Lessons from the old couches

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Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Shabab Siddiqui and Susannah Jacob. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column addressing the following questions: What do you think the role of The Daily Texan should be on UT’s campus, and how should it work to fulfill that role? Students can vote online Feb. 29 and March 1 at http://utexasvote.com.

Almost every room in The Daily Texan office has an old, wise couch.

Over the years, the couches in the office have been moved around and thrown away. They’ve been sat on, jumped on and slept on. Some of them reek, and some of them shed. Former staffers will start to tell stories about something that happened on a certain couch but then pause, smile to themselves and decide it is best not to finish.

The couches have guided the Texan through the good and bad. Today, we stand at a place where seemingly every print journalism statistic is down, including circulation, advertising revenue and readership. It’s difficult to sit on the rotting cushions of the couches in the office, flicking off the yellow-colored stuffing that escapes through the seams, and not compare the present to the past.

But to see the couches as what they once were does an immeasurable disservice to what they always have been.

Year in and year out, these couches have been where the issues of the time are discussed and debated. It is where ideas are argued, tears are shed, laughs are shared and stories are born. It is from these couches that 20-year-old women and men gathered to challenge policies and celebrate championships.

And in the same way that these couches served generations of Texan staffers, The Daily Texan needs to serve the UT campus.

No other entity stretches across constituencies and locations like the Texan does, and with this reach comes the responsibility to be the host of discussion and debate. To do that requires a great deal of openness, visibility and a commitment to campus-wide interaction.

It is common for leaders to blame student apathy and disinterest for a lack of engagement. But to do so at the Texan is a petty surrender, an acknowledgement of a ceiling for an organization that survives on the belief of the unconquerable, unlimited and uncapped highs of student potential.

There are a lot of things that the Texan can be doing better to fulfill its role as the medium of discussion. We need to strive to be the premier source for Texas higher education happenings. There needs to be a continuing effort to localize city, state and national issues, as well as helping illustrate the complex financial and legislative workings of the University and the state. There also needs to be increased, two-way engagement with various groups, such as graduate students, UT staff members, Greek communities and minority students.

Most importantly, the Texan needs to be a pioneer in experimenting and reanalyzing the role of an invaluable news source in the current digital context. This goes beyond simply social media and the Internet but requires toying with deeper questions of how people interact with information.

Willie Morris, the oft-quoted Texan legend who served as editor-in-chief in 1955-56, wrote, “In its finest moments, and they had been often, The Daily Texan had defended the spirit of a fine university even when the University of Texas itself was unable or unwilling to do so, and in these periods it had reached an eloquence and displayed a courage that would have challenged the mature profession.”

The existential crisis that faces higher education is similar to the existential crisis that faces journalism in that both require a commitment to engagement that we may have been able to skirt in the past. While we’re quick to cover the ivory tower, we need to avoid becoming the ivory basement.

At the very least, this ensures that the lessons of the decrepit couches can be passed on to the next generation.

Siddiqui is a finance and government junior.