Dear Mom: 10 Reasons Why There Should Be a Student Media Fee at SIU Carbondale

Yesterday, I reported on the sad news that Southern Illinois University Carbondale officials did not approve a proposed student media fee aimed to help keep the Daily Egyptian student newspaper in print.

The $9-per-semester-per-student charge — projected to raise $200,000 annually — is being sought “to combat rising deficits” in the paper’s budget. DE faculty managing editor Eric Fidler confirms, “[W]e’ve been on life support for a year or so.” According to Fidler, without the fee, “It almost certainly means the end of the Daily Egyptian.”

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My mother lives in the Chicago area. She read my post, as she is familially obligated to do. And out of the blue she emailed me, mentioning some of her coworkers who graduated from SIU Carbondale. Here is a portion of what she wrote, “A couple of the guys here went to that college. I showed them your article. They don’t think there should be a student media fee. Please respond.”

Hmm. OK, I’m game. Hey, everyone celebrates Mother’s Day differently.

Dear Mom,

Here are 10 reasons why there should be a student media fee at SIU Carbondale.

1) As I’ve written before, student press outlets are incredibly valuable parts of most schools — holding the powerful in check, countering administrative spin and ensuring the student voice is heard. So I’m in favor of any type of support that keeps college media in the black, on the front lines and feeling free and empowered to innovate and investigate.

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2) This type of fee is a fairly common, generally respected way for schools to help support student pubs. Yes, it’s a bit socialist on spec — everyone forced to pay in. But spreading it out over the entire student body is the key to its success. It keeps the individual charge down (at SIU Carbondale we’re talking less than $20 per person annually, and that’s higher than similar student media fees at other schools). It also ensures total student ownership — at least metaphorically — instead of placing the paper at the financial whims of a single university office that may or may not be prone to purse-string censorship.

3) If I’m understanding things correctly, the fee will help the paper continue paying its student staff. This is essential. Quality student journalism on a sustained basis, semester after semester, atop student staffers’ full courseloads and some semblance of a social life, is very rarely attached to words like unpaid, volunteer or credit-based.

Money equates to motivation. The DE gang does not appear to be raking in much moola. But removing all cash from the equation will inevitably lead to a smaller team, less dedication to the craft, a loss of respect for deadlines and just all-around crappier journalism. And that’s an invaluable loss for the student body overall — a group desperately in need of a champion, mouthpiece and first-draft-of-history-keeper. In that respect, think of it less like a fee solely for student media and more like a donation toward the betterment of the school as a whole.

4) The fee will also seemingly go toward maintaining the paper’s five professional staffers. Again, this is essential. The least understood part of student media is the amount of positive influence exhibited by non-students in the newsroom — including profs and advisers. Students are technologically cutting-edge, generationally in-sync with their audience and admirably energetic (especially after Adderall). But they are still forming their journalistic identities and just starting to master the rules, sources, scoops and beats being thrown at them. Smart, impassioned professionals contractually obligated to guide them on their journeys are indispensable to student press success overall.

5) By all accounts, the fee does not appear to be the first play called in the huddle. It was presented after careful research and the exhausting of other options. This is a newspaper described as being “in the ICU” financially and not far from unconscionable bloodletting or outright death. It needs help. This fee can provide that. What are we waiting for?

6) Students have already approved the fee! The student government said yes to it back in December. So, mom, if your SIU Carbondale alum buddies have a problem with it, that’s cool, but they don’t go there anymore. The student leaders who do still attend, thinking about what is best for their peers, said OK. Now it’s time for the trustees to do the same.

7) The vibe I’m picking up is that this fee will not be permanent. It’s being tasked with helping the paper pay down debts. It will be coupled with a number of other initiatives aimed at righting the financial ship. And, if all goes well, I imagine it will then be cut substantially or expunged entirely. So, trustees, you’re not changing the course of SIU Carbondale history here. You’re temporarily helping one of your school’s oldest, most prominent student organizations — and by extension your popular, respected School of Journalism.

8) I want to counter what I imagine are your coworkers’ two most common complaints about the fee. First, I would bet a Mother’s Day present they’re saying the fee is not worth it because the paper sucks. How do I know they’re saying this? Because it’s the most common, cliché criticism tossed at student media — equivalent to a TV viewer whining “Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good in years.” Here’s the thing though: They’re wrong. The DE is fantastic. How can I be sure? Because I know more about this than they do.

9) The second complaint I imagine being tossed around your office yesterday was that the paper is being greedy by asking for a fee when they could save some money on their own simply by printing less. The DE has already cut back from five days per week to four in print. You have to understand, publishing less is not necessarily the answer. Yes, it saves money from a pure printing perspective, but it also costs the paper the ability to make money. Online advertising doesn’t generate anywhere close to the revenue provided by print ads. The DE needs to keep printing as much as possible, at least for now. Cutting back will only make things worse.

10) Bottom line, the approval of the fee will be a sign school leaders actually trust and support their students and staff. Think about it. This fee was created and vetted by professionals and professors, including the director of SIU Carbondale’s School of Journalism. And it was approved by the student government and student media leaders. The new university president tells The Chicago Tribune he will not let the paper “go out of business on our watch.” That’s great. But those are just words. Mr. President, smart students and professionals who work for you have put together a plan of action. Trust them. Support them. Approve the fee.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Related

Student Media Fee at SIUC Delayed: ‘Almost Certainly Means End of the Daily Egyptian’

21 Reasons Why College Media Matter & Must Be Part of Every Modern Campus

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