Frank Serpas

Eleven members of the Texas Student Media board will make their final decision regarding the future print schedule of The Daily Texan on Friday, although TSM’s advertising revenue proposal was not released until three days before the meeting and remains incomplete.

In a meeting on Feb. 21, board members said they would need more information and time before voting on a final budget. The board directed TSM senior program coordinator C.J. Salgado to prepare an advertising revenue proposal and scheduled an additional meeting for March 7 to review it.

The proposal was not completed by March 7 and the meeting was ultimately canceled because of a lack of quorum.

TSM oversees five properties — The Daily Texan, The Texas Travesty, KVRX, TSTV and the Cactus Yearbook — and has faced increased budget shortfalls as ad revenue declined nationally over the last several years.

According to TSM interim director Frank Serpas’ proposal, he believes cutting The Daily Texan from a daily publication to a weekly publication is the only viable solution to avoid draining TSM reserves completely.

“This is our best guess,” Serpas told the board in the February meeting. “This can be seen as something that moves us forward and is not just a reaction.”

Dave Player, TSM board president and third-year law student, said moving to a weekly printing schedule would not necessarily save money and could result in a loss of ad revenue. 

“It’s hard to project what our advertising revenue would be,” Player said. “Without a huge, exhaustive study, which we can not afford, there’s no way to know what the revenue will be without actually pulling the trigger and just putting it out there on the market.”

Player, who has been on the board since September 2012, said he did not believe the canceled meeting to discuss ad revenue would affect any of the board member’s votes. Player and nutrition senior Jason Lu are the only two student voting members who have served on the board for more than a year.

“The only thing it would change is [getting] feedback from the board members,” Player said. “It’s not necessarily a big detriment.”

Player said he has not decided how he will vote in Friday’s meeting because he is waiting to see what ideas the board will introduce for generating revenue.

Salgado said she believes the process needed a considerable amount of time and was done too quickly.

“I think we’ve had this discussion for more than five years, but I think this is the first time we’ve had someone in our position as a leader who has put everything out there for everyone to see, so it is a transparent, open process, and we have an open dialogue,” Salgado said.

Salgado said she does not think the board will vote to change the Texan to a weekly publication.

“It’s history,” Salgado said. “Nobody wants to see it go to weekly, and they’re fighting for it and asking what they can do to keep it going.”

The advertising department has 10 student workers and two professional staff, Salgado said.

Jordan Hawkes, advertising senior and TSM student voting member, said she felt capable of making an informed decision regarding the newspaper’s future even though Salgado’s proposal had not been released.

“I’ve studied media trends for the past two years,” Hawkes said. “Unfortunately, I think that what we’re going to have to do is look at a switch to digital.”

Robert Quigley, journalism lecturer and TSM voting member, said he hopes the board will consider alternatives before drastically cutting the print publication.

“I think there’s an opportunity to increase revenue if the advertising staff is able to boost its ranks and come up with new plans and come up with plans we’re following,” Quigley said. “I think we can turn this around.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

In the face of serious financial shortfalls, the Texas Student Media board discussed a budget proposal that would include reducing The Daily Texan to a weekly, rather than daily, printing schedule at its meeting Friday. A final vote to determine the budget is scheduled for next month.

Texas Student Media, known as TSM, oversees five properties — The Daily Texan, The Texas Travesty, KVRX, TSTV and the Cactus Yearbook — and has faced increased budget shortfalls as ad revenue declined nationally over the last several years.

Dave Player, TSM board president and third-year law student, said moving to a weekly paper would not necessarily improve funding for the paper because reduced print costs would be paired with reduced ability to run advertisements.

“There’s some scenarios where, if we go weekly, we don’t actually save money because of that loss of ad revenue,” Player said.

TSM senior program coordinator C.J. Salgado said she could not predict if the number of active advertising clients would stay the same with a transition to a weekly publication.

“We have no way of knowing how the markets are going to respond,” Player said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

In recommendations submitted before the meeting, TSM interim director Frank Serpas said he believes cutting print is the only viable solution to avoid draining TSM reserves completely.

“My position is this is the most knowable outcome amongst many unknowable things,” Serpas said. “In my estimation, we have already sort of lost this game.”

Last year, the TSM board voted not to reduce the print schedule by, instead, reducing student manager tuition reimbursements and cutting The Daily Texan’s staff salary budget by 50 percent. 

