The Daily Texan, a 113-year-old campus institution, faces life-or-death financial troubles. The newspaper’s student staff and the Texan’s readers and supporters must step up and take the newspaper’s destiny into their own hands.
In recent years, the recession and a web-triggered collapse of the traditional newspaper model have sent the Texan’s print advertising revenues into free fall. As recently as 2007, the Texan sold more than $2.1 million in advertisements each year. Last year, the Texan sold less than $1.3 million worth of ads, and this year is forecasted to be even worse. Those figures and forecast come from Texas Student Media, an auxiliary enterprise of the University, which manages the Texan’s business operations.
In recent years, TSM reduced the Texan’s summer edition from a daily newspaper to a weekly tabloid. It is possible the TSM Board of Operating Trustees will decide at its March 1 meeting to further curtail the Texan’s print schedule. TSM Director Jalah Goette and others have declined to give specifics, but she said a print reduction will be considered.
We understand the need to reverse the newspaper’s downward financial spiral, but we believe that reducing the number of days the Texan is printed when print advertising has made up more than 95 percent of the Texan’s annual advertising sales will not accomplish that goal. Furthermore, we argue that there are dozens of enterprising steps to be taken before TSM is forced to reduce the printing schedule (Submit your own to email@example.com). The Texan is, after all, a free newspaper filled with content produced entirely by unpaid and underpaid students. We supply news to a captive, largely young audience and are associated with one of the biggest college campuses in the country. We publish in a growing city that is militant about its love for publicly-funded journalism and all things local. Those advantages should help ensure the Texan’s financial solvency in an era when newspapers straddle the print-digital divide.
We know the Texan must change to meet the changing habits of its readers, and our vision for this newspaper’s next year and next decade includes not only a print product but also a wholesale revolution to the way we engage our peers and community. If it will succeed, that revolution must come from UT students. We imagine the Texan as much larger, more visible, inclusive and prominent in students’ lives than it is now. In the coming days we will share more of our ideas and will ask our readers, particularly UT students, to share theirs. The Texan, after all, belongs to the students.
For years, TSM’s approaches to the Texan’s declining revenues — selling the newspaper’s printing press, laying off professional staff, reducing some student staff’s pay to zero and printing only one day a week in the summer — have failed to address the Texan’s underlying problem: the decline of print advertising. It is a problem with which all newspapers contend, but we believe the Texan is equipped to fight until our website, which has long needed an overhaul, can bring in significant income. For now, the daily printed newspaper remains the primary means for the Texan to reach the student population it serves. Our website averages a mere 7,000 clicks per day, 60 percent of which are from outside Austin. By comparison, the print newspaper has a daily circulation of 12,000 newspapers that land in 160 news boxes and on the doorsteps of 200 businesses and restaurants each weekday. Other college newspapers that have cut their circulation such as The Red and Black at the University of Georgia have not found themselves liberated by shedding their daily print product and transforming into a weekly newspaper. According to The Red and Black Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Fouriezos, print pick-up rates have declined dramatically and web traffic has suffered, too. “Take the paper out of their minds every day, and it’s no longer a part of their daily habit,” he said, adding, “People can ignore an online product just as much as they can ignore a print product. Online readership is not a given.”
For more than 100 years, the Texan has hoisted UT students’ opinions and voices. During those years, Texan editors, defending those students’ voices, have been threatened with expulsion, impeachment, imprisonment and worse. The Texan’s influence has seen UT through the last century’s fights against sexism, segregation and McCarthy-era censorship.
Today, the need for student voices to help shape the present and the future is arguably greater than ever. Fractures between the UT System Board of Regents and University administration threaten to diminish this institution and dramatically alter the educational experience offered here.
Already this year, the Texan exposed questionable financial practices and a CEO’s bloated salary at the University Co-op; disclosed UT assistant football coach Major Applewhite’s inappropriate relationship with a student; sent a reporter to the U.S. Supreme Court to cover the race discrimination claims filed by a white plaintiff against UT; and editorialized against a flawed study about fracking, which in part led to the retirement of the study’s lead author and the resignation of the UT Energy Institute’s director.
The printed future of this newspaper should not be dispensed with so quickly and the opportunity to set the Texan on a different course should not be sacrificed along with it. We need our readers, our professors and our predecessors to rally for our cause, which is theirs, too.