Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13, 2003: The Batt's fight for the JOUR department

My thanks to True Brown '04 for his account:

Four years later, I’m still amazed by the events of the summer of 2003.

While the majority of A&M’s current students weren’t yet in college the day Aggieland closed the doors to its Department of Journalism, the ramifications of those events have been far-reaching for a number of reasons. But I won’t rehash all those here; this choir, to borrow a phrase from former Battalion adviser Ron George, is already singing from the same hymnal in that regard.

The events that took place the following weeks, however, are memories that still stir strong emotions today.

First, a little background…

That spring, I was tabbed to be The Battalion’s editor in chief for the summer 2003 semester. With rumors swirling that the department’s closure was imminent, the Batt staff had a good idea that we would be the ones covering the story when it finally broke. Then, on July 13, Dean of Liberal Arts Charles Johnson sent his final recommendation to A&M officials that the department be closed—effectively axing the program and associated major.

That’s when the public fight began in earnest.

The Battalion became the unofficial voice of the Journalism students with several stories and editorials in the ensuing days. Since the closure came in the summer, there unfortunately was not a tremendous amount of statewide press surrounding the department.

That quickly changed, however.

(A quick nod is due here to FJSA, and especially former students Kelly Brown, Jon LeBas and Kirstin Voinis for their help in the public fight against Journalism’s closure. Many of the following events were a direct result of their hard work and dedication.)

Kirstin, who ran a PR firm in Austin, launched a series of press releases to basically every media outlet in the state announcing that the Battalion editors were going to fight the department’s closure. Former Batt editor Brady Creel ’03 also got in the mix, designing our SaveJournalism.com web site, complete with an online petition and links to every news story we could find.

The first release led to a smattering of coverage around the state, both print and TV. The big bombshell came a week or so later.

After much debate, managing editor Dallas Shipp and I decided that the best editorial we could script would be one in which we didn’t really have to script anything. We eventually ran a blank Op/Ed page, which read at the top:

“The Texas A&M administration’s vision of journalism:”

(Blank page to bottom)


Let your voice be heard!”

Another press release went out that morning announcing the blank page.

The response this time was absolutely overwhelming. By noon, I had at least a dozen messages from reporters seeking comment. The Associated Press picked up the release immediately, and within days, stories about the blank page (and more importantly the lack of a Department of Journalism) were everywhere. We occupied space in every daily newspaper in the state, were interviewed by TV stations in B-CS, Dallas and Houston, scored a segment with Shepard Smith on FoxNews and prompted editorials by countless college newspapers and metropolitan dailies.

Our online petition went nuts after the stories came out. We had about 4,000 signatures the next week, and they didn't come from just Aggies. People from across the country chimed in, and there were countless people from Texas, Baylor, Tech and UNT, among others, who signed the petition and sent encouraging emails. It was truly amazing to see the number of people who were on our side.

Many of the comments, whether they were from Aggies or otherwise, shared the same sentiment: educating aspiring, young journalists is vitally important to the health of Texas A&M, the State of Texas and the United States.

For me, those countless positive responses and comments made the entire battle worthwhile, and hopefully all those who have dedicated their time and effort to furthering the success of journalism at Texas A&M feel the same way. It’s certainly what made the summer of 2003 so memorable.