The University of Houston’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Cougar, is as old as the university. UH was founded in 1927 with 232 students and 12 faculty members, and it became a four-year institution under the formal charter name of the University of Houston in 1934, the same year The Daily Cougar was established.
“I like to say we are the university’s oldest tradition,” says UH staff member Matt Dulin, director of student publications, and one of the longest-serving editors of newspaper during his days as an undergraduate student. “We predate the marching band, we predate the football team, and we predate Shasta, the mascot.”
Daniel Renfrow became editor-in-chief of the newspaper in early 2012.
“The great thing about The Daily Cougar is that it really functions as an extension of our classroom,” says Renfrow, a print journalism and anthropology double major. “For many of our students, it’s a way for them to get hands-on knowledge of what their industry is like.”
Any UH student can become a Daily Cougar reporter, although Renfrow says a majority of the reporters are journalism majors. Students make all of the editorial decisions regarding the paper.
“We have support staff, a cohort of journalism professors and alumni who give constant feedback and criticism to keep the paper’s standards high, but at the end of the day, every decision about content of the paper and how it’s presented is made by a student,” said Dulin.
The Daily Cougar prints Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters, and it’s editorial board often puts in 40 hours a week at the paper in addition to their class schedules. Renfrow says they take their jobs very seriously, and the experience the students gain is invaluable.
“It’s very rare for a journalist now to have the opportunity to assign articles, edit articles, to layout pages, take photos and do video,” says Renfrow. “Working at The Daily Cougar gives them the opportunity to do all of that. It’s something they probably won’t get to do for a while after they graduate, but makes them more competitive because they know how to do everything.”
With each edition that rolls off the press, comes a lesson for The Daily Cougar staff.
“We use every day’s edition as a learning opportunity, and that’s how we keep our focus: Are the students learning, and what do we have to do to keep that happening?” says Dulin.
The Daily Cougar continues to grow with the university and evolve with the newspaper industry, finding new ways to attract readers through social media and its website, www.thedailycougar.com. The paper attracted a record 100,000 visitors to its website in October 2011, and earned a 2011 Online Pacemaker Award from the Associated College Press.
“When you talk about the history of the school, its future and where it is now, The (Daily) Cougar is a constant every day,” says Dulin. “Whether it’s printing every day or online 24/7, we are constantly telling the university’s story through the eyes of a student—which is the most important perspective of all.”