• DT Δ

    On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.
    On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.

    The project is called DT Delta. It’s the centerpiece of our mission to reinvent The Daily Texan. It’s long overdue, but bold enough to make up for lost time.

    Thanks to the generous support of Chairman Bruce Porter, Dr. Glenn Downing, lecturer Mike Scott and others too numerous to mention at the Department of Computer Science, we’ve recruited more than twenty students to work in the basement on new technology initiatives, including app development, social media strategy and data gathering. Most crucially, we’re implementing a radical redesign of our web site, with a focus on a mobile-friendly user interface. For that piece, we’ve also acquired an invaluable resource: Dr. Shayamal Mitra’s web development class is devoting the entire semester to producing iterations of the project, essentially providing a form of curated open-source development with expert supervision. In the newsroom, AME Kelsey McKinney and Technical Director Hayley Fick will make sure the best ideas come together to create a worthy platform for the excellent student journalism of the future.

    But even without the new site, The Daily Texan staff is proving that our journalism can succeed online. Compared to the same period last year, page views for the prior two months are up 35 percent, unique visitors are up 52 percent and the bounce rate (how quickly visitors leave) has declined by five percent. Best of all, the average time spent on the page has increased 25 percent, indicating that viewers are sticking around long enough to read a whole article or watch a whole video.

    There’s only one plausible explanation: The students have been producing great journalism. One of the longest average page views clocked in at seven minutes for Life of Bevo, a charming behind the scenes look at the university’s mascot by Christine Ayala. Produced in collaboration with multimedia editor Alec Wyman and photographer Zachary Strain, the piece got a jumpstart from a very smartly executed promo listicle deployed over the weekend to grab the attention of football readers. By the next Saturday, our reporter and our video footage were being featured prominently in a pre-game segment on the Longhorn Network.

         Of course, it’s not all cute and cuddly. The intrepid Bobby Blanchard has produced hard-hitting examinations of the university’s financial ties to campus housing developers and worker treatment. And beat reporter Alberto Long started the semester off strong with a major scoop on a series of racially charged balloon attacks, beating beat local and national media outlets. He’s followed up with relentless coverage of campus law enforcement.

         Meanwhile, Chris Hummer’s columns have kept our readers on the pulse of the football coach’s lion-in-winter phase. In the arts department, Sarah-Grace Sweeney’s ACL coverage has engaged readers with some of our finest writing. Starting last week, after meetings with Texas Student Media’s advertising department, every section has been producing recurrent features to hook both readers and advertisers. Our design director, Jack Mitts, has been working overtime to create elegant (and consistent) logos. And maybe I’m getting soft, but I think this image by Jonathan Garza might be the best shot ever taken in the storied history of the Daily Texan Photo Department.

         In the shifting media landscape, it’s all about engagement. And The Daily Texan is claiming a prominent place in the university of tomorrow.

  • What Starts in the Basement

    Texas Student Media's new journalism advisor, back in the day (center), being promoted to news editor in true DT style.
    Texas Student Media's new journalism advisor, back in the day (center), being promoted to news editor in true DT style.

    As the new school year begins, I believe UT students have a great opportunity to reinvent The Daily Texan. So after a decade at The New York Times, a book and a stint at News Corp’s iPad experiment, I’ve returned to the Texan (where I worked as a reporter, news editor and managing editor in the early 1990s) to serve as the journalism advisor. My assignment is to help guide The Texan, KVRX and TSTV into the digital future with our traditional values, credibility and integrity, intact.

    Here’s why I’m excited about the opportunity: We have a talented staff, led by Laura Wright and Shabab Siddiqui, who are brimming with innovative ideas, deeply thoughtful about the publication’s relevance in the digital age and more than capable of setting the Internet on fire. We have a TV station and a radio station under the same roof, where the student leaders, Ian Reese and Joe Aragon, have embraced the value of new collaboration. We have a crackerjack digital director, Curt Yowell, who has already set the groundwork for putting our website into student hands with professional support. And we have a campus brimming with tens of thousands of bright young minds.

    And here’s what we’re doing: starting a mobile-friendly overhaul of our web design and content management systems, with a careful eye toward documentation and continuity. We’re performing a targeted search, with the gracious help of computer sciences Chairman Dr. Bruce Porter and new media lecturer Robert Quigley, for new kinds of talent. We’re working directly with the advertising staff to cultivate both old and new revenue sources as we migrate online. We’re collaborating across platforms and entities to engage readers with innovative multimedia journalism. We’re working on a data journalism project that could prove to be a game-changer. And, of course, we’re continuing to put out one of the best student newspapers in the country.

    At points along the way, we’ll need specific help from our alumni. I’ve already had a good chat about this with Griff Singer, head of the newly formed alumni group's mentoring committee. For now, we need your support. Since our managing editor has banned the word “blog” from the newsroom (it’s antiquated and implies a lower journalistic bar, he argues), I’ll use this “Online Exclusive Content” to keep the Texan’s far-flung supporters apprised of the twists and turns. I’ll flag new posts on Twitter @BrickMichael, and I’ll be glad to hear your suggestions via brick@austin.utexas.edu.

