Over the past few weeks, journalism alumni have been trying to stage a rescue effort to keep the independent Student Media Company at SMU, which has published The Daily Campus for more than a century, from closing its doors.
Calling ourselves “Friends of Student Media,” our group attempted to convince the Student Media Company to reconsider its vote to dissolve (decided in January, but not revealed until the editor of The Daily Campus wrote a story about it in April). We also took a look at their financials so we could develop outlines of a business plan that would be sustainable, supported by stronger ad sales and supplemented by charitable giving.
Our efforts failed. The plan below was presented both to the leadership of the Journalism Division and to the board of the Student Media Company earlier this week. The message from them was consistent and clear — it is too late. Student Media Company will dissolve. The Journalism Division will not oppose that and will take over student media operations. The print newspaper will be discontinued. And, as a board member told us, “this will all blow over in six months.”
This was disappointing, to say the least. I thought we had a good plan, with strong backing, and enthusiastic alumni support. I understand where the people are coming from, and I get that they see us as arriving too late, with too little money to make a difference (even if the nearly $40,000 we raised in the GoFundMe and through other pledges in two weeks was pretty impressive, in my opinion). I keep up my hope that the Journalism faculty at SMU will stand up for students’ ability to edit and publish work that may not always be flattering to the university, in accordance with the College Media Association’s principles (“Student media must be free from all forms of external interference designed to regulate its content,” for example). And I retain my skepticism that university administrators will not interfere with those efforts, as they have so many times in the past.
At least I made some new friends along the way, right? And I’m thrilled that the death of the student newspaper we cared so much about raised awareness across the country through the #SaveStudentNewsrooms movement led by brilliant student journalists at the University of Florida.
I’m proud of the alumni who joined our efforts, and I think it speaks well to our training as independent student journalists at SMU. My fingers are crossed that that tradition will find a way to live on.
In the interest of transparency, here was our pitch, delivered earlier this week:
I’m part of a group — Friends of Student Media — trying to come up with a way to allow the Student Media Company to stay alive as an independent company. The point of this endeavor is not mere nostalgia; we believe that an independent student press is an asset to SMU and to the journalism program.
That said, I understand that it has not been an asset in recent years, through what appears to be pretty significant neglect and mismanagement. As alumni, we were disturbed to find out about the disrepair the Student Media Company had fallen into — and we were probably even more bothered that it was effectively hidden from us (not to mention the SMU community) until the 11th hour.
I’ve said all along, nothing we as alumni could do to bring the company back to life will matter a whit if we don’t have the journalism department on board. The goal is to make the student media publications at SMU a shining light, both for students and for the program. It would have to be our shared mission — allowing students to thrive with the responsibilities of managing a news operations; providing professional-level training of the students in that environment; and producing quality journalism that would make alumni and faculty proud.
We at Friends of Student Media have raised nearly $40,000 through the GoFundMe and through other pledges and donations to an account at the Dallas Foundation, which is our temporary home until we can have the paperwork for a separate 501(c)(3) completed. I know we can raise even more — I’ve got a couple of donors with potential to make significant contributions if we are successful — to replenish the reserve fund of the Student Media Company while we get it back on its feet.
Below, I have a brief outline of the plan we would like to present to the Student Media Company board as we try convince members to reconsider their plan to dissolve:
1. We establish a two-year agreement between Student Media Co. (SMC), Friends of Student Media (FSM), and the Journalism Department. The SMC board votes not to dissolve. We make a joint public statement praising board for working with alumni to save the free press at SMU.
2. The SMC board turns over its duties (by proxy or otherwise, perhaps by filling open spots with alumni temporarily for controlling majority) to FSM in year one. A reconstituted board of faculty and students, involving FSM representation as well, is appointed in year two.
3. SMC moves operations to the Journalism Department’s labs in Umphrey Lee, but otherwise, we maintain the traditional independence between SMC and SMU. The Journalism Department provides no additional financial support (current deals canceled). The faculty supports with coursework as usual, and with mentorship. We follow the CMA code of ethics for student media / adviser duties and responsibilities to aid in independence and recognition that education is the primary goal of the operation.
4. FSM commits to fundraising with SMC as beneficiary. Cash on hand will be provided immediately to help with 2018–19 operations and to replenish the reserve fund. Upon approval, FSM begins an immediate search for new executive director, student editors and student media adviser. The FSM board manages operations until a new director is hired.
5. If by January 2020, the reconstituted SMC board doesn’t believe the operation is sustainable, we begin to wind down in May 2020. The decision would be announced promptly, and the board would negotiate assignment of assets at that point.
As I mentioned — no matter how much money we raise, no matter how much goodwill we can bring, our efforts are doomed to fail if the journalism faculty are not interested in what we have to offer. So I ask you for your consideration, and your thoughts. Time is, of course, of the essence here — the dissolution takes place in mere weeks if we cannot convince the board otherwise.
I sincerely hope this plan works, and that we at Friends of Student Media can be part of a lasting, sustainable, independent student media operation at SMU.