We need your help

The Daily Illini is in trouble. News broke yesterday about the Illini Media Company, the umbrella organization that owns our publication, and its financial problems and attempts to pay off its debts.

Here are the facts: Right now, we owe $250,000 in printing costs to the Champaign News-Gazette and to other vendors. We’re also behind on our mortgage payments. It’s not a surprise; other campus publications and even professional media outlets have been suffering cutbacks and running deficits for years. The landscape of news media is changing, and we, like so many others, are falling victim to the challenges of a changing news market.

We regret not being the first to bring this to your attention. But that’s why we believe how important it is today to tell you — from one group of students to another — what this situation means for all of us.

The front of today’s DI is almost completely blank. No fire on Green Street; no admission scandal update; no announcement about a new president or sorority closing. No profile on the cool new student upstart or RSO of the week. But fortunately, that doesn’t mean the news has stopped. Turn inside to read the latest update about Unofficial, or flip to sports to see what events are coming up. And on Monday, we’ll be back to our old routine. But a few years down the road, that might not be the case.

We’re not giving up hope. Last September, we introduced you — in print — to our new publisher, Lil Levant. With Lil’s guidance we’ve taken several steps to recovery.

We’ve cut down on our costs significantly, consolidating and restructuring professional staff roles.

We’re trying to rent out space in our building, located on 512 E. Green St. in Champaign, to new tenants. One has already accepted and is moving into our fourth floor space.

We’ve launched an aggressive fundraising campaign. With the help of former editor-in-chief Roger Ebert, we’ve alerted countless alumni about our situation and are actively soliciting their help.

But while we’re optimistic about our chances at survival, these won’t be enough. We need your help, too.

You may have seen us at campus buildings asking you to sign a petition to get a student fee for Illini Media, and The Daily Illini, on the University’s spring referendum ballot. Once it’s on the ballot, you get to vote on it. This $3 fee per semester would comprise about 12 percent of the current fiscal year’s operating budget. We need it to help fund our general operations so that we can invest in capital improvements for equipment and other areas.

The idea of a student fee has not gone without scrutiny by the editorial and professional staffs of this company. We are 141 years old and we’ve always prided ourselves on being your independent student newspaper. But this student fee doesn’t mean that you’re losing any of that. It means you’re supporting a news outlet run by students like you — and perhaps a few of you yourselves — through one of the most financially difficult times in our history. We will never stop breaking news and reporting on our University and community in the most professional and objective way possible. That’s our mission, and always will be.

Perhaps that, were some of these revenue channels to fall through, the DI wouldn’t completely disappear. We might still be able to publish online, but without paying our staff or without the resources that we currently have — computers, cameras, voice recorders and transportation or access to events you participate in or care about. But that kind of DI would be a shell of its former self. Our losses already have had a visible impact that you might have noticed over the past few years. Our page count shrinks more and more each year, leaving us without enough space to dedicate to more local, regional, national and even international events or letters and opinions from people like you. Most of our staff is unpaid or making very little. Technical glitches because of old equipment are not uncommon; one instance just last year almost prevented us from printing.

But in the end, all of these little trials and challenges that we face mean nothing if our situation is so grave that we can’t even fulfill our primary mission: to give you the news. We need to thrive; not just survive.

A blank page may be where we are today, but we can pick up the pen again with your support.