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SIU celebrates 75 years of the School of Journalism and Advertising
October 20, 2022
As the semester came to one of its highpoints during homecoming week, many alumni, retired staff and community members gathered at Southern Illinois University (SIU) to celebrate their many years of unstinting service to SIU and its students. There were many exclamations of déjà vu from those who walked the Saluki-spirit-strewn hallways in past decades, finding the school a vibrant but altogether different place.
Still, especially in SIU’s tightly-knit arts departments, where students have easy access to professors, alumni are not easily forgotten by those they mentored and grew with. On Friday, October 14, as the returned classes paced their old stomping grounds, alumni, including those from the Daily Egyptian and Saluki AdLab, celebrated one such community, 75 years in the making, on the anniversary of the School of Journalism and Advertising.
“Well even though it’s 75 years, the journalism program was here, like, at the beginning of time. When the college started in the 1860s, journalism was one of the first programs,” said Jan Thompson, the director of the School of Journalism. “So the importance of the program, within this university, has always been there.”
The evening started with a panel of the Daily Egyptian’s (DE) editors from the last decade, which took place in the DE’s newsroom. Each of the former editors told journalism students where they are in their careers currently. Panelists came from all over, ranging from Sarah Gardner, director of social media strategy for National Geographic in Washington D.C. to one of SIU’s own sports communication associates, Tyler Dixon.
While each editor presented their own colorful history with the DE, few contributed more to the paper than Kayli Plotner, who helped save the DE from hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in 2014. Leveraging her twitter movement, #savetheDE, she proposed funding the DE with a student media fee, going from the Undergraduate Student Senate to the top levels of the schools administration. It’s thanks to her, and supporting faculty mentors like Professor Bill Freivogel, that the Daily Egyptian is one of relatively few school papers able to offer its student workers payment for their efforts.
Brain Muñoz, a panel member and 2019 graduate, was one of many that saw the fruits of previous editors’ labor.
“Over the years, looking at the work that the Daily Egyptian did – even when I wasn’t at SIU – was amazing and one of the big reasons why I came to SIU,” Muñoz said. “I would go – at my previous university that I was attending – I would go and look at the Daily Egyptian’s content: the stories they were putting out, the community features, the photo essays. I’m like, ‘I wanna be a part of that, I don’t know how they’re so good at what they do!’”
Muñoz would go on to transfer to SIU as soon as possible, almost immediately becoming the director of photography at the DE. He was made Editor in Chief by the fall semester of his senior year.
“Luckily we’ve been able to persevere through 75 years because of the shoulders of the giants we stood on and we continue to blaze the path forward and try and bring in more folks to experience the same magic we experienced here,” Muñoz said.
After the panel, the School of Journalism held its 75th anniversary reception in North Light Studio, drawing dozens of familiar faces, both old and new. On the way there, alumni and retired faculty were treated to a newsroom plastered in photos of past editors, reporters and faculty of the DE, including Gus Bode, the Daily Egyptian’s sardonic mascot of 66 years.
Once an author of his own column in the DE’s Friday Entertainment issue, “The Pulse,” Gus has sometimes been a controversial figure, like the time he provoked a group of women to storm the DE’s newsroom and release a live chicken, but has a reputation for always being honest and frank. His comments over the years and many other items of DE memorabilia greeted the homecoming Salukis.
However, no matter how many memories the DE dredged up for display, some attendees couldn’t help but be wowed in the wake of time’s progress at SIU. Tom Hexamer, formerly the Radio and Television equipment manager at SIU, marveled at the technological changes at the school, where he spent the entire second half of his career.
“You see that [large, ceiling mounted crane] right there? That hung over the printing press in this room at one time, a monster! And what that thing would do up there is lift the big rolls of paper and put them on the printing press,” Hexamer said. “Years ago the equipment that you worked with, your cameras, your audio recorders, your film processors; if it wasn’t heavy, it wasn’t any good.”
Journalism isn’t always the easiest field. The deadlines can be harsh on one’s personal schedule, the pay is seldom generous and the subject matter of reporting can range from the happiest of occasions to the darkest crimes. It’s common for journalists to switch careers early on after dealing with demanding companies and disadvantageous contracting conventions. In short, it is unusual for an old veteran such as Hexamer to come along with 25 years of experience and a comparable amount of teaching experience.
“Every day was a learning day,” Hexamer said. “What you learned today was obsolete tomorrow, so you had to always, always, observe and learn. Once you get that established in your ethics, then the changes, and the changing technology, is easy to accept.”
Thompson noted the importance of the industry the DE’s students are learning.
“Those who are on the journalism side, they understand that what they are doing is giving a voice to those that don’t have a voice,” Thompson said. “We’re in the constitution. How important is that? Journalism is what keeps our democracy together. Journalism is what keeps people honest, so that the little guy has a chance.”
Thompson went on to praise the advertising side of the School of Journalism and Advertising, which has won many awards, recently even securing a 2 million dollar contract with the state.
“We’re kicking some butt,” she said. “We have some of the most talented kids in this school, we do! It’s my job as the director, as all my faculty, to find that passion in you, to make sure that, if this is what you wanna do, we’re gonna lift you up […] We’re the little train. We are full of heart. We are the ones that, you know, people might not see us in the room but if we’re given the chance they’re gonna hear us, they’re gonna feel us, and we leave some people in the dust.”
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