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College Newspapers Sign Petition Condemning Iowa Paper

* Ames Daily Tribune contends the Iowa State Daily has unfair advantage

By Jal D. Mehta, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Forty-five college newspapers have signed a petition condemning a legal complaint brought by a professional newspaper against a college paper.

The petition calls the Ames Daily Tribune of Iowa "ethically reprehensible" and "a threat against all student newspapers in this country" for attempting to limit the advertising of the Iowa State Daily.

Tribune Editor and co-owner Michael G. Gartner, a Pulitzer prize winner and former president of NBC News, contends that the Daily is using its tax-free status, university subsidized circulation and non-student business staff to compete unfairly with the Tribune.

Citing an Iowa anti-competition law, Gartner said he wants the Daily to restrict its advertising to on-campus businesses and the tavern and restaurant district immediately off-campus.

"We are up against a university that has hundreds of millions of dollars," Gartner said. "They don't have to pay the property taxes. I do. They don't have to pay salary taxes as I do, they don't have to pay rent as I do...[It is] unfair competition."

The Tribune has a paid circulation of 11,000, whereas the Daily has a free circulation of 14,000.

Keesia D. Wirt, editor-in-chief of the Daily, said that both students and businesses would benefit from free market forces.

"Students use the businesses in town. It's where they eat and shop," Wirt said. "There doesn't seem to be any reason why we shouldn't be able have our advertisements in place."

Students editors across the country said the legal action could pose a threat to all state-affiliated newspapers because it argues that newspapers at public universities are essentially "governmental bodies" and are bound to the same restrictions as all public agencies.

A ruling against the Iowa State Daily, they say, could set a precedent for other suits which could significantly decrease advertising revenue at college papers and eventually threaten editorial control.

"If we couldn't advertise off-campus, we couldn't have a paper," said Daily Nebraskan Editor Paula M. Lavigne, who started the petition drive.

The petition was circulated via University Wire, a three-year-old service that daily distributes the best stories of 130 college newspapers on the Internet.

"I think it is ethically reprehensible that the Tribune would sue a campus paper in an effort to drive them out of the market," said Michael M. Lazarus, the founder of University Wire and a 1996 graduate from the Northwestern School of Journalism.

The complaint concerning the freedom to advertise off-campus is one of a series of legal actions the Tribune has filed against the Daily.

In a case decided last March, the Tribune sued the Daily to get complete access to the Daily's records, including advertising contacts and tactics.

The judge ruled in favor of the Tribune, saying the Daily was not a freestanding non-profit organization as it had claimed. Iowa laws allow independent organizations to compete freely with private businesses, while government organizations may not due to anti-competition laws, Wirt said.

"Everything we have, they can now get to," Wirt said, explaining that the Tribune can now view a Daily advertising contract and then offer the advertiser a lower rate.

Michael C. Hiestand, an attorney at the Student Press Law Center--a Washington, D.C. legal non-profit that tried to informally mediate the dispute--said that the open records decision might actually benefit college newspapers. While in this case allowing access to public records may hurt the paper, the right to view government documents is generally of great benefit to reporters, he said.

"We've always been of the position that the student newspaper was on the wrong side of [the open records] issue, that they should be accountable like any other branch [of the university]," Hiestand said. "We don't want exemptions that would allow universities not to turn over public information."

But Daily Pennsylvanian Managing Editor Mike Madden said that newspapers should be considered "mostly independent" of their public institutions.

"That the Tribune is using the sunshine law to get into the records of [the Daily's] paper struck me as a dangerous precedent," Madden said, adding that he brought the case to an editorial board vote before he signed onto the petition.

"I think it could extend beyond financial records," Madden said. "If the precedent is set, it could have disastrous effects within the world of college reporting."

Financial Fights

Gartner said that the Daily's growing revenue under an increasingly professionalized staff forced the Tribune to seek legal action.

The Daily has a budget of more than a million dollars, according to Managing Editor Rhaason K. Mitchell. Of that budget, almost all is raised through advertising, not counting the $75,000 the paper receives in student fees, which goes mainly to pay for the free paper.

"[Subscription fees] are going into a slush fund to fight me," Gartner said, noting that the fees made up a large portion of the $115,000 in surplus the Daily has earned on average over each of the last five years.

The Daily's business staff includes nine professionals, who are paid a total of $193,000. The Daily was losing money earlier in the decade during the recession and has rebounded significantly since 1992, increasing its advertisement revenues from $600,000 five years ago to $1 million last year. This resurgence was led in part by a new general manager--who was hired from the Tribune--and an advertising director.

Gartner, who is a journalism professor at Iowa State, says that the encroachment of the Daily into the Tribune's advertising base has cost him "at least a million dollars."

"We have a good relationship with the student journalists, our dispute is with these paid non-academic professionals," said Gartner, who notes that he has hired the past four editors of the Daily.

But Mitchell questioned Gartner's sincerity.

"Some of the editors are in his class, but in the two years I've been here he has never been in the Daily office," Mitchell said. "It's kind of like having smoke blown up your butt--he says one thing and does another."

R. Scott Rogers, editor-in-chief of The Minnesota Daily and a signer of the petition, said that if the court's ruling on the advertising issue mirrored the one on the records issue, the Iowa State Daily would face a difficult dilemma.

"It seems that they are close to accepting student fees and losing some of their First Amendment rights, or stop accepting student fees which would be roughly equivalent to a professional paper losing its subscription fees," Rogers said.

Student editors interviewed expressed particular opposition to the Tribune's decision to cite Iowa's unfair competition clause, saying that the forces of the free market should prevail.

