UT-Austin boasts some of the best communications and computer science programs in the nation, The Daily Texan is backed by an army of talented alumni and the student staff resides in a hotbed of technological innovation. Why is the Texan not unquestionably the most digitally savvy college publication around?
The answer: Our digital presence does not come from the bottom up; it comes from the top down. Currently all of the control over how the website looks and functions — even on the most basic level — rests in the hands of Texas Student Media professionals at least a generation older than us, many of whom are focused on the bottom line rather than on technological innovation. Control does not rest in the hands of the digitally-native students who have a passion for the work they do and feel a natural social pressure in their everyday lives to stay on top of the latest technologies.
We must ask TSM to do tasks even as simple as creating new website user accounts for us — something a student must have in order to make even a minor adjustment to the site — and all user accounts provided to students are made equally powerless. A reporter who was hired yesterday has just as much control over the website as a computer science major or web staff member who was hired two years ago. The only thing any student, regardless of ability, is allowed to do is upload content. Every other department at the Texan has the ability to make minute-to-minute decisions about their work 24/7 without prior review. The web department is confined to TSM’s normal business hours and lack of digital innovation.
As the digital face of The Daily Texan, we have borne the brunt of criticism for things we have no control over for too long. We are tired of swimming upstream against a current of administrative oversight and losing talented people to better opportunities. The truth is that we want to and are completely capable of making The Daily Texan website the best there is. TSM is scared to let us try. But the security risks and high turnover rate of students are not the daunting challenges TSM makes them out to be.
With more student control and reliable maintenance, these risks will be mitigated. Implementing a graduated system of user control over the website based on demonstrated ability and trustworthiness and having more eyes on what goes on behind the scenes 24 hours a day will actually improve online security. Allowing students to take more ownership in their work and make their ideas a reality will increase retention rates and allow the natural flow of knowledge that we see in other departments to manifest in the web department too. Appropriating more resources to reliable maintenance will allow us to troubleshoot problems as they arise at any time of the day and prepare for the online traffic spikes caused by breaking news.
Specifically, we want to develop a truly responsive website that allows mobile users to access all of the same content they can on a desktop, a more dynamic home page that showcases a variety of multimedia content, an events calendar that students can contribute to, a classifieds service that functions as a UT-oriented version of Craigslist and a dedicated mobile app. This mobile app would allow students to receive push notifications for breaking news, check the weather, stream multimedia content, access hours of operation and menus for nearby eating options and interact with the print product.
Ultimately, our vision is bigger than The Daily Texan and bigger than collaborating with other TSM entities. We want Texas Student Media to be the campus authority on new media. TSM should be a media think tank that allows any UT student to learn and experiment with cutting-edge technologies. The Texan can serve as a bridge between the communications and computer science programs on campus — an opportunity for collaboration that does not currently exist. This is what UT students are starving for. This is what will attract the incredible talent that already exists on campus to contribute to The Daily Texan. This is what will allow us to set the bar for other universities. This is what will allow this news organization to grow to meet students where they are and thrive in the 21st century.
The time is now, and the place is here. We are ready, and we are able. Cut the red tape and give us a chance to do something revolutionary and, more importantly, student-made.
Hayley Fick Digital Director
Tyler Reinhart Web Editor
Ryan Sanchez Associate Web Editor of Social Media
Omar Longoria Associate Web Editor of Production
Helen Fernandez Senior Web Staff
Hannah Peacock Senior Web Staff
Khang Huynh, Joe Rau, Amyna Dosani, Vy Nguyen Web Staff