    I don’t expect our students to solve the secular problems of the media industry here at Texas Student Media. But I firmly believe that they can bring the organization up to modern standards, positioning the Texan to adapt and thrive as the solutions begin to emerge. I’m here to make sure they have a guiding hand, an experienced perspective and the freedom to make some educational mistakes along the way.

    Hook ‘em,

    Michael Brick

  • Four Longhorns primed for breakout seasons

    Junior Jackson Jeffcoat, one of the best defensive ends in the country, scored his first touchdown in his college career against West Virginia
    Junior Jackson Jeffcoat, one of the best defensive ends in the country, scored his first touchdown in his college career against West Virginia

    With 19 starters returning, Texas will be one of college football’s most seasoned teams in 2013. Preseason rankings place the Longhorns at No. 15 in the nation. But can this football team really meet expectations? 

    To do so, Texas will rely on increased production from a number of players in 2013. Below are four Longhorns primed for breakout seasons.

    Jackson Jeffcoat:

    Texas expects the senior defensive end to emerge as the leader of its defense. Jeffcoat has recorded 14.5 sacks in his 27 games with the Longhorns. In his 2011 sophomore season, he registered a career-high eight sacks and 21 tackles-for-loss. An injury in 2012 cut Jeffcoat’s season short, but he should surpass those numbers this year as the anchor of the Texas defensive line. With former defensive end Alex Okafor moving on to the NFL, expect the senior to rise to the occasion and become one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the Big 12. 

    David Ash: 

    David Ash is an inconsistent player at best, but this could be the year that the quarterback puts it all together and leads the Longhorn offense. As a junior, Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the conference, leading all returning Big 12 quarterbacks with 2,699 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes last season. Another year with receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley should allow him to improve on those numbers. After a huge comeback performance in last year’s Valero Alamo Bowl, we can expect Ash to return with more confidence as he enters his third year.

    Peter Jinkens:

    Peter Jinkens made three starts and played in all 13 games during his 2012 freshman season. The linebacker recorded 18 tackles, including three for a loss, a sack and an interception. Jinkens should see a spike in playing time this season and could end up being the Longhorns’ best linebacker. His two best performances last year came in the team’s final two games, where he recorded a combined 15 tackles, a sack and an interception. Jinkens will get a chance to build on those performances early in 2013.

    Daje Johnson:

    In his 2012 freshman season, Johnson finished fourth on the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He hauled in 19 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 27 yards and a score, and was the most explosive player on the roster, averaging 15.1 yards per touch. Johnson could become an even bigger part of the Texas offense this year. With a trio of solid running backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson could struggle to get as many carries but should still have an increased role in the backfield. On a team full of playmakers, Johnson has the chance to be the most electric of them all, and the sophomore could fill a major role as a jack-of-all-trades type in 2013. 

  • Keep it to yourself

    The recent controversy surrounding Washington Post education reporter Daniel de Vise, who sent a story about UT's use of the Collegiate  Learning Assessment test to university communications staffers before submitting it to his editors, should serve as a cautionary tale to journalists on both the collegiate and professional levels. 

    This tawdry tale, first reported by the Texas Observer, resulted in policy changes at the Post (and a kind of tacit admission that this sort of thing occurs on a regular basis.) It also puts the university in a bad light by having its communications staff appearing to try to manipulate news coverage. 

    My advice to Daily Texan reporters is to keep your stories to yourselves. Share them with your editors, of course, and with your fellow writers, but never send them to anyone outside the organization. I would be comfortable reading a paragraph of explanation of a complex subject back to a source over the phone to check clarity and accuracy. But that's as far as I would go.

    Our readers need to be assured of our independence and integrity. Situations like the one at the Post serve to undermine these essential elements of a free press. 

  • Fine dining

    UT football players (and fans) at Royers Round Top Cafe.
    UT football players (and fans) at Royers Round Top Cafe.

    It was hard not to notice the table across the way at Royers Round Top Cafe last Friday night.

    With one exception, the seven diners' backs were very broad and their necks only slightly less so. There were smiles all around the table as the hungry crew waited patiently for their meals at the popular cafe in the tiny town (pop. 90) best known for its art and antique shows.

    Royers has built a reputation for its idiosyncratic decor and its hefty portions over the years. It must have been the latter that drew the group of UT football players to the restaurant a good 90-minute drive from Austin that evening. At the table were linemen Kyle Kriegel, Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins, Sedrick Flowers, Luke Poehlmann, Josh Cochran and wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. At least, I'm pretty sure it was them. 

    Their fellow diners were respectful of the players' privacy -- for a while. Then the autograph requests began, followed by the hopeful pleas for photo opportunities. The players were very good-natured throughout, accommodating all their fans of all ages,  and they even managed some time to tuck away all the food the Royers staff brought to the table. Except for maybe a slice or two of the cafe's outstanding pie collection.

    A single brave Aggie in the restaurant made himself known, but all the exchanges in the ancient rivalry were pleasant ones on this night. 

    I was most impressed by the way the young men handled themselves and the bond that exists between them and the UT football fans, even in this crossroads cafe many miles from the screaming crowds in the massive stadium. It was a very good night.

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