Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Shabab Siddiqui and Susannah Jacob. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column addressing the following questions: What do you think the role of The Daily Texan should be on UT’s campus, and how should it work to fulfill that role? Students can vote online Feb. 29 and March 1 at http://utexasvote.com.
We’ve blown out the candles. The Daily Texan celebrated its 111th birthday this past October.
The Texan’s history is a storied, eventful and proud one. Nearly as old as UT, the paper helped make the University the place it is today by striving for more than a century to give UT students a voice. As it faces a changing newspaper business, the Texan retains a key and constant advantage: By focusing on UT, the Texan gives its readers news they can’t obtain elsewhere. Throughout the Texan’s existence, that advantage has defined the paper’s role.
When UT students read The Daily Texan, they should identify their sentiments and concerns within its pages and feel a sense of ownership of the paper.
The Texan is the oldest student newspaper in the South and continues to be one of the largest in the country. Until 2009, the paper owned a printing press in the basement of its campus building. At its start, it employed women, and its alumni include Walter Cronkite and Bill Moyers.
But the most constant and significant thread in the Texan’s history is its struggle against censorship. The Texan’s opposition to censorship distinguishes the paper because its editors recognized that when UT Regents, administrators or Texas legislators attempted to stop the paper from publishing stories, they did so because what the Texan printed mattered.
Perhaps the most famous example of an attempt to censor the paper occurred in 1974. According to “The Daily Texan: the First 100 Years,” after several months of mounting tensions among UT Regents, administrators and The Texan, then-UT President Stephen Spurr called for UT’s journalism school to appoint the editor-in-chief of the Texan because he wanted to increase “professionalism” of the newspaper’s staff. Then-editor-in-chief Michael Eakin called the recommendation “absurd,” adding “If the Texan is to be a free newspaper, it must have an elected editor, not one which is appointed by a board that is half appointed by the president.” At the same time, UT Regent Frank Erwin, also less than fully supportive of the paper, moved to stop funding the paper. In March of 1974, Erwin persuaded the Board of Regents to end funding of both the Texan and UT Student Government. The March 18, 1974 edition of The Daily Texan ran a blank front page, except for a textbox with Erwin’s quote: “We do not fund anything that we don’t control.” That nearly blank front page served as a bold message about students’ free speech rights, and it eventually led to a protest on the South Mall, 3,000 students strong, and a petition, 30,000 signatures long, demanding the Regents reverse their decision.
The Daily Texan becomes most significant, powerful and useful when it speaks for UT students. Its editors and reporters strive to do this every day. But considering some Texan history underscores that in order for the newspaper to continue to be relevant and influence the University, students must remain vital stakeholders in the paper. Student groups and organizations must know they have a shot at getting portrayed fairly in its pages, and they must know how to be considered; columnists must write about subjects students care about, and The Daily Texan editor-in-chief must remain available and ready to listen. As the UT student body grows in size and influence, these challenges for the paper become more difficult but even more important.
Jacob is a history junior.