.
Williams wants The Criterion to be separated from Student Life because then it would be free to operate more like a real-world newspaper and it wouldn’t have to rely on student fee-funding. Currently, ASG and Student Life are in charge of deciding how much money The Criterion gets, and these are both organizations that the newspaper covers from time to time.
“It’s really a conflict of interest,” Williams said.
Williams’ concern is that editors and writers of the Criterion will be fearful of covering stories involving Student Life or ASG because of the fact that they’re in charge of the budget.
“There’s a presumption there that somehow some of us try to censor or influence, or in some way, shape, or form, lean on The Crite to publish or not publish something,” Vice President for Student Services John Marshall said. “I’m not aware of that ever happening.”
O’Neill had a similar perspective to Marshall.
“I know that some of the students kind of get their feathers a little ruffled when they see stories about them, but from a Student Life perspective as a whole, there hasn’t been anything too crazy,” O’Neill said. “Ultimately, we’re here to support [The Criterion] as a whole.”
Marshall pointed out that accountability and funds may come with oversight. As long as The Criterion is budgeted by student fees, their pay will come through Student Life.
“I think that you should be aware of and resist any attempts at people telling you what to write,” Marshall said. “I think it’s important that we are all collectively, student government, the administration, The Criterion editors, that we all remain committed to this notion that you’re free to publish whatever you want, as long as it’s not libelous.”
O’Neill agreed that there is no doubt that The Criterion can legally publish anything but libel under the First Amendment, freedom of speech and of the press.
Williams brought up a hypothetical incident.
“Let’s just say that we have an editor in charge here who doesn’t feel like standing up for the paper and maybe they won’t poke their noses into [Associated Student Government] as much because maybe we need more cameras or maybe we need better computers,” Williams said. “The Crite surprisingly has a great opportunity here because we’re not in a metro area. Our closest competitor, if you call them that, is the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.”
Because of The Criterion’s monopoly on CMU news, the newspaper provides a great opportunity for advertisers, according to Williams.
Williams also expressed a desire to move The Criterion office to Escalante Hall, where all the mass communication majors spend a good amount of their time, and where they’ll have some physical distance from the Student Life office.
There are no immediate plans from any of the parties involved to separate The Criterion from Student Life, but with the conversation opened, there is a chance the organization will break away and try to sustain itself on advertising money rather than student fees.