This is not a test

Laura Wright

Editor’s note: Per the TSM election code Section 7.45B, Daily Texan editor-in-chief candidates have the opportunity to publish two columns during their campaigns. The candidates were asked to write one column on the topic specified below and another on a topic of their choice. The columns had to be between 580-620 words. The candidates were responsible for writing their own headlines. For their first columns below, the candidates were asked to answer the following questions: The Daily Texan and Texas Student Media confront financial challenges due in part to major, uncharted changes in the publishing industry with the growth of the web. How should The Daily Texan address the changing habits of its readers? How will you, as editor-in-chief, ensure it remains a relevant platform for student voices?  

A few days ago, I told a friend’s mother that I hoped to pursue a career in journalism. The woman, a journalist herself, smiled at me as she replied, “Now, I’m just going to let you know, it’s a dying industry.” 

The financial situation at the Texan makes it clear that if journalism is not dying, it is very, very sick. There are counterexamples to this claim, such as The Texas Tribune, a digital-only media organization that focuses on Texas politics and has seen great success. Even Buzzfeed, the brightly-colored website known primarily for pictures of cute cats, has begun reporting politics and in January announced $20 million in new funds. The Daily Texan, however, has seen revenue drop dramatically, and the forecast isn’t rosy. 

Last Tuesday, the current editorial board devoted an entire page to rebutting the clearest solution to the Texan’s financial woes, cutting print, on the basis that print advertising constitutes 95% of the Texan’s revenue. At the bottom of the page, a list of ideas collected from Daily Texan staff and readers to “boost the Texan’s relevance and revenue” included options such as hawking papers at central locations on campus and rethinking how we distribute papers. 

The opinion page made a compelling case, but I was reminded of what they left out when I revisited the article online. There, the talents of the Daily Texan design team had devolved into a bullet-pointed block of text. In the world of new media, the phrase “straddling the print-digital line” gets thrown around quite a bit, but the reality is that it’s not “straddling” if you’re tilting strongly to one side. The Texan needs to find its balance before it falls off the fence. 

However, investing in our digital product will require either dipping into the reserves of our parent company, Texas Student Media, or making significant cuts to the budget. Neither are pleasant options, nor is investment in the website a complete solution to the Texan’s troubles. Online ad revenue is nowhere near substantial enough to fill the fiscal hole, and even if it were, a better website is not a field of dreams: there’s no guarantee that if you build it, clicks will come. 

So if neither cutting print nor improving the website are the correct answer to the troubles of the Texan, what is? Unfortunately, this isn’t a test, and there’s no TA waiting at the front of the lecture hall to tell us if we’ve bubbled correctly. Keeping the paper solvent will take both readjustments to our budget and reconnections with our readership. But most importantly, it will take action. I admire the editorial board for putting forth ideas to improve the profits of the paper, but printing the suggestion that we hawk papers is not the same as actually hawking them, which staff at the Texan could do tomorrow. Reaching out to alumni for donations could also be done tomorrow. Promoting our content more frequently on social media could be done tomorrow. And cutting some of the traditional perks of the editor-in-chief position, such as tuition stipends, must be on the table, along with more comprehensive revisions to the budget, which won’t happen tomorrow, but the foundations of which could be laid in the coming year.

In 1951, then-editor-in-chief of the Texan Ronnie Dugger wrote an editorial startlingly similar to the one that ran Tuesday. “Problems, some of them serious, face the Texan. There is a constant battle for advertising,” wrote Dugger. The Texan survived that disaster, and it can survive this one, but to do so, it needs to make compromises, take chances, and embrace change. I’m confident that I’m up to that challenge. 

Wright is a Plan II junior from San Antonio.