Texas Student Media

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Almost every successful moment I’ve had in college is thanks to Texas Student Media. 

My first internship was because of work I did for The Daily Texan — which eventually led to my second and third internships. All the awards I’ve received can be tied to work I did for Texas Student Media. This organization has prepared me for a career in journalism. 

On campus, Texas Student Media serves as a vital news service to the student body. But for aspiring journalists, this organization is a key rite of passage. 

Texas Student Media has served as the training ground for tomorrow’s journalists and the future media elite. There are countless examples, ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to people like Burnie Burns, creator of the highly popular web series “Red vs. Blue” and the company Rooster Teeth. Burns spent his college years in Texas Student Television. Others include Texas Travesty alum Jermaine Affonso, who runs the satire site Clickhole.com and former Daily Texan cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, known for his 1980s cartoon strip “Bloom County.”

Even today, the national news service is saturated with alumni from Texas Student Media. As students watch the 2016 presidential election unfold, they will perhaps unknowingly read reports from many Daily Texan alumni. Students will find national political correspondent Karen Tumulty at the Washington Post and Amy Chozick covering Hillary Clinton at The New York Times. Both spent time at The Daily Texan in college. 

I don’t know what Texas Student Media will look like in 10 years — just like I don’t know what the landscape of media will look like in the future. For the record, no one really does. So much has changed just in the four years I’ve been in college, and I imagine it will change so much more.

There are plenty of reasons to hope. For the first time in years, Texas Student Media approved a budget without controversy or fear. The board made a slight increase to student wages. Gerald Johnson, TSM’s director, has outperformed expectations. Thanks to support from the Moody College of Communication and the Office of the President, student media at UT has some time to breath easy. As I graduate, I am leaving the Texas Student Media board relieved and optimistic.

But whatever the future for Texas Student Media is, I hope it will continue to serve as a teaching tool for UT’s students and aspiring journalists. And to those students slightly curious about the prospects of working in student media, I urge you to give it a try for just one semester. You’ll find friends. You’ll find a family. You may even find a career. 

Blanchard is a journalism senior from Pearland. He currently serves as a representative on the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees. 

Editor’s note: Per the TSM election code Section 7.45B, Daily Texan editor-in-chief candidates have the opportunity to publish two columns during their campaigns. The candidates were asked to write one column on the topic specified below and another on a topic of their choice. The columns had to be between 580-620 words. The candidates were responsible for writing their own headlines. For their first columns below, the candidates were asked to answer the following questions: The Daily Texan and Texas Student Media confront financial challenges due in part to major, uncharted changes in the publishing industry with the growth of the web. How should The Daily Texan address the changing habits of its readers? How will you, as editor-in-chief, ensure it remains a relevant platform for student voices?  

A few days ago, I told a friend’s mother that I hoped to pursue a career in journalism. The woman, a journalist herself, smiled at me as she replied, “Now, I’m just going to let you know, it’s a dying industry.” 

The financial situation at the Texan makes it clear that if journalism is not dying, it is very, very sick. There are counterexamples to this claim, such as The Texas Tribune, a digital-only media organization that focuses on Texas politics and has seen great success. Even Buzzfeed, the brightly-colored website known primarily for pictures of cute cats, has begun reporting politics and in January announced $20 million in new funds. The Daily Texan, however, has seen revenue drop dramatically, and the forecast isn’t rosy. 

Last Tuesday, the current editorial board devoted an entire page to rebutting the clearest solution to the Texan’s financial woes, cutting print, on the basis that print advertising constitutes 95% of the Texan’s revenue. At the bottom of the page, a list of ideas collected from Daily Texan staff and readers to “boost the Texan’s relevance and revenue” included options such as hawking papers at central locations on campus and rethinking how we distribute papers. 

The opinion page made a compelling case, but I was reminded of what they left out when I revisited the article online. There, the talents of the Daily Texan design team had devolved into a bullet-pointed block of text. In the world of new media, the phrase “straddling the print-digital line” gets thrown around quite a bit, but the reality is that it’s not “straddling” if you’re tilting strongly to one side. The Texan needs to find its balance before it falls off the fence. 

However, investing in our digital product will require either dipping into the reserves of our parent company, Texas Student Media, or making significant cuts to the budget. Neither are pleasant options, nor is investment in the website a complete solution to the Texan’s troubles. Online ad revenue is nowhere near substantial enough to fill the fiscal hole, and even if it were, a better website is not a field of dreams: there’s no guarantee that if you build it, clicks will come. 

So if neither cutting print nor improving the website are the correct answer to the troubles of the Texan, what is? Unfortunately, this isn’t a test, and there’s no TA waiting at the front of the lecture hall to tell us if we’ve bubbled correctly. Keeping the paper solvent will take both readjustments to our budget and reconnections with our readership. But most importantly, it will take action. I admire the editorial board for putting forth ideas to improve the profits of the paper, but printing the suggestion that we hawk papers is not the same as actually hawking them, which staff at the Texan could do tomorrow. Reaching out to alumni for donations could also be done tomorrow. Promoting our content more frequently on social media could be done tomorrow. And cutting some of the traditional perks of the editor-in-chief position, such as tuition stipends, must be on the table, along with more comprehensive revisions to the budget, which won’t happen tomorrow, but the foundations of which could be laid in the coming year.

In 1951, then-editor-in-chief of the Texan Ronnie Dugger wrote an editorial startlingly similar to the one that ran Tuesday. “Problems, some of them serious, face the Texan. There is a constant battle for advertising,” wrote Dugger. The Texan survived that disaster, and it can survive this one, but to do so, it needs to make compromises, take chances, and embrace change. I’m confident that I’m up to that challenge. 

