Gerald Johnson, former director of local advertising and digital services for the Houston Chronicle, has been named the new director of Texas Student Media, effective July 21.
The appointment comes after TSM’s transition from the Division of Student Affairs to operating under the Moody College of Communication.
“I am sincerely excited to be around creative people who typically don’t use a newspaper like people in the past generations have,” Johnson said.“I’m excited to see what their innovations and ideas are and just to be surrounded by a group of intelligent and creative people who ultimately want to get their message out but have great ideas on how to make that financially viable.”
TSM oversees five properties — The Daily Texan, Texas Travesty, KVRX, TSTV and the Cactus Yearbook — and has faced advertising revenue challenges in keeping with national trends over the last several years. In March, TSM interim director Frank Serpas said this year’s budget originally showed a loss of $115,000, but actually produced a loss of over $147,000.
Dave Player, law student and recent TSM Board of Operating Trustees president, said Johnson’s appointment serves as a good sign of what the working relationship with the Moody college will look like.
“He’s an extremely qualified candidate who had a really good background in media and knows Texas markets,” Player said. “Hopefully he brings new stability to the position, which is something we certainly need.”
During his tenure at the Houston Chronicle and Hearst Media, Johnson led a number of business development teams representing $12 million in annual revenue.
“One of the reasons I’ve been able to do that is that I’ve been able to balance the needs and desires of the editorial staff with how advertising works and what potential clients expect from a particular publication,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who will be tasked with day-to-day operations, said he believes TSM will benefit from more targeted sales efforts, utilization of existing content and an updated circulation model. According to Johnson, revenue could also be increased by the incorporation of advertorial — third party content that’s made to look more official — but editorial content connects with readers more so than advertorial does.
“When I have the choice, I always prefer editorial over advertorial…it has more credibility with the readers,” Johnson said. “Your readers, especially in a daily newspaper, get to know and love their columnists and the people who are writing for the publication.”
At TSM's annual budget meeting in March, Hart said the Moody college will have a viable business plan in place by fall of 2017 to place TSM on the path back to financial stability. Hart requested transitional funding from President William Powers, Jr. to prevent TSM bankruptcy while the new business plan is developed.
KUT Radio director Stewart Vanderwilt said Johnson’s appointment is the first step in that process.
“He presented and demonstrated a track record and a passion for securing revenue to support journalism and media enterprises and a belief in the role that student media has, not only in shaping our future careers, but in the community it serves,” Vanderwilt said. “There’s a lot of listening and learning to be done but my sense is that there’s a great deal of motivation in all quarters to achieve success.”
This story has been updated since its original publication.