Here’s a story you haven’t seen in the “liberal media”: Leaders of Arizona State University’s College Republicans club have started a right-of-center news site for student journalists who see the news media as too liberal.
It’s called the Western Tribune — westerntrib.com — and while the site has published only a few news stories and opinion articles since launching on August 22, founders and ASU students Joe Pitts and Clay Robinson hope it will grow, offering an outlet to students who may feel unable to express themselves in ASU’s student-run newspaper the State Press or other outlets.
“There are a lot of students across the country who needed an outlet for their voices,” Pitts said.
Pitts, a sophomore and Economics major, is president of ASU College Republicans; Robinson is vice president of membership. They’re also the editor-in-chief and executive editor of the Western Tribune, respectively.
However, the pair did not disclose their College Republicans affiliation until after Phoenix New Times called Pitts for comment on Monday. Asked why nothing on the site, including their bios, identified the pair as members or leaders of ASU College Republicans, Pitts said the omission was an oversight.
“I’ll actually add that” in the bios, Pitts said. “And at the end of every story.”
The changes were made to the site later that day.
The College Republicans club should not be confused with its controversial offshoot, College Republicans United, which recently drew heavy criticism for launching a charitable account for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old arrested in the shootings of two protesters in Wisconsin.
Still, content in the Western Tribune leans in the conservative direction, Pitts said. He insisted the site won’t be an extension of either the Republican Party or his work for the college club, which is the official ASU chapter of the GOP.
Opinion articles may include “every shade of red,” he said, noting a recent op-ed on “Post-Trump Conservatism” by a Republican student from South Carolina’s Clemson University who’s dissatisfied with Trump.
“It doesn’t have to be something we agree with,” Pitts said.
He wants to publish news stories that focus on local, factual news, like upcoming ballot propositions, and vows to go “deeper into the political side of things.” Pitts hopes to introduce readers to sources and different kinds of political clubs than those that might be quoted in the State Press.
The site broke the story last week of the “Scholar Strike” at ASU, in which some faculty members from different ASU schools stopped working on their regular syllabuses and contributed to a “teach-in” on race issues, Pitts said. The State Press published its own story on the “strike” the next day. No other media outlet in town appears to have covered the event.
Comparing the two stories, the State Press gave a far more thorough report, in part because three reporters worked on it. Yet in the discussions of the teach-ins and stated reasons for the need for more discussion on systemic racism, nothing in the article hints that someone might disagree with the basic ideas behind Scholar Strike or that it’s worth interrupting normal classes for.
Pitts’ short article, on the other hand, mentions what could be considered another side of the story, writing among other things that “many students” worry the faculty action is “un-American, and dangerous.” But he doesn’t quote any of the “many,” which makes the article read more like an opinion piece.
The Western Tribune recently got a prominent mention in an article published in the conservative National Review about the recent flap over the student-run Blaze Radio station’s manager Rae’Lee Klein refusing to heed calls to resign her paid job over a tweet some perceived to be offensive.
Samuel Freedman, a longtime professor of journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City, said an unofficial ASU publication could be partisan, and Pitts has “the right to be both a political actor and a publisher” within a journalism context, as long as he discloses his College Republicans affiliation.
“The larger concern I would have is where the money to operate this website comes from,” Freedman said. “There’s been a long, ugly history of deep-pocketed right-wing donors funding unofficial campus newspapers that will espouse right-wing views.”
The professor encouraged New Times to read up on the history of the Dartmouth Review, a conservative newspaper founded in 1980 by former staffers of The Dartmouth, the student-run newspaper of the Ivy League school in New Hampshire. Past writers for the publication include Pulitzer-prize winner Joseph Rago of The Wall Street Journal, author and video star Dinesh D’Souza, and Fox News host Laura Ingraham. The paper spawned other unofficial, conservative college papers around the country. Last month, a petition signed by nearly 1,000 Dartmouth faculty, staff, and family members called for Dartmouth to “dissociate” from the Dartmouth Review, which the letter claims “has been an incubator of racist hate and white supremacy.”
Will Pitts and Robinson also hit the big-time? For now, people who submit articles can’t expect to get paid. Pitts said he took $200 from his personal checking account to get the site up and running, and has accepted no funding from the Republican Party or any other outside source. Someday, maybe the site will have donors or a subscriber base, he said.
“The State Press is doing a good job,” Pitts said, “but we need more stories out there.”