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By Paul Bradley  /  
2008 April 8 - 12:00 am

Memories: CCWeek’s First Years

CCWeek Was Founded and Thrives on
Commitment to Editorial Independence

By Paul Bradley

Two decades after the first edition of Community College Week rolled off the presses, its founding publisher is glad the publication is thriving in a media world which has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

“Twenty years? Wow!” said Daniel D. Savage, reached in his New York office where he is now vice-president of media and web analytics at Market Maker Interactive.

“I am very pleased that it has survived. It really does prove there is a niche for this kind of publication.”

Now 58 years old, Savage in 1988 then was a brash Harvard graduate with an MBA degree, a background in publishing and an appreciation of the growing role community colleges were assuming in the American education landscape.

He was also vice-president of communications for the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges – now called the American Association of Community Colleges — where among his tasks was to raise the profile of a two-year colleges. Leaders of the college believed then, as many do now, that their institutions were not getting their due from newspapers and television.

Savage had been hired by Dale Parnell, then president of the association and a renowned figure in the community college movement.

“We were starting a newspaper, and we wanted him to help us with that,” Parnell said in a telephone interview. “We really didn’t have any publication covering on the community college mission, and we wanted a newspaper that would cover the entire waterfront.”

But Parnell and Savage clashed over exactly what the role of the newspaper should play.

Parnell envisioned it as a vehicle to promote community colleges and further the mission of the association. Savage believed the paper needed to be independent of the association, unfettered in its ability to look at community colleges with a critical eye.

“I looked at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which was doing a good job covering four-year colleges, but there was really nothing covering community colleges,” he said.

Carol Cross, a staff member of the association at the time, said Savage was sometimes frustrated when his desire to address issues that might depict community colleges in something other than a flattering light clashed with the desires of his superiors.

“I just think he saw a real need for a paper that would cover community college issues, but could do it without the restraints of being a college advocacy group,” she said. “I don’t think he wanted to be a muckraker. The coverage was mostly positive. But he wanted something that could raise questions.”

Said Savage: “I was young and idealistic. I believed that if you were not independent, you were not really a newspaper. If you have to answer to your members, then you can’t really cover the news.”

So Savage began working on creating an independent newspaper, working out his basement, lining up support, selling ads himself. He collected 3,000 subscriptions almost immediately.

Parnell, however, viewed Savage’s ambitions as a conflict with his work at the association.

“He was working both sides,” Parnell said. “He and I discussed it and I told him he had to make a choice. He left. There no hard feeling on my part. It was a business deal.”

Savage had help in launching the paper. Among his earliest supporters was James Catanzaro, then president of Lakeland Community College in Ohio and now president of Chattanooga State Technical Community College in Tennessee.

Catanzaro had hired Savage as his assistant at Lakeland in the early 1980s and later recommended when Savage moved he moved to the association. When Savage started Community College Week, he enlisted Catanzaro and several other community college presidents to serve on the paper’s first advisory board. 

“He was a very smart guy,” Catanzaro said. “I knew when I recommended him he would want to do something dramatic at the association. He wasn’t really part of the community college community, so I knew he would bring some new ideas.”

But the notion of an independent publication was not welcomed by all. Catanzaro recalled that some of fellow college presidents saw his support of Savage as something of a betrayal. 

“I didn’t see it as a sellout of the community college movement,” he said. “Some people did not want to be treated critically. But I thought that an independent publication had the potential to engage a much larger audience.”

Terry O’Banion, who headed the League for Innovation in the Community College and was another early supporter, agreed.

“The association is a membership organization,” he said. “It is more limited in reporting in what it can report. An independent paper can tell stories that a membership paper can’t. It can be a champion of the community college movement, but they don’t have that critical eye. I think you need an independent voice.”

Catanzaro also believed there was room for both an independent newspaper and one reflecting the views of the association. Soon after Community College Week started, the association founded its own paper, the Community College Times.

The new competition was among the reasons that Savage, less than a year after founding the paper, sold it to Cox, Matthews & Associates. For CMA – which already was publishing Black Issues in Higher Education – it was a logical acquisition, said Frank L. Matthews, co-founder of the company.  

“Community colleges represented a visible avenue for minority kids to obtain a post-secondary education,” Matthews said. “It was a natural complement for us to be able address the issues of access and equity that we were interested in.”

CMA was able to combine the resources of Black Issues with those of Community College Week in an effort to give the paper an influential voice. The timing seemed just right, Matthews said.

The demographic shifts that were swelling the number of minority students heading to community colleges practically demanded more media attention, he added.

“Community colleges were being treated as a stepchild,” he said. “The way to correct that was to report on legislation and the demographics that were changing community colleges. We wanted to get a foothold on that. For us, it was a classic case of dust on the horizon.”

“We wanted to create a forum for a lively exchange of ideas about two-year colleges.”

Still, Matthews said he was ultimately disappointed that the community college leaders seemed reluctant to fully embrace the publication.

“We thought that the marketplace would find its way to our door, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “We had good editors and good writers, but why community colleges themselves never fully supported the publication remains a mystery to me.”

In 2005, CMA had its hands full revamping its flagship publication, now known as Diverse Issues in Higher Education.  So the company decided to sell the paper. It was acquired by Autumn Publishing Enterprises, Inc. Autumn was headed by Pamela Barrett, formerly with CMA.  

“We wanted it to continue, and we were pleased that Pam took it over,” Matthews said.

Barrett said she believed the publication could thrive if it was independent of its parent. She recalled conversations with former editor Scott Wright as the pair toiled on the paper.

“He was an inspiration,” she said. “He used to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could take it independent and give it the attention it deserves?”

When the paper came on the market, “I jumped at the chance,” she said.

Since taking over the paper, Barrett has bolstered the editorial staff and sought more advertisers. In the future, she wants to improve the paper’s on-line presence, with an eye toward increasing interactivity, and build on the paper’s status as a voice for community college.

But that won’t reduce the paper’s commitment to safeguarding the paper’s independent voice, she said.

“We are the only independent voice that is specifically and exclusively for community colleges,” she said. “Whether it is on-line or in print, that is what we’ll continue to do.” 

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