State Funds May Save Daily Egyptian From Ruin; Special Issue Confirms ‘Clock is Ticking’

In a special issue published last Friday, The Daily Egyptian at Southern Illinois University Carbondale slapped the hashtag #SavetheDE over its regular front-page flag. The main headline beneath the hashtag sums up the drama unfolding around the student newspaper in a way that would make Jack Bauer from Fox’s “24” proud: “The clock is ticking.

As I have previously posted, the longtime SIU Carbondale campus pub has been on financial “life support for a year or so.” School officials recently decided not to approve a student media fee being sought by the staff “to combat rising deficits” in the budget and keep the paper in print. According to Daily Egyptian faculty managing editor Eric Fidler, without the fee, “It almost certainly means the end of the Daily Egyptian.”

But it may be lawmakers to the rescue — at least temporarily. According to a Chicago Tribune report, “State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, amended the state’s appropriation bill to the university on Tuesday to include a $70,000 contribution to the newspaper, The Daily Egyptian. The amendment passed the higher education appropriations committee on Wednesday.”

Translation: SIU Carbondale is a public university, so the state supports it with some taxpayer money every year. This legislator has shifted some things around to ensure that this support now includes $70K for the DE.

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As Fidler, the DE’s faculty managing editor, tells me, “We have many alumni who work as staff in Springfield, and I suspect they had a hand in this. It’s part of SIU’s appropriations bill, which I believe is in committee hearings [earlier this week], so it’s still a long way from cash in the bank yet. I’m very happy about it; it shows how much support we have out there. The money doesn’t make up for not getting the fee, but it would certainly help us get through the summer.”

Will the school come through after that? The Chicago Tribune confirms new SIU Carbondale president Randy Dunn has indicated a willingness to revisit the student media fee issue at next month’s board of trustees meeting — depending on the recommendations of “a group of non-Daily Egyptian-affiliated media professionals.”

In the meantime, those connected with the paper are speaking up. For example, as part of the #SavetheDE issue, former staffers wrote commentaries and personal essays reflecting on the value of their own DE experiences and underscoring the need for the outlet to remain in action and in print.

One example is a piece written with beautiful urgency by 2008 DE alumna Julie Engler. As it states, in part, “You would not graduate an auto mechanic who had never touched a car. You wouldn’t graduate a ceramics student who never touched clay. You wouldn’t send a brain surgeon out to save patients if they had never used a scalpel. So why would you take away such a great learning tool for future journalists? Please, save the Daily Egyptian.”

In a separate letter — not published in the issue — DE alumna Heidi Diedrich writes in support of the paper from Iraq, where she works with an international human rights organization. Jackie Spinner, also a DE alumna and an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago, hand-delivered the letter to Dunn earlier this week.

I am reprinting it here in full (minus contact details) with permission. I’ve bolded a few snippets I especially like.

Dear Mr. Dunn,

I am a SIU alumna. I currently live in Iraq, serving as deputy country director for Heartland Alliance International, an international human rights organization. In June, I’ll take over as country director, leading a staff of 30 in addressing the most egregious human rights abuses in Iraq. But most importantly, I am a former photography editor and staff photographer of the DE. Last week, news of the seemingly inevitable, if not delayed demise of the DE reached Iraq. I read with disbelief the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds saying the DE would be shut down. How could this be?

Ironically, as the news broke, my organization was training Iraqi journalists on the ethics of covering torture in Iraq. Between discussions of protecting sources and debates on what defines investigative journalism, it struck me: What I knew about journalism ethics, what I believed about the power of journalism, and why I am in Iraq in the first place, all began with the DE. In 2010, a former DE colleague brought me to Iraq as a consultant. I returned in 2011 to work in human rights, after a 20-year career in communications.

How I arrived here, at this moment in time, is not lost on me. Nor is the role that the DE played, and continues to play in my personal and professional success. Here is what the DE experience means to me:

  • The DE is where I cut my teeth as a journalist and photojournalist. It’s where I developed a strong understanding of, and appreciation for journalism ethics. It’s where I learned about the power of journalism. And that it can hold those in power accountable. That it can inform the public. That good journalism uncovers stories that otherwise might be left untold. Stories the public needs to know.
  • The DE is where I learned about, and began to fully appreciate the critical role of news media in the democratic process. It’s a lesson that I pass on today as I work to help Iraqi journalists understand the serious responsibility of a free, independent press in the democratic process.
  • The DE schooled me in deadlines . . . and the consequences of missing those deadlines.
  • The DE taught me that the contributions of the individual and the whole make a daily newspaper (read: in adult life, any project) successful. It taught me to both compromise and to stand my ground.
  • The DE taught me how to manage people, how to juggle priorities, how to remain calm under pressure, and how to negotiate with the likes of the Associated Press and United Press International. All at the tender ages of 19, 20, and 21. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving throughout life.
  • The DE allowed me to learn and grow and gave me a community that was aware of, and interested in more than journalism. We explored world affairs and current events and sports and culture together as we learned how to report on these issues for our campus community.

My personal and professional success can be attributed, in part, to my experience at SIU. My college experience is defined by my time at the DE. Denying SIU and the greater southern Illinois community the benefit of the DE would be unfortunate. But denying SIU students the rich experience and personal and professional growth that comes from working at the DE would be a tragedy.

Save the DE, Mr. Dunn. It really can begin and end with you.

Sincerely,

Heidi Diedrich, BS ‘91

Related

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

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

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