When the Texas Student Media board of trustees meets today, its members should not curtail the number of days The Daily Texan is printed, as has been proposed. The Texan may be financially fragile at present, but, as a powerful forum for student voices, this newspaper has led and informed this campus for more than 100 years. We live in a period of transition. The world is changing, and institutions from the last century are not guaranteed to continue into this one. In such an environment, a forum for student voices is needed more than ever; a restricted printing schedule could diminish it severely, with no assurance that it could be rebuilt when needed.
Drastic action and quick collaboration must happen. Today, board members should address TSM’s annual deficit by drawing from its $814,830.35 in reserves.
There is no single solution; in future weeks, the staff must undertake methodical trial and error of the many ideas and resources to raise the Texan’s relevance and revenues — ideas and resources that have already been offered by students, alumni and faculty.
To ensure and enhance the future of the Texan, the students, professional staff and TSM board members must act on three fronts: the printed page, the electronic screen and the bottom line. The walls that once divided the editorial, web and business departments are coming down, and the students must lead the efforts to revise the conceptual architecture of a news organization. That is the educational experience TSM has to offer.
The entire Texan staff must become a web department and pursue our audience on their screens. This needs to happen not because it will necessarily replace the money lost from declining print revenues, but to draw more readers, the source of not just revenues but also relevance for the Texan. Student staff must be given more control to make immediate changes to the website and take part in the development a mobile application that offers more than just stories and photos.
These digital efforts must serve to create a comprehensive campus guide for everyone and a meeting place for students to organize, bulletin and congregate online. We must make an online product that offers a gratifying experience on its own rather than one that simply parrots the print edition. A TSM policy shift over website control would increase the number of students in the Texan’s basement office who are able to monitor and manipulate the website, ultimately improving it and integrating it with the rest of the newsroom. Not every newspaper struggling to make its way online is connected to a large university teeming with programmers and byline-hungry young people, and those advantages should not be squandered.
A newly-organized Texan alumni organization has offered to and should be welcomed to serve in an advisory role not only to the board and professional staff, but also to the students. Many alumni work at news organizations facing these same challenges and therefore can lend their advice on how to restructure the newsroom. Our system must begin producing a robust website early in the morning and naturally transition to putting to bed an equally strong newspaper late into the night.
The five-day-a-week publication schedule of the printed Texan must be preserved. The physical paper permeates the campus; students read it at bus stops, over lunch and during breaks in between classes. Our orange boxes convey awareness of the Texan to each incoming freshman class, and the papers inside should not be abandoned lightly or without a fight. The approach to publication and distribution should be thoughtfully modified so that the Texan’s print operation is nimble, targeted and deeply connected with its readers.
In all its years, the Texan has served two purposes: as a gathering place for information useful to the UT community, and as a teaching tool for student journalists destined for employment in news organizations all over the world. But the current and future Texan staff must contend with the broadest — if not the biggest — challenge the Texan has ever faced. Past staffers fought for the freedom to print without prior review and to regain readers’ trust after making mistakes. Our fight concerns not one mistake or the fight for a free press, but every single day at the Texan from now on. It is the fight for this newspaper’s life and existence as a future force, not a historical artifact.
The Texan is equipped for this fight. We are alumni-rich, we know who and where our likely readers are and our staff works for little pay. The hope of many professional editors and publishers is that the Texan (and its peer college newspapers) survives and becomes stronger than ever so their student journalists can enter the workforce knowing how to keep journalism alive. Our hope is that we may succeed so our work at the Texan teaches our roommates and classmates the significance and the necessity of knowing what happens around you.