The Daily Texan adapts, tightens in evolving field
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 01:03
In a time when digital screens compete with and often replace traditional forms of media, the state of a physical newspaper’s relevance is often questioned. But regardless of whether students and citizens choose Twitter or blogs over print to stay informed, the answer may be soon made irrelevant by a more immediate concern: can the print version of a newspaper remain afloat?
The Texas Student Media Board — which oversees The Daily Texan, the University of Texas at Austin’s campus newspaper — voted Friday to cut wages for all staff and reduce tuition reimbursements for student managers for the upcoming year. The board’s final decision in favor of across-the-board cuts averted a more drastic move: reducing The Daily Texan’s print schedule from five to four days per week.
Suzanna Jacob, editor-in-chief of the Texan, said the reason for the board’s meeting and the options it considered arose because of reduced income.
“The Daily Texan is experiencing big questions as to where its primary source of funding comes from,” Jacob said. “Students are changing the way they consume news. They’re more interested in reading from screens than from print.”
Although committed to printing daily, without an answer to the budgetary shortfall The Daily Texan must now face drawbacks within its own organization.
“There will be major cuts from The Daily Texan’s student wages,” said Kristine Reyna, associate managing editor for the Texan. “Pay will be cut by 50 percent and managers will only receive half the tuition reimbursements they are currently getting. While many student general reporters are already unpaid, the cuts may affect newsroom diversity because not everyone can afford working without reimbursement.”
The Daily Texan, along with The Battalion and most printed news publications, makes the bulk of its revenue from advertising. But while media consumers are well into a transition toward more digital sources, advertising’s relevance and the revenue it provides remains fixed in print.
“Ideally we would like to generate revenue and make the Texan a part of [UT] students’ lives, but we need to search for a stronger source of income,” Jacob said.
The Daily Texan is not alone in its search. Robert Wegener, general manager of student media at Texas A&M, said The Battalion faces many of the same revenue concerns as its Austin counterpart and has taken steps to ensure A&M maintains a daily student newspaper.
“The Battalion cut from a four-day to a two-day [summer] print schedule starting with the summer of 2012,” Wegener said. “While there has been no discussion on cutting back from a five-day to a four-day printing schedule [in the fall and spring], we have not filled two full-time staff positions and are reducing equipment, copying and travel expenses.”
Wegener said when The Battalion is not published, ads cannot be sold. And while many students and other consumers now flock toward online editions of many major news outlets, the revenue generated by a website does not compare.
“The Battalion has close to a $1 million budget, and about 98 percent of that is from advertising,” Wegener said. “We do have advertising online, but a website doesn’t generate anything comparable.”
While the search for new revenue sources is common among all newspapers, Wegener said it is important for a student-run newspaper to adapt to different sources of income because of their unique mission.
“We are the student voice,” Wegener said. “We provide a platform for studdents to cover the campus and for students to voice their opinions through guest columns and letters to the editor. The student voice can then be heard.”
Jacob repeated many of the same sentiments.
“[University newspapers] are in a unique position: the writers and editors are the same age as their readership — the same status, culture and generation,” Jacob said. “We’ve been on the stand for over 100 years. Do not underestimate [a university newspaper’s] power in raising the student voice.”