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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Observer Editorial: #SaveTheBatt, support student journalism

Last Thursday, leaders of the independent student newspaper The Battalion at Texas A&M University were given an ultimatum by their university’s president: Stop printing immediately and be subsumed under a new department of journalism, or lose resources like its office space and longtime faculty advisor. The student leadership and faculty advisor of the 129-year-old publication were not included in the initial discussions of the president’s decision, the Battalion reported, and the paper’s leadership was asked to provide an answer to the university by the end of the following day. 

The announcement led to backlash on social media and sparked larger discussion of the importance of independent, student-led journalism. In response to the backlash, Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks told The Battalion in an email last Friday the publication will be allowed to print until the end of the spring semester, after which they must halt printing and become an entirely digital publication. On Monday, the university announced two student leaders from The Battalion and its faculty advisor will join the university’s existing working group for creating the new journalism degree. Banks also announced that after seeking “additional community feedback,” she may consider alternative solutions that would allow The Battalion to continue printing weekly editions. 

Support for the continued printing at The Battalion has been voiced by Dallas Morning News Editorial Board, the faculty senate of Texas A&M and various other student organizations at the university. The Observer Editorial Board also offers its support to the student leaders and staff of The Battalion. The suppression of independent journalism is dangerous, and we implore Texas A&M and President Banks to reverse their decision.

We at The Observer are grateful for and proud of our status as an independent publication, editorially autonomous from the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, as well as the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross administrations. While we collaborate with the Gallivan Program and its leaders to involve as many student journalists with our paper as we can, we have no official affiliation with the department. We partner with the University to utilize our offices in South Dining Hall and provide pertinent news and information to the tri-campus, especially during the pandemic, but we have complete discretion over all our print and online content. In this way, independent student journalism is a vital source of accountability in the tri-campus. 

Because we are independent, we are able to dissent from decisions these institutions make if we as an Editorial Board believe it is fair. The only way we can create an all-inclusive tri-campus community is if, in an effort to promote growth, we are able to publicly identify where administrations have fallen short. We provide the information that people with influence need to create policies that do right by the entire tri-campus community. 

As a paper run completely by students, The Observer is uniquely connected to the tri-campus population. Especially regarding the concerns of the student body, we understand the stories that need to be told because we live out every single day alongside fellow students. We sit with them in class, eat with them at dining halls, live with them in residence halls and off-campus housing and cheer on our athletic teams with them. We operate first and foremost to serve students and provide them with a platform to make their voices heard. Through all five sections of our paper, we have provided coverage that matters to our peers since 1966. 

The Battalion has been run by students for even longer, operating and printing continuously since 1893, save for a brief period during World War I. The paper serves the Texas A&M community with the same mission of community and truth The Observer has. According to The Battalion, university administration has never had oversight over the content published. The final decision on all content published digitally and in print has always been up to the editor-in-chief. Holding administrations accountable is just as important in College Station, Texas, as it is in South Bend, Indiana.

The news coming out of Texas A&M is not only disturbing because of the administration’s attempt to move the newspaper under an academic department and thus impinge on its independence, but because of the order to stop printing. Distribution of a physical paper is not only a longstanding tradition, but also still serves a number of important purposes. College newspapers generate revenue through advertisements in their print editions. The Battalion reported they had already finalized $61,000 in advertising deals for the remainder of the semester when Banks informed them of her decision. 

Additionally, print media has historically carried the weight of accuracy, journalistic integrity and reliability in reporting, which has become all the more important in the fast-moving digital age. By demanding printing cease on the College Station campus, President Banks would be robbing current and future generations of skills that can be used after college in the professional journalism field. While we applaud the university’s decision to create a new department for journalism, the administration must also consider what is best for a college campus that already has a rich tradition of print journalism. Having a strong digital presence and printing a physical paper together is the best way to reach the largest audience with reliable reporting and quality content. 

We write this editorial because President Banks’ decision is a threat to independent student journalism — to the voice of a student body — everywhere. And so, as an independent student newspaper, The Observer is here to lend The Battalion its voice, asking the administration of Texas A&M to reverse its decision as soon as possible. 

Support independent student journalism, and #SaveTheBatt.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.