The decision announced by the Texas A&M president to halt print production raises deep concern about the future of student journalism at A&M, and the future of the 129-year-old Battalion newspaper.
Student media face the same challenges today as media companies, large and small, across the nation. But ceasing print publication will only accelerate the paper’s demise.
Such a drastic plan is unnecessary, and, if carried out will create more financial havoc for the paper. That is because most of its revenue comes from print.
Yes, print media face tremendous challenges, but what is underway is not the death of print, but a major realignment, combining it with digital. Yes, it is a painful realignment, but look across the country. Countless student media and traditional media are reporting successes from this realignment.
One significant success is just to the west in Austin. In 2013, The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin was facing a similar issue: Print was on the chopping block.
Three things happened to stop a financial and institutional disaster:
√ Support from the UT president.
√ Support from UT’S Moody College of Communication and the UT School of Journalism and Media.
√ Support from the alumni — Friends of The Daily Texan — the non-profit group that mobilized to assist.
The Daily Texan/Texas Student Media is a major success story. While offering fewer days of newsprint, it now offers glossy magazines and other focused print publications, plus more digital and video offerings. This approach offers a full-service purchase benefitting Austin and national advertisers and readers of both print and digital, adding to the bottom line.
In addition, substantial new revenue has been acquired by viewing each campus department as a potential customer, with TSM serving an agency role and providing focused publications and other media needs to UT departments. This marketing assistance helps each department tell its story and is a completely new and major source of revenue.
Also, the Friends group provides financial support for The Texan’s needs, including regular donations to campus fund-raising drives for The Texan, purchase of video and photographic equipment, assistance on editorial needs as requested by the Texan senior editors and TSM and other items for The Texan.
It also provides 8 scholarships a year to Texan staffers, all set up for endowed and continuing funding.
All of these innovative approaches help create the success story at The Texan.
But if you kill print, you automatically kill your primary source of revenue, and the story changes.
Studies by respected research groups show that by eliminating print you eliminate revenue that is available to take now. You limit your income to digital only. Those of us who have worked in digital and print for years recall the early lament of salespeople: “Dollars are turning into dimes,” reflecting how revenue falls when selling only digital.
For The Battalion, ending print wipes out revenue that is already booked and additional revenue coming in through its sales partnership with Texas Student Media at UT. If allowed to grow, that partnership can be a model for student newspapers across the U.S. and is wonderful to show that Aggies and Longhorns collaborate for mutual success.
Print is this century’s Mark Twain comment: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Case in point: as on-field photos were taken after the college football national championship game, standing in the background were people holding a product from Twitter, the ultimate digital pure play. They held a printed mock front page from the “Twitter Tribune.” Even Twitter understands there are more paths to the reader than a one-road digital future.
And what about students? A first-class university should offer all platforms for students. They will miss job opportunities if print is a stranger.
It is not the time, Texas Aggies, to throw in the towel. It is the time to be creative, make your mark and show your financial success with all media platforms!
John Reetz, President, Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
Statement approved unanimously at called meeting Feb. 13 of Board of Directors of Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.