Texas State University is a great choice for mass communication majors who are interested in pursuing an education and future occupation in the any aspects of media. Between the campus media outlets such as the radio station KTSW, newspaper The University Star, and weekly newscast Bobcat Update, students can be expected to leave Texas State with tons of experience upon reaching graduation. However, if students want a hard-hitting experience, they may want to reconsider working for campus media.
An interesting notion about Texas State University that I mistakenly gathered in my first year upon applying at The University Star was that it had achieved a degree of notoriety for being a rugged and enthusiastic outlet for students who wish to walk a thin line between challenging the establishment and countering traditional media coverage. I can recall my first time entering The Star’s HQ and noticing a yellow old-fashioned and laminated newspaper clipping of an old story involving a brigade of students engaging in night-time streaking across campus.
Much to my chagrin, the experience of being at The University Star as a videographer my freshman year didn’t turn out to be as inspiring as I had imagined. I quickly learned that the image I had of the newspaper didn’t necessarily match up with the realities of the work environment that I was led into. Our management direction was skewed, and assignments either always fell through or were so banal that there was almost no reason to cover them at all. Still, I remained committed to pursuing the most hard-hitting pieces and ideas that I could find.
There was an unfortunate ‘formality’ of almost always getting shut down on story ideas. Whenever SXSW in March of 2014 was going on, it featured Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange, and I thought I had hit a no-brainer for a story idea or at least a coverage piece, but I was told that since it was in Austin (which is about 25 minutes away), it wasn’t relevant enough for the paper to pick up- despite the fact that the broader story of government overreach and invasion of privacy was happening not only in Austin- but the entire country (and as we know now, the entire world).
Another time there was a student* who was accused by the city police of creating a bomb hoax. As I read the piece in The University Star, I couldn’t help but think, “How did the police justify an attempt of a bomb hoax when they were the ones who investigated his vehicle against his will?” Probable cause was evident, seeing as how he was initially smoking on campus, and fled arrest from officers (smoking on campus is a violation of university policy) but a “hoax” implies a sort of intentional cause to create panic- which was only created by the police department enlisting the Austin bomb squad to blow up packages that were “incapable” of being recognized as explosive or not.
*The suspect was first reported as a student, later reports confirmed that he was not a student of the university
Obviously as I had read this piece, I was stunned with more questions than answers and suggested to my superiors that we should do a follow-up piece on the suspect and the police department’s view of how the event unfolded. Initially, I was told that I’d be given the suspect’s lawyer information and that although cooperation from the police department wasn’t likely, I had the support of The Star to go out and pursue the leads.
Time went on. I checked my inbox, nothing. I found myself asking different editors of the paper for the same piece of information over and over again, sometimes being told that it had already been sent (which obviously wasn’t true) and other times being told “yeah sure, I’ll do it”.
I continued pressing my supervisor on the matter – lightly of course- because as passionate as I am about journalism I still very much believe that I have to earn my stripes as a reporter. My main concern was getting this story shot and so long as that was done, I’d consider being a minor annoyance a small step in a long path towards victory. I asked for the contact information a third week in a row, believing that I still had supervisor support when his tone seemed to take a different note this time around.
“The thing is, it would require getting law enforcement involved…”
Long story short, I was told that it would be too much of a hassle to get police cooperation on the story, and that I could pursue the story on my own time, but not as The University Star’s reporter. I never followed up on the story solo because after 3+ weeks of asking for something so minor as a number and being met with dragged feet, I knew I wasn’t going to get it. I found the whole incident ironic considering that The Star’s lower tagline reads “Defending the First Amendment since 1911 | The independent student newspaper of Texas State University” That same line that had once ensnared my attention and loyalty before now stared back at me awkwardly. If you’re too nervous about police cooperation or retaliation then you’re not really defending the first amendment, at least not confidently .
The paper, as I’ve known it since my year-and-a-half of being here, seems to typically play it safe when it comes to covering local issues, the most controversial thing I had heard of being reported by The Star was an incident that questioned a city council member’s ethics when he, Carter Morris, met with a developer while approval for their project was still being deliberated by city council. Morris was the planning and zoning Vice Chair at the time.
Although the campus media aren’t necessarily the hell-raisers that I typically like to consume, I still hold their motives as an outlet for students to polish themselves in high regard. Certainly there is creativity and insight in all areas of the campus media (especially in KTSW ,their program diversity and professionalism is astounding for a student publication) and while they focus on polishing craft more than breaking media barriers, it at least ensures that students will be professionally prepared to cover news for future publications.
Hopefully by the time they get out of college, they’ll be done playing it safe.