CARBONDALE — The cohort of budding journalists at The Daily Egyptian have been forced to make big changes in the face of the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis.
SIU Carbondale has canceled traditional, in-person commencement ceremonies scheduled for May, but is exploring alternatives to celebrate students’ achievements virtually, Interim Chancellor John Dunn announced Thursday.
In an editorial published online Wednesday, DE editor-in-chief Rana Schenke announced that, because of the precautions taken regarding the coronavirus, the paper would be stopping its weekly print product for an undetermined period of time.
“It’s my goal for the DE to continue to fulfill this purpose; however, it’s no longer possible for us to do so through the print edition,” she wrote.
Bill Freivogel is a former director of the Southern Illinois University School of Journalism and currently sits on the DE advisory board. He said the decision was made last week after a meeting of the board, to try and publish one more edition before shutting down print for the semester. But, that plan had to change when the university shut down access to classroom buildings.
“It just became impossible to go forward,” Freivogel said Thursday. He said there would be no place to drop papers on campus and putting the paper together remotely, outside of the campus newsroom, would likely not have worked. So, the decision was made to end printing this week. Freivogel said this will cost the paper some ad revenue, but it’s something that couldn’t really be avoided.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the reporting will stop.
“They are doing some good journalism,” Freivogel said of the students’ efforts during the ongoing crisis. As an example, he pointed to a story this week about civil service employees at SIU stepping up to do more during the COVID-19 crisis despite not being paid more.
“It’s a huge learning opportunity,” Freivogel said of the constraints COVID-19 is putting both on the way the journalists are having to do their jobs as well as the weight of the story itself. “This is the biggest story of their college career,” he said.
Schenke echoed this in her editorial.
“We have been told this is the most important story of our careers. We have been told when people look back on SIU’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, our work will be key to their understanding,” she wrote. “We know this to be the truth.”
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Interim Chancellor John Dunn is asking alumni to consider a donation to help students with meals, rent…
When, or if, the paper will begin printing again this summer or even this fall remains to be seen. Schenke said she isn’t dispassionate about a printed product.
“Reading the print edition is what brought me to the DE in the first place,” she said. But it’s just pragmatic thinking that tells her and others that the time may have run out for a physical edition, even in the weekly format the paper uses right now. In fact, Schenke said, covering a story like the coronavirus pandemic, with its hour-by-hour changes, presented a lot of problems for their weekly edition. Making sure the content was relevant and safe was not easy.
In light of this, and with the potential for not returning to print, Schenke said she and her team are trying to find ways to be more efficient.
“One thing we are trying to do is get out content faster,” she said of a future goal both for this semester and moving forward — though she said she’s not sure what her position will be beyond the spring semester.
As for that future decision of whether or not to return to print this fall, Freivogel said a lot of questions will need answering.
“It’s still true that advertisers are willing to pay more for print advertising than (digital) advertising,” he said. He said he thinks it could still be economically viable for the paper to keep its print edition.
That can’t be the focus right now, though.
“We are just trying to put out the best product we can,” Schenke said.
On Twitter: @ismithreports
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