Social media firestorm surrounding Daily Egyptian decision catches administrators by surprise

The social media firestorm that surrounded the decision by Southern Illinois University’s board of trustees to put off voting on a media fee for the 98-year-old Daily Egyptian newspaper caught university administrators by surprise.

DE alumni from as far away as Iraq leaped to the paper’s defense, flooding social media, including the hashtag #savethede on Twitter.

Other examples included:

  • The DE staff stayed up the entire night after the board meeting producing a special 17-page online edition containing its reaction and the reaction of alums at http://dailyegyptian.com.
  • Well-placed DE supporters in the General Assembly arranged for a special $70,000 appropriation, earmarked for the DE, to be added to the SIU appropriation bill.
  • Jackie Spinner, former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, showed up at the state capital and was walking out of a Senate leadership offices as the university’s new president, Randy Dunn, was arriving.
  • Paul Pabst of the popular Dan Patrick sports program posted a YouTube video in support of the DE (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2dhyPNwStA&feature=youtu.be)

Dunn, who said his email account was being bombarded with messages from DE alums, responded to the social media storm by saying the DE “is not going to cease publishing on my watch as president of the university.” He added that he hadn’t had time since taking office May 1 to study the fee proposal.

Dunn told William Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism, that he could take the media fee back to the executive committee of the Board of Trustees in June, in time to get the fee in place for the fall.

Dunn has asked Freivogel to put together a working group of media professionals to take another look at the need for a fee. A second group of DE alums also will review the proposal. All of this will occur in time for Dunn to return to the board committee by late June.

In a statement, Freivogel said he had vetted the fee last fall with a group of media professionals, including DE alums. That review had led to the development of the fee proposal, which was approved by Undergraduate Student Government, SIU’s chancellor, Rita Cheng, and the university’s outgoing president, Glenn Poshard.

In the statement, Freivogel said that “even though I believed we had thoroughly researched the fee proposal, I would form the group (Dunn) requested. I told him I would also want to run that group’s findings past the devoted DE alums, whose support has been so heartening in recent days.”

The $9 fee per student per semester fee for the four-day-a-week DE compares to a $7.80 fee already in place at Carbondale’s sister campus in Edwardsville for its weekly paper. The fee for the DE would raise about $260,000 a year, which is the projected deficit for the DE.

The DE’s ad revenue is about 50 percent of what it was in 2006, a trend similar to those reported at other student papers.

The trouble at the Daily Egyptian comes at a time when other college papers in the region are having trouble. The University of Missouri St. Louis recently refused to re-impose a student fee. At Webster University, Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, cut the money going to the school newspaper. Details can be found online at http://gatewayjr.org/2014/04/04/student-paper-at-webster-university-faces-cuts.

In addition, Eastern Illinois University announced it would not publish a print edition this summer because of financial problems.