COLLEGE STATION, Texas (The Texas Tribune) — A day after administrators at Texas A&M University notified employees that the school’s 129-year-old student newspaper, The Battalion, must immediately stop printing weekly editions, President M. Katherine Banks said she would allow the paper to print until the end of the semester.
The Battalion, which is also available online, will continue to be a digital-only publication.
The amended plan for print publication came amid public outcry after The Battalion announced it would end the weekly print edition immediately, on Banks’ orders.
But in a statement released Friday evening, Banks changed his decision, allowing the paper to continue with its weekly printing schedule for this semester.
In that statement, Banks explained the decision, saying eliminating the print version would be in line with a more digitally-focused journalism department, which she plans to resurrect.
“Times have changed and we want The Battalion and others interested in journalism as a profession to be at the forefront when they graduate,” Banks said in a statement released Friday afternoon. .
Myranda Campanella, the newspaper’s editor, said while she’s glad staff have until the end of the semester, the change in plans doesn’t address the future of the paper.
“We will always consider the merits of the administration’s ability to stop us from printing at all, but now we have a little more time before they want to implement this,” she said. .
News that the university was ending the print edition of The Battalion came late Thursday after Anne Reber, dean of Texas A&M students, broke the news earlier in the day to Campanella and Douglas Pils, the general manager of student media. Reber informed them that the decision was made by Banks.
Banks met with Campanella on Friday. That’s when Banks told her she wanted the student newspaper to go entirely digital and be placed within the new journalism department at Texas A&M, which has yet to open.
The university did not immediately make Banks available for an interview.
No details were provided to the battalion student employees on why they did not participate in the decision-making process.
“I just feel really demoralized,” Campanella said. “People look forward to this newspaper every week. It comes out of nowhere.
In 2003, Texas A&M disbanded its journalism department. Since then, students interested in journalism at Texas A&M could pursue it as a minor or through independent study. Late last year, talks began about returning a journalism department to the state’s largest public university.
Banks’ timing and lack of discussion is confusing to at least one media-savvy student.
“If the students and the adviser of The Battalion had gotten together and didn’t want to have a print edition and said it would be best to run digital, I think everyone would be okay with that,” said said Chris Whitley, President of the College. Media Association and Director of Student Publications at Tarrant County College. “What pisses people off is because it’s being taken away from them, it’s a choice made by the president of the university on her own.”
Whitley, a Texas A&M graduate and former battalion editor, said that kind of overspending had a chilling effect.
“If a college president is dictating that kind of control, I don’t see how that wouldn’t send the message ‘you better not mess with us,'” Whitley said.
According to Pils, the majority of the newspaper’s annual profits come from print advertising. Campanella and Pils said The Battalion has been publishing simultaneously online since 1997.
“We have a huge following online, on Twitter, on Facebook,” Campanella said. “We get our content online, and we always publish online the day we publish print. Every printed story is posted online. So it’s not like our audiences are missing anything.
Campanella, who met with Banks on Friday, said he was told moving the post online did not mean the university was trying to control the content or that the decision was made because of an article or of specific coverage.
“It all seems so confusing that it’s a bit dodgy,” Campanella said. “It just doesn’t make sense. … There seems to be a larger problem that they don’t tell us. I asked her who made that decision with her, and she kept saying “university management.”
When Banks took the helm last spring, she commissioned a consulting firm to review the university’s organizational structure and make recommendations. The report included some major changes, including the merger of the college of liberal arts with the college of sciences and the college of geosciences. He also suggested transferring political science students and international studies students to the Bush School of Government and Public Service.
He also suggested that Texas A&M create a new journalism department.
A task force set up to determine what a journalism department might look like met for the first time on Wednesday, but at least one person present said there was no discussion about the future of the paper.
“We were all caught off guard,” said Angelique Gammon, a journalism professor at the university. “No one seemed to know this was going to happen. There was the problem that we knew. We were all shocked.
Gammon said she was reassured that Banks will allow the paper to continue printing until the end of the semester, but she said questions remain about the paper’s independence now and in the future.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list here.
Matthew Watkins, editor of the Tribune for News and Politics, is an A&M graduate, battalion veteran, and member of a task force to establish a journalism program at the university. He recused himself from journalism coverage by the Tribune at A&M.
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