The Daily Texan took the top prize at the College Media Association’s annual convention in New York: the Apple Award for Best Newspaper, Four Year-School, More Than 10,000 Students. Our submission, viewable here, was the November 22, 2013 edition, featuring coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The Texan also won second place in the Best Sex Column category and third place for Best Print Ad.
Among the splendors of the digital age, thievery has famously flourished under the euphemism “aggregation.” Stories are the loot, web traffic is the fence and you can’t even count on attribution, much less a link. In my short time here, The Daily Texan has been burned so often by one particular outlet that I’m considering an insurance policy (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with Puffington Host).
So my hat is off this week to Heather Kovar of the local ABC affiliate KVUE. After The DailyTexan published ace reporter Bobby Blanchard’s terrific piece on the UT Tower, “Grand Outside, Hollow Within,” KVUE followed up with a nearly three-minute segment on the evening broadcast. Ms. Kovar, who did her own original interviews, found her own angle and presented her own compelling story, had the class to open her report by interviewing Bobby on the air, crediting his open records work and even displaying a copy of the paper to her audience.
That’s how it’s done. Let’s send some web traffic back her way.
Set aside, for a moment, all the important questions about the significance of the university’s nascent plan to place its quasi-independent student media under the quasi-control of the College of Communication.
Instead, consider how the news broke.
For nearly a year, Texas Student Media, the organization that manages The Daily Texan, KVRX radio, TSTV, The Cactus yearbook and the humor publication Texas Travesty, has operated under a shroud of speculation. More so than usual, which is saying something.
Last spring, after several years of declining revenues and turnover in the director’s office, the board of trustees that governs TSM’s operations considered a proposal to reduce the newspaper’s print publication schedule. All hell broke loose, relatively speaking. Generations of alumni, including me, rallied to support the paper, with varying ideas of how to go about it. Having already eliminated much of the professional staff, the trustees cut the wages of student journalists, declining to make other substantive changes without more information. The paper’s journalism advisor quit in disgust (but not before urging me to take the job).
As we’ve proceeded through the 2013-’14 school year, the move to the communication school has taken on the air of fait accompli. Last month, TSM’s director suddenly resigned with little explanation. That stirred the pot. But the substantive discussions continued to take place at a high level behind closed doors.
For journalists, of course, high-level discussions of public consequence kept behind closed doors are the reason we get up in the morning. Over the past few months, in addition to the new digital initiatives I’ve described in previous posts on this blog, we’ve focused on ramping up our competitive metabolism at The Daily Texan.
So when the student journalists at The Texan received notification of a meeting this coming Friday concerning the future of TSM, they flooded the zone. Texts went out. Senior reporters and assistant news editors came crashing down the stairs. Though the full issue staff has not even been hired yet for the semester, news editor Jordan Rudner got a team of four reporters and two editors working the phones. After two hours of stops and starts, playing their best hardball to press journalism professors and other potential sources onto the record (consider the irony), they got confirmation.
Managing editor Shabab Siddiqui moved ahead quickly, editing the story with an eye for balance and context. Editor-in-chief Laura Wright composed an intellectually rigorous piece defining the stakes of the decisions to come, illustrated by a fine editorial cartoon. And the rest of the staff, never losing sight of all the other things that need to happen to produce our daily miracle, covered the new football coach’s presser, introduced students to new facilities set to open at the business school, reported out a knife fight on the drag, shot wild art on East Sixth, edited a feech on native plants, planned video coverage, designed pages, promoted the work on social media, monitored online metrics and sold advertisements.
All in a day’s work. Impossible without editorial independence. Equally impossible without financial stability. Will The Daily Texan find the right balance at the College of Communication? I know where you’ll read the answers first.
By now most students are nestled all snug in their permanent addresses.
But The Texan is firing on all cylinders. After ending the semester with a moving multimedia piece on the challenges facing military veteran students, a saucy look at the university’s palm tree expenditures (you read that right) and a deeply reported series on football concussions, our coverage has moved exclusively online for winter break.
Rather than a break, this week is becoming a showcase for our digital student journalism. It started over the weekend, when reporters from news and sports collaborated to swarm the story of football coach Mack Brown’s resignation. On Wednesday, when UT President William Powers Jr. testified before a legislative committee on his relationship with the board of regents, beat reporter Madlin Mekelburg’s coverage was augmented with a livestream video, thanks to a big assist from TSTV superhero Ian Reese.
This weekend, we’ve got a team on the ground in Seattle providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Longhorns attempt to repeat a national volleyball championship. Fans can get a deeper look at the team’s journey by following the work from Evan Berkowitz and Charlie Pearce.
The volleyball coverage is especially noteworthy: It shows the strength of an important new asset, our alumni network. When I put out last-minute word to the Friends of the Texan, we were swamped with crash pad offers (all set now, thanks).
Big things are in store for next semester. Consider this a preview.
And this week, faced with two of the enduring controversies that make college life so interesting, the student journalists here flooded the zone. Recovering from a slow start on the story of a campus group’s plans for a “catch an illegal immigrant game,” The Texan weighed in with solid coverage by new beat reporter Anthony Green, a fearless rejoinder on the opinion page and a timely column for Throwback Thursday. Before those flames were out, alert video editor Alec Wyman, walking through West Campus late in the evening, spotted an interesting mural in the works for a fraternity party. The Texan’s straightforward coverage produced inquiries by the university and national chapter leaders.
But today, after a week of hard work by the entire staff, searching for a way to make vividly compelling sense of a solemn day in history for an audience nearly two generations removed, The Texan produced something truly special. I won’t try to describe it. If you’re in Austin, pick up a copy. If not, to quote a long-ago Daily Texan ad slogan, here’s your paper.