I was teaching happily at Purdue University when I got a job offer from UT in January of 1979. I accepted the offer and the next thing I did was take out a mail-order subscription to the Daily Texan. Knowing I’d be moving to Austin in June, I figured that reading the Texan would help me get to know the UT student body before arriving on campus.
So my connection to Texas Student Media is a long one, and I now find myself in charge of its administrative side. Many details remain to be worked out, but, having spent the last three months studying TSM, our college is ready to take on the challenge. We’re honored, as well.
But why would any sane dean opt to oversee a student-based media operation during a time of upheaval? For me, the answer is simple and it’s personal. And it goes back a long way.
I hail from a blue-collar town in the Northeast. My uncle, Roy Hart, drove one of the big trucks that delivered copies of the Providence Journal to newsstands throughout Rhode Island. He got up at 3 o’clock in the morning to do so. An uncle on my mother’s side, Jim Sullivan, spent his career as a transmitter engineer for WJAR radio; he had the evening shift and got home when my uncle Roy was getting out of bed.
My father-in-law, Dave McVey, spent forty years laying out the pages of the New Bedford Standard Times. Like many of those employed by a metro daily, Dave worked odd hours, so his neighbors would have a newspaper on their doorsteps at 6 a.m.
Ancient times, those. We now tuck our newspapers-cum-mobile devices under our pillows when going to sleep and we wake up with them — refreshed — eight hours later.
But it’s still the people, not the devices, who make journalism what it is.
Each day, I labor in the shadow of Dewitt Reddick, the first dean of my college and the person who taught journalism to Lady Bird Johnson, Walter Cronkite and Bill Moyers.
Each day, I work with dedicated faculty members like Tracy Dahlby, Wanda “Fluffy” Cash and Glenn Frankel who teach today’s students those same values. I work, too, with younger faculty members like Rob Quigley, Kris Wilson and Marla Camp who help our students write for a digital age.
When I think about the Daily Texan, then, my mind turns to the people I’ve known over the years, including those who are no longer with us — people like Mike Quinn, who covered the Kennedy assassination, and Red Gibson, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News before coming back to Texas to teach our students.
I think, too, about the former Daily Texan staffers I’ve gotten to know during my years as dean — people like Karen Elliott House, Karen Tumulty, David Powell, Mary Walsh and Beth Frerking, all of whom became top-notch professionals because of their work on the Texan, and all of whom say yes whenever I ask for their help.
The Friends of the Daily Texan, the Texan’s alumni association, buoy me up as well. People like Griff Singer, Cliff Avery, John Reetz and Jeff Cohen constantly reach out to me, asking how they can help.
Surely this is strange. All these successful people still worried about an extracurricular activity from their youth. At this point in their lives, they can all afford good scotch. Why not just sit back and drink?
Three reasons: They love journalism, they understand its importance, and they know it must be protected at all costs. I believe in these things too, but I believe even more in young people. I believe in Laura Wright, the glorious editor of this paper. I believe in Susannah Jacob, Laura’s predecessor and a success waiting to happen. I believe in Jody Serrano, as hard-headed a reporter as you can find, and I believe in Sarah-Grace Sweeney, a lilting writer who, like most journalists, can’t keep a secret.
Texas Student Media has its challenges, but the challenges don’t stand a chance because we’ve got people on our side. We’ve got a president who believes in a free press and who works for a university that values truth above all else. We’ve got a school of journalism celebrating its centennial this year, and we’ve got faculty and alumni who cherish TSM. Mostly, though, we’ve got the students. They are brash, nosy, relentless, cold-blooded, often bad-mannered, and constantly impatient. They work sixty hours a week for TSM, and I respect them profoundly. I love them too. For me, it’s personal.
Hart is the Dean of the Moody College of Communication.