Daily Egyptian

The Daily Egyptian looks for a brighter tomorrow

By William H. Freivogel

The Daily Egyptian is your newspaper. It is an open forum for student expression and an independent student voice on campus affairs.

At its best, the DE is the eyes, ears and conscience of the university community. It provides a student viewpoint on community affairs, performs a watchdog function and serves as a bulletin board for student and faculty expression.

If you’re longtime readers, we welcome your loyalty. If you don’t usually read the paper, we invite you in. Email your opinions. Submit your columns. Send us a news tip.

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For decades, the Daily Egyptian has been one of a small sliver of student newspapers that has operated independent of university financial support. As you may have heard, however, the DE has become trapped in the same downward economic spiral that has threatened other student and metropolitan newspapers.

Since 2006, advertising revenue has plummeted by 50 percent, from just under $1 million a year to about $500,000. The DE has responded by cutting the cost of student wages in half and reducing publication days. But it still needed an infusion of money from President Glenn Poshard this past summer to make payroll.

Now the DE is rebuilding and planning for the future. Part of that effort is requesting a $10 per semester student fee. Undergraduate Student Government approved a $6 media fee in August, but recently narrowly voted down an amendment to increase the fee proposal to $10. A compromise $9 fee proposal now has been introduced and will be voted on at the USG meeting on Dec. 3 at the Student Health Center. During the debate over the issue, questions arose that we hope to answer.

Why doesn’t the DE go entirely online?

Going online only or further reducing the number of days the DE prints would increase projected losses because of reductions in ad revenue. Advertisers like to use inserts and coupon promotions that can be included in print, so going online only creates a greater loss of revenue. An online only newspaper would have lost $200,000 more in 2013 than the DE actually lost. Publishing a hard-copy DE one-day a week also would have lost $200,000 more. Cutting back from four to three days would have lost $50,000 more and from four to two days $100,000 more.

The fact is the DE needs print ad revenue.

Our residence hall doesn’t feel any connection to the DE. There is nothing in the paper we want to read.

This is a problem that every news organization faces. Readers sometimes think of newspapers as distant and remote organizations that don’t care about their lives. One silver lining of this effort to obtain a student fee is that reporters and editors on the DE have realized how important it is to connect with the community. This is one reason we had an open house a few weeks ago and that the editor, Kayli Plotner, has been visiting student groups to answer questions. We need to do a better job of getting out to where you live and understanding your problems, and we will.

Do other school newspapers get student fees?

Yes. Only about five percent of student newspapers are in the position that the DE is, surviving on ad revenue alone. The University of Illinois paper receives a student fee as does our sister campus at Edwardsville where the paper gets $7.80 per student per semester for a much smaller, once-a-week publication.

Why a $9 fee?

The $6 media fee approved in August would channel $5 to the DE and leave it with gobs of red ink. Last year, the DE lost $120,000. If it hadn’t received an infusion of one-time money from the president and other sources, it would have lost $200,000. This year, revenue is projected to be down another $50,000. At the same time, projected expenses are going up and the DE’s reserve fund will be gone by February. With projected deficits at roughly $300,000 and a projected student body population at roughly 17,000; that divides to $18 per student per year.

Why are there so many DEs around at the end of the day?

As of right now, papers are delivered during the night in order to avoid traffic and cut down on costs. However buildings are not open at night. Therefore papers are left at the entrance for maintenance workers to set in the racks. We are looking into how the DE can do a better job delivering papers, whether it be at different times of the day, or different places. Some locations have too many DEs, others too few. We’ll solve the delivery problems.

Is the DE doing everything it can to save money?

Yes. MCMA has found a way to pay part of the salary of two members of the DE professional staff to compensate them for classes they teach in the School of Journalism. That takes payroll off the DE. We also have sought permission to outsource printing, a move that could save $40,000 to $80,000.

The DE isn’t a good newspaper. There is nothing to read.

The DE is an award-winning newspaper with a proud 98-year tradition. It brings home awards from the state newspaper competitions year after year and its alums have important jobs in the media throughout the nation – from the Chicago Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Washington Post and Seattle Times. That doesn’t mean the DE is as good as it can be. One problem is that financial pressures have forced the DE to slash its staff. Faculty in the School of Journalism are volunteering extra time to mentor DE reporters and editors. The final editorial decisions, though, remain the students’.

Does the university support efforts to rebuild the DE?

Yes. The Board of Trustees voted last spring to instruct university administrators to take steps to preserve the paper. President Poshard took extraordinary measures over the summer to shore up finances. Chancellor Rita Cheng and Provost John Nicklow have met several times to help find ways to preserve the DE. Importantly, President Poshard has said he wants to not just save the paper, but also to rebuild it.

What lies ahead?

The future of the DE is as exciting as the rapid changes in news and information technology. Part of the renovation of MCMA is creation of a 21st Century multi-platform newsroom that brings together all of the College’s professional and student news operations into the nerve center of the College. The printing press will be replaced by a modern newsroom where journalists and other media makers use all of the new tools of communication to produce a daily report for your phone, your tablet, your computer and your doorstep. The editorial staff of the DE is currently in the works of re-vamping the print version for the 2014 year, as well as making many changes to the electronic version of the paper and its website. We want to not only keep the DE alive, but also revive it to its full potential.

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism, which oversees

publication of the Daily Egyptian

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