Texan

Student editors read over page proofs before the Texan is sent to the printers. Students maintain complete editorial control over the content that appears in the pages of the Texan.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Student Media has a bright future ahead.

I couldn’t necessarily have said the same had you asked me when I started at The Daily Texan in the summer of 2012. At the time, I was just a lowly entry-level staffer who wasn’t privy to key discussions on the budget. That said, I knew people were nervous about our financial future.

By a college student’s standards, the problems weren’t of a particularly recent vintage. After all, like nearly every other newspaper in this country, we had taken an enormous hit after the recession set in in 2008 and print advertising revenue, still the greatest source of most newspapers’ money, began to plummet. 

The extent of our financial troubles didn’t really become apparent to me until the spring of 2013, when the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees, which sets the budget for the Texan, the Cactus yearbook, the KVRX radio station, Texas Student Television and the Travesty humor publication, met to discuss the possibility of decreasing our print schedule from five days a week to four.

It wasn’t a major change, but it would have taken the Daily out of The Daily Texan and forever changed its identity.

Many other college newspapers in recent years have swallowed the poison pill and completely altered their print schedules, in some cases going so far as to slash the print product altogether.

But the Texan staff, led by then-editor Susannah Jacob, and the paper’s alumni weren’t going to let us succumb to that fate. (To their credit, the alumni rallied together in large numbers, taking out a full-page ad in the Texan to express their opposition to the change and creating the Friends of the Texan alumni group, which has helped raised money to continue the Texan’s education and journalistic missions.)

So instead, the board agreed to a 50 percent cut in all student wages to stanch at least some of the bleeding.

The staff took that change on the chin, but an even bigger threat was on the horizon.

That next spring, the board considered something even more drastic: making The Daily Texan the weekly Texan.

The mere proposal was enough to cause jitters, and serious discussions were had within the newsroom about what such a change would spell for the future of our operations.

We beat back this threat thanks to the generosity of President William Powers Jr.’s office, which promised us several hundred thousand dollars of transitional funding for three years to bridge the crevasse between financial obscurity and financial light.

That funding, along with a $1 million endowment for TSM obtained by the Moody College of Communication, is already putting us on a firmer financial footing and will take much of the anxiety out of future student editors’ jobs.

The lifeline we’ve been thrown won’t keep us afloat forever, but it will at the very least keep us bobbing along long enough for the changes implemented by TSM’s new professional director and advertising manager to take effect.

I have about a month left as editor of the Texan. Many things remain uncertain, but our immediate financial future isn’t one of them.

Brands is a linguistics senior from Austin. He is editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The growth of the Texan’s digital product in the two and a half years I spent at the paper was amazing to see. We went from having a neglected twitter to having lively accounts not just for the paper as a whole but for all of its sections. While the Texan’s website still has a long way to go, by the time my tenure in our basement offices were up, it was clear there was a new appreciation of the Texan’s digital presence. But going forward, if the student elections this spring have taught us anything, it’s that being the established, well-known candidate doesn’t mean crap if you don’t meet students where they are. The Texan is one of the largest student newspapers in the country and a Longhorn tradition that deserves to stick around. But unless the paper makes changes to meet students where they are – and make conscious efforts to figure out where, exactly, that is – the paper risks being the perpetual confused runner-up in the race for student’s attention.

Wright was editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan from 2013-14.

SG election is an easy opportunity to vote

Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu compete in the executive alliance debate against candidates David Maly, Steven Svatek, Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi in the Union Ballroom on Monday night.
Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu compete in the executive alliance debate against candidates David Maly, Steven Svatek, Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi in the Union Ballroom on Monday night.

Today, I cast my vote in the University elections being held throughout today and tomorrow. I made my selections for Student Government, Texas Student Media (including the editor of the Texan) and other posts as a part of my civic responsibility as a student here at UT. The entire process was conducted online, at "Utexasvote.org," and took a grand total of 30 seconds. It would quite literally be impossible to vote with any more ease.