"Instead of improving their paper, they're just trying to take it to the courts," said Jacob Luft, editor-in-chief of the Independent Florida Alligator.

"I'm all for competition. It looks to me like the student paper is kicking the city paper's butt," Luft said.

But Gartner said the petition's signers did not understand the complexities of the case.

"They simply don't understand the issue, and don't have any of the facts. It is an emotional attack," Gartner said.

"They clearly don't know the relationship between the newspaper and the university, don't know the law of state of Iowa and they certainly don't know anything about my newspaper or my relationship with the Daily," Gartner added.

The petition will formally be delivered to Gartner on Tuesday, Lazarus said.

Organizers said they may buy advertising space in both the Daily and the Tribune, using the petition to show solidarity, although it is unclear whether the petitions' signers will contribute to the cost.

"We are not going to sit by quietly as our colleagues are attacked," said Josh White, editor-in-chief of the Michigan Daily. "The petition is a show of support."

EDITOR'S NOTE:

The Crimson has chosen not to sign the petition for a variety of reasons, including the potential for a staff position on the situation to conflict with news coverage of the issue

The complaint concerning the freedom to advertise off-campus is one of a series of legal actions the Tribune has filed against the Daily.

In a case decided last March, the Tribune sued the Daily to get complete access to the Daily's records, including advertising contacts and tactics.

The judge ruled in favor of the Tribune, saying the Daily was not a freestanding non-profit organization as it had claimed. Iowa laws allow independent organizations to compete freely with private businesses, while government organizations may not due to anti-competition laws, Wirt said.

"Everything we have, they can now get to," Wirt said, explaining that the Tribune can now view a Daily advertising contract and then offer the advertiser a lower rate.

Michael C. Hiestand, an attorney at the Student Press Law Center--a Washington, D.C. legal non-profit that tried to informally mediate the dispute--said that the open records decision might actually benefit college newspapers. While in this case allowing access to public records may hurt the paper, the right to view government documents is generally of great benefit to reporters, he said.

"We've always been of the position that the student newspaper was on the wrong side of [the open records] issue, that they should be accountable like any other branch [of the university]," Hiestand said. "We don't want exemptions that would allow universities not to turn over public information."

But Daily Pennsylvanian Managing Editor Mike Madden said that newspapers should be considered "mostly independent" of their public institutions.

"That the Tribune is using the sunshine law to get into the records of [the Daily's] paper struck me as a dangerous precedent," Madden said, adding that he brought the case to an editorial board vote before he signed onto the petition.

"I think it could extend beyond financial records," Madden said. "If the precedent is set, it could have disastrous effects within the world of college reporting."

Financial Fights

Gartner said that the Daily's growing revenue under an increasingly professionalized staff forced the Tribune to seek legal action.

The Daily has a budget of more than a million dollars, according to Managing Editor Rhaason K. Mitchell. Of that budget, almost all is raised through advertising, not counting the $75,000 the paper receives in student fees, which goes mainly to pay for the free paper.

"[Subscription fees] are going into a slush fund to fight me," Gartner said, noting that the fees made up a large portion of the $115,000 in surplus the Daily has earned on average over each of the last five years.

The Daily's business staff includes nine professionals, who are paid a total of $193,000. The Daily was losing money earlier in the decade during the recession and has rebounded significantly since 1992, increasing its advertisement revenues from $600,000 five years ago to $1 million last year. This resurgence was led in part by a new general manager--who was hired from the Tribune--and an advertising director.

Gartner, who is a journalism professor at Iowa State, says that the encroachment of the Daily into the Tribune's advertising base has cost him "at least a million dollars."

"We have a good relationship with the student journalists, our dispute is with these paid non-academic professionals," said Gartner, who notes that he has hired the past four editors of the Daily.

But Mitchell questioned Gartner's sincerity.

"Some of the editors are in his class, but in the two years I've been here he has never been in the Daily office," Mitchell said. "It's kind of like having smoke blown up your butt--he says one thing and does another."

R. Scott Rogers, editor-in-chief of The Minnesota Daily and a signer of the petition, said that if the court's ruling on the advertising issue mirrored the one on the records issue, the Iowa State Daily would face a difficult dilemma.

"It seems that they are close to accepting student fees and losing some of their First Amendment rights, or stop accepting student fees which would be roughly equivalent to a professional paper losing its subscription fees," Rogers said.

Student editors interviewed expressed particular opposition to the Tribune's decision to cite Iowa's unfair competition clause, saying that the forces of the free market should prevail.

"Instead of improving their paper, they're just trying to take it to the courts," said Jacob Luft, editor-in-chief of the Independent Florida Alligator.

"I'm all for competition. It looks to me like the student paper is kicking the city paper's butt," Luft said.

But Gartner said the petition's signers did not understand the complexities of the case.

"They simply don't understand the issue, and don't have any of the facts. It is an emotional attack," Gartner said.

"They clearly don't know the relationship between the newspaper and the university, don't know the law of state of Iowa and they certainly don't know anything about my newspaper or my relationship with the Daily," Gartner added.

The petition will formally be delivered to Gartner on Tuesday, Lazarus said.

Organizers said they may buy advertising space in both the Daily and the Tribune, using the petition to show solidarity, although it is unclear whether the petitions' signers will contribute to the cost.

"We are not going to sit by quietly as our colleagues are attacked," said Josh White, editor-in-chief of the Michigan Daily. "The petition is a show of support."

EDITOR'S NOTE:

The Crimson has chosen not to sign the petition for a variety of reasons, including the potential for a staff position on the situation to conflict with news coverage of the issue

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