Editor’s note: Administrators were unavailable for comment on this story, but Dr. Robert Vela, college president, emailed a statement to employees and students Oct. 5 about plans for continuing student media.
“SAC has no intention of discontinuing student journalism,” he wrote. “As the college has anticipated the coming retirement of journalism faculty members Marianne Odom, Irene Abrego and Dr. Edmund Lo, we have begun planning for the publication’s future.
“We are exploring many avenues that will make sense for the SAC community and keep student journalism thriving on our campus. The intention is to have it remain a vital component of the total learning experience at SAC.”
In October, the journalism-photography program will release a book on The Ranger’s 95-year coverage of the college.
By Sergio Medina
The Ranger newsroom, where hundreds of student editors, reporters and photographers once shared lively discussions of plans for the next issue, will fall silent after this semester.
In December, the 95-year run of the award-winning student newspaper that launched hundreds of careers will end.
On a bittersweet note, this year, Associated Collegiate Media named The Ranger one of the Top 100 student publications in the nation.
Continuous low enrollment and engagement over the past three years, along with the retirement of the journalism-photography faculty at the end of the semester were the main causes, program Coordinator Marianne Odom said in an interview Sept. 22.
“We’re not really closing down the department,” Odom said. “We are retiring. What happens beyond will be up to the college administration. We’re not doing a spring schedule.”
In addition to Odom, Dr. Edmund Lo and Irene Abrego are retiring.
Administrators were not available for comment at the time of publication.
In March 2020, the shutdown forced by the pandemic compounded the program’s problems.
“The Covid shutdown — I think it was very difficult for students in the media writing class and the news photo (class) because it made starting out very difficult for them,” Odom said. “They didn’t have access to, you know, going out on campus. We didn’t have the events, the kinds of things that they would normally get to cover, you know, the festivals, the speakers.”
The pandemic forced journalism students to rely on Zoom meetings for virtual events and phone calls to reach sources, which seemed harder than ever.
Also, the absence of mentorship from advanced journalism students during the pandemic worsened support for beginner students, Odom said.
Budget cuts in recent years, the cessation of reimbursement by the State of Texas on “unique needs classes” like advanced photography courses that were cut from the program in 2014-15 and the inability to raise Ranger editors’ stipends further diminished the program’s ability to retain students.
Budget cuts also forced The Ranger to give up printing to produce a digital-only publication in 2019.
Abrego said in a Sept. 27 interview, the ending of the program was a “long time coming.”
A student of the journalism program herself from 1987-89, Abrego began advising for the program in fall 1993, returned in spring 1995 and began teaching in fall 1996.
Abrego said students enrolling for their last semester before transferring to four-year universities contributed to a lack of enrollment in advanced journalism classes — these advanced students are crucial to administer The Ranger as editors.
“It was apparent that there were systemic changes working against us,” she said.
Pre-designed, career-focused degree plans for students drives away potential enrollment from people seeking courses out of curiosity or solely to improve their skills, Abrego said. “We lost community, basically, out of the community college.”
Odom said, “A lot of students, the message they got is, ‘get in and get out.’
“We want our students to transfer, but we also want them to stay around long enough to take the skills classes that will prepare them for doing well in senior colleges and for a career,” Odom added. “That’s been a challenge.”
Odom said student newspapers are a strong benefit to colleges because they provide a watchdog service for the community that everyone can appreciate.
Abrego said administrators here should continue the instruction of journalism because, while newspapers are shrinking nationally, online journalism is booming and needs trained people.
She added that journalism classes not only build writing skills but refine “people” skills, including listening, paying attention to body language, working on a deadline and communicating with upset people.
The development of these skills builds confidence in students and empowers students to speak with authoritative figures like college officials, she said.
Abrego encouraged students in the communications field to research universities with strong journalism programs to transfer to. She suggested Texas State University, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas.
Lo said in an interview Sept. 23 that the instruction of photojournalism is an important complement to written journalism because it visually preserves history.
“News photography plays a very important role in understanding the world and the environment that we live in. It makes the reporting even more complete,” Lo said.
“Don’t let this way of reporting fade away. The world is getting more complicated and complicated.”
There will always be more reporting to do, Lo said.
Perhaps the opportunities to learn journalism in San Antonio are fewer with The Ranger gone, “but somebody has to do it,” he added.
The college offers the only science of photography program in the Alamo Colleges.
“I would suggest (to) people, don’t give up!” he said.
Abrego said The Ranger was incredibly successful in its mission to propel journalism students, some who built communications careers with only the skills taught at The Ranger.
“It was fabulously successful,” she said, noting the program’s power was in its hands-on approach.
She added that faculty-driven encouragement and support pushed students to do more than they ever thought they could.
Odom began teaching as a full-time temporary in 1979 and 1987-90. Then, she became full-time tenured faculty in fall 1990.
Odom said she reveres the program’s former students because they worked hard and well “and they did things that nobody thought beginning community college students could do.
“I’m very glad I was able to be here during the years that we could offer that opportunity.”
Odom said she hopes she made the right decision about retiring.
“It feels like it’s right, but obviously, I’m going to miss lots and lots of things.
“The highlight — the best part of my career was the Thursdays producing The Ranger,” Odom said. “The production days of The Ranger were probably the hardest that I ever worked and, by far, the most fun.
“Seeing students come through, you know — change, get stuff fixed at the last minute and fill that hole in the story that’s holding up a page. All those things, it sounds like nothing, but they were all very important, and it was just wonderful for it all to come together. I will definitely miss that.”
Lo said he remains hopeful that there will be a bounce back for journalism instruction, with society treasuring responsible journalism.
He said since he started teaching photography in 1988, he has always instructed students to be responsible messengers to society.
“It’s not so much about how good I am as a teacher,” Lo said. “I’m just trying to do my job. I’m not seeking fame.”
He said he would take on any opportunity to teach photography in the future.
“I just love teaching,” he said. “But I probably would not go back into full time. I want to try a different way of living.”
To former Ranger students, Lo said, “Please keep working hard.”
Odom said the journalism-photography program is producing a book based on the 95 years of coverage in The Ranger.
“We are expecting to have that out by the end of October.”
It’s important to maintain for posterity what journalism students have been able to accomplish for 95 years, she added.
Odom said the program is producing 300 printed copies for former journalism students, with the potential of a digital copy becoming available to the public.
An archive of Ranger issues that span from 1930s-2010s is available to the public online.
Similarly, Odom is working to preserve The Ranger’s photograph and video archive, magazines and newspapers produced during the Urban Journalism Workshop for high school students.
“There are lots of things like that that I want to make sure they’re in a form that will still be there,” she said. “This is really history. I mean, it’s really important that we don’t lose all of that.
“At this point — typical journalist — we’re working on deadline,” Odom said, chuckling.
Odom said if the college were to keep some form of student media, the opportunity to rebrand it would be appropriate, given the considerable push to change the college’s mascot, the ranger, to armadillos in summer 2020.
The change was made because of student and faculty complaints about the racist history of the Texas Rangers in the 20th century toward people of color.
“I think a lot of former students are going to be shocked,” Odom said. “You know, I’d always say, ‘You can always come back.’ And now, we won’t be here.”
“I think there’s going to be quite a few tears shed,” Abrego said. “There already have been.”