The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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[Don’t] stop the presses

The+Battalion+is+one+of+three+A%26amp%3BM+student+organizations+with+active+cases+for+free+speech+advocacy+with+the+Foundation+for+Individual+Rights+and+Expression%2C+or+FIRE.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

The Battalion is one of three A&M student organizations with active cases for free speech advocacy with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE. 

Today, The Battalion continues its 129-year tradition of informing Aggieland through print.
On Monday, Jan. 24, Dean of Students Anne Reber and interim director of Student Life Stefanie Baker of Texas A&M presented to The Battalion’s staff adviser Douglas Pils an invitation for The Battalion to transition under Student Life and later be incorporated into the new Department of Journalism.
Few details regarding the transition were available, and Pils expressed that students within The Battalion may wish to remain a student organization. With regard to these questions and concerns, Reber and Baker were unable to respond at the moment, and intended to meet with Pils in the coming weeks.
Pils was also informed that Banks no longer wanted him to sell advertisements for the paper, though no clear alternatives were presented at this time regarding funding solutions if this was taken away. Discussion occurred suggesting the university could subsidize the paper, though no specifics presented. Additionally, Pils nor any other members of the staff, were ever formally asked to communicate with administration to be a part of a potential transition.
On Thursday, Feb. 10, Reber and Baker once again met with Pils, where they communicated the demand from Banks to cease printing of the paper, effective immediately, and explained plans to include the publication as a part of the new Department of Journalism, with an emphasis on digital formats. At this point, the ultimatum was delivered to Pils regarding the status of the student organization.
Before this, Pils had not been informed the organization was expected to make an immediate decision, nor that it had come down to joining the department or maintaining organizational status. Pils made Reber and Baker aware he would not be able to attend a meeting later in the afternoon, because of personal reasons.
Later in the afternoon, Reber and Baker held a meeting with The Battalion’s student leadership in which they were informed of the ultimatum directed by President Banks and the demand to immediately cease print production.
Reber said the decision was up to the student leaders: join the university or remain a student organization and lose resources including its newsroom in the Memorial Student Center — which they had not previously shared with Pils — as well as access to an adviser from the university. Regardless, student leadership was informed the print edition from that morning would be the paper’s last, and they had 24 hours to respond.
An emergency meeting was quickly organized consisting of the entirety of The Battalion editorial staff to inform them of President Banks’ decree. Following the meeting, the editorial staff began drafting an article with plans to publish it shortly in order to break the news to its readers.
Student leadership reached out to associate Vice President of Marketing & Communications Kelly Brown for a comment from Banks to include in the article. Within the hour, Brown responded that Banks was not available to comment at that time, and would be available the next morning for a meeting with Battalion leadership. Upon receiving this news, The Battalion leadership and staff agreed to postpone the article until after meeting with Banks.
The next morning, Feb. 11, at 10 a.m. student leadership met with Banks, Brown and Vice President & Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Marilyn Martell, via Zoom where Banks explained her vision for a more multimedia-centric future for The Battalion, a future absent of print and organizational independence.
Banks said the publication could continue to print its special edition Maroon Life, as well as special editions in collaborations with journalism courses, but said she didn’t see why the regular print was relevant.
“I’m not a professor of journalism, I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” Banks said.
During the meeting, Banks said she would allow The Battalion, at this time, to print a “goodbye edition” for Thursday, Feb. 17.
Following this meeting, the staff continued their work on the article and agreed to produce a print edition the next week.
By 12:45 p.m., the article was posted on The Battalion website and was shared on its social media, where it quickly picked up statewide and national attention and was trending by the afternoon among students, alumni and journalists across the country.
“Regardless, The Battalion will print on Thursday, Feb. 17,” the article’s final line reads.
In addition to the shock of the general public, journalism professors from the university said they were equally shocked, as it was not shared with them by the university.
Speaker of the Faculty Senate and journalism professor Dale Rice said despite his involvement with the journalism department working group, he was uninformed about the decision by the administration.
“The first I heard was last Thursday, [Feb. 10],” Rice said. “I learned about it with virtually everyone else after it had all happened. It was completely new to me.”
