Friday, May 09, 2014

The Tomb Of The Daily Egyptian

Colleges publish newspapers that are put together by students who are learning how to publish newspapers. It makes little sense to train journalists if the best you can do is show them how to do the job, but never let them gain any actual experience at the profession. Knowing how to do something is not the same as doing it.

However, the cost of publishing a daily newspaper is going up. Just ask the folks who try to keep the Chicago Tribune afloat. It takes a lot of employees to get that daily rag out on the streets every day, and advertising revenue has been declining for years. The price of a subscription doesn't come close to covering all the expenses.

The same issue has hit the Daily Egyptian, the newspaper created by students at Southern Illinois University.

Because advertising revenues figure so strongly in the school paper's budget, the decline in those revenues is causing some severe financial difficulties. To control costs, the paper is issued only four days per week rather than five. That's one-fifth less paper needed, and one less press run to pay for. One less delivery cost to get the papers to the stands scattered around campus. One-fifth less hours for the professional staff managing operations.

The cuts are small and not enough to ensure that the paper can continue to exist, with its life ending just short of its upcoming hundred year anniversary.

Where is the money to come from in Illinois when the state is broke?

Over at the school's Edwardsville campus, students are hit with a fee of $8 per semester to cover the costs of publishing a school newspaper twice per week. SIU's finance committee considered doing something similar for the Daily Egyptian, only to table the motion. It's hard enough to attract students to the smaller sections of the Illinois university network, with all the glory going to the Urbana-Champaign campus. Why make it harder, with some fee designed to prop up a dying form of communication?

Why not just publish online? Even Jet magazine is going all digital to try to stay alive.

Online publications draw online advertising rates that are far lower than print rates. While cutting the cost of printing, the Daily Egyptian's revenue stream would be shrunk as well, and the publication would be in the same place, begging for money to stay alive.

Will future SIU students be willing to kick in for something that they probably don't know they need? Do they know where the online news stories come from, or do they think that well-meaning volunteers are spending all their time compiling and tracking down sources and leads? Do students who live on Facebook get a chance to learn how important journalism will be to them when they have finished college and have to make informed decisions?

Isn't that worth eighteen dollars a year?

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