Set aside, for a moment, all the important questions about the significance of the university’s nascent plan to place its quasi-independent student media under the quasi-control of the College of Communication.
Instead, consider how the news broke.
For nearly a year, Texas Student Media, the organization that manages The Daily Texan, KVRX radio, TSTV, The Cactus yearbook and the humor publication Texas Travesty, has operated under a shroud of speculation. More so than usual, which is saying something.
Last spring, after several years of declining revenues and turnover in the director’s office, the board of trustees that governs TSM’s operations considered a proposal to reduce the newspaper’s print publication schedule. All hell broke loose, relatively speaking. Generations of alumni, including me, rallied to support the paper, with varying ideas of how to go about it. Having already eliminated much of the professional staff, the trustees cut the wages of student journalists, declining to make other substantive changes without more information. The paper’s journalism advisor quit in disgust (but not before urging me to take the job).
As we’ve proceeded through the 2013-’14 school year, the move to the communication school has taken on the air of fait accompli. Last month, TSM’s director suddenly resigned with little explanation. That stirred the pot. But the substantive discussions continued to take place at a high level behind closed doors.
For journalists, of course, high-level discussions of public consequence kept behind closed doors are the reason we get up in the morning. Over the past few months, in addition to the new digital initiatives I’ve described in previous posts on this blog, we’ve focused on ramping up our competitive metabolism at The Daily Texan.
So when the student journalists at The Texan received notification of a meeting this coming Friday concerning the future of TSM, they flooded the zone. Texts went out. Senior reporters and assistant news editors came crashing down the stairs. Though the full issue staff has not even been hired yet for the semester, news editor Jordan Rudner got a team of four reporters and two editors working the phones. After two hours of stops and starts, playing their best hardball to press journalism professors and other potential sources onto the record (consider the irony), they got confirmation.
Managing editor Shabab Siddiqui moved ahead quickly, editing the story with an eye for balance and context. Editor-in-chief Laura Wright composed an intellectually rigorous piece defining the stakes of the decisions to come, illustrated by a fine editorial cartoon. And the rest of the staff, never losing sight of all the other things that need to happen to produce our daily miracle, covered the new football coach’s presser, introduced students to new facilities set to open at the business school, reported out a knife fight on the drag, shot wild art on East Sixth, edited a feech on native plants, planned video coverage, designed pages, promoted the work on social media, monitored online metrics and sold advertisements.
All in a day’s work. Impossible without editorial independence. Equally impossible without financial stability. Will The Daily Texan find the right balance at the College of Communication? I know where you’ll read the answers first.