Student fee a small price to pay for invaluable experience

Where would the Karate Kid be if Mr. Miyagi never trained him how to fight?

Today’s young journalists on campus are asking themselves a similar question. The Daily Illini, the student newspaper that has been training apprentice journalists for the past 141 years, is at risk of being waxed off for good.

Friday’s front-page editorial revealed that Illini Media Company, the DI’s parent organization is facing major financial troubles. Currently, the paper owes $250,000 to its printer. Mortgage payments are running late. Revenue from advertising sales is down. This is serious.

While the DI has been working hard to cut costs, renting out space in the Illini Media Building to other organizations and spearheading an aggressive fundraising campaign with the help of former editor-in-chief Roger Ebert, it’s been made clear this won’t be enough.

As part of their campaign, the DI has asked students to pitch in. Illini Media staff have been speaking in classrooms asking for your signatures as part of a petition to place a $3 student fee per semester on the University’s spring referendum ballot.

This past Friday, a petition was passed around a class of mine with 30 students. Only about a quarter of the class signed. Later in the day, I witnessed a DI staffer approach several students in the Illini Union explaining the predicament and asking for signatures.

None of them agreed to sign. In a certain sense, it’s understandable. The DI has been offered free to students since it began publication in 1871. Questions over what this means for the paper’s independence, where this student funding will go and what led to this dilemma in the first place is likely leaving many frustrated and confused.

And to be completely honest, if I wasn’t affiliated with the DI, hearing the word “fee” might be enough of an excuse for me to mentally set aside this petition as another form of solicitation.

But as a writer who’s been receiving training from Illini Media since my freshman year, I’m thinking of what will happen if we don’t get these signatures. I’m thinking of how things would be if there wasn’t such an outlet to fine tune student writers’ short hand, learn how to knock out an entire article in the amount of time it takes most to write a single paragraph and articulate a well-informed argument in 600 words or less.

As a student, I’m thinking of what the campus would be like without a student newspaper; without a watchdog for the truth; without a voice representing 40,000 U of I students. I’m thinking of the third line of Roger Ebert’s recent letter to fellow DI alumni, which reads:

“After 140 years, it is possible The Daily Illini could cease publication. This would break the hearts of many of us.”

I’m disappointed with my fellow students for not pondering the same questions. I’m disappointed with those who aren’t thinking of the larger picture. It’s important students understand what signing this petition means. And what the consequences of not signing may bring.

In order to be placed on the ballot, the DI needs 3,333 signatures by tomorrow. By signing, you’re agreeing for a proposal on the ballot, for students to pay a $3 nonrefundable fee each semester to Illini Media Company.

But you’re also supporting a group of students who work day in and day out to serve you, the students, by publishing breaking and original news content. Students, who, without gaining experience writing for the DI, lose out on a major foundation for their future careers.

The Daily Illini has acted as training grounds for some of the most transformative journalists and writers of our day. The New York Times best selling novelist Dave Eggers, syndicated advice columnist Dan Savage, the late Robert Novak, publisher Hugh Hefner and, of course, film critic Roger Ebert are just some of the UI alumni who all worked for The DI throughout college.

I urge students to consider the significance of what downsizing, or even potentially eliminating, the campus newspaper means for young journalists — and what this means for the future of the journalism industry as a whole.

By being given the power to sign this petition, you’re being given the responsibility to stand up for this industry and keep it thriving. Please take ownership of that responsibility. Please speak out for young journalists, so we can continue to speak out for you.

_Rebecca is a senior in LAS._