Epilogue from the editor: My life at The Daily Illini

By Se Young Lee

Note: Se Young Lee’s term as editor-in-chief began March 31, 2006 and ends March 24, 2007. March 16 was the last day of scheduled production for on-air and print staff of The Daily Illini.

I started to write this jumble of words at 3:14 a.m. Thursday, the day before what is unofficially my last day as the editor in chief of The Daily Illini. It has been about three hours since all the pages of Thursday’s paper have been sent to the presses and a little more than an hour since the e-mail edition of our Web site content was dispatched.

And right now, I am combing through a short story that a handful of staff members somehow managed to pull together about how a pedestrian was hit by a car at the intersection of Springfield and Lincoln Avenues.

In a way, this is only fitting. I was hired to replace Acton Gorton, who was fired because of the circumstances surrounding the Feb. 9, 2006, publication of the Muhammad cartoons. On my first day on the job, a storm ripped through the city, which caused significant damage in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding areas as well as knocking out the presses. Production managers had to scramble to get the papers published at Rantoul, and the newsroom was on full alert for the night.

While there is always news to be had at a campus as large as ours, the number of extraordinary events that has occurred this school year is unusual, especially in comparison to the past three years that I have been a student of the University as well as an employee of The Daily Illini: the debate over the Global Campus, death of Chris Fu and Matt Wilhelm, “Tacos and Tequila,” the race forum, the snowstorm that shut down campus for two consecutive days, retirement of Chief Illiniwek and proposal for funding Lincoln Hall. The list goes on.

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The Daily Illini itself has gone through tremendous change this school year, as well. In August, The Daily Illini merged with what was formerly WPGU news and created a new online division in an attempt to transform into a multimedia news source. The transition was difficult for all parties involved; print and radio news staff worked at different schedules, philosophies and protocol, nevermind the traditional hostility between print and broadcast journalists. But the entire newsroom struggled to find a way to make the idea of around-the-clock news coverage on the Web come to fruition.

Good journalism on college campuses is hard to pull off, even with all the resources that The Daily Illini is fortunate to have. A college student doesn’t get to get off the clock. Coursework often carries into the late hours as well as the weekend, especially for students who have to go to their part-time jobs before, in-between and after classes to pay off tuition, rent and other living expenses. With the tuition going up the way it has throughout the country, things will only get harder.

Combine those challenges with the fact that journalists often cannot control when news happens, as well as the fact that even the lowest-ranking editors spend at least 20 hours each week to work, and it is not surprising that the staff turnover is as volatile as it has been. I can count on my fingers the number of people who started working for The Daily Illini at the same time as I did and have survived the rigors.

I’ve seen a lot of talented people get burnt out, worn down and beat up to a point where they simply could not function and had to quit working for the DI. I can now joke about the fact that I was stressed from trying to juggle between school and reporting to a point that I woke up one day to notice that half of my face was paralyzed. But it was not so funny when I couldn’t close my left eye or move the left side of my mouth.

Looking back to where we started, there’s no doubt that The Daily Illini is leaps and bounds better. We’ve progressed from a campus newspaper that publishes five days a week to a campus news source that brings the news on the air every weekday and cover breaking news on the Web site as soon as it happens. I am proud of the fact that I was able to contribute in a small way by staying out of people’s way and letting them do their jobs.

This was the biggest, most challenging and most frustrating job I have ever had in my 22 years. But it was also the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my life as well. I am grateful for all the hard work and dedication from the staff throughout the past 11 months, as well as the opportunity to be the steward of an organization that so many accomplished and passionate people have worked to maintain and build up to make it what it is today.

This organization is not perfect. There are still things to be worked out to make the Web site more intuitive as well as improving our news coverage of the campus, specifically in the roles of covering minority affairs and keeping the administration accountable. But there will be capable people manning the deck even long after I am gone to let the community know what they need to know and take this organization to bigger and better things.

Please stick with The Daily Illini. Let us know what we’re doing wrong, what we should be doing and whether we’re doing a good job. This organization ultimately exists to serve the readers – you should hold us accountable from the beginning to the end.

But as the guy who’s going out the door, I can say this:

The Daily Illini will only get better.