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Student newspaper butts heads with Cal Poly Corporation

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Cal Poly’s Mustang News is at odds with a major advertiser, who pulled advertising from the campus newspaper after it ran a story critical of the university’s dining options.

The Cal Poly Corporation, a nonprofit organization that runs campus dining, the bookstore, and other services for students, ceased running a regular advertisement in the Mustang News’ physical paper after a Feb. 8 article about a study conducted by Cal Poly nutrition students, which found that just 12 percent of the 314 entrees offered by campus dinning were considered healthy. Up until the article ran, the Cal Poly Corporation had regularly run two, quarter-page ads valued at $4,000 in the paper. 

The Corporation advertises heavily with the Mustang News, purchasing online ads and paying for “native advertising” (written stories funded by businesses and advertisers) in addition to its print ads. According to Cal Poly student and Mustang News Editor-in-Chief Kayla Missman, the paper has written critically about the university before, but didn’t expect such a response.

“I was surprised based on the relationship that we had with them in the past,” Missman said.

Speaking to New Times, Cal Poly Corporation Director of Marketing and Communication Ellen Curtis said that the corporation didn’t pull the ads as retaliation for Mustang News’ publishing their story. Instead, Curtis said the ads were pulled so the corporation could rethink its marketing and messaging for campus dining in light of some of the report’s findings.

“We felt we should pause our advertising while we figure this out,” Curtis, also a lecturer in the university’s journalism department, said.

Curtis said that other Cal Poly Corporation advertising, including online ads and ads for the campus bookstore, were not pulled in the wake of the article. On March 7, the Corporation paid to publish a full-page response to issue. 

Curtis said the pause in advertising had “everything to do” with the study, not the paper’s coverage, adding that she firmly believes in the separation between the paper’s editorial content and its advertising.

“They were doing their jobs as reporters,” she said.

Curtis said she planned to meet with the students from Mustang News on March 11 to discuss the issue further. 

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