Daily Texan’s ‘Hard Times’ a Microcosm of College Media at the Moment

The Daily Texan remains in a free-falling funk, unsure about its financial and editorial future — even as it continues producing quality journalism. Sound familiar?

In a microcosm of collgemediatopia at-large, the A-list student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin is dealing with a bevy of problems.  Decreased advertising.  Falling print circulation.  Diminished reserve funds. In-fighting among staff, board members, and alumni.  And a lack of a palatable long-term plan on how to emerge financially and digitally robust.

Is this Texan-sized mess an actual doomsday drama?  The San Antonio Express-News hints at that in the headline of a new article: “Hard Times for UT’s Daily Texan Could Spell Its End.”

The report is mainly a retread/round-up of previously documented troubles.  It serves as one more outside confirmation of what The Austin Chronicle wrote last spring: “[T]he student newspaper has become a shell of its former cash-generating juggernaut.”

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A portion of the Express-News piece: “The impact of the Internet can be seen most starkly in the deterioration of the newspaper’s classified ad sales, which declined from nearly $665,000 in fiscal year 2002-2003 to just $46,000 in fiscal year 2011-2012. Most of those ads have gone to Craigslist and other similar online listings services. . . . [W]ith the rise of competing news websites, the newspaper’s position on campus has [also] diminished.  The paper’s circulation has shrunk from a high of about 30,000 to 12,000.”

As I previously posted, the whole shebang has grown so ugly it prompted the paper’s faculty adviser Doug Warren to leave his position last month.  As Warren, a veteran journalist, stated publicly: “Much of my ongoing frustration stems from the fact that none of this is really new — we’ve been dealing with a version of this basic problem since I walked in the door three years ago.  Revenue is going down, and we’ve responded by making a variety of different cuts, down to the point of cutting into the bone of the operation.”

Last semester, not long before Warren announced his resignation, this bone-cutting reached a boil.  As I posted at the time, roughly 300 former Texan staffers digitally signed an open letter criticizing the overseeing Texas Student Media (TSM) organization for its handling of the paper’s “life-or-death financial troubles.

The alumni were especially concerned about the possible elimination of the paper’s daily print edition, calling that pending decision “reactionary, short-sighted, and ill-advised.”

Current staffers also voiced their displeasure with the print cutback plan.  As they argued in an editorial, “We understand the need to reverse the newspaper’s downward financial spiral, but we believe that reducing the number of days the Texan is printed when print advertising has made up more than 95 percent of the Texan’s annual advertising sales will not accomplish that goal. . . . The printed future of this newspaper should not be dispensed with so quickly and the opportunity to set the Texan on a different course should not be sacrificed along with it.  We need our readers, our professors, and our predecessors to rally for our cause, which is theirs, too.”

Will there be a rally, or is one already underway?  UT journalism professor and former TSM head Wanda Cash tells the Express-News, “I think the students, over the last six or seven months, have rallied.  But unless they get the entire management of TSM behind them with not just a long-term strategy, but a short-term plan to escape this crisis, I’m deeply concerned about the future of the Daily Texan.”

Related

Daily Texan Adviser to Resign, Cites Frustration with Student Media Board’s Lack of Vision & Continued Cuts

300 Daily Texan Alumni Criticize Media Board’s Response to Paper’s ‘Life-or-Death Financial Troubles’

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