It's true- The Daily Texan as we know it, a daily copy of the Texan, could cease to be in a vote next Friday.
It's also true that the financial pressures on the Texan are very real. When 95% of your revenue comes from print advertising, a sector of the advertising business that is only declining from this point forward, you have to either get creative or get another job. The problem is that at this point, the Texan jobs have already been shed, there are not that many salaries to cut, the content is already largely produced by free by students, and the physical assists like the presses have already been sold.
Yes, it's a real pickle. And it's really happening.
I can see why members of the TSM Board would admit that the drastic option of ending daily publication is on the table, among others. How could it not if you were them? The Daily Texan's primary income stream is drying up more quickly than the Texas Legislature can starve critical state social services- and that's being generous. They've had an ad revenue drop of around 40% in 5 years with no end in sight.
The point that is being made, is that instead of trying to cut your way out of a problem, the TSM Board needs to not only give the Texan's vast, if not terribly unorganized, alumni network the opportunity to help, but to also listen to those ideas seriously. Let them have a hand in rethinking how to keep The Texan daily and relevant to the students it serves. There's a whole branch of Texan alumni that are in the political space, and at least one at most media outlets in Austin. I happen to occupy space on both sides of the publishing coin so for what it is worth, I'll share my perspective and thoughts (like others can do by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Burnt Orange Report has always been a virtual enterprise so we've ridden the ebbs and flows of online advertising, which these days feels a bit more like the brackish backwaters than a rising tide. I understand that any financially viable solution to the Texan's woes isn't going to comes from the magic world of cannibalizing their paper copy (and ads) with 100% digital. Some quick calculations would suggest the expected print ad income for the Texan this year might just break $1 million, or an 18% cut from just last year. Studies indicate that for every $25 of print ad revenue you give up, you can get a whopping $1 back in online ad revenue, which would equate to about $40,000 in income for an online only Texan. Yikes.
That's all to say that I don't think the future for saving The Daily Texan is to chop down the print edition and hope your magic Internet seeds will grow in its place.
So let's talk about the print edition. Obviously, it has to be re-imagined. And not just in the, let's make it an inch narrower (or wider!) and change the fonts sort of change. It's about recognizing the current media landscape for content and focusing on standing out from the crowd for your particular audience or niche.
What is it that the Texan has that makes it different from any other publication? It is a student run paper, with an elected Editor, charged with the task to report on the affairs affecting students at Texas' flagship university. That's the underlying story and purpose that spans 113 years of history. The Daily Texan is the voice of, by, and for the students of The University of Texas.
The voice of the students. That's the key in my eye. How do you stay relevant amid other news options? How do you stand out from the crowd? You have a voice that stands out. Voices are the most valuable currency in media, now and moving forward.
- Instead of being yet another college newspaper imitating the industry, innovate and give voice to a new Texan.
- Instead of filling columns with a churn of copy that fills up the inches available around the ads, view the page as a place where strong writers, strong voices that can follow a beat and own it MAKE me want to read the Texan, daily, to find out the latest development.
- Instead of being a passive voice in students' lives, try the active role once again and run with it full tilt into student governance, university administration, not to mention bridging the connection between university students and the rest of Austin that exists outside the 40 Acres.
After all, there is no reason that strong, active, personal voices can't make a product that is not only printed daily on campus, but engaging for the vast expanse of alumni to consume online.
Maybe the next era is about shifting from being the students' newspaper to being the students' advocate. I doubt the UT administration cares much about the slow demise of a perpetual thorn in its side so I'm not counting on them to save the Texan. Plus, just as the ebb and flow of time has seen the Texan shift in its role on campus, maybe it is time once again for students to take matters into their own hands.
That means speaking up, as I'm doing now, and asking the TSM Board to listen.
Out of the chorus of voices, I'm confident a solution can be heard.