An independent Baton Rouge newspaper filed suit last Monday against the LSU student newspaper and the university’s board of supervisors, alleging unfair trade practices.
The suit by Primedia Holdings, LLC, publisher of Tiger Weekly, charges LSU’s student newspaper, The Reveille, with unjust enrichment, wrongful conduct, and unfair trade practices and competition.
The Reveille is a subsidiary of the university and receives 40 percent to 50 percent of its revenues through student fees, said Wayne Lewis, owner of Tiger Weekly. “They would have to charge 30 percent more [for advertisements] if they weren’t subsidized,” he said.
Founded in 1996 as a for-profit corporation, Tiger Weekly targets LSU students and had been publishing only on Wednesdays. Last spring, the paper added Mondays to their schedule. The Reveille, previously a four-day-a-week newspaper, will begin running a Monday edition this fall.
Mari Serebrov, director of student media for LSU, could not comment on the suit because of university policy, but said The Reveille has been planing to add a Monday edition for three years.
Lewis said Tiger Weekly has made little profit over the years because they match The Reveille’s artificially low advertising rates.
“This was the last straw … They’re trying to blatantly compete with us,” Lewis said. “The mission of The Reveille and Tiger Weekly has become too similar. … The Reveille is doing the things a traditional business does, but unfortunately The Reveille is not a traditional business.”
Serebrov said The Reveille’s mission is “to prepare students for the real world and provide a forum for free expression.”
Lewis said he just wants a level playing field.
Tiger Weekly’s attorney, Richard Bullock, said the paper wants LSU to either take away public subsidies from the student newspaper so they will compete as an independent paper or not compete with Tiger Weekly for advertising dollars at all.
“This is unprecedented,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a legal assistance agency for student journalists. “On its face, it looks like if this claim were to go forward, it would have a dramatic affect on student newspapers.”
If the suit is successful, it will raise questions such as whether a movie theater can sue a university for showing a film series, Goodman said; or whether a sports team can sue a university because they have a subsidized sports team.
In the mid-1990s, an independent newspaper threatened to sue Iowa State University over alleged unfair competition and the inability to distribute newspapers on the university’s campus. The claim of unfair competition was eventually dropped, and the issue of distribution on campus was settled out of court, said Annette Forbes, general manager of the Iowa State Daily.
As part of the settlement, the Iowa State Daily stopped distributing its paper off campus, Forbes said.
“[The suit] served no purpose for either newspaper, and we’ve left it behind us,” she said.
At an Aug. 22 hearing, Tiger Weekly will seek to block The Reveille from publishing a Monday edition in September.
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