Sadly, barring unusually high turnout, for every one student who chooses to vote, four will choose to not vote. Turnout in student elections here on the 40 acres hovers around 15 percent, give or take a few points. Given Texas' reputation as the single worst place in the country for civic participation, I suppose one could infer that the apathy starts from quite a young age.

Braydon Jones, one of the SG Presidential candidates, appeared strangely complacent with this lackluster participation rate at the Executive Alliance candidate debate last Monday. In comments quoted by the Texan, Jones noted that "Fifteen percent of students turned out to vote in last year’s election, as similarly, 17 percent of people voted in national elections and midterms last year," adding "We’re spot-on."

No. We're not spot-on.

According to estimations by the United States Election Project, more than 36 percent of voting-eligible individuals voted in last year's elections, with even higher participation among the registered population. All UT students are ostensibly registered to vote for campus elections, by comparison. Additionally, if voting were as easy in a city, state or federal election as it is at this University, then the rate would be exponentially higher.

Big things happen on campus every single day, and students are lucky enough to give input into that process. The tradition of actually giving a care about that process is one that should be learned young. Only then will we truly be "spot-on."

I am saddened by the passing of Richard Finnell, mentor, friend*, possessor of grizzled wisdom, proponent of no bullshit, long caretaker of, adviser to and tireless advocate for The Daily Texan.

Richard didn't teach me how to write a lede, or how to edit a news story, but I learned more from him about the ineffable qualities that make a good journalist than from pretty much anyone else I ever worked with in the field. He encouraged me to run for editor of the Texan. He encouraged me, once editor, to pick my battles and to fight like hell to win them. He encouraged me not to fear authority, but to always conspire against it.

When last I spoke to Richard, in the late summer of 2009, he was on the verge of retiring from Texas Student Media, a place that he somehow seemed to love just about as much as it infuriated him. Richard saw and railed against the mismanagement that turned the once profitable Texan into a shadow of its former self. In 2009 he aptly described TSM as “absurd and tragic.”

As the Moody College of Communication takes the lead in saving TSM from itself, I do hope they honor Richard's legacy by granting the Texan the autonomy it has so long deserved. Nothing would be a better tribute to Richard than to resolve the bureaucratic dysfunction that brought him such angst.

*I am using “friend” a bit ironically here because one of the last emails I ever received from Richard was back in August of 2009 and titled “Facebook signups." That email read, in full: “There has been a flood of people signing up to be my ‘friend’ on Facebook. Do you know why this flurry has occurred right now?” For Richard, there always had to be a motive.

— A.J. Bauer, Daily Texan Editor, 2005-2006

Editor’s Note: This year two candidates are running for editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan in the campus-wide elections. The editor of the Texan, elected by the entire student body, has three primary responsibilities: 1) to oversee the paper’s opinion content, 2) to set policy for the paper and 3) to serve as the paper’s representative to the campus community and beyond. Per the TSM election code, the candidates, David Davis Jr. and Claire Smith, have been asked to write two 500-word columns, the first on the following question: What role should fundraising play in the Texan’s future? And what risks does the paper run by actively pursuing such alternative sources of revenue? Candidates wrote their own headlines. Only light typographical corrections were made. For more information on the candidates, please visit our candidate database here.

Much like other print news organizations, the Internet revolution has created new challenges for the future of The Daily Texan. Last year, President Powers’ office promised Texas Student Media up to of $250,000 annually for the next three years to buffer TSM’s recent financial aches and provided a written guarantee of imminent financial support two weeks ago. But that may not be enough. The next editor-in-chief should be expected to pursue fundraising opportunities to ensure the Texan’s future within and beyond the next three years but take care to avoid risks to the Texan’s integrity as a news agency.