With his role instructing journalism courses, Rice said the most concerning part of the evolving story has been the implications this may have for the department going forward.
“As a journalism professor, I’m incredibly concerned about any limitations on free speech or free press rights,” Rice said. “The first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Could this lead to limitations on what is published by a student organization? And ultimately, could that mean pressure to censor and control?’ Those are always concerns to someone who thinks freedom of the press is important to democracy.”
Rice said, in addition to the immediacy of the announcement, he believes the campus climate has contributed to the widespread reaction.
“I think that one of the things that has contributed to all of this is that we’re in a period of high anxiety on campus,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of changes in the works, and a lot of them are significant and going to play out in ways we can’t yet anticipate. This added just one more element to this period of anxiety, and that’s why a lot of faculty reached out, not just to me, but to each other.”
Rice said the conversation has shifted from a single organization’s issue to a larger concern about the process by which the university is making changes for multiple student organizations.
“I think that what goes to the heart of the issue is the fact that a group, incredibly affected by the outcome, wasn’t a part of the decision-making process,” Rice said. “I think that any student organization that is going to have its operations significantly changed should be a part of the discussion. That is the fair way to treat students.”
As the campus community continues to react, Rice said he urges audiences to focus on the long-term influence of the decisions being made, not just the format in which the paper may be published.
“I think [print versus digital] is just the tiniest piece of the overall issue at work here,” Rice said. “We really need to focus on the idea of, ‘Should our student newspaper remain an independent voice for students on campus, or should it move under the auspices of the university, where there is potential for control?’ That is what is at the heart of the issue. The debate over whether The Batt continues to have a print issue is, to me, secondary to the much bigger issue of will The Batt’s future be as an independent journalistic organization or will it potentially be, in a sense, another marketing arm of the university?”
Assistant professor of journalism and former editor of the National Press Photographers Association Tom Burton said he was also surprised by the announcement.
“We were all blindsided … in the end this is really not about whether or not there should be a print publication,” Burton said. “It’s about the way it was introduced and also the very real question about whether the administration even has the authority to tell The Battalion whether or not they can print or how they distribute their information.”
If The Battalion was to join the new Department of Journalism, it’s too early to tell what its role might be, Burton said.
“There is suspicion that moving The Battalion, under the non-existent journalism department, would allow the administration to apply certain content controls that they have currently over, say, a departmental website … which I think would be wrong [and could] run counter [to] what journalism is,” Burton said.
These suspicions are highlighted by a new policy, Rule 09.02.01, passed on Oct. 7, 2021, regarding the oversight of online content produced by the university.
The rule states, “[Official messaging of members], such as signage, social media postings, press releases, news media interviews and website postings, must be approved in accordance with applicable member rules or procedures. Each member chief executive officer will adopt necessary rules and/or procedures to implement this regulation and may delegate approval authority as needed to facilitate effective operations.”
Journalism is not defined or dependent upon its media, Burton said.
“A print newspaper like The Battalion allows student journalists to develop skills that are transferable,” Burton said. “It’s not about the ink going on the paper, it’s about doing the reporting, it’s about doing the interviewing, it’s about writing a story that is well balanced and serves the community.”
This does not mean print is no longer viable in the modern world, Burton said.
“There are markets and communities where the print product is the best way to communicate,” Burton said. “Magazines, for instance, are actually growing circulation in demand right now.”
Burton said this is even more important when it comes to local news.
“There’s a saying that ‘the only news is local news and local news is best reported by the people who are there,’” Burton said. “The best stories have always been done by people who are a part of the community that they are reporting on, and that’s the value of having good local journalism.”
By the end of the day, the news had spread to media outlets ranging from Brazos Valley publications to statewide outlets, reporting the story and interviewing Battalion staff members. Coverages can be found from KBTX, KAGS, KXXV, The Eagle, Houston Chronicle and the Texas Tribune.
At approximately 1:23 p.m., The Battalion’s editor-in-chief and Student Body President Natalie Parks met with Vice President of Student Affairs Gen. Joe Ramirez, after Parks requested an emergency meeting. Gen. Ramirez declined to have the meeting recorded, but said Banks’ decision to move The Battalion under the university and cease printing was final.
