The Indiana Daily Student is one of the top college media outlets in the country. Founded in 1867, it has maintained a standard of excellence that has been reflected through its string of ACP Pacemaker awards, CSPA Gold Crowns and statewide accomplishments.
And by the end of the semester, it might be dead.
Co-editors-in-chief Caroline Anders and Emily Isaacman published a piece on Jan. 7 with a pretty succinct headline: “The IDS is about to run out of money. We don’t know what happens next.” The open letter explains that this semester might be the last for the paper because the coffers are about to be empty and the paper lacks the ability to come up with enough money to keep up with the publication’s needs in these changing times.
The IDS isn’t unique in current predicament. We’ve written extensively here about publications at Doane University, the University of North Texas, TCU, Drexel and more that faced either cuts, financial hardship or the risk of death. For me, the IDS situation seems much scarier because of the gravitas this publication has in student media.
For five years, I worked at Ball State as the adviser to the Daily News, and the IDS was the measuring stick. We’d never say it out loud, but our goal in every national and statewide competition was to beat IU. It didn’t happen a lot, but when it did, that was REALLY saying something.
The folks at IU student media were the 1950s Yankees, the 2000s Patriots and Microsoft all rolled into one. They won EVERYTHING and they were just BETTER than everyone else. They operated in Bloomington, where they WERE the media, covering the city better than the city paper and serving as the “must read” source of information for all people.
Watching them hit hard times is like watching your faith in the whole concept of student media get shaken to the core. It’s like, “If these folks are in trouble, what chance do any of the rest of us have?”
Over the past several years, the staff of the IDS has actively engaged in various methods to stave off this endgame and to try to keep the paper afloat:
In 2017, we cut our print paper from five days a week to two. Last semester, we reduced our printing schedule to just once a week. We post about 20 stories to our website daily, but the loss of our print product has reduced opportunities for ad revenue and chances for students to learn about page design….
[W}e rely on a professional staff to help us with jobs that are simply too large for students to take on, such as managing payroll and sellings ads. Pro staff are IU employees, but the IDS pays their salaries.
They’re our largest expense, or about 35% of our budget. We’ve already lost two in the past two years, and the six remaining have been forced to take on larger roles for no additional compensation.
As is the case with many other student news outlets that have been forced to make these types of cuts, the more the IDS eliminates its print publication, the more difficult it has been to remain relevant to readers and staffers, Anders said in an email interview last week.
“The cuts to the print paper have affected our ability to take on new students interested in learning page design and give them the experience they want and need,” she said. “Having the paper function as a weekly has also changed it to be much less focused on breaking news and much more geared toward longer pieces and things that can sit on stands for a whole week without getting stale. That means you won’t learn about any breaking news by picking up an Indiana Daily Student anymore.”
The paper has also engaged in fundraising to try to stem the tide of lost advertising revenue. Anders said that within two days of the letter going public, the IDS Legacy Fund raised more than $85,000 from 480 donors, including a $50,000 donation from IU alum Mark Cuban.
That said, the letter from Anders and Isaacman states up front that “donations will extend the life of the IDS as it exists today, but they will not save it. We need a more comprehensive solution.”
That solution, or at least a possible one, has been languishing in the world of academic bureaucracy for almost three years now, it seems.
“Our biggest priority now is getting the dean of the Media School to approve the new plan for a business model that’s been sitting on his desk for two-and-a-half years,” Anders said. “Discussions about the plan were halted at the beginning of the pandemic, and the committee that was formed to discuss the plan and how to move forward hasn’t had a meeting since March 2020. We need Dean Shanahan to approve this plan or reject it so we can move forward. Without his sign-off, the IDS is just treading water until our financial reserves run dry.”
The folks at the media school have provided some assistance to the IDS over that time, providing reporting assistance and some specified funding to touch on crucial areas of interest.
“The Media School has contributed grant money for the three semesters now (including this one) to fund city beat reporters, a diversity beat reporter and two editors to our new Black Voices section,” Isaacman said in an email interview. “But the IDS is independent and has traditionally not sought financial help from the university. As our losses become too big to salvage by ourselves, however, we’re looking to the university for assistance.”
In the meantime, the EICs are starting a new semester by training an incoming staff, preparing for upcoming news events and trying to stay positive.
“While we work with our advisers and alumni toward getting the IDS on stable financial footing, we’ll continue to produce the best content we can,” Isaacman said. “We publish online daily and once a week in print. We have more than 150 students on our staff, including almost 30 editors who work nearly every day to cover the IU and Bloomington community.”
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:
ENCOURAGE THE ADMINISTRATION:
This is James Shanahan, the dean of the media school at IU. The students clearly aren’t looking for a hand out, but rather someone to help them get a plan toward solvency moving forward. If want to let the dean know that people are actively interested in seeing that move forward, you can email him here: firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 812-855-1963. It never hurts to let folks know that people care (and that we’re all watching), so let him know you would like to hear more about why it’s taking longer for this plan to get approved than it took for Kanye to drop a new album.
GIVE A BIT:
The students are doing fundraising, even as they work through the bigger issue of getting an improved model in place. If you are interested in donating to the legacy fund to help keep the publications rolling, you can go here and contribute.
ENCOURAGE THE STAFF:
Emily and Caroline were nice enough to provide both the letter to the public and this interview for the blog. I can tell you from experience, it’s not easy or fun to step up and let people know that the student media outlet you love is in real trouble. If you just want to let them know you’re thinking about them or to offer them a bit of encouragement, you can email them here: email@example.com.