By now most students are nestled all snug in their permanent addresses.
But The Texan is firing on all cylinders. After ending the semester with a moving multimedia piece on the challenges facing military veteran students, a saucy look at the university’s palm tree expenditures (you read that right) and a deeply reported series on football concussions, our coverage has moved exclusively online for winter break.
Rather than a break, this week is becoming a showcase for our digital student journalism. It started over the weekend, when reporters from news and sports collaborated to swarm the story of football coach Mack Brown’s resignation. On Wednesday, when UT President William Powers Jr. testified before a legislative committee on his relationship with the board of regents, beat reporter Madlin Mekelburg’s coverage was augmented with a livestream video, thanks to a big assist from TSTV superhero Ian Reese.
This weekend, we’ve got a team on the ground in Seattle providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Longhorns attempt to repeat a national volleyball championship. Fans can get a deeper look at the team’s journey by following the work from Evan Berkowitz and Charlie Pearce.
The volleyball coverage is especially noteworthy: It shows the strength of an important new asset, our alumni network. When I put out last-minute word to the Friends of the Texan, we were swamped with crash pad offers (all set now, thanks).
Big things are in store for next semester. Consider this a preview.
And this week, faced with two of the enduring controversies that make college life so interesting, the student journalists here flooded the zone. Recovering from a slow start on the story of a campus group’s plans for a “catch an illegal immigrant game,” The Texan weighed in with solid coverage by new beat reporter Anthony Green, a fearless rejoinder on the opinion page and a timely column for Throwback Thursday. Before those flames were out, alert video editor Alec Wyman, walking through West Campus late in the evening, spotted an interesting mural in the works for a fraternity party. The Texan’s straightforward coverage produced inquiries by the university and national chapter leaders.
But today, after a week of hard work by the entire staff, searching for a way to make vividly compelling sense of a solemn day in history for an audience nearly two generations removed, The Texan produced something truly special. I won’t try to describe it. If you’re in Austin, pick up a copy. If not, to quote a long-ago Daily Texan ad slogan, here’s your paper.
The project is called DT Delta. It’s the centerpiece of our mission to reinvent The Daily Texan. It’s long overdue, but bold enough to make up for lost time.
Thanks to the generous support of Chairman Bruce Porter, Dr. Glenn Downing, lecturer Mike Scott and others too numerous to mention at the Department of Computer Science, we’ve recruited more than twenty students to work in the basement on new technology initiatives, including app development, social media strategy and data gathering. Most crucially, we’re implementing a radical redesign of our web site, with a focus on a mobile-friendly user interface. For that piece, we’ve also acquired an invaluable resource: Dr. Shayamal Mitra’s web development class is devoting the entire semester to producing iterations of the project, essentially providing a form of curated open-source development with expert supervision. In the newsroom, AME Kelsey McKinney and Technical Director Hayley Fick will make sure the best ideas come together to create a worthy platform for the excellent student journalism of the future.
But even without the new site, The Daily Texan staff is proving that our journalism can succeed online. Compared to the same period last year, page views for the prior two months are up 35 percent, unique visitors are up 52 percent and the bounce rate (how quickly visitors leave) has declined by five percent. Best of all, the average time spent on the page has increased 25 percent, indicating that viewers are sticking around long enough to read a whole article or watch a whole video.
There’s only one plausible explanation: The students have been producing great journalism. One of the longest average page views clocked in at seven minutes for Life of Bevo, a charming behind the scenes look at the university’s mascot by Christine Ayala. Produced in collaboration with multimedia editor Alec Wyman and photographer Zachary Strain, the piece got a jumpstart from a very smartly executed promo listicle deployed over the weekend to grab the attention of football readers. By the next Saturday, our reporter and our video footage were being featured prominently in a pre-game segment on the Longhorn Network.
Of course, it’s not all cute and cuddly. The intrepid Bobby Blanchard has produced hard-hitting examinations of the university’s financial ties to campus housing developers and worker treatment. And beat reporter Alberto Long started the semester off strong with a major scoop on a series of racially charged balloon attacks, beating beat local and national media outlets. He’s followed up with relentless coverage of campus law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Chris Hummer’s columns have kept our readers on the pulse of the football coach’s lion-in-winter phase. In the arts department, Sarah-Grace Sweeney’s ACL coverage has engaged readers with some of our finest writing. Starting last week, after meetings with Texas Student Media’s advertising department, every section has been producing recurrent features to hook both readers and advertisers. Our design director, Jack Mitts, has been working overtime to create elegant (and consistent) logos. And maybe I’m getting soft, but I think this image by Jonathan Garza might be the best shot ever taken in the storied history of the Daily Texan Photo Department.
In the shifting media landscape, it’s all about engagement. And The Daily Texan is claiming a prominent place in the university of tomorrow.
As the new school year begins, I believe UT students have a great opportunity to reinvent The Daily Texan. So after a decade at The New York Times, a book and a stint at News Corp’s iPad experiment, I’ve returned to the Texan (where I worked as a reporter, news editor and managing editor in the early 1990s) to serve as the journalism advisor. My assignment is to help guide The Texan, KVRX and TSTV into the digital future with our traditional values, credibility and integrity, intact.
And here’s what we’re doing: starting a mobile-friendly overhaul of our web design and content management systems, with a careful eye toward documentation and continuity. We’re performing a targeted search, with the gracious help of computer sciences Chairman Dr. Bruce Porter and new media lecturer Robert Quigley, for new kinds of talent. We’re working directly with the advertising staff to cultivate both old and new revenue sources as we migrate online. We’re collaborating across platforms and entities to engage readers with innovative multimedia journalism. We’re working on a data journalism project that could prove to be a game-changer. And, of course, we’re continuing to put out one of the best student newspapers in the country.
At points along the way, we’ll need specific help from our alumni. I’ve already had a good chat about this with Griff Singer, head of the newly formed alumni group's mentoring committee. For now, we need your support. Since our managing editor has banned the word “blog” from the newsroom (it’s antiquated and implies a lower journalistic bar, he argues), I’ll use this “Online Exclusive Content” to keep the Texan’s far-flung supporters apprised of the twists and turns. I’ll flag new posts on Twitter @BrickMichael, and I’ll be glad to hear your suggestions via firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t expect our students to solve the secular problems of the media industry here at Texas Student Media. But I firmly believe that they can bring the organization up to modern standards, positioning the Texan to adapt and thrive as the solutions begin to emerge. I’m here to make sure they have a guiding hand, an experienced perspective and the freedom to make some educational mistakes along the way.