By the Editorial Board
On Thursday, Texas A&M University President Katherine Banks made the decision to stop printing weekly editions of TAMU’s student media newspaper, “The Battalion”. Without any prior conversations with the student media faculty or student leadership, Banks seeks to revolutionize student media at TAMU by moving to a digital and multimedia platform. Later that day, Banks informed “The Battalion” management that print editions would continue through the spring semester of 2022 before moving completely online.
“I am not a journalism teacher; I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” Banks said.
As quickly as the news spread, so did the comments. On Monday, the president of TAMU issued a Press release announcing a work group studying the creation of the journalism department with Alternative solutions to allow “The Battalion” to continue printing weekly editions. The student media advisor, editor, and co-editor now sit on the committee that drives future conversations about their own program.
Myranda Campanella, editor-in-chief of “The Battalion”, tweeted Monday, “On Friday, I shared with President Banks the importance of print journalism at A&M and the need for increased collaboration between student leaders and administration. She heard me, and that’s a small victory for now, but I will continue to plead for [The Battalion] in this working group.
As students studying the field of journalism, we could write down a list of why print media is important. However, that is not the point. Understanding the importance of student journalism and gaining that experience is the goal.
While Banks isn’t wrong to say that eight out of 10 Americans get their news from an online platform, Noted from Pew Research Center, the ability to create a cohesive design that includes a title, signature and photo along with a compelling story is unmatched. That feeling of seeing your name printed is an indescribable feeling. It’s the idea of knowing that something you’ve created will influence someone or have a lasting impact.
Becoming a digital-only outlet has been the push for other publications; however, in a learning environment, students should have the opportunity to explore an entire subject area. With plans to revamp the journalism curriculum and create a department, students might have the opportunity to delve deeper into media literacy and other courses where their expertise can grow. For reference, our own publication has gone digital with special print editions to combine the two sets of skills. You can’t expect the content or design of a page to be better without investing in educating these skills.
At Baylor, the journalism department has already received accreditation. Our student publication provides students with experience and gainful employment. “The Battalion” is now an organization, and it must decide whether or not to come under the newly planned department. Although there is a different set of rules in how a public and private university manages its student media – in terms of finances, content and overall organizational setup – the solution in this scenario is not to light a fire without first acquiring a fire extinguisher.
While the journalism program within TAMU’s communications department is relatively new, being introduced around 2003, “The Battalion” has been publishing for over 100 years, and this change in program and dynamic should have been communicated to those directly affected. As a media outlet that has been tasked with reporting news on campus for so long, the decision to move the department forward is applauded but also undermined by the lack of warning about actual publication within the program. After the initial announcement, there were more and more conversations between the student media and the administration, whereas initially the conversation was heated, it was silence.
Even though Banks said, “We’re not in charge here; the audience is in the driver’s seat,” there should still have been a dialogue about how the program is moving forward. What if the public appreciated the printed issues? Who was considered the audience? Students who want to pursue journalism understand that what we learn in the classroom is just as important to applying it in real time. Eliminating this opportunity for those who make the effort without prior conversation is incredibly misleading for students, and threatening to lose space and guidance by not moving to the new department is extremely wrong.
The new choice to include those directly affected by this decision should have been made, whether this decision was made in December or three years ago. Clearly Banks wants the best for journalism at TAMU; however, this cannot happen without accurate information and communication. As student journalists, we are there to inform our respective student associations of what is happening on and around campus, as well as to hold our administrations accountable. Student journalism is important, both in print and digital form. Period.