The Daily Texan has been an essential part of the University community for more than a century. It provides all of us with news, information and opinions that help us make decisions and hold accountable those who have power over our lives and our work, whether in the Tower or the state Capitol or City Hall. Anything that damages its ability to carry out its journalistic mission does harm to us all.
The Texan faces a short-term financial crisis that threatens to destroy its economic viability. Its plight is similar to that of all traditional print news organizations: a sharp decline in ad revenues caused by the digital media revolution. The Texan’s staff and the Texas Student Media board of trustees that oversees its operations have struggled to come up with solutions, and students and alumni are now actively engaged in the process. Still, the trustees are considering cutting back on the number of days the newspaper is printed as a stopgap measure. It’s too soon to take this drastic step without trying other strategies and without seeking more help from its far-flung and highly mobilized alumni and other interested parties.
The longer-term issue concerns the structure of Texas Student Media. The Texan is supposed to be an autonomous student-run organization, producing good journalism without fear or favor. In reality, the University administration exercises practical control over budgets, personnel and access to technology. Many of us were surprised to hear from the students who are supposedly in charge of the news website that it is effectively under the control of the professional staff that reports to the administration (see “A student-run website for a student-run paper,” Daily Texan 2/27/13). This is the opposite of the spirit of a student-run enterprise. The University administration has neither the expertise nor sensibility to operate a student-run news organization.
The School of Journalism has an important stake in the future of the Texan. An outstanding student newspaper is an important recruiting tool in attracting the best journalism students to Texas. It also serves our educational mission by providing students a lab in which they can practice and produce journalism in real-time conditions. And it serves our larger goal of promoting good journalism throughout our community. We want to see the Texan — both in print and online — sustained and thriving. The blossoming public conversation over how to preserve its future needs to continue without a rush to judgment.
Glenn Frankel is Director of the School of Journalism and has the G.B. Dealey Regents Professorship in Journalism.