John Schwartz

John Schwartz, UT alumnus and national correspondent for The New York Times, gives a talk at Belo Center for New Media on Monday. Schwartz believes the survival of journalism depends on journalists’ ability to adapt to the digital revolution.

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

The field of journalism is not dwindling because of the digitalization of media but is instead adapting and thriving, according to John Schwartz, UT alumnus and national correspondent for The New York Times.

Schwartz spoke at Belo Center for New Media on Monday about the current state of journalism and the “chaos” of the changes that accompany the consistent introduction of new technology.

According to Schwartz, the change is demonstrated by which New York Times story attracted the most readers this year: “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk,” which was not a typical “narrative” story but an interactive graphic. Schwartz also said he has become a part of the digital transition by creating web features, writing blog posts and tweeting out quotes.

“All of it was journalism,” said Schwartz, who served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan in the 1980s.  “All of it deepens the story. There’s a mini renaissance going on. I’m the generation that has to give way to the people who know how to do data visualization, and that’s fine. … It’s up to us to reinvent journalism.”

The survival of journalism depends on journalists’ ability to adapt, Schwartz said. Glenn Frankel, journalism professor and director of the school of journalism, who introduced Schwartz at the lecture, said it is a time of transition for journalism, and those involved must learn to change their methods accordingly.

“This is such a dynamic, fluid time,” Frankel said. “The digital revolution has changed almost everything about journalism. … It’s both an exciting and scary time. … I do think that young journalists — all journalists — need to develop a curious and inquisitive sensibility about the new media and about how to use the new media to tell stories.”

Sidrah Syed, communication science and disorders freshman who attended Schwartz’s lecture, said she can understand how the change within the field of journalism can fill the public demand for accessible information.

“I was editor-in-chief [of the school newspaper] in high school, so stuff in print is valuable to me,” Syed said. “I think it’s becoming a lost art, but I also think it’s great that we’re using so many new techniques and technologies to get stories across to people, because that’s what I think news is supposed to be — tangible to everyone.”

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.”

There are not a lot of books that explore a child’s coming out story from the eyes of his parents, but with parental love and a journalistic style, “Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality” tells the story about a father’s and mother’s uphill battle to help their son realize and accept his sexuality.

In the memoir, UT alumnus John Schwartz chronicles his son’s, Joseph, early childhood, young adolescence and current teenage years. Joseph received a series of different mental diagnoses and often had trouble in his younger school years, issues his parents believed came from a phenomena Schwartz describes as “minority stress,” or pressure felt by people who belong to often unaccepted minority groups. The story is not a happy one, as much of the memoir is a narrative building up to Joseph’s suicide attempt in 2009.

It should be noted that this is not a self-help book or a step-by-step guide on how to raise and help a LGBTQ child, and Schwartz makes that clear. Rather, it is an inspirational story about how Joseph’s parents struggled and tried to help their son.

Acceptance from his parents was never Joseph’s problem. Schwartz writes that from a young age, he and his wife thought their youngest of three might be gay and they assembled what they called a “League of Gay Uncles” to go to for advice. It was not his home life he struggled with. Instead, Joseph struggled with coming out at school to his peers and coming to terms with his sexuality himself.

Furthermore, Schwartz argues that Joseph’s middle and elementary schools were unprepared and did not want to deal with a gay student. “I feel like the school would rather he had autism than be gay,” Jeanne Schwartz, Joseph’s mother and John’s wife, comments at one point.

But the book is more than a linear narrative of events through Joseph’s childhood. Schwartz, a national correspondent for The New York Times, quotes research, statistics about mental illnesses and officials. He presents data that suggests gay teens may be more likely to suffer depression, but he also points out the data and study is still inconclusive. This, along with other factual and academic anecdotes, makes this book more effective than a traditional memoir. Joseph is not necessarily a special case and there are teenagers all across the world who are suffering through similar problems. And not all of them are lucky enough to have accepting parents like Joseph has.

Even the more memoir-focused parts of the book are told in a journalistic style. Schwartz quotes emails and jotted-down dialogue. His wife, who helped him with the book, spent weeks writing memories that Schwartz says he would never have thought to include.

