Texas A&M President Banks directs The Battalion to cease regular print edition by end of spring semester – Bryan-College Station Eagle

A sign hangs up in the Battalion newsroom Friday, the same day Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks announced the weekly newspaper would cease print publication at the end of spring semester.
Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks informed leadership at The Battalion, the university’s student newspaper, Friday afternoon that the publication will pivot to a digital-only outlet at the end of the spring semester.
Banks’ announcement came after A&M Dean of Students Anne Reber and A&M interim director of Student Life Stefanie Baker told Battalion leadership in a meeting Thursday afternoon that Banks had directed The Battalion to cease its print edition immediately. Banks modified her decision after meeting with The Battalion’s student leadership Friday. Currently, The Battalion prints on a weekly basis.
During Friday’s meeting with Banks, Battalion editor Myranda Campanella said Banks reiterated that the world is moving toward digital media as justification for directing the move. When asked if the decision was made in response to a story or advertisement from The Battalion, Campanella said Banks told her, “Absolutely not.” Financial aspects were not a part of Banks’ reasoning, either.
“Obviously, the world is moving more towards digital, but The Battalion is digital,” Campanella said. “It’s been digital since the ‘90s. We have a website. We have all social medial platforms. It’s not like we’re falling behind. We’re staying up with the trends. We even have a TikTok. We’re not just printing once a week, and I personally don’t see any harm with us continuing to do that when we are getting the ads to pay for that ourselves. We’re not asking the university to pay for that in any way, shape or form.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, Banks said she envisions The Battalion, a journalism degree program, and KAMU-TV and radio to be housed in a new proposed performing and fine arts center, which was part of Banks’ recommendations in December in response to a consultant’s report in October. Banks attributed her stance of The Battalion shifting to a digital-only format to a Pew Research Center study released last month that said eight in 10 Americans consume news from digital devices.
Members of The Battalion’s leadership were not included in this decision as Banks told The Battalion it was made by university leadership and had been discussed for a few weeks.
“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. “In many ways, we are at the start of a new and exciting era of journalism that will pull together new faculty, professionals from the industry and students to create new types of digital content. We want to give our student journalists the preparation to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. While this is a difficult decision, I believe it’s the best path forward.”
During Campanella’s meeting with Banks, she told The Battalion that “Gen Z and millennials predominantly receive their news [digitally], and that is the market, here in College Station, certainly [among] college students. I do understand why [other university leadership] felt as if you need to have at least one experience … to understand print media. I’m not a professor of journalism, I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field.”
The Battalion has had either a daily, weekly or monthly print edition since 1893, except for a short period during World War I, and an online presence since 1997. The Battalion moved to a weekly format before the fall semester in 2019. Many of the print copies of The Battalion are archived in A&M’s Cushing Library, including the original edition on Oct. 1, 1893.
“You always say that print journalism is the first draft of history,” said Douglas Pils, general manager of A&M’s student media. “Not being able to have that in your hands, not being able to add onto the archive that currently exists from 1893 to now, I think the university will miss that because you can’t archive the daily website like you can archive the daily newspaper.”
Before Banks’ decision was modified, Pils said Battalion leadership was told the student news outlet could continue printing its Maroon Life magazine, which has five editions per year, and other special sections for major campus events, such as Bonfire remembrance, Muster and Silver Taps.
“They’re not saying never print again,” Pils said. “There are some certain instances where it could come up. We printed a special edition after the Alabama game, so if something like that happens, obviously I think that’s a situation that could warrant some print possibilities.”
After meeting with Banks on Friday morning, Campanella said A&M student body president Natalie Parks organized a meeting between them and Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, A&M’s vice president for student affairs who previously served as the Commandant of Cadets. During a brief meeting, Campanella said Ramirez mentioned that The Battalion was losing money by printing, which she refuted.
Documents shared by Pils, who also serves as the paper’s advertising supervisor, showed The Battalion’s total revenue for fiscal year 2020-21 was $205,700, and $109,400 of that came from advertisements for weekly print production. Campanella said The Battalion already has $61,000 in advertising deals for the remainder of the semester, which will cover the cost of all planned print editions. Pils said A&M only pays for his salary and the cost of the newsroom, which is located on the lower level of the Memorial Student Center, but not the production of the paper itself. The Battalion prints its paper at The Eagle with a weekly circulation of 5,000.
“The financial aspect seems a little fishy as well because that’s just not true that we’re losing money,” Campanella said.
Although The Battalion is an official student organization, Pils said the paper is still an independent outlet and added he’s not concerned with First Amendment issues or censorship from the university.
A&M’s decision drew a strong reaction on social media Friday. The Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit organization that supports and defends First Amendment press freedoms for student media outlets, said in a social media post that its attorneys are working with Battalion officials to fight for their print edition to continue. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that defends individual rights of students and faculty members, at American universities, said in a social media post that A&M’s decision “is unacceptable. Universities must respect student journalists’ editorial freedom.”
Angelique Gammon, who teaches journalism at A&M, said she had a number of former and current students reach out saying they were “enraged” by the university’s decision. Gammon is a member of a working group developing the future of A&M’s journalism department and degree. She said the group met Wednesday and added there was no indication this announcement was coming.
“It provides actual real-world experience as a living laboratory for the degree,” Gammon said of the function of The Battalion’s print paper. “Is print publishing diminishing? Yes, but our mission for the degree … is to expand the reach and diversify the voices in the newsroom and in the news, and a huge part of that is serving small towns where weekly papers, interestingly, are still important and have positive ad flow. … To say there is no value to print is, in fact, not accurate with the roll call of recent grads. … Copy editor is a real job that’s in demand. Students that know how to use [Adobe] InDesign to create publications for print is a very specific skillset.”
The future of The Battalion’s print edition will remain through the spring, but eliminating its regular print presence harms the newspaper and its journalist’s pre-professional job experience, Campanella said. Pils said focusing on digital media is not a bad idea, but added that students still find value in the print edition.
“It’s not just a student organization like a women’s org, it’s something to put on your resume,” Campanella said. “It’s tangible experience that you’re getting, actually meeting deadlines and interviewing people and writing stories and editing. It’s all the skills you would need, not just that, but physically putting together a paper. I mentioned to Dr. Banks this morning in the Zoom call, one thing I don’t think she realizes is that a large number of A&M graduates from journalism go immediately into local print publications. Those are the entry-level jobs available, not these big digital companies that she’s talking about. … I think it’s so necessary that we have this print publication at a university, a learning institution, and without that, our students, myself included, won’t have that opportunity to put that on their resume.”
Editor’s note: Alex Miller was a staff member at The Battalion during his time as a student at Texas A&M from 2016-19.
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