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.