Michigan State University is a diverse campus with more than 47,000 people who have different backgrounds, interests and demands when it comes to their news.

Are those demands really being met?

Spartanedge and The Big Green are online publications that contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of campus, and we are greatly concerned by a historic loss of talent to The State News. Spartanedge and The Big Green cover a variety of issues The State News does not adequately represent. We provide a place for writers of magazine-length pieces and producers of innovative multimedia to showcase their abilities and tell the stories of MSU. We don’t see our publications as competition, but the State News is categorizing us as just that, and it’s negatively impacting everyone in the MSU community.

After acquiring our writers and photographers, The State News’ non-competition policy prohibits these students from being a part of multiple and varied publications on campus. We understand it’s impossible for one publication — no matter how many people or how much money it has — to cover everything. That’s where other publications step in to keep the balance of information and enhance the community. By allowing The State News to monopolize the journalism talent at MSU, that balance is lost.

We want to restore the balance, and that’s why we’re openly asking The State News to eliminate their non-competition policy.

Students need to have the freedom to express opinions and communicate ideas – as students, journalists and members of the community. This freedom of expression is a crucial part of the learning experience.

Our contributors learn how to cover varied aspects of university life with a variety of platforms. At The Big Green and Spartanedge, we teach future journalists how to produce and edit photos, graphics, audio and videos for the Web. They could not get all of this experience in one position at The State News. We offer choice and creativity that might be unavailable in a structure like theirs.

Spartanedge and The Big Green consistently contribute to the cycle of information on campus with these varied platforms for storytelling. Since we do not pay our staff and don’t publish daily, we can’t and don’t cover the daily hard news simply because that’s not in our cycle.  In this sense especially, we don’t see either of our publications as competing with The State News. That’s why Spartanedge and The Big Green have collaborated several times.

We recognize the value, as student journalists, of having the maximum amount of published work to show prospective employers. Many internships require proof of such “clips,” and the more publications a candidate has worked with proves their adaptability and diversity of skills. The Big Green and Spartanedge have put on workshops to arm their contributors with the skills necessary to produce quality journalism.

We encourage writers to work for multiple publications and broaden their experience. The Big Green editor-in-chief Emily Lawler has published audio pieces in Spartanedge, and our publications share sophomore Brandon Kirby, who edits the Sex & Health section of The Big Green and the Entertainment & Events section of Spartanedge. He recently earned an internship at City Pulse thanks to his demonstrated ability to produce quality journalism for multiple organizations.

We tried creating an open dialogue with The State News about the issue we have with their policy. When we contacted the editor-in-chief last semester and told her why we were inquiring, she told us their policy does not allow “students to work at or freelance for any competing campus publications or local publications” while employed with The State News. She added they allow “writers to freelance for non-competing publications as long as they have it approved by their desk editor” and the editor-in-chief, but it can be turned down if it is seen as a possible conflict. This semester we contacted the new editor-in-chief, who declined to meet with us.

The policy as both editors have described it seems to be unevenly enforced, as some former writers The Big Green contacted claim that when hired they were asked to drop all association with their previous publications, regardless of topic or section.

A restrictive non-competition policy like the one The State News has isn’t even in practice at publications beyond the campus level. On the surface it is typical, but the atypical part comes in when weekly and monthly publications that focus on multimedia and feature-length writing are considered to compete with a daily newspaper. In their non-competition policy (they call it their Employee Conlflict of Interest Policy) The State News names both the Lansing State Journal and The Big Green as publications their writers cannot publish with. While The Big Green is flattered, it doesn’t consider itself to compare with a professional, daily paper like LSJ.

While Spartanedge is not explicitly named as a competitor, it has clearly been included in the category through other comments that place all campus publications under the umbrella of competition.

Responding to a disclosure of what this editorial would be about, Susan Whitall of The Detroit News said, “In college I think it’s even more important not to limit student journalists from doing things that add to their skill sets.”

MSU Alum Lynn Henning is a sports writer and blogger for The Detroit News and also writes for Hour magazine. There are online examples of his work for The Detroit News and Hour published in April 2008. He clearly wasn’t held back by working for two publications even though they appeal to the same readership. It is the same type of work that can appeal to the same readership base, but it’s presented in a different format and circulated on a different schedule. They make it work at the professional level, so it can work at the campus level.

We would also like to point out that The State News is a corporation explicitly allowed tax rights through the University’s tuition, meaning the University hands The State News money; both Spartanedge and The Big Green are independently funded. Our publications are far more independent than “Michigan State University’s Independent Voice.”

The bottom line is that there has been a negative impact as a result of the transition of writers from independent, student-run groups to the incorporated structure of The State News. In light of all the details, can The State News really claim validity to their non-competition policy? And what role should the University have in this when its Academic Freedom Report claims its basic purposes include “providing the environment most conducive to the many faceted activities of instruction, research and service” … but students are automatically charged $5 on their tuition to support The State News? It doesn’t seem like that money is fostering an environment conducive to supporting students in their learning opportunities.

The State News’ non-competition policy needs to be completely eliminated to comply with University regulations. Simply amending it has not worked in the past and contributors continue to be told that writing for other publications could terminate their employment at The State News.

None of this is an attempt to discredit The State News on any level or create any animosity. We recognize the merits of the publication, and on that same note we feel it is necessary to address what we see as its biggest flaw.

Things need to change.

By allowing journalism students on this campus to learn from multiple organizations, we promote their continued success as MSU graduates. If that’s not the goal of any university community, what is?

Editor’s Note: The Big Green and Spartanedge have teamed up, and are writing a series of editorials on the topic “The State of State’s Media.” A similar version of this can be found here on Spartanedge, and we will be posting the rest of the series soon. This statement is supported by Spartanedge and The Big Green. To see the sections of the Academic Freedom Report (AFR) that support our stance, browse through it for yourself and pay attention to sections 1.2, 1.1, and 6.1.1.

2 thoughts on “SoS Media: Competition”

  1. The State News’s policy mirrors those of professional organizations. If you are a professional freelancer you can write for multiple publications (such as The Detroit News and Hour) but if you’re a full-time, paid-with-benefits employee of a news organization you better not be caught freelancing for the competition. The exception is when one newspaper also owns a few community papers or a magazine – there’s often crossover there but the paycheck is coming from the same source.

    The real problem is now that The State News is producing video/audio/interactive graphics/blogs and the like, MSU journalism students don’t have to go to Spartan Edge to get that experience anymore. Also, the equipment at The State News is superior to any other group’s on campus. Spartan Edge and The Big Green have to figure out a way to do something newer and better than The State News or those groups will continue to get State News castoffs.

    *Note: I don’t work at The State News but I did when I attended MSU. Frankly I don’t care much about this little campus battle or who wins, I’m just calling it like I see it.

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