In lieu of falling advertising revenues, fundraising has played a modest yet vital role in the Texan’s ability to stay in print. The recently-formed alumni group, Friends of the Texan, has taken an active role in the Texan’s finances in the past, but those efforts do not altogether remedy our empty wallet. As a reflection of this, in 2013, TSM discussed changing the Texan’s traditional five-day printing schedule to four days a week, and last year, discussed reducing the print schedule to once a week. The Daily Texan is struggling just to maintain the “daily” in its name. For the immediate future, independent fundraising for the Texan is a necessity.

I am excited to think outside the box to find healthy ways to finance the Texan, but it is important for the editor-in-chief to work with the TSM Board to pinpoint appropriate fundraising endeavors. Fundraising for media entities inevitably raises questions of propriety, but under my leadership, fundraising would never come at the cost of the paper’s or the staff’s integrity.

I believe the Texas Tribune could serve as a model of fundraising that does not infringe upon the paper’s independence. The Tribune collected $750,000 in grant money in 2009 alone. In 2011, the Tribune was granted $975,000 for a project with the nonprofit news organization the Bay Citizen from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation that promotes journalism and media innovation. Fundraising opportunities can co-exist with journalism ethics and the Texan’s staunch standards for fair and factual reporting. But I understand the path to these grants may not be easy. The University of Texas’ large endowment may complicate assuring grant-giving foundations of our need. That should not stop the Texan from pursuing external funding. The University of Texas is a flagship institution; it deserves a flagship student newspaper. With the administration’s support for the next three years, I will work with TSM to find viable, appropriate fundraising options to put the Texan’s long-term health on track despite the changing landscape of print media.

While keeping the Texan in print five days a week will be my chief goal, I am not willing to do so at any cost and certainly not at the expense of the Texan’s independence. During my tenure as editor-in-chief, independent fundraising would be doggedly sought but will never impair editorial discretion.

Smith is a history and humanities junior from Austin. She is running for editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. Follow Smith on Twitter @claireseysmith.

With the close of filing Tuesday, dozens of candidates officially declared their respective candidacies for the plethora of open offices, including Student Government and Texas Student Media positions. Most important for us, four teams declared for student body president and vice president, and two candidates were certified last Friday to run for editor-in-chief of the Texan. In addition, candidates were certified for TSM board seats, the Graduate Student Assembly, University Unions and the Co-op Board. Candidates officially began campaigning Wednesday. 

As a recent firing line to this publication by an alumnus of the University noted, students have not always had a right to self-determination for many of their affairs. Well into the 1980s, the Students’ Association was nonexistent and the students themselves had no say over the time, place and manner of all too many items of concern for students. 

Some 30 years later, the integrity of students’ already miniscule exercise in democracy is threatened again. The belligerent is not malevolent regents or administration officials, but an apathetic student body. In recent years, turnout has hovered around a disappointing 15 percent, according to data from the Dean of Students’ office. With turnout so egregiously low, and so many on the 40 Acres utterly disconnected, the legitimacy of the ostensibly elected representatives is called into question.   

Texas is dead last in political participation in the country, and we think the disengagement obviously starts early. For this university and this state, that needs to change. 

Certainly, this year — like many years before it — features no shortage of inspirational, qualified or otherwise positive candidates. Multiple contenders from diverse cross-sections of the University have come forward in an attempt to better this school for all who attend and otherwise interact with it. But the best way for Student Government, as well as publications such as the Texan, to work with the community is to be buttressed by robust civic engagement and turnout. 

Thankfully, voting is easy. This year, as before, votes can be cast online over the course of two days. This means you can participate in the decision-making at any time of day, in any place with an internet connection or cell service. You also don’t have to show your driver’s license! 

Over the next few weeks, many organizations, such as this board, will offer our thoughts on the elections for president and vice president as well as other positions. The most important decision, though, is not who one selects; rather, it is the decision to vote in the first place. We hope you make it. Voting begins March 4 and ends March 5. You can vote at utexasvote.org.

Former managing editor and long time Daily Texan mentor, Robert Hilburn, far left, died Saturday, May 17 in Wichita Falls.

Photo Credit: Friends of The Daily Texan | Daily Texan Staff

Robert Edwin Hilburn, who worked as an editorial manager at The Daily Texan from 1966 through 1985, died on May 17.

