SHORT VERSION: The administration at Texas A&M University is trying to kill the print edition of the student newspaper. If you don’t need to know any more than that to climb on board the bandwagon, skip to the “How You Can Help” section below and hop on the #SaveTheBatt train.
(I’ve got interview requests in to the president of the U, the editor of the paper and the advertising adviser, but they’ve got a longer list of folks to get back to who matter a bit more than a dork with a blog. I’ll add more if I get more.)
LONGER VERSION: I’m a huge proponent of student media and the opportunities that it provides for journalists at the high school and college levels. How, when and where it gets done, as well as what makes it into the publication is at the discretion of the students, who get to learn a ton of things through their efforts.
At Texas A&M University, the students at The Battalion recently lost some of those rights in a key way, when university President M. Katherine Banks decided that the publication could no longer put out a weekly print edition:
On Thursday, Feb. 10, Dean of Students Anne Reber and interim director of Student Life Stefanie Baker approached The Battalion’s student leadership to inform the organization that university President M. Katherine Banks demands the 129-year old student publication to cease printing weekly editions, effective immediately.
With a physical copy of the 132-page MGT report in hand, Reber said Banks is looking to shift the publication exclusively online as she hopes to transition The Battalion under a new Department of Journalism, the details of which are yet to be released. However, no concrete answer was provided to The Battalion’s leadership in the meeting about why the cease to print was being made.
Banks later rolled back her decision a bit, allowing the publication to print through the end of the spring semester before killing it:
In that statement, Banks elaborated on the decision, saying that eliminating the print version would be in line with a more digitally focused journalism department, which she plans to resurrect.
“Times have changed and we want The Battalion and others interested in journalism as a profession to be at the forefront when they graduate,” Banks said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
Here are three key things to understand about the situation at TAMU that make this statement and this decision absolutely idiotic:
- The Battalion is actually online for daily coverage, relying on the weekly to do specialty things, so this “digitally focused” approach is actually happening, even with the print edition still in place.
- The print edition is financially viable and completely supported by ad money. According to advertising director/adviser Douglas Pils, the paper is in the black and currently has more than $61,000 in ad commitments for the rest of the semester. Where that extra cash would come from to help the students in this new “digitally focused” paradigm was not made clear.
- The students want to keep it and for good reason. This isn’t a case of old people telling kids to do stuff we like and them not wanting to do it. Quotes from the students made it clear they want to keep putting out these special issues. Also, while print isn’t what it once was, there are still hundreds of newspapers and thousands of jobs in the print sector.
To understand why Banks is deciding to do this, look to this comment she offered to the students about her print-killing choice:
“I’m not a professor of journalism, I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Banks is an expert in engineering, having multiple degrees in the field, and having spent several decades in education and administration within that discipline. She’s clearly smart, so I don’t understand why she made this choice, without consulting with the students, journalism professors, journalism advisers, journalism organizations, outside media outlets or anyone else who is likely to know more about the value of print. To make this kind of choice, having made this admission, is akin to me saying, “I’m not a plumber, but let’s start yanking out these pipes and see what happens.”
Fortunately for the students at the Battalion, I am a professor of journalism and I know a few other professors of journalism and they know journalists, who also know other people who know why print matters, so maybe we can help President Banks see exactly why print media is important to the field.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
This is President M. Katherine Banks. You can reach her via email at:
If you value print publications, student media and student rights or generally support the idea that unilateral decisions from the uninformed are not a swell idea, please contact her at this address. Feel free to include any information as to what makes her decision one that she should rethink and her edict one she should retract.
This is John Sharp, the chancellor of the TAMU system and head of the regent folks, from what I can tell.
His email is: email@example.com
Email him if you think he might not be aware of this situation and how its being handled. It’s always nice to let folks above a given person know that sometimes, things aren’t going so well.
Also, here is the contact information for the editorial folks at The Battalion: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to let them know you support them and hope they hang in there, it could do some good. One of the hardest things about working in student media was the sense that nobody out there cared. When we got a rush of support from the public for anything that was kicking our asses, it felt really good and we were more willing to keep fighting the good fight.
More to come if I find out more…