By The Editorial Board
On Thursday, Texas A&M University’s president, M. Katherine Banks, made the decision to cease printing weekly editions of TAMU’s student media newspaper, “The Battalion.” Without any prior conversation with student media faculty or student leadership, Banks looks to revolutionize TAMU’s student media by moving to a digital and multimedia platform. Later that day, Banks informed “The Battalion” leadership that print editions would continue through the spring 2022 semester before moving completely online.
“I’m not a professor of journalism; I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” Banks said.
As quick as the news spread, so did the comments. On Monday, the TAMU president released a press release announcing a working group to look into creating the department of journalism along with alternative solutions to allow “The Battalion” to continue printing weekly editions. The student media adviser, editor-in-chief and co-news editor now sit on the committee that drives future conversations about their own program.
Myranda Campanella, editor-in-chief of “The Battalion,” tweeted on Monday, “On Friday, I shared with President Banks the importance of print journalism at A&M and the need for further collaboration between student leaders and admin. She heard me, and this is a small win for now, but I will continue to advocate for [The Battalion] in this working group.”
As students studying the field of journalism, we could write out a list of why print media is important. However, that’s not the point. Understanding the importance of student journalism and gaining that experience is the point.
While Banks isn’t wrong in saying that eight out of 10 Americans receive their news from an online platform, noted from the Pew Research Center, the ability to create a cohesive design that includes a headline, byline and photo along with a compelling story is second to nothing. That feeling of seeing your name in print is an indescribable feeling. It’s the idea of knowing that something you created will influence someone or have a lasting impact.
Becoming a solely digital outlet has been the move for other publications; however, in a learning environment, students should have the opportunity to explore the entirety of a field. With the plans to revamp the journalism program and create a department, students could have the opportunity to dive deeper into media literacy and other classes where their expertise can develop. For reference, our own publication has moved to a digital format along with special print editions in order to combine both sets of skill. You can’t expect the content or design of a page to be better without investing in the education of those skills.
At Baylor, the journalism department has already received accreditation. Our student publication offers students an experience and a paying job. “The Battalion” now stands as an organization, and it must decide whether or not to move under the newly planned out department. While there is a different set of rules in how a public and private university handles their student media — in finances, content and overall organizational setup — the solution in this scenario isn’t to start a fire without first acquiring a fire extinguisher.
While the journalism program within TAMU’s communication department is relatively new, being brought in around 2003, “The Battalion” has been publishing for over 100 years, and this change in curriculum and dynamic should have been communicated with those directly affected. As a news outlet that has been entrusted with reporting the news around campus for such a long time, the move to further the department is applauded but is also undercut by the lack of warning regarding the actual publication within the program. After the initial announcement, there has been more and more conversation between student media and administration, whereas when the conversation was originally being tossed around, there was silence.
Even though Banks said, “We’re not in charge here; the audience is in charge,” there still should have been dialogue in how the program moves forward. What if the audience enjoyed the print issues? Who was considered the audience? Students who want to pursue journalism understand that what we learn in the classroom is just as important in applying it in real time. Eliminating this opportunity for those who are putting in the effort without a prior conversation is incredibly misleading for students, and threatening the loss of space and advisement by not moving under the new department is critically wrong.
The new choice to include those who are directly affected by this decision should have been made, whether this decision was made in December or three years ago. It’s clear that Banks wants the best for journalism at TAMU; however, that can’t happen without accurate information and communication. As student journalists, we are in place to inform our respective student bodies on what is happening on campus and in the surrounding area, as well as to hold our administrations accountable. Student journalism is important, both in print and digitally. Period.