Bob was born in Wichita Falls on Nov. 10, 1923, and received a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1943. After graduating, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was the youngest Marine correspondent in World War II. He worked as a White House correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the mid-1960s and then moved to Austin with his family to escape the hectic lifestyle of Washington, D.C.

Mary Jeanette Hilburn, Bob’s wife, said her husband’s background in the Marine Corps helped shape his life.

“To his dying day, he was very, very proud of being a Marine,” Mary Jeanette said. “The discipline and everything that he learned through that — it really guided him. … He was a real perfectionist in everything that he did, but he was a gentle soul.”

Sidney Hilburn, Bob’s daughter, remembers the many quirks her father had. Hilburn drove a British sports car, which had been restored to perfection except for the broken gas gauge.

“He would always, before driving it, take his bamboo stick out and stick it down into the gas tank to see how much gas was in there,” Sidney said. “He was a character.”

Bob began working at the Texan in September 1966.

“He could wake up in the morning, go swim at Barton Springs, do some yard work during the day, and then at five report to work [at the Texan],” Sidney said. “It was much more relaxed and calm [than Washington], and I think he really needed that at that point in his career.”

When Hilburn began working at the Texan, Frank Erwin had just become chairman of the Board of Regents. After the Texan reported that the University had broken Texas’ public information law, Erwin and other regents were angry with the students who ran the publication. The regents tried to censor the Texan and decrease funding.

Mary Jeanette said this controversy made Bob’s job difficult because, although he often agreed with the students, he had to balance their views with the administrators’ opposing views.

“The professors and different people [were] saying, ‘You know, we have to control The Daily Texan and not let this go and that go,’” Mary Jeanette said. “He kind of had to walk a middle line there with the situation. It was hard, but he handled it, I thought, beautifully.”

John Economidy, a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio who was editor-in-chief of the Texan when Hilburn became editorial manager, said he learned more about journalism from Bob than he did from his four years of journalism school.

“Just a total consummate professional,” Economidy said. “A gentleman to the core."

A memorial service will be held on June 14 at 10 a.m. at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

After three years as a secret basement dweller in The Daily Texan, I can say one thing for certain: I actually kind of enjoyed it. 

For my fellow staffers who don’t know me, and I’m sure there are a lot of you, I’m the big, sometimes angry-looking quiet kid around the office every Thursday night. As a senior sports staffer for two years now, I spent the majority of my basement time listening to music and checking stats, seemingly disengaged from everyone around me.

But, the truth is, I was never really disengaged, nor was I unwilling to engage any fellow Texan workers. I just preferred to quietly observe the weirdness.

Comics always said the funniest things and photo always did the weirdest things. Life & arts always left the earliest, and news was by far the loudest, especially during their hour-long meetings every night. 

While I could count on nobody really noticing me unless something needed to be done for the sports page, there are a few things that never failed to happen during my shifts:

1. Copy editors WILL ask me at least one silly question, like “What does 3-for-4 performance at the plate mean?” or “You said so-and-so had 10 boards. What does that mean?” But they always asked so nicely that I didn’t mind at all.

2. If Shabab is working that night, he WILL ask me to rewrite at least one headline. “Try a prepositional phrase,” was my favorite line.

3. From 4-12, I might see my sports editor’s face once. This is not an indictment of any of the editors I have had, as all of them have seemingly run a solid ship, but, if it was my night to work desk, they WILL have other stuff to do.

In addition to the interesting people around the Texan office during my work days, there were also a few sports to keep me busy. From swimming and diving meets with the SID-who-shall-not-be-named, to baseball with the always entertaining Augie Garrido, there were plenty of things to keep me occupied after classes.

Although I didn’t really form as many relationships as I probably should have, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have wanted to be involved with any other group on this campus. The Daily Texan introduced me to the world of a sports writer and much of what I accomplish in the field of journalism from here on out will be because of the experience I gained with the best newspaper in the country (according to one of those national polls).

