Editorial: The Daily Egyptian is not a public relations firm for SIU – it never will be

By Athena Chrysanthou, Editor-in-chief

Stories published the past few weeks in the Daily Egyptian have received blowback that looks to discredit our work, question our morals as journalists and raises concerns about the purpose of the media.

We have come under fire for recent controversial stories about Chancellor Carlo Montemagno.

Some comments below include blaming the DE for the decline in SIU enrollment, being biased in our reporting, lying, creating low morale on campus and being SIU’s biggest enemy.

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“The constant negativity brought on by the Daily Egyptian is a huge reason for the low morale and low enrollment.”

“This is horrible, biased journalism which in my opinion destroys any legitimacy that the DE ever had.”

“Doesn’t surprise me that the press ruins another situation. Just like they’re trying to destroy our president. Everyone should be concerned about the press.”

“If SIU dies, you die. Don’t keep biting the hand that feeds you.”

“The DE is clearly on a mission. Positive news articles could help the university. Set a trend in journalism, stop the negative lies and look and write about the positive things on campus….”

The job of a journalist isn’t to be liked. Negativity from readers is something that comes with the trade, and something we expect.

The Daily Egyptian is Southern Illinois University’s 102-year-old student publication and over the past century it has built a reputation of professional-caliber reporting and being a watchdog for the the southern Illinois region.

Many who came through the Daily Egyptian with the guidance of journalism faculty went on to lead successful, lifelong careers in journalism.

Just because we are the ‘student’ publication of the university does not mean our job is any different from that of journalists in the ‘real world’.

We hold ourselves to the same standards, follow the same code of ethics and operate as a regular newsroom would outside the confines of university walls.

It is frequently mistaken that the DE as the student publication should report solely on situations that will show the university in a positive light.

We, as aspiring journalists, would be doing a disservice to SIU and the community if we followed that train of thought.

Freedom of the press is a fundamental and integral part of U.S. culture. Recent comments discredit the importance of the media and show a disrespect for a right no other country holds to the same standard.

A reporter never goes into reporting a story with the goal of harming an individual’s public perception – their role is to report the facts and shine light on the truth.

As a result of a story we broke on the hiring of SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s family members, SIU President Randy Dunn launched an ethics investigation into the hirings – which was passed to the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General days later.

In an interview, Dunn said he learned about many of the details of the hirings in the DE’s article.

The more our reporters have dug into Montemagno’s past, the deeper the reporting has been, resulting in some community members saying they feel frustrated, angry and have lost trust in the chancellor.  

The community deserves to know who is leading the university. We must hold those in power accountable.

Some of our stories were picked up by regional and national outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune, ProPublica and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

SIU and the community need the DE and rely on us to be the primary watchdog for our area. If we don’t shine the light on certain issues, then who will?

The DE has broken stories recently that do more than touch the surface, but report in-depth the climate of our university.

As commercial newspapers struggle to survive as newsrooms across the country face cuts, college media organizations are critical to filling in the holes by being a voice not only for students, but for the public.

In an interview, Southern Illinoisan reporter Janis Esch asked Dunn whether some part of him was proud of the Daily Egyptian student reporters for their in-depth investigative work despite the controversy.

“The DE has a long, historic record of being able to get stories like this and go after them. Everyone plays their role, and reporters have their jobs to do,” Dunn said, according to Esch’s tweet.

“In this case, the DE did it, they did it well, and they did it with good research on their facts and now the story goes forward and they should be able to wear that as a big point of pride and another feather in the cap for these types of stories they’ve been able to break,” Dunn said.

In continuing dialogue we have welcomed and published numerous letters to the editor and opinion pieces in response to our coverage.

We could list all the positive, community-interest, feature stories we have done in the past year but some seem to disregard them in the midst of a controversial story.

Earlier in the semester I was asked, “Why would parents want to send their children to SIU if all they see is the ‘negative’ stories on the cover of the newspaper which could hurt recruitment?”

We are not hurting recruitment. We are doing what we are supposed to do, and the work we are doing is something SIU is doing right.

Withholding information from the public out of fear of how it may be perceived is unethical.

College newspapers should not be underestimated because they are staffed by students. The public should expect from us what they would expect from any other news outlet and hold us to the same standard.

If the university or the public expects college news outlets to be a public relations arm for the university, they are asking us to poorly prepare ourselves for the working world after we graduate.

Despite negativity and resistance, we will continue to report the facts and shine the light on both the controversial and the positive.

We will continue to do our duty to the public and students to be the watchdog people expect us to be.

The Daily Egyptian provides a platform for student journalists to grow, hone their craft and go on to lead successful and fulfilling careers.

After all, isn’t this type of platform something SIU looks to provide every student?

Editor-in-chief Athena Chrysanthou can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Chrysant1Athena.

To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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