Back in the ’80s, when I was at the University of California at Santa Barbara, my African-studies professor openly copped to being a Marxist and calmly informed me that the United States was oppressing the world. I tried to laugh off the left-wing indoctrination that surrounded daily campus life. After all, a full-moon beach party was always just around the corner.
At the time, those of a more conservative political ilk found little comfort in the campus paper, the Daily Nexus, checking it mainly to see if the temperature was going to be 65 degrees and sunny or 75 degrees and sunny.
But now, a conservative media revolution — or at least the glimmer of one — has reached my alma mater. Two enterprising students, Nick Romero and Gretchen Pfaff, have begun publishing the Gaucho Free Press. This is one of a number of conservative newspapers that have sprouted on college campuses, according to the Los Angeles Times, with help from the Collegiate Network, which is training right-leaning journalists.
Romero got the idea after the Nexus refused to publish his op-ed piece about the experience of being solicited to live in a Latino-only dorm hall. The paper eventually relented when he threatened to go public, but he says, “I didn’t want to go through that process again.”
Pfaff found that her international-relations instructor spent a good portion of class time talking about “how women were oppressed.” And the Daily Nexus was saying “a lot of the same stuff as the professors.”
Thus was born the Gaucho Free Press, which Pfaff designs on a laptop in her Isla Vista apartment. “This is a channel for me to say ‘Look, there is another voice out there.’”
The two mavericks have received some key advice from the conservative paper at UC Berkeley, the California Patriot. Such as: If you leave the papers out, they will be stolen.
At UC Berkeley, both the campus paper, the Daily Californian and the conservative California Patriot have learned the local definition of free speech the hard way. Not only do students steal stacks of newspapers to suppress speech, but the Berkeley mayor admitted he did it as a candidate, too.
So the Santa Barbara students use the old-fashioned distribution method — passing out the paper in front of the student center. Luckily, the local surf shop and sandwich joints have agreed to display the paper.
A funny thing about competition: The mere existence of the Gaucho Free Press seems to have prompted the Daily Nexus to carry more diverse voices in its op-ed section, which means the fledgling paper has already justified its existence.
The Free Press’s second issue disclosed one professor’s e-mail detailing “options” for faculty and staff on how to handle the looming Iraqi war. Among the options:
Go on strike
Take part in civil disobedience
Excuse students from class to attend an antiwar event or teach-in
Provide extra credit for students attending and writing a report on such an event
Cancel class for an event
There were no options in support of the war, only a line marked “other.”
This new wave of conservative campus papers cross the country has the potential to change the face of mainstream journalism down the road.
Left-leaning campus newspapers have probably deterred generations of students from considering journalism while churning out fresh troops for the media elite. A student who doesn’t buy into liberal orthodoxy was less likely to get involved with a campus paper if he felt the news coverage were slanted or incomplete. Such people would simply focus their energies elsewhere.
We should be grateful, then, that today’s new breed of alternative papers are grooming young writers and whetting their appetites for careers in journalism. If only a small percentage of these young writers join the mainstream press, it could look very different a decade from now.
We can expect a broader range of questions and more balanced news coverage. The day may come when the question of whether to tune into Fox won’t seem as crucial.
Conservative newspapers are just that, open and straightforward about their approach.
The full impact of this nascent campus movement may not be fully realized for some time, but it is coming. Take it from a once frustrated former Left Coast student: If it can happen in Santa Barbara, it can happen anywhere.
— Sheri Annis is a media consultant based in Washington D.C. and a UCSB graduate.