So to end this with a bang, I will say so long 40 Acres, because I know our adviser loves the phrase.

-30-

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, a front-page story in The Daily Texan reported that the UT Tower, the grand monument at the center of our campus, is more than half vacant. Moreover, the University plans to empty and repurpose the remaining office space: Seventeen of the building’s 32 floors are formally categorized as “vacant” or “future storage space.” Though the upper floors of the Tower may never be used regularly by UT students and staff again, there is one working plan that may keep them of use to the University: The space may be used to store plant specimens from the plant resource center, which currently occupy six of the Tower’s lower floors. Plants, unlike people, won’t crowd the stairways in the event of a fire, and it is these safety concerns that have led to the emptying of UT’s most prominent building. 

The remaining offices in the upper levels of the Tower will soon be vacant as well, as these concerns about evacuation safety — the upper levels of the Tower have only one staircase, and one exit is not nearly enough to allow office workers to safely evacuate in the case of a fire — have led UT to empty them once and for all. 

According to UT Fire Marshal James Johnson, the chances that the higher levels of the Tower will ever be safe for occupants are slim. 

“There’s no way we are ever going to be able to build another stairwell — it’s impossible,” Johnson told the Texan last week. 

Fire code concerns aside, it’s worth asking how UT’s most monumental building became so monumentally empty. The answer, as a consequence of its own architecture, is a keen reminder of the importance of building spaces that are both beautiful and usable in a year in which the University will break ground on the new Dell Medical School. 

The Tower is part of a group of buildings built from 1910 to 1942 which, as architecture professor Larry Speck wrote in “The Texas Book,” “demonstrated palpably to its public the ambitions of an emerging institution.” 

In the original designs of Cass Gilbert, the nationally renowned architect employed by the UT-System Board of Regents who began crafting a master plan for the UT campus in 1910, the design of the Main Building was at first a grand dome, then a pillared temple, then, finally, a tall, thin tower situated on a broad base. 

Twenty years later, construction began on UT’s new Main Building when French-American architect Paul Cret began his contract with the regents in March 1930. In 1931, the Texas Legislature had just authorized the creation of the Permanent University Fund, a pool of money funded by oil income that the regents were afraid the Legislature would quickly snatch away. Scared of this possibility, the regents ordered Cret to put the money toward building quickly, and he did, designing 10 buildings, among them the Main Building, which was built in two phases in 1933 and 1937. The Tower, both in its style and placement, was exactly the way Gilbert had envisioned it more than a decade before. 

The Tower was meant to house both administrators and a grand library, the remains of which are still open to students in the form of the Life Science Library.         

But despite the Tower’s striking profile, not everyone admired the building. Legendary folklorist and former UT professor J. Frank Dobie once referred to the top of the Tower, with its deeply recessed balconies and proud columns, as a “Greek outhouse.”  

Now, trips to the top of the structure are rare, as even current students must buy tickets and reserve a date in advance. The University first closed the Tower after engineering student Charles Whitman took several rifles and a sawed-off shotgun to the top of the building and killed 16 people and wounded 16 others in 1966. The Tower briefly reopened after the shooting, but seven suicides later, it was closed to the public. In 1999, it reopened with precautionary rails and set tour times. 

Now, enough years have passed that we can look at the Tower without — as John Schwartz, editor-in-chief of the Texan in the 1980s, put it in “The Texas Book” — seeing the top of the Tower as “a perch known mainly for its association with mass murder.” But we still can’t see it as Willie Morris, another former editor-in-chief of the Texan, saw it when he first came to UT in 1952. In his memoir, Morris wrote the following of his first day at UT: “That first morning I took the elevator to the top, and looked out on those majestic purple hills to the west, changing to lighter shades of blue or a deeper purple as wisps of autumn clouds drifted around the sun; this, they would tell me, was the Great Balcones Divide, where the South ended and the West began.” 