“This scrutiny has also brought renewed awareness of the question of whether TSM’s students must be paid a minimum hourly wage,” Serpas said.

Editor-in-Chief Laura Wright said she did not believe cutting salaries further was a viable option. 

“Daily Texan staffers get paid enough to buy three sandwiches a week, and they often work 40-60 hours a week,” Wright said.

In January, the University moved TSM under the domain of the Moody College of Communication from the Division of Student Affairs. Multiple members of the administration, including President William Powers Jr., Roderick Hart, dean of the Moody College of Communication and Gage Paine, vice president of student affairs, denied making the final decision to move the TSM properties.

There were no representatives from the Moody College of Communication present at the meeting Friday. At a TSM board meeting he attended in September, Hart said he was not eager for TSM properties to move under Moody’s domain.

“[TSM] is not something that I lusted for,” Hart said in January. 

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

One day after The Daily Texan reported Texas Student Media properties were moving under the domain of the Moody College of Communication, the University appointed TSTV-KVRX studio engineer Frank Serpas interim director of TSM. As he steps into his new job, it remains unclear what the lasting impact of the move to the college might be. 

In a letter he addressed to TSM stakeholders, Serpas acknowledged the financial issues of TSM and said the Moody college has an inherent interest in TSM’s success.

“TSM’s charter is to educate students, serve audiences and remain solvent,” Serpas said. “Though the educational mission is paramount, at present solvency is the most urgent concern.”

Serpas also addressed certain questions raised by Daily Texan alumni and supporters. Former Editor-in-Chief John Schwartz, who is now a correspondent at The New York Times, said he was unsure what the Moody college’s involvement would mean for the Texan’s operations.

“I have great respect for the UT journalism school — I love the people in it, but not everyone in journalism goes through the journalism school,” Schwartz said. “The thing I love about journalism is that it’s more trade than profession, and anyone can walk in through the door. The more closely the Texan is tied to the school, the less likely you are to have those walk-ins.” 

Schwartz said his main concern as an alumnus is the possibility of restrictions being placed on the Texan’s employment practices.

“I don’t want a structure to arise that makes it harder for an idiot like me to walk in off the street and end up changing his life — and his career,” Schwartz said. “I was going to be a lawyer.”

In the letter, Serpas said he wants to preserve students’ control of their content and equal opportunity to the entire UT student body. 

“I was not a communications major, so I appreciate that TSM welcomes students irrespective of their fields of study,” Serpas said.

While some administrators and alumni work to address the questions that have arisen as the result of the move, others question how the decision was made in the first place. A.J. Bauer, treasurer of alumni support group Friends of The Daily Texan, said he does not understand how the change can be made without amending the student Declaration of Trust.

The Declaration of Trust was created in 1971, when Texas Student Productions — which later became TSM — was engaged in a legal battle with the UT System Board of Regents over the control of its financial assets and student editorial content. Unlike student productions’ earlier charter from 1922, the new trust made the organization an independent entity, although its assets and certain staff positions were still to be controlled by the regents.

“I’m waiting to see how they justify [the move],” Bauer said. “The Declaration of Trust is a legal document that can’t just be overlooked.”

Gage Paine, the vice president of student affairs, acknowledged that little student input went into the decision, but said this was a result of inaction on the part of the TSM Board members themselves. Paine said when she spoke to TSM Board members at a meeting in September, she made it clear her office was open to hearing feedback.

“We left [the meeting] with a pretty clear message that it was ongoing, that no decision was made that day and that we were open to hearing people’s thoughts and concerns and ideas,” Paine said. “Not a whole lot of people came and knocked on my door and said, ‘I really need to talk to you about it.’ … It’s true I never contacted them, because I had opened the door.”

Paine said, ultimately, it was President William Powers Jr.’s decision. 

“The president decides [the administrative home of TSM],” Paine said. “It’s his decision. It wasn’t a vote … did anyone pick up the phone and poll the board members? No.”

Paine said administrators were planning to tell the TSM property managers about the move to the Moody college on Friday.

Paine also said she wanted to make clear the decision was not an act of desperation by her office or a power play on the part of college.

“The dean isn’t grabbing [TSM],” Paine said. “And I’m not punting it.”