Student media outlets have to undergo all sorts of changes due to financial constraints, staffing concerns and other issues associated with journalism, but TAMU President M. Katherine Banks’ decision to cut the print edition of The Battalion seems to be a solution in search of a problem.
According to adviser Doug Pils, the president’s unilateral decision has upset his staff and galvanized support for the publication. His phone has been ringing off the hook, local media outlets have requested interviews on the situation and alumni have reconnected with the paper, asking what they can do to help. Student media outlets also crafted a letter, expressing their displeasure with the decision to kill the paper element of The Battalion experience. Even a group of students who had nothing to do with the paper handed out #SaveTheBatt fliers at weekend event aimed at potential students.
“Thursday was a pretty low day and Friday I wasn’t real excited about coming in here,” Pils said in an phone interview Monday. “But once they put the story up around noon after they had the conversation with the president, seeing how that exploded and seeing people running to The Batt’s defense… People who were sometimes yelling at The Batt were coming to The Batt’s defense, so that was cool.”
What isn’t cool, as far as Pils is concerned, is the lack of transparency and logic related to this move. The publication is on sound ground financially and the weekly printed paper is a big contributor to this success. Of the organization’s $204,000 in revenue last year, $109,000 came from the print product, he said.
“It’s been working… ,” Pils said. “They’ve been paying their own bills, accruing money and they’re doing well. Even the Aggieland, the yearbook that’s under our area, is having its best year ever.”
Pils said he first heard about the plan to cut the print product a few weeks back during a meeting with several administrators, but nothing was concrete at that point. The two administrators directly above Pils met with him last week to outline changes associated with moving student media under the umbrella of the journalism department and shifting away from its student organization status before they told him print was to cease immediately.
“I was like, ‘What?'” he said. “It’s 45 minutes into the meeting and I pushed my chair about two feet away from the table and I was like, ‘You buried the lead here.’”
Pils said he has no problem with The Battalion reconnecting with the school as part of the journalism department, but the publication has continued to turn a profit and has more than $150,000 in its account at this point.
“It doesn’t make any damned sense,” Pils said. “I mean it’s their money. They’ve made it so I don’t understand why (the administration) thinks they can come in and say, ‘You can’t print any more.'”
The university has allowed The Battalion to continue to produce special print issues, but Pils said without the practice a weekly print edition provides, the students’ software skills will atrophy. The administration offered to offset the revenue lost from killing the print edition with additional university funds, which Pils said is beside the point.
“They’ve offered to help throw some money at us if we don’t print any more, and that’s nice…,” he said. “But nobody ever asked and we never got to sit at a table and talk about it.”
With financial peril not an issue, the students wondered if killing the print edition was a punitive move based on content the paper had published. Pils said The Battalion had run a number of stories that stoked some ire, including a piece on a lack of diversity within a specific program on campus, a story about allegations of sexual misconduct during a new student program and coverage of A&M students who hosted webcams at “Only Fans.” Even so, the president told the staff this had nothing to do with content concerns.
“Banks said absolutely not, and part of me doesn’t believe that,” Pils said.
Pils said the continued support from a variety of sources has helped buoy the staff members’ spirits as they persist in their efforts to save the print edition. He also said he doesn’t know what it will take to get Banks to fully retract her order.
“Do I have honest hope for it? I don’t know I think we raised enough ruckus that we might have a chance, but not knowing this person at all, and only knowing a few people who do know her, I’m not certain… but I certainly do hope.”