Wright is a Plan II junior from San Antonio.

The Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees acknowledged its financial hardships but declined to take specific actions at its meeting on Friday. The board also certified candidates for The Daily Texan’s upcoming editor-in-chief election. 

The Texas Student Media board oversees the operation of The Daily Texan, Cactus Yearbook, KVRX Radio, Texas Student Television and The Texas Travesty.

Jalah Goette, director of Texas Student Media, presented new financial data to the board and said the finalized board budget in March needed to include drastic changes for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

“The model we have now is not sustainable, given the financial situation we’re facing,” Goette said. “The media world is changing and we need to evolve, too.” 

Although members discussed potential solutions, the board did not settle on a specific course of action. David Verduzco, accounting lecturer and board member, said it was impractical to depend on rates of ad revenue increasing in the future. 

“We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and hope to earn more revenue,” Verduzco said. “That’s what we did this year.” 

The Daily Texan has faced a sharp decline in advertising revenue, dropping by almost 50 percent in December 2012 compared with December 2011, according to budget documents submitted to the TSM board, and one-third of the way into the fiscal year, only 27 percent of the amount of ad revenue in the 2012-2013 budget has been earned.     

Daily Texan Adviser Doug Warren said the board might consider hiring a professional staff member to look at marketing strategies and development and another to work full-time on the Daily Texan website. 

Verduzco said this wasn’t out of the question. 

“We can spend money to make money, but we don’t have much money left,” he said. 

The board also certified journalism sophomore Bobby Blanchard and Laura Wright, Plan II honors and biology junior, as candidates for editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan for the 2013-2014 academic year. Originally, the board did not approve Wright’s application because she did not meet two of the requirements to run for the position. Wright appealed directly to the board, which then approved her but extended the application deadline.

Further complications arose when it was discovered that the qualifications listed on the editor-in-chief application did not match the qualifications listed in official Texas Student Media policy documents. 

The editor-in-chief position is elected by the University student body. Blanchard and Wright are Texan staff members currently on a leave of absence, as required by the Texas Student Media bylaws.

Jennifer Hammat, assistant vice president for student affairs, said she also wanted the board to consider reducing the level of detail included in the minutes published online after each board meeting.

“I don’t know if you want that much detail on your website all the time,” Hammat said. “To personally identify folks is something previous boards had not expressed interest in, and for now I would advise everyone that anything you say can be personally attributed to you.”

Goette agreed to table the approved minutes pending further revision.

Published on February 4, 2013 as "TSM wants new financial strategies". 

This story was edited for accuracy after its original post.

After initially prohibiting news boxes at the Belo Center for New Media, the College of Communication announced it has recognized the demand for The Daily Texan and will place a box on-site sometime in the future.

Roderick Hart, College of Communication dean, said in an e-mail that the college has asked its architect to design a Daily Texan newspaper box for the center and choose where on the site the boxes should go. Hart could not provide a timeline or a sense of when a news box would be added.

The Daily Texan printed an article about the college’s stance on news boxes Thursday, after which there was a strong online response. Thursday morning, a blog about the issue was posted on media institute Poynter’s Web site. Posts on CollegeMediaMatters.com and JimRomenesko.com followed later in the day.

“I know the dean heard from dozens of former Daily Texan editors [Thursday],” Mark Morrison, adjunct lecturer and a board member for Texas Student Media, said. “They’ve all been in touch with his office and communicating their concern.”

Last week, the College of Communication said it would not place any news boxes in front of the Belo Center for New Media, which houses the School of Journalism. Assistant Dean Janice Daman said the news boxes might attract litter, and interfere with the college’s plans to achieve a silver certification. The certification is a rating that classifies a building’s environmental performance and is issued by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In response, Glenn Frankel, director of the School of Journalism, said it was a mistake that the building that houses the School of Journalism did not have the campus’ student newspaper available for immediate access.

Hart said he was not sure if the College of Communication would add news boxes or news stands for publications other than The Daily Texan.

“We have to maintain pedestrian traffic flow above all else,” Hart said.

Jalah Goette, interim director of Texas Student Media, the agency in charge of all of UT’s student-produced media, said it is prepared to add another Texan distribution point. She also said she hopes the College of Communication will work with Texas Student Media on the design of the box and that it would include the masthead that is on every other Texan news box. Goette said it is important the box be identifiable as a Texan box.

On Thursday afternoon, Hart sent an e-mail to The Daily Texan, saying the College of Communication would install a news box.

The College of Communication tweeted, “there was some confusion about why copies of The Daily Texan weren’t available.” Both the tweet and Hart said the college never intended to ban the news boxes.

But Daman said in an e-mail to journalism professor Wanda Cash the policy was decided previously.

“The Belo project team decided long ago that there would be no news boxes – Daily Texan, Apartment Locators, the Onion – on the Belo plaza or sidewalks,” said Daman in her Aug. 30 e-mail.

“The Dean knows this, too.”

Morrison said he is glad to see the college decide to put a news box on-site.

“It should not have come to this, but better late than never,” Morrison said.

Frankel said he is also pleased with the decision.

“I thought it was a mistake to not give students and faculty access to The Daily Texan and newspapers here in the Belo Center,” Frankel said. “To me, it was not important whether those boxes were inside the lobby or outside, just that there is access for our students.”

Morrison said he hopes more news boxes are added besides the Texan, like other newspapers around the state and campus publications.

While UT-Austin does not have an official rule or policy on news boxes, the University requires they not interfere with on-campus traffic.