The Tower may now be nearly empty, but the Texas we view from the top is hardly the one Morris saw that morning in 1952 — the country not nearly as mythic and the University not nearly so new. But even if the Tower stays empty, it will certainly always stay grand, and the University must now reflect on what the Tower truly stands for: a proud monument to the campus’ past or a daily, unavoidable reminder of the limitations of working off of a centuries-old University structure.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

It’s been nearly a year since I assumed the editorship of the Texan, but in many ways, it feels like I’m right where I was when I first took the job. On Friday, the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees, which oversees the operations of The Daily Texan as well as TSM’s four other student media properties, will consider potential solutions to the newspaper’s persistent and ever-growing budget shortfall. On the table will be, just like last year, a drastic cut to The Daily Texan’s print schedule. This year, the cut under consideration is even larger — from a five-day-a-week Daily Texan to a one-day-a-week Daily Texan, if, as many have suggested, a paper that prints only one day a week should even continue using “Daily” in its name. 

Because the Texan — like most newspapers — is heavily dependent on the revenue generated from print advertising, cutting the paper’s print product would mean cost savings, but it would also cut into the Texan’s main source of revenue at a time when there is no reasonable plan to replace it. Consequently, such a cut would be less of a “strategic move to digital” than a desperate move toward declining revenue and subsequent slow death.

The difference is that the Texan, unlike most newspapers, is at the behest of University administrators, from President William Powers Jr. on down. And given their inability to do anything more than lament the paper’s dire situation, the Texan’s end looms imminent. 

In the past five years alone, the role of TSM director has changed hands three times. Most recently, former TSM Director Jalah Goette abruptly resigned in December in yet another example of administrators running from the problem instead of attempting to solve it. 

Even the Texan’s impending move from its current home, the Division of Student Affairs, to the Moody College of Communication, which was announced in January, has yet to produce any tangible benefit for the paper or TSM as a whole. Though Powers told the Texan he considered the move “a plausible solution” to TSM’s troubles, his confidence in the Daily Texan’s future under the School of Communication can’t be that high, as he and the two other administrators involved in the decision — Gage Paine, vice president of student affairs, and Moody college Dean Rod Hart — all refused to take credit for ordering the move. 

In short, if you’re holding your breath for a strong administrative hand to reach in and save UT’s student newspaper, don’t. 

Of course, I haven’t yet made the case for why we should save the Texan in the first place. It’s often said that no one cares about the campus newspaper, and having walked past piles of unretrieved Texans on far too many West Campus lawns, I recognize that for many students on this campus, that statement rings true. 

I also recognize that the print media market is an evaporating puddle, that college media outlets across the nation are struggling, that the Texan is in want of major organizational changes and that the paper I’ve made the cornerstone of my college experience may never turn a profit again. 

But that doesn’t change my belief that a university as large, important and historic as UT needs a strong, independent student newspaper as much as it needs a Student Government or a classics department or a president or even a football team. Because teaching students that their actions are newsworthy, that their opinions have a place in the public domain and that authority must be checked by a fourth estate is crucial to teaching them how to be good citizens of the state. 

Yes, it’s true — the Texan is a business, and a struggling one at that. But the problems now plaguing the Texan are bigger than the question of whether to go digital or to stay in print. And, as eventual bankruptcy is the probable outcome of both keeping the current print schedule and of slashing it, both are no more than buckets with which to bail water out of a  quickly sinking ship. 

Going into Friday’s board meeting, the question shouldn’t be whether or not the Texan will go bankrupt, because barring the sudden resurgence of print media or the appearance of an extremely generous donor, it will. 

Nor should it be whether the Texan, in whichever form it comes to exist, deserves to continue serving students on this campus. 

The question should be whether or not Powers, who, as University spokesperson Gary Susswein told the Texan, “has spoken many times about his commitment to The Daily Texan, to [TSM] and to student journalism,” is willing to do anything stronger than say aloud how much he believes the Texan should exist before it ceases to. 

Wright is a Plan II senior from San Antonio, Texas.