Illini Media Company alumni reflect on the future of student media

By JP Legarte, Investigative News & Longform Editor

With the ever-changing media landscapethe current nature of student media faces challenges in keeping up with technological developments and changes in the world of journalism.

Last weekend, many Illini Media Company alumni gathered 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 attendees reflected on their memories over glasses of wine and cheesecake.

As the graduates reconnected with others over the weekend, the gathering was also a space to reflect on the future of student media. A few alumni shared their thoughts on concrete steps that can be taken to ensure that student media continues to thrive.

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

“While (student media) probably won’t always be in print because everyone 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 guess that doesn’t change, regardless of the platform (is). Platforms change. The need is not.

Jean Lachat, photographer and photo editor for The Daily Illini from 1985 to 1989, echoed many of the same points made by Schoenburg. Lachat explained how the independent nature of The Daily Illini allows for some mistakes, provided you learn from them.

From Lachat’s perspective, publishing as a training ground is one reason behind the continued need for student media.

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

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

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

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

Illini Media Board Member Jim Schlueter described how student media is in a very critical state as it faces some crossroads. He explained that Illini Media’s business model needs to change.

“I think we have a great opportunity for leadership among our peers at independent college news organizations across the country because we have a very loyal and dedicated alumni base who love this place,” Schlueter said. “We have big brands in The Daily Illini, WPGU and Illio. We can take advantage of this if we mobilize, structure and organize ourselves with a strong advancement strategy.

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

Aaron Navarro, political unit associate producer at CBS News, pointed to one of the changes as the shift from print to digital intensifies further.

“Print will always have its value, of course, but the rise of online (and) breaking news there – especially for student media – was like something that we progressed over time. extent,” Navarro said. “I thought it was important considering 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 depends on the students,” Navarro said. “Students are generally innovative. They see how other students consume media. They will be the ones directing this.

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Cathy W. Howerton