And though much of the book is sad, it does posses a sense of wit. At one point, Schwartz writes, “It gets better for [parents] too ... besides, somebody’s gotta pay for the hair dye.” Though the memoir is centered around Joseph’s suicide attempt, the book is more hopeful than depressing. It does get better, for both Joseph and his parents. As the book ends, Joseph has found his place in high school, regularly attends the Gay-Straight Alliance Club meetings and sessions at the Gay Center in Manhattan and no longer has depression. The road is not always easy, but in Joseph’s case it is manageable.

The final chapter, written by Joseph, is the entirety of a children’s book he wrote for class called “Leo, the Oddly Normal Boy,” which is about a boy who likes a boy. It is a cute and an endearing way to end the memoir. Lacking more content directly from Joseph is the memoir’s sole weak point. Though Schwartz regularly quotes his son, he might have considered allowing his son to contribute more to his own narrative. But perhaps Joseph is still a little young for that.

“Oddly Normal” is a book any gay parent, gay child or ally to the LGBTQ community will thoroughly enjoy. The memoir advocates for acceptance through the story of one boy who represents a much larger group and an important, pressing human issue.

Printed on Monday, November 12, 2012 as: Memoir tells sexuality struggle

Oct. 11 was National Coming Out Day. The fact that National Coming Out Day is a recognized holiday, and the cyber-buzz it received online capture what it’s like to come out in the 21-st century. Now more than ever, coming out is widely regarded as something worth celebrating. Some people’s excitement even reaches a level of aggressive acceptance, evidenced by the call re-posted online throughout the day encouraging people to “come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Yes, gay and lesbian youth live in an increasingly accepting world. But modernity and cyberspace bring their own complications. Last fall, two UT students were outed against their will when the president of the Queer Chorus, A LGBTQ choral group, added the students to its Facebook group. That online action automatically sent a public update to their roster of Facebook friends. The students, who had selectively come out to friends but not to family members, faced censure from their fathers.

Another contemporary reality is the tendency for gay and lesbian youth to come out at a younger age. John Schwartz, a UT alumnus and former editor of this newspaper, writes about this topic in his forthcoming memoir, “Oddly Normal,” which will be published Nov. 8. Schwartz will be speaking at the Texas Book Festival this weekend. The book focuses on his son Joseph, who came out at age 13 and tried to commit suicide shortly after. Schwartz writes a poignant and well-documented account of what it meant to be a father who had tried all he could to make his son feel comfortable, but still came terrifyingly close to losing him.

Joseph’s story, which includes struggles with his teachers and near suicide, is not one all gay and lesbian youth share. But Schwartz, by telling his son’s story alongside those he collected as a reporter, conveys the fact that a more accepting society does not mean coming out in the twenty-first century is a cake walk.

Schwartz discusses the minority stress model of Ilan H. Meyer, a professor at UCLA’s law school who served as an expert witness in the case that overturned California’s Proposition 8. The model, which states that sexual minorities face stressors that over time are detrimental to health, demonstrates the problems that all queer people face: being “out” in a heteronormative society is difficult, but remaining closeted is itself a torment. It raises interesting questions about when the “appropriate” age to come out should be. Once out, queer youth face bullying and other challenges at school, but to many, living a lie hardly seems preferable. And coming out isn’t a decision you can try out and then redact. As Schwartz says, “That toothpaste’s not going back in the tube.”

For the lesbian and gay community, the book is a huge success. Anyone who has come out will find the story touching and somewhat relatable. More imperative, however, is that straight people read this book. All parents stand to learn something from stories like Schwartz’s, regardless of how well intentioned they are in raising gay children. Schwartz made sure a heterogenous group of homo voices would be available to his son as he grew older, a so-called “League of Gay Uncles.” I wish I had grown up with one of those.

My own parents, who are completely accepting of my sexuality and staunch supporters of the gay rights movement, did little to make this obvious to me as a child. My perceptions of other gay men were largely limited to my family’s speculation about various gender-nonconforming boys they knew. I remember locking myself in the bathroom, trying to perfect my “straight” man gait, after my mother had remarked, “You can just tell by the way they walk. Gay men typically don’t know how to carry their own bodies.” She would later tell me she had no idea about my sexuality growing up, that she loves me very much, and that she deeply regrets such statements.

As popular perception of queer people evolves, the act of coming out will continue to be met with more widespread acceptance, but parents shouldn’t take that as justification to be complacent.

A more informed generation of families will help turn the infamous closet of torment and skeletons into a fabulous tunnel, complete with a warm and welcoming light at the end.

Walters is a Plan II junior from Houston.