Illini Media Company alumni reflect on future of student media


James Hoeck

Eric Semelroth and Jean Lachant walk around the Illini Media office during the newsroom and studio tour on Friday. Illini Media alumni discuss the future of student media in a more digital world.

By JP Legarte, Investigative News & Longform Editor

With the media landscape constantly transforming, the current nature of student media faces issues regarding keeping up with technological developments and changes within the journalism world.

Last weekend, many Illini Media Company alumni gathered together to celebrate 150 years of student journalism and radio at the University. Twenty Illini Media alumni were inducted into the Hall of Fame class of ’22, and the attendees reflected on memories over glasses of wine and cheesecake.

While the alumni reconnected with each other over the course of the weekend, the gathering was also a space to reflect on the future of student media. A few alumni offered their thoughts on the tangible steps that can be taken to ensure that student media continues to thrive.

Bernard Schoenburg, Hall of Fame inductee from the Class of 1976, emphasized how all journalism serves an audience. He noted that a place as extensive as the University will always require a service that informs individuals of everything that happens on campus.

“While (student media) probably won’t always be printed because everybody wants to read on their phone, it will be there or should be there,” Schoenburg said. “You make a story, you talk to people, you get the other side if it’s controversial and you let people know what’s going on. I assume that that doesn’t change no matter what the platform (is). Platforms change. The need doesn’t.”

Jean Lachat, photographer and photo editor for The Daily Illini from 1985 to 1989, echoed many of the same points Schoenburg made. Lachat discussed how the independent nature of The Daily Illini allows for some mistakes to be made, as long as one learns from them.

In Lachat’s perspective, the publication as a training ground is a reason behind the continuing need for student media.

“I think it will survive because there’s always going to be a need for news — honest news, correct news and objective news,” Lachat said. “I think that, as long as you’re learning the technology and everything that goes along with how news is produced now, I think I don’t see it ending.”

According to Eric Semelroth, former editorial artist and cartoonist for The Daily Illini, places for student media are like laboratories where students are free to experiment and explore what works and what doesn’t.

“You’re sort of not in that commercial space yet, so there’s not that pressure to conform, so just spread your wings,” Semelroth said.

However, other alumni acknowledged that for student media like Illini Media to still thrive in the future, there needs to be a focus on adapting current business models in response to shifts in trends.

Jim Schlueter, Illini Media board member, described how student media is in a very critical state as it faces certain crossroads. He explained that the business model at Illini Media needs to change.

“I think we have a great opportunity for leadership amongst our peers in independent university news organizations around the country because we have a very loyal, dedicated alumni base who love this place,” Schlueter said. “We have great brands in The Daily Illini, WPGU and Illio. We can take advantage of that if we mobilize, be structured and organized with a strong strategy of advancement.”

Ultimately, the alumni said students will play a key part in not only the future of student media but also what platforms student media will take as the world continues to change.

Aaron Navarro, political unit associate producer at CBS News, highlighted one of the changes as the shift from print to digital grows even more.

“Print will always have its value, of course, but ramping up online (and) getting breaking news up there — especially for student media — was like something we progressed as we kept going,” Navarro said. “I thought that was important just given how people consume the news these days.”

Navarro concluded by emphasizing the importance of students and their initiative as they take student media into the future and continue to grow and develop both personally and professionally.

“I think it kind of just depends on the students,” Navarro said. “Students are usually innovative. They see how other students consume media. They’re gonna be the ones leading that.”


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