Preserve and protect independent student newspapers

Megan Tran, Contributor

Editor’s note: This article first appeared as part of the March 1 flipbook. 

Editor’s note: Megan Tran is currently running unopposed to become the next editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. For this column, she was given the following prompt: In the past few weeks, we have seen the importance of print journalism and student journalism undermined by other campus administrations. Why do you believe that student and print journalism are important to preserve?

In 1974, UT System Board of Regents chairman Frank Erwin Jr. attempted to cut The Daily Texan’s funding and declared: “We do not fund anything that we don’t control.” Erwin was angered by editorials critical of his administration and wanted to silence those who sought to hold him accountable. He was unsuccessful — largely because of students and alumni who protested his attempts at censorship.

Now, decades later, student journalism and print journalism remain under fire by campus administrators. On January 11, The Battalion, Texas A&M’s student newspaper, reported that University President Banks demanded they cease print production. Banks maintains that administration has no intentions of controlling the paper but wants to transition The Battalion to the department of journalism, which would give the college oversight over published content. Regardless of administrative reasoning, the paper’s independence and its future are in peril.

Texas A&M and UT-Austin have long competed, but attempts to silence or censor student voices transcend any such rivalries. Independent student and print journalism are time-honored traditions across college campuses that must be preserved and protected, and they play a crucial role in holding university administrations accountable, advocating for student interests and uplifting the voices of those from marginalized communities.

Many have argued that with the rise of digital media, print newspapers will become obsolete. Yet, they are still here. As someone who reads every day for both school and pleasure, I only resort to digital texts when there is no alternative, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Studies have found that most American consumers prefer print newspapers to digital ones.

While reading on electronic devices may be convenient, we already spend much of our time online, and this has only increased with the introduction of remote learning and working during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this excessive screen time has negative consequences: visual and mental fatigue, headaches and increased insomnia. Research has also shown that printed text is easier to understand than digital text, which means that those who read physical newspapers are more likely to retain and comprehend information. 

Furthermore, because consumers place greater trust in printed publications — even when a digital version exists —  print journalism plays a crucial role on college campuses. Student publications are the primary source of information for students to stay updated on university developments, and they must be able to trust that information is true, which is why we must also preserve independent student journalism.

Because The Daily Texan is composed of student reporters and our editor-in-chief is elected by the student body, we’re responsible for representing the multitude of voices on our campus. I’ll be the first to admit that we haven’t always been successful in that goal and that our platform has sometimes been used to hurt instead of help, but we are changing, and I intend to be a part of that.

 UT is a great school, but it has failed on many fronts. Our school song is still “The Eyes of Texas,” despite its racist origins and protests from Black students. Rather than listen to students of color, UT has chosen to uphold damaging traditions and prioritize demands of wealthy donors. Professors who have been found in violation of sexual misconduct policies still teach, and although UT has promised sexual misconduct reform in the wake of student protests, no substantial progress has been made. Students living in Riverside face insufficient and inconsistent transportation services.  

 I could continue, but in short, UT must be held accountable for its failure to support its students, particularly those from marginalized communities — and that begins with an independent student paper that is not afraid to criticize its university.

As Willie Morris, a former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Texan, once said, “One of the great traditions is that (the Texan) editors have stood firm (against censorship efforts). I think the Texan remains the greatest college paper in the country because it’s still free.”

Tran is a Plan II, English, and sociology sophomore from Houston, Texas.