Daily Egyptian now printed weekly with new format by Southern Illinoisan


(Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Bill Lukitsch

The Daily Egyptian looks different after 100 years of printing. Readers accustomed to the four day a week tall tab may be surprised to see it on the racks with less frequency, or to learn how pressure from the publisher of a competitive newspaper – The Southern Illinoisan – influenced the new format.

It’s a story that started in 2014, after the newspaper’s printing press folded.

Former publisher of the Southern Illinoisan John Pfeifer repeatedly asked SIU administrators to make changes to the Daily Egyptian’s format so he could be included in the public bidding process to print the student-run newspaper. The Southern Illinoisan eventually did get the contract, but only after the state purchasing officer apparently made a miscalculation based on incorrect dimensions.


Steve Todt, the state procurement officer assigned to handling the printing contract for the Daily Egyptian, said the bid was awarded to the Southern Illinoisan based on its square size of 11.375 inches. But records kept by the Daily Egyptian show that the Southern Illinoisan’s was 10.75 inches, not the 11.375 Todt relied on.

As a result, the Daily Egyptian marks its centennial anniversary of delivering campus news to students and the Carbondale community in a new format. The tabloid-style layout is to be printed once a week on Wednesdays, a reduction of three print newspapers per week compared to the spring semester.

The changes took effect after a July 7 purchase order that put the Daily Egyptian in a 2 ½ year printing contract with the Southern Illinoisan despite staunch opposition from a number of faculty members within the School of Journalism. A competitive bidder, Breese Journal & Publishing Company, had the capability to retain the original size of the newspaper, but was underbid based on the faulty metric.

MORE: Daily Egyptian has new platform, but same reporting values, editor says 

In April, former Director of the School of Journalism Uche Onyebadi sent a letter to Deborah Abell, the university’s director of procurement services, asking to reject the bid. Among a number of reasons, Onyebadi began with the state procurement officer’s mistakes on column inches available for content in the newspaper.

The bid was awarded, Onyebadi said, based on design specifications that compared an 8-page tall tab to a 12-page tabloid. But in order to retain at least the same amount of space, he argued, the design of a short tabloid — which is used by the Southern Illinoisan — would have to be upped to 16 pages, creating a more expensive printing run.

Onyebadi said the proposed “awkward, square format” and lower quality printing would reduce the overall aesthetics of the newspaper, the interest of print advertisers, the enjoyment of readers and the educational experience for journalism students.


“Our view is that this unilateral decision subverts the contents of the [request for purchase], and constitutes an interference with the editorial independence of the DE,” the former director said.

Abell said during an interview the complaint was passed along to the state procurement office, whereupon the original determination was upheld and the contract was granted to the Southern Illinoisan.

The move to the new press marks the third time the student-led newspaper has changed printing sites within the last 18 months. The latest transition, however, was the most drastic.

The Daily Egyptian’s traditional “tall tab” format was run on an in-house press used by the student newspaper for more than 50 years. That press was maintained by a team of student employees, and at its height ran 20,000 print circulation per issue five days a week during fall and spring semesters.

The printing press now idles beside a row of tall glass windows along the walkway on the northern end of the Communications Building. Barrels of used oil, wooden pallets and empty buckets surround the sleeping steel behemoth, a relic of the newspaper’s former glory.

For decades, the student newspaper ran independent of state funding and revenue generated by the university, but disinvestment in print media created unsustainable financial problems similar to those experienced by comparable institutions around the nation.

Data maintained by the Daily Egyptian shows advertisement revenue dropped by nearly $500,000 between 2008 and 2014. As revenue for the newspaper continued to plummet, measures were taken to rethink the Daily Egyptian’s financial model.

In 2014, a “swat team” of newspaper professionals was organized by then-director of the School of Journalism William Freivogel to provide ideas on what steps should be taken to ensure the existence of the student media source. Through that team, a number of strategies were floated to right the sinking ship, including limiting the number of runs per week, introducing a new student media fee and outsourcing the print operation.

Pfeifer was one of those brought in as a consultant to discuss the future of the Daily Egyptian.

“One of the recommendations that came out of that group was to close the printing press and outsource the printing sooner rather than later,” Pfeifer said Wednesday, adding that much of his two-year tenure with the Southern was spent attempting to secure the contract.

For weeks, the Daily Egyptian also ran a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #SaveTheDE to bring attention to the possible discontinuation of student-run print media on campus. University officials, including newcomer president Randy Dunn, stood in support of the campaign, and in June 2014, the SIU Board of Trustees approved a $9-per-semester student media fee to cover some of the operational costs for the cash-strapped newspaper.

After all was said and done, the final issue of the newspaper to run on the university campus was printed Jan. 29, 2015 by a small crew led by former Printshop Superintendent Blake Mulholland.

When the press shut down, the newspaper moved production to its emergency printer in Cape Girardeau, Mo., until a bidding process could begin. An announcement was made by the Daily Egyptian through social media to inform readers of the switch, but was interpreted as a permanent move by Pfeifer.

In January 2015, Pfeifer sent an email to Dunn expressing disappointment his company was unable to submit a bid. He noted that looking at outsourcing the print in the near future was his suggestion and wondered why he was “shut out” of the process.

“Seven months later, finding out that printing is moving to Cape Girardeau by reading the DE’s Facebook page seems a rather poor way to treat a business neighbor, community partner and stakeholder in the Daily Egyptian’s future,” he wrote. “Assessing all SIU students an additional $9 in fees and then sending that money to Missouri is simply not right.”

Pfeifer said the outsourcing was a “sore spot” for him and he had questioned reasoning by the student newspaper’s former business manager to retain the tall tab format to reach advertisers.

Because the Daily Egyptian receives funding through the university it is required to abide by the state’s procurement process for its print contract. But after the first bidding process was launched, no vendors — including the Southern Illinoisan — were found to match the budget and size specifications of the original newsprint format.

Once the first bids opened, correspondence involving the Daily Egyptian between Pfeifer and university officials span months as he attempted to get a seat at the table. In November 2015, Pfeifer sent an email to several university administrators saying he was frequently told “the SIUC Administration is interested in expanding our partnership/working agreement, but the bid (specifications) continue to say otherwise.”

After the second bidding process went unresolved, Matthew Baughman, an assistant to the chancellor who helped navigate the procurement law through the final bid, sent an email to Onyebadi suggesting the newspaper include an alternate format to widen the scope of possible vendors.

That was done, Baughman said Wednesday, to reduce the likelihood of having a third bidding process go unresolved.

“You had two bid processes that couldn’t award the contract,” Baughman said. “At some point the DE has to be able to go out and award a contract to print the DE.”

After this suggestion, the School of Journalism drafted a request for purchase that included the alternative format with which the newspaper is now printed.

“We don’t really care who prints the Daily Egyptian,” SIU spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said, adding that the conversations about finding an alternate format were “about how to help get resolution [and] about finding ways to help get the DE get printed.”

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at 618-536-3326[email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

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