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Opinion: If CU Boulder will not invest in independent student news, maybe you will

A decision by the University of Colorado Boulder’s media college could leave one of the largest Colorado campuses without any independent student voice. With your help, we can prevent that from happening.  

Three years ago I walked into the newsroom of the CU Boulder’s online student-run newspaper, the CU Independent, as an unsure freshman. I knew I wanted to write and I loved storytelling, but was journalism the right path for me? 

Fast forward to today and I’ve written close to 100 stories, served in multiple editorial roles (including as the CU Independent’s editor-in-chief), freelanced photos for a national news outlet and completed a nearly four-month-long reporting internship at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder. And I owe it all to the CU Independent. 

Robert Tann

Student-run newsrooms provide a critical experience for young journalists who are trying to find their footing. Here, students can learn the ropes of journalism in a real-world environment. But at CU Boulder, it’s an experience in jeopardy. 

In December, the university’s College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI) announced it would be permanently defunding the CU Independent, as well as stripping it of its newsroom, in favor of creating its own faculty-led media venture. 

It means that, unless the CU Independent finds new financial support, and fast, one of the largest university campuses in Colorado could be without any independent student voice. 

CMCI’s decision, unfortunately, plays into the much larger, turbulent picture of the local news industry. Amidst a landscape of routine budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs, even student newsrooms are not safe from top-down decisions that threaten their very existence.  

The CU Independent’s roughly $20,000 annual budget will instead be put toward a new media hub that the college hopes will “create an even more vibrant student media presence,” as its dean, Lori Bergen, said in a December statement.

But that vibrant presence already exists, one that offers students a change from the curricular-based environment of a classroom or, say, a faculty-led venture. If CMCI truly wants a thriving student media, it should have invested more into its already established, hard-working, award-winning student newsroom. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

So before I tell you how you can help the CU Independent let me first explain why it’s worth your investment. 

The publication is made possible by dozens of hard-working students who juggle classes, jobs and other extracurriculars in order to serve as reporters, photographers, editors, graphic designers and business managers. It maintains an impressive award-winning streak, including two pacemakers from the Associated Collegiate Press in 2016 and 2019, which have been informally dubbed the “Pulitzer Prize” of college journalism.

Its staff also enrich a larger journalism network, from collaborating with Colorado Public Radio to partnering with student newsrooms across all 50 states to document the coronavirus’ impact on college campuses, a project that recently launched on Poynter’s website. The CU Independent team always pushes itself to new limits, a quality I saw first-hand during my time there. 

But what makes the CU Independent special, as with all student newsrooms, is in its name. While it has historically received money and newsroom space from the college, it always maintained editorial independence.

It’s why the newsroom has been able to produce quality watchdog reporting such as its coverage of the controversial selection of former GOP congressman Mark Kennedy as CU’s system president, coverage that won a regional award from the Society of Professional Journalists in March. 

It’s also why the CU Independent is able to freely serve as a designated public forum for commentary and critique. 

A faculty-led venture, on the other hand, loses the authenticity that makes independent newsrooms so great. How will students, whose stories will be subject to faculty review, cover the next Kennedy-like controversy when it occurs? How will op-eds be handled, especially those that are critical of policies or campus culture?

CMCI leadership has assured us it won’t get in the way of letting students tell stories that challenge the university. Its oversight, however, is a conflict of interest that can’t be ignored. 

It’s all the more reason why CU Boulder needs an independent, student-run newsroom to hold it accountable. So how can you help make sure it does? 

While CU Independent and CMCI leadership were able to reach an agreement to extend partial funding until December 2020, the newsroom is still in need of long-term financial support.  

This is where you, the reader, can step in. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

You can help the CU Independent follow in the footsteps of other Colorado outlets such as The Colorado Sun and Colorado Independent that have built a funding model through trusted reader-based support. 

If you think independent student media is worth fighting for, then please consider donating to the CU Independent’s GoFundMe here

With the investment of Coloradans, the CU Independent can continue to offer the same valuable experiences for CU Boulder students as it did for me. 


Robert Tann is the former editor-in-chief of the CU Independent and a rising senior at the University of Colorado Boulder. 


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