Fun fact: The college I graduated from no longer exists.
The University of Texas-Pan American merged with the University of Texas-Brownsville with it’s first freshman class of the newly formed University of Texas Rio Grande Valley enrolling in 2015. And I would love to hyperlink the dozens of stories I wrote about this highly controversial move but I can’t. Because those articles no longer exist.
With the merger came a swift, chaotic and disorganized attempt to merge all the campus organizations into “new” UTRGV publications, clubs, etc. Except instead of a fair and balanced process, many clubs and organizations were merely overtaken, including my college newspaper, The Pan American.
My college (and let’s be honest, still present) mentor was the supervisor for my newspaper. He taught way beyond AP style and inverted pyramid — this man was tough. Tough on me, my staff, students, everyone. And that’s precisely why he made the best supervisor. He didn’t kowtow to administrators or go easy on us. He treated me like a real reporter with very real deadlines and very high standards to uphold. He’s the reason I have thick skin and ink in my veins. But I digress.
In lieu of leaving him in charge, UTRGV elected to appoint the UTB supervisor and also kept a majority of their staff in leadership positions, despite the fact our staff was better trained and had more experience (most of us had already done internships and/or held jobs at local daily news outlets). The powers that be were not interested in “merging” — they wanted a hostile takeover and a majority of the staff that I had led and trained left the newspaper. It was very much a case of a new administration not wanting a supervisor or staff that would push back against them in any way.
Like a lot of college newspapers, we only had a certain number of paid positions available. Instead of say, I don’t know, increasing the number of paid positions, keeping on two supervisors (double mentors! It could have been a dream!) and having two co-editors-in-chief, they elected to downgrade a lot of formerly paid staff to volunteers and kick out those they deemed unfit for this new regime.
I don’t blame the UTB newspaper or it’s former staff. I think they had good intentions. I blame the administration that was in charge of the merger and how instead of fostering what could have been a very powerful and fully staffed paper, they chose to play favorites and not invest in students news.
TPA alumni wrote letters, called the new supervisor, contacted the administrators, wrote the new university president.
We fought for the newspaper that had produced alumni who ended up working or interning with major news outlets like CNN, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the San Antonio Express-News, The Texas Tribune, the Associated Press, NBC News, etc.
It was all for nothing. Because nothing changed. The newspaper wasn’t what it once was. All we heard from staff at the time was: 1. They were not being taught or trained nearly as rigorously as in the past 2. Their ideas were dismissed 3. The leadership was weak and lacking 4. The student-led conference we held every year for high school newspapers was discontinued (thereby hurting even more future generations of journalists) and, lastly, the most heartbreaking 5. They missed the way it used to be.
And that’s the story of how the first newspaper I loved was killed.
It’s happening again, folks.
This time it’s in the form of budget slashing to student publications and newspapers across the country, including The Denver Post. Administrations and hedge funds are dictating what a newspaper needs as opposed to journalists.
It’s not OK.
I don’t need to tell people how essential newspapers are. The fact is, if you’ve read this far it’s because you know what it means to have a news outlet in a community, no matter what size. Be it the halls of a small local college or a city with a population topping 600,000, a newspaper keeps it’s readers informed. It loves its community and protects it by holding people in power accountable and telling stories that need to be heard.
And if nothing else, just buy a newspaper. Send a note of encouragement. Let the news folks in your community know that despite whatever people in power may do or say, they are needed.
Speak up. Use your voice. Because without newspapers, there may come a day when someone else decides they have the authority to speak for you.