In the hours following publication, the original story garnered over 2 million impressions on Twitter alone, and a #SaveTheBatt movement was created by students and community members concerned about the paper’s future, both online and in print.
Shortly thereafter, Banks followed up with staff via email and said she and Ramirez had met and reconsidered their position.
“Vice-President Ramirez and I considered your comments carefully as well as our advertising commitments and decided to allow The Battalion to continue printing until the end of the semester. At that time, we will make the change to digital only,” Banks’ email read.
Banks’ office released an official press release publicly confirming the update at 4:24 p.m.
The following day marked Aggieland Saturday, A&M’s largest open house event of the year, hosting thousands of prospective students and their families, where the #SaveTheBatt organizers, who are unaffiliated with The Battalion, passed out flyers on campus outlining their concerns, including international studies senior Alexia Hernandez.
Following a series of communications with editorial staff, the Student Press Law Center released an official statement on Feb. 14 in support for The Battalion, co-signed by various media organizations such as the College Media Association and Texas Intercollegiate Press Association.
“All of us are concerned that this undermines the ability of student journalists to maintain their editorial independence,” the statement reads. “College media organizations, just like professional media, only work when they have control over their product.”
The same day, at a meeting of the Faculty Senate, Rice addressed concerns of faculty members, leading to further discussion. Parks attended and shared student perspectives on the situation.
During the meeting, Rice said he had received various calls of concerns from faculty members regarding The Battalion’s future status.
“It’s also easy to see why many faculty fear the[ir] academic freedom and their own free speech rights could be next on the hit list,” Rice said. “One of the biggest concerns for me is the absence of a consultation process in decisions that affect students, staff and faculty. Why are decisions repeatedly made unilaterally, although some may be cheering a return to the General Rudder era, I do not believe that is the way to lead a university forward into greatness — and I know many of you feel exactly the same way.”
On behalf of students, Parks said she knows the university has intentions of propelling forward, but she is concerned about some of the changes being implemented.
“I really have noticed this overall just kind of lack of communication and collaboration from university officials when it comes to making decisions about student life and extracurricular[s], specifically on campus,” Parks said. “Myself and fellow student leaders have witnessed and been on the receiving end of these patterns of unnecessary administrative oversight into areas that have functioned for decades without the influence of executive orders; demands for immediate levels of significant change without consultation of key stakeholders, those stakeholders being the students.”
Additionally, Parks said student voices are necessary for all decisions regarding “The Path Forward,” led by Banks.
“Our voices must be included in all future decision-making processes,” Parks said. “I really want to say that the Student Government Association is very much willing to work and partner with the Faculty Senate in the time ahead to ensure that all constituencies on campus are heard, and we are very open to collaboration and open communication across all fronts all the time.”
That night, at 6:00 p.m, two students on the editorial staff and adviser Pils were invited to join the working group for the new Department of Journalism. Shortly after, at 8 p.m, Banks released a statement to the public regarding the additions.
In response to the updating situation, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, sent a letter the afternoon of Feb. 15 to President Banks, expressing their support for the publication.
“Demanding that The Battalion cease its print edition and submit to university oversight or
lose its office space and faculty adviser is an impermissible encroachment upon the student editors’ right to determine the content, mode of production and organizational structure of the publication,” the letter reads.
To further support the publication, in their Feb. 16 meeting, the SGA Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of The Battalion, Student Resolution 74.23.
Most notably, and recently, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said, in an email to The Battalion, he believes the changes implemented to the publication will be for the benefit of campus journalists.
“I asked four presidents to restore journalism as a major and President Banks was the first one who immediately said, ‘Absolutely.’ She agreed to do it her first day in office,” Sharp said. “Her critics are wrong to categorize her as opposed to free speech on campus. She is the President who will return journalism to its rightful place at Texas A&M. She wants it to be number one in the nation. Few things are as important as having Aggie journalists stationed around the world. And she knows that.”
The Battalion’s staff will continue advocating for its editorial control in meetings with the journalism working group throughout the remainder of the spring semester, and explore options to maintain the independent student voice on campus.

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