One of the hardest things in life is realizing a project you are involved in is not working as planned. The Tiger Media Network at Fort Hays State has become one of those projects.
Careful observers may note a majority of the newest edition of The University Leader has one of two bylines, that is not by design, that simply reflects the size of the staff. Fort Hays State University has began a program that after one semester has failed in almost every measure, yet the overall organizational design remains unchanged. The plan, despite its obvious flaws, cannot, in the view of the university, be deviated from. The major failure of the university to fulfill its promise to make T.M.N. a reality was to fill the Executive Producer position, a job that would functionally run T.M.N. Following a nationwide search only a few people applied, two people interviewed, one was offered the position and none took the job, and so a full year of TMN will have passed before there is any professional media guidance within the organization. So now a hand full of students and a couple already overworked Informatics faculty members are desperately trying to hold together the vision of T.M.N.
Making matters worse is one of the principal architects, Informatics chair Stephen Schleicher, has announced he is leaving FHSU at the end of the year, creating another hole in the organization that is already stretched far too thin. He has chosen to work far more than required to keep the sports broadcasting available. No one wants to live just to work, and unfortunately this organization is forcing faculty and staff to do just that.
The events that have gotten FHSU campus media to this point are so absurd as to be almost unbelievable. For years the University Leader was flailing in the wind, twisting with the whims of whoever could be found to operate it, with virtually no professional guidance, as the University administration had organized it. KFHS TV-Radio fared little better having funding cut by the Student Government years ago.
Now both have been reorganized into one group, housed in the college of business, with little interaction with the college journalism had been traditionally housed under, Communications, and little understanding of many aspects of how to operate the organization, frequently undercut by university officials that choose not to let T.M.N operate in ways that are not only well established by former FHSU media organizations, but are also standard practice in the professional world.
Sometimes bucking the status quo is required to create progress, but reinventing journalism creates areas of opportunities that a under-funded, understaffed, student organization on the campus of a relatively small university in a relatively small state may not be able to tackle.
It is easy to assess blame. It could be the lack of funding, it could be the administration that failed to enact all of the recommendations from the media dissemination committee, it could be the lack of student engagement, it could be the University Leader staff from last year that chose to ensure the decisions of the university resulted in the worst possible transition they could imagine, it could be rejection from recommendations from the most credentialed journalism instructor on campus, it could be the changing shape of media in the face of the internet, it could the administration failing to understand how basic journalism apparatuses work, it could be dated, broken equipment, it could be incompetence within the T.M.N. staff, but the truth is it is far worse than any of that. It is a little of each. The failure; however, will not be in the assignment of blame, or complaining that operations are not working successfully, the failure will come in staying the course, ignoring the missteps and continuing as if everything was going according to plan.
I believe T.M.N. can be a success, I believe a converged media model is the best course of action at FHSU, it is time, however, to reevaluate, to look back at what has went wrong last semester and make necessary changes, re-group, and re-plan. The administration has leaned on the back of part time students and overworked faculty long enough, it is time for a change.
The most obvious problems center around the inability to staff correctly. The administration has held to an hourly pay model with no exceptions. No commission for advertising sales, no possibility of performance based pay, no possibility of including many of the positions the University Leader had staffed for decades, including circulation, business, advertising management and a functioning editorial board. When I worked on the Leader as an undergraduate in 2006 we had a staff of about thirty, producing only in one medium. The current T.M.N. staff is significantly less than that, around ten, all of which are part time and those few people are tasked with creating all T.M.N content, including The Tiger Media Network Newsbreak, T.M.N News Live, sport event broadcasts, the production of the University Leader, content creation for the T.M.N. website, and KFHS radio.
Moving forward, if the Tiger Media Network hopes to succeed the FHSU administration needs to evaluate what can realistically be done with the resources available, not hope for amazing results from magical notions of convergent media.