SIUC student paper may get money after months of uncertainty about its future

News-DemocratMay 26, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS

The student newspaper at Southern Illinois University Carbondale may yet receive its requested money after months of uncertainty about its future.

While the Edwardsville campus newspaper is supported by a $7 student fee, the Daily Egyptian in Carbondale is wholly supported by advertising. In recent years, the paper reduced its circulation area, cut salaries and staff and stopped printing on Fridays to cope with increased costs of paper and lower advertising revenue.

The SIUC undergraduate student government supported a $9 fee that would ensure financial support for the Daily Egyptian. However, the SIU board of trustees tabled the proposed fee during their recent board meeting despite the protests of students, faculty and alumni.

Editor Kayli Plotner said the Daily Egyptian staff has worked with their college dean since 2011 for a resolution to the newspaper's finances. The fee, essentially a student subscription to the newspaper, would support the Daily Egyptian as an independent publication, she said.

"The DE is the unbiased, uncensored voice of the university, its students, faculty and staff," Plotner said. "It's not only our right but our job to dig into what is going on within the confines of the campus."

The paper is also the "heart and soul" of the SIUC School of Journalism, Plotner said. She believes letting the newspaper close would be a disservice to the students. "To want to be a journalist and never work at a student newspaper ... is like wanting to be a carpenter and never picking up a hammer," Plotner said.

Tammy Merrett, adviser to the SIUE Alestle, agreed. "The best way to learn the craft of journalism is by doing it, getting your hands dirty," Merrett said. "Student newspapers serve that function for generations of journalists."

But student newspapers aren't just training grounds for journalists, Merrett said.

"They are a means of fostering community on college campuses across the country," Merrett said. "A college campus without a student newspaper is a campus with a muted community."

Since the board tabled the fee, state Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, added a $70,000 line item to the state appropriation bill to support the Daily Egyptian. A social networking campaign began using hashtag #savetheDE to rally support for the newspaper.

Plotner stressed that the Daily Egyptian staff did not reach out to state legislators for money. "This is something they came up with on their own," she said. "We didn't ask for a bailout."

However, she said there isn't much difference whether the money, intended to help them get through the summer, comes from SIU President Randy Dunn or from the state legislature; either way, it's state money.

"This wasn't our ideal way to stay afloat, but for long-term sustainability you have to have cash coming in," Plotner said.

Dunn and board Chairman Randal Thomas have co-signed a memorandum with state Reps. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, and Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and state Sens. Gary Forby, D-Benton, Bill Haine, D-Alton, and David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. The agreement acknowledges the importance of the Daily Egyptian to the university and accept the research that indicated the $9 student fee was the best way to pay for the paper.

"Given its long and storied history on the Carbondale campus, the Daily Egyptian is not going to go out of business or otherwise cease publication on my watch as president," Dunn said.

Dunn said he wants the paper to rethink its business model and control expenses. "And they continue to make good strides toward that end," he said. "This agreement provides some breathing room and bridge funding as the paper makes those changes."

According to the memorandum signed by the legislators and university officials, the $9 fee will be brought back to the board of trustees by July, so it can be included in the fall 2014 fees.

Plotner will be gone by then; she has graduated and will begin an internship on the East Coast.

But she hopes her successors will have the subscription fee to keep the Daily Egyptian afloat.

"No university should ever let their publication get this far in the hole, where they're struggling to stay alive," Plotner said.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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