• DT Δ

    On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.
    On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.

    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.

  • What Starts in the Basement

    Texas Student Media's new journalism advisor, back in the day (center), being promoted to news editor in true DT style.
    Texas Student Media's new journalism advisor, back in the day (center), being promoted to news editor in true DT style.

    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.

    Here’s why I’m excited about the opportunity: We have a talented staff, led by Laura Wright and Shabab Siddiqui, who are brimming with innovative ideas, deeply thoughtful about the publication’s relevance in the digital age and more than capable of setting the Internet on fire. We have a TV station and a radio station under the same roof, where the student leaders, Ian Reese and Joe Aragon, have embraced the value of new collaboration. We have a crackerjack digital director, Curt Yowell, who has already set the groundwork for putting our website into student hands with professional support. And we have a campus brimming with tens of thousands of bright young minds.

    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 brick@austin.utexas.edu.

    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.

    Hook ‘em,

    Michael Brick

  • Keep it to yourself

    The recent controversy surrounding Washington Post education reporter Daniel de Vise, who sent a story about UT's use of the Collegiate  Learning Assessment test to university communications staffers before submitting it to his editors, should serve as a cautionary tale to journalists on both the collegiate and professional levels. 

    This tawdry tale, first reported by the Texas Observer, resulted in policy changes at the Post (and a kind of tacit admission that this sort of thing occurs on a regular basis.) It also puts the university in a bad light by having its communications staff appearing to try to manipulate news coverage. 

    My advice to Daily Texan reporters is to keep your stories to yourselves. Share them with your editors, of course, and with your fellow writers, but never send them to anyone outside the organization. I would be comfortable reading a paragraph of explanation of a complex subject back to a source over the phone to check clarity and accuracy. But that's as far as I would go.

    Our readers need to be assured of our independence and integrity. Situations like the one at the Post serve to undermine these essential elements of a free press. 

  • Fine dining

    UT football players (and fans) at Royers Round Top Cafe.
    UT football players (and fans) at Royers Round Top Cafe.

    It was hard not to notice the table across the way at Royers Round Top Cafe last Friday night.

    With one exception, the seven diners' backs were very broad and their necks only slightly less so. There were smiles all around the table as the hungry crew waited patiently for their meals at the popular cafe in the tiny town (pop. 90) best known for its art and antique shows.

    Royers has built a reputation for its idiosyncratic decor and its hefty portions over the years. It must have been the latter that drew the group of UT football players to the restaurant a good 90-minute drive from Austin that evening. At the table were linemen Kyle Kriegel, Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins, Sedrick Flowers, Luke Poehlmann, Josh Cochran and wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. At least, I'm pretty sure it was them. 

    Their fellow diners were respectful of the players' privacy -- for a while. Then the autograph requests began, followed by the hopeful pleas for photo opportunities. The players were very good-natured throughout, accommodating all their fans of all ages,  and they even managed some time to tuck away all the food the Royers staff brought to the table. Except for maybe a slice or two of the cafe's outstanding pie collection.

    A single brave Aggie in the restaurant made himself known, but all the exchanges in the ancient rivalry were pleasant ones on this night. 

    I was most impressed by the way the young men handled themselves and the bond that exists between them and the UT football fans, even in this crossroads cafe many miles from the screaming crowds in the massive stadium. It was a very good night.

  • Now I'm a believer

    Davy Jones in his "Pre-Fab Four" glory days.
    Davy Jones in his "Pre-Fab Four" glory days.

    The passing today of Davy Jones, the diminutive lead singer of the "Pre-Fab Four," also known as The Monkees, gives me pause, as does the demise of anyone who crossed my path in the days of my youth.

    I never met Davy Jones and he wasn't my favorite Monkee -- Mike Nesmith, aka "Wool Hat," was my fave because he seemed smart, allegedly knew how to play his guitar and his mother invented Liquid Paper.

    I actually had a connection to another Monkee, Peter Tork (nee Thorkelson), who attended my alma mater, Carleton College, for a time several years before I arrived and shared some of my professors before he gave up education for the music biz. And I was familiar with Mickey Dolenz from his role in "Circus Boy," a short-lived TV show. 

    But I have a direct link to the Monkees because I'm one of a relatively small (and dwindling) number of people who actually saw them perform "live." It was in the Summer of Love, 1967, at the now-departed Boston Garden, which was filled with screaming teenage girls and my cousin, Maynard McCorkle, and myself.

    Here's how we got there: That summer, when I was 13 and gearing up for my freshman year at Brunswick High School in Brunswick, Maine, WBZ-AM was the sound of rock 'n' roll in northern New England. The best music of the period was right there at 1030 on your AM dial. And the 50,000-watt station was powerful and hip, or at least, trying to be. Its slogan that summer was "Love and Purity."

    The Monkees were coming to town and WBZ had a contest to give away some tickets to lucky listeners who could complete the following phrase: "I love the Monkees and WBZ, 'cause..." Fill in the blank.

    Yours truly got a postcard, filled it out with my entry and contact information and sent it off to Boston. Didn't think much more of it until one day I was sitting in a chair in King's Barbershop in Brunswick (long shuttered) and my father came in saying he'd heard my name on the radio and that I'd won two tickets to see the Monkees! 

    My excitement was unbounded, but then there was the question of how to make the trip to see the show. I couldn't drive. My father had little interest. So after some negotiation we agreed to make the trip with my slightly younger cousin, Maynard, and his father, Henry McCorkle (also no longer with us.)

    The four of us drove the three hours to Boston. Maynard and I went into the cavernous Garden and found our seats. My father and uncle repaired to the bar across the street. Maynard and I watched the short show during which the Monkees performed together and individually with much assistance from a group of backup musicians. The screaming was incredibly intense and non-stop.

    After the show, we got back in the car and drove the three hours back up to Maine. It was a long and emotionally draining ride. But entirely worth it. We'd seen the Monkees and I'd won a contest, pretty much the only one I've won in close to 60 years of living.

    So, how did I do it? Let me tell you. Here are the magic words I wrote down on the postcard during that summer that now seems like a sun-drenched, half-forgotten dream of long ago: "I love the Monkees and WBZ, 'cause 'I'm a Believer' in 'Love and Purity.' "

    I still am, or at least I like to think I am. Rest in peace, Davy Jones.