An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

Contact Information
Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
1401 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

[email protected]

TSM Director Gerald Johnson: “We needed to change the story that we were shutting down”

Texas Student Media Director Gerald Johnson.
Texas Student Media Director Gerald Johnson.
Texas Student Media Director Gerald Johnson.
Texas Student Media Director Gerald Johnson.

Texas Student Media Director Gerald Johnson hit his two-year anniversary with the organization this past summer. Drawing upon more than 15 years of experience leading business development and sales initiatives for The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Media Services, Johnson has worked hard to stabilize both the staff and the finances of Texas Student Media. He led Texas Student Media as it transitioned in 2014 from operating under the Division of Student Affairs to the Moody College of Communication, with the help of bridge funding from the Office of the President. We caught up with him recently to learn more about what’s happening at The Daily Texan and Texas Student Media.

What are your goals in the coming year for you and your team?

We aim to continue growing revenue and creating stability for the organization. I’m proud that we have created an atmosphere that allows students to create and innovate, culminating in an experience that will be the highlight of their time at UT.


What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to tackle since joining Texas Student Media?

Outside the obvious revenue challenges, I would say the largest challenge has been proving that we are on a different path. This wasn’t as simple as flipping a switch or making a simple proclamation. It required recruiting the right team on the professional side and establishing a new reputation on campus and beyond. We needed to change the story that we were shutting down to one of: We are here to stay, we can navigate these challenges, and we are better than ever. We needed to create an environment where our 750 students (a record number) could focus on creating stories, comics, multimedia pieces, photography, and thought-provoking, policy-changing and life-affirming content that happens daily on these 40 Acres. The revenue challenges will continue, but we will innovate, change and address them head-on to maintain our unique experience that has touched so many past generations.


Can you give us a status update on the financial health of The Daily Texan?

The financial health of The Daily Texan and Texas Student Media continues to improve; we’ve managed a complete turnaround since the move to Moody in July 2014. Prior to this, the organization was consistently losing $200,000-plus annually. Through cost containment, building a professional team, innovating new products, and the Moody College of Communication and the Friends of The Daily Texan, TSM has changed its direction.

I believe a big indicator of our success is the amount we are able to pay our students throughout TSM. Due to financial constraints, the organization cut student pay by 50 percent in the 2013 budget cycle. With positive financial results, we continue to replenish and have now added more than $60,000 back to this budget line since spring 2015. This allows all of our entities to add new and innovative roles to their content teams, in addition to modestly increasing pay for existing roles. For instance, The Daily Texan has been able to grow their social media team and add [a new section on] Science and Technology. This has extended our participant reach on campus and resulted in a record census of more than 250 participants this semester in The Daily Texan alone, of which 60 percent are in a degree program other than the Moody College of Communication.

In terms of annual revenues, we have added money to the long-term reserves for the last two years, including $85,000 for the year that just ended August 31. This represents a considerable turnaround. For our first two months of operation in the 2016-2017 school year, we have entered November ahead of budget for revenue, well above our performance for this same time frame last year.

The President’s Office made a large commitment to student media during the transfer of oversight from Student Affairs to the Moody College of Communication. This funding was to serve as a safety net to offset any budgeting imbalance for three years. For the first two years of funding, we have delivered a budget with surplus, which has allowed us to utilize this outside funding to upgrade software services, fix The Daily Texan website and make technology updates for entities within the TSM umbrella. Neither this safety net, nor expenditures made with this funding, appears in our financial reporting or annual results.


Tell us about some new projects and products that y’all have launched that have helped support the bottom line.

  • Master the Possibilities. Shortly after I arrived, we launched an annual publication that allows graduate programs from across the country to share their offerings to the UT undergraduate audience. Momentum has continued to grow with each publication (we have had three). This year, we partnered with the Graduate Coordinator Network at UT and took over all revenue and marketing aspects of their on-campus event, resulting in their first-ever sold-out program. In October 2017, we will have surpassed our 100,000th dollar with this publication. TSM continues to look for innovative niche, print publications that allow us to target atypical customers and grow our revenue and client base.
  • Marketplace. The campus allows two singular days per year in which outside entities can educate or present their products and services directly to the student body. This long-running program has been completely organized and managed by Student Activities in the Office of the Dean of Students. TSM is now the official purveyor of this event, which has spring and fall dates. Since we are in the business of speaking to outside entities daily, this partnership fits perfectly in our wheelhouse. We will add printed supplements and comprehensive marketing to each event that will positively affect our revenue and depth of our relationships with advertisers, while supporting our Student Activities partners.
  • Digital portfolio. We worked last fall to improve the user experience of The Daily Texan website, our largest and most important in terms of reach. In the past, it crashed if more than 140 individuals attempted to read the same page. Breaking news was literally breaking our ability to generate income. Now our site is mobile-responsive and functions appropriately, which has allowed us to sell more digital ads and see improvements in our monthly traffic. A challenge all traditional media is facing is the divide between traditional revenues, which are declining, and the slow increase or stagnation in digital revenues with a much lower margin. To expand our digital offerings, we recently added to The Daily Texan and corresponding websites of our other entities. The site creates an important tool that wasn’t easily available to the student population prior to the October 1 launch. More importantly, in October our digital revenues were up five times the average month and four times the amount from October 2015.


  • Storytelling. I want to share some recent highlights from The Daily Texan’s editorial staff: Interactive features such as UT: Then and Now that engage readers and provide a civic service for students. More inclusive and richer ways to tell stories, such as 50 Years Later [about the 1966 Tower shootings] and Austin City Limits 2016. In addition, just in their daily work, the increased focus on live-tweeting noteworthy events such as football games, ACL or the My Black UT Matters conference.


What are you most proud of in your time at Texas Student Media?

I am most proud of the student experience, which only gets better each and every semester. I felt that TSM was a disconnected, slightly embattled organization when I arrived, and it is now the opposite. I am blown away by the thoughtful attention our student leaders put into this organization and their products during a time in which media has never faced so many challenges. I am proud of the dedicated professionals we have assembled as well, who are deeply motivated to provide an experience for our students and make certain that this program remains a part of The University of Texas at Austin for another 100 years and beyond.

Alicia Dietrich is the Director of Public Affairs in the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. She serves as an officer on the board of The Friends of The Daily Texan. She worked at The Daily Texan from 2002 to 2004 as an Associate Managing Editor, Copy Desk Chief, copy editor, wire editor and features writer.