SAN ANTONIO – The lettering on a breezeway between Gonzales Hall and Loftin Student Center at San Antonio College reads “Journalism” in capital letters. It’s a badge that beckons reporters and photographers of The Ranger to their home base, the newsroom.
But the award-winning student newspaper reported in October that it would end after a 95-year run due to the retirement of its three advisers and low enrollment, among other factors.
And it’s unclear what will happen to The Ranger’s newsroom, student labs, classrooms and future in a few weeks, as the newspaper will cease publication at the end of the fall semester.
On Tuesday, student and professional journalists and administrators will meet to discuss the evolution and vision of student journalism at the five-campus Alamo Colleges District, home to more than 65,000 students.
What’s next, and what higher education opportunities will be available for future journalists?
“It will give us an opportunity and everyone an opportunity to get an update on where things are, one with The Ranger, two with student journalism at San Antonio College, and then for us to also begin to plan for what communications and journalism could look like at all five of the colleges,” Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Mike Flores said in an interview with KSAT.
It’s an “ideation opportunity” to grab input from professional journalists and students, and to see how the curriculum could shape up programmatically, Flores said.
What’s next for journalism at SAC and the Alamo Colleges
In a statement issued after The Ranger announced the end of the publication, San Antonio College President Dr. Robert Vela said the college “has no intention of discontinuing student journalism.”
But the mood inside The Ranger in mid-November was less certain.
Boxes and folders spread out on tables contained several years’ worth of awards and mementos. Shirts, stickers, plaques, awards, pencils, pens, reporters’ notebooks and other swag emblazoned with The Ranger were all up for grabs for current students, former staff, and friends of the newspaper wanting a piece of local history.
Whatever items left behind at the end of the semester, staff said, would likely be thrown away. After all, The Ranger, which launched the careers of plenty of local journalists, would no longer be around, or at least it would look different in the next phase of journalism curriculum at the Alamo Colleges.
The meeting on Tuesday will help give administrators a chance to see what journalism could look like in the future, according to the chancellor.
“What is the evolution… of media and journalism? And so for us to be able not only to look at print but also digital related to that is the evolution, I think,” he said.
Educators will listen to feedback from professional journalists so Alamo Colleges can “provide the most up-to-date experiences to our students,” he added.
The meeting at district headquarters is for members of the media and student journalists, and is invitation-only. Anyone with questions can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the ideas floating around is the possible forming of a district-wide student media lab.
Flores said expanding a student-run media outlet to other colleges could provide even more students an opportunity to get published.
“So I think it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t also leverage their prospective talents,” he said.
Journalism-Photography Program Coordinator Marianne Odom said a district-wide media lab could help with one of The Ranger’s biggest challenges: not enough students.
“Our enrollment is just terrible,” said Odom, who is among the three Ranger advisors retiring at the end of the semester. Longtime faculty members Irene Abrego and Dr. Edmund Lo are also retiring.
With the three professors leaving, no journalism courses are in the books for the spring semester, yet.
“Maybe there are some ways they can work within the current system to encourage journalism, I hope so. But I really don’t know,” Odom said. “Maybe they’re going to really think outside the box.”
Odom previously told The Ranger that if the college were to introduce a new form of student media, it would likely be rebranded because the school’s mascot was changed from the ranger to the armadillos due to the history of the namesake.
On Nov. 17, The Ranger reported that journalism-photography will leave the oversight of the English department and fall under a separate umbrella that’s comprised of communication design, radio-television-broadcasting and other programs.
Markene Bennett, the radio-TV-broadcasting program coordinator, told The Ranger that the college is hiring, and if they find the right candidate soon, journalism courses could resume in the spring semester or Flex 2, which starts in March.
A job listing for a journalism faculty instructor is listed on the Alamo Colleges website, and the posting closes on Dec. 19.
Neither Bennett nor Vela were available to comment by publication date.
Systemic issues and challenges that helped end a 95-year-tradition
On Oct. 5, The Ranger shocked local journalists — and some faculty and staff — when it reported that the newspaper would no longer publish after the end of the fall semester.
The announcement also came months after the Associated Collegiate Media named The Ranger one of the Top 100 student publications in the nation.
On social media, many local journalists and former Ranger staff shared their support for the program and pledged to continue some type of pipeline for minority and non-traditional students.
Without the program at the community college, journalists wrote, many prospective writers or photographers wouldn’t have the opportunity to enter the field.
It was a series of events that led to The Ranger’s expiration. Systemic issues led to low enrollment, budget cuts limited the number of courses offered, and the graduation-transfer structure kept prospective journalism students away, Odom said.
The Ranger moved from a weekly print edition to a four-page tabloid in the fall of 2017. Two years later, the newspaper went online-only due to a lack of advanced writing students.
Student schedules didn’t always lend themselves to availability to work on the newspaper staff, she said.
Within the last year, professors offered semesters of either writing only or photojournalism only.
Also, the coronavirus pandemic caused a lack of engagement and events on campus, hindering reporters’ and photographers’ coverage, Odom said. They tried online courses for media writing in the spring, she said, but students needed face-to-face time and constant encouragement in order for it to succeed.
“I think the whole idea of even grasping what journalism was all about was much harder when they were so isolated,” she said. “I really think that hurt.”
While the college atmosphere will slowly pull out of the quietness of the pandemic, journalism and photography students will likely have to take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to their courses, Odom said.
“I really think their (the district’s and the college’s) hearts are in the right place, they want to continue, just structurally how that’s going to happen” is unknown, she said.
Flores said while the ending of The Ranger may have been a surprise to people, it starts a conversation of what’s next.
“I think it’s it gives us an opportunity to talk about what the future could look like,” he said.
Update: Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Dr. Mike Flores has said that The Ranger will continue in a digital form. Read the update here.