Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Tuesday, May 28
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion letters

LETTER FROM THE EDITORS: IU won’t support student media. The IDS will be walking out.

camediaschool.JPG

We write to you today about an urgent and pressing matter, a letter we hoped to never write.

The Indiana Daily Student, along with IU Student Television and WIUX, is under threat by our own university administration. This is not the first time an editor has written a letter about the IDS’ finances, but we believe the severity of the threats against student media warrant immediate action. 

On Thursday, April 25, the IDS will stage a one-day walkout. We will not publish content on our website, and IDS staffers will not enter the newsroom. Our goal is to provide the community and the university a glimpse of a possible future without the IDS as it exists today — a future we are fighting to avoid.  

The IDS’ financial struggle has been a death by a thousand cuts. Over the years, the IDS has been forced to decrease professional staff, reduce the number of papers printed weekly and abandon opportunities to make money. And every cut has hurt the IDS, eliminating learning opportunities and hindering our ability to serve the public through our reporting. 

There is nothing left to cut without substantially changing the IDS. Lack of university support and funding has also stifled IUSTV and WIUX, who are fighting the same battle we are. 

This semester, a new IU Media School committee aimed to find solutions for student media’s financial issues, including the IDS, IUSTV and WIUX. While we wholeheartedly support the committee, recent discussions have led us to believe the university is not interested in reinvesting in student media, as the committee recommends, and does not have the best interest of student media in mind.

It appears administrators see student media — like the rest of the university — as a business, rather than a learning lab that provides students invaluable experience and produces vital news coverage for Southern Indiana, whose contribution to the university and community can’t be captured by a budget line. 

Our awards and plaques line the walls of the newsroom, shown off during tours for prospective students. Our century and a half of nationally-recognized work and our successful alumni are used as a recruiting tool to exemplify what Media School students can accomplish. If IU prides itself on its student media organizations and uses them as talking points, why won’t it properly invest in them?

Unless we take action, we could lose valued professional staff, the print paper, student pay or other valuable pieces that make the IDS thrive. We cannot produce investigations holding powerful people to account, write local features on issues Bloomington residents care about or be capable of producing the awards that this university touts as shining, tangible outcomes for its prospective students without adequate investment.

Ultimately, this becomes a press freedom issue.

As every news organization pledges to do, we strive to serve our community through our work, not by making the headlines ourselves. However, given the trajectory of discussions with university officials and the paper’s future in question, we cannot remain silent.

We do not know the exact timeline for this decision, but we know it’s soon and we’re running out of time. For years, the IU administration — now under President Pamela Whitten and Provost Rahul Shrivastav — has failed to adequately support student media, regardless of which administration occupies Bryan Hall. This issue predates the current administration, but we’ve reached the breaking point now. 

We have anticipated the question of “why write now before the university makes a final decision?” The truth is we fear we won’t recover from that decision.

How did we get here?

Student media’s financial future has been on the table for years, kicked down the line by stalled discussions and administrators who have yet to accept any of Director of Student Media Jim Rodenbush’s proposed solutions.

It’s important to know that while the IDS is editorially independent — meaning the university doesn’t control or influence what we publish — financial decisions are not entirely within our control due to our auxiliary status. Applying for fundraising or grants, for example, requires university approval. Any funding model we propose, and the same goes for IUSTV and WIUX, must also be approved by IU’s administration.

Additionally, in our current funding model, the IDS receives zero dedicated annual financial support from the university. According to a report from the Brechner Center for the Advancement of the First Amendment, over 50% of surveyed student media outlets received some form of financial assistance from their universities.

The IDS generates all of our own revenue predominantly from donations and advertising. We do make around $600,000 a fiscal year, but for several years now, we have been running a deficit, and we aren’t the first editors-in-chief to write about it.

On Jan. 7, 2021, former editors-in-chief Caroline Anders and Emily Issacman published a letter explaining the IDS was running out of money. After the letter ran, the Media School and the Office of the Provost agreed to let the IDS run a deficit under the Media School for a period of three years. Our deficit has continued to pile up with no financial plan in place, reaching approximately $900,000.

On Feb. 23, 2023, former editor-in-chief Helen Rummel provided another sobering update more than halfway through this three-year period. She wrote how, despite the looming deficit deadline, no decisions had been reached and the IDS’ financial situation continued to remain up in the air.

Now, here we are in the spring semester of 2024, and we still aren’t sure what our financial future looks like, even as the three-year deficit period is scheduled to end June 30, 2024.

At the beginning of this semester, we were more optimistic about the future with the introduction of an IU Media School committee to create a funding solution for IU student media outlets including IDS, WIUX and IUSTV. This committee, as explained in a news story the IDS published April 1, was working on producing a report that would be presented to Media School Dean David Tolchinsky and then pitched to IU administration.

The committee, made up of Media School faculty, alumni and the student leaders of the IDS, IUSTV and WIUX, has worked expeditiously to create a tangible and realistic plan, one that serves to benefit all of IU student media. The entirety of the committee supports the report’s recommendations — which at its core advocates for consolidation of student media under one umbrella, financial investment from the university and removal of university red tape hindering revenue generation.

Despite this encouraging report which advocates for a sustainable model for the future, budget cuts appear to remain on the table despite our plea against them. From conversations that were on-the-record, we were continually told that we should be prepared for a harsh reality about our financial future.

That’s an insulting and disrespectful refrain. The IDS has for more than a decade proposed legitimate paths forward, spanning from restructuring to the establishment of non-profit models, to begin tackling a spiraling financial situation. Each time a proposal reaches the table of university leadership, it is rejected, pushed back upon or goes unacknowledged without serious, detailed discussion about why our proposals are not satisfactory.

As proposals and solutions die, our newsroom gets smaller.

In 2008, the IDS had 11 professional staffers. Now, it has five. Even as we reduce the number of staff members, the jobs and responsibilities of former members remain. Over time, the five staff members have taken on the additional work with no added compensation. With such a reduced staff, there is not enough time in a work day to reach the IDS, WIUX and IUSTV’s potential.

Our print production was also cut from five days a week to two in 2017. Now, we publish just once a week.

The IDS has seen enough cuts and watched too many valued pieces of our newsroom fall away.

Where do we go from here?

To deter the university from further harming student media, the IDS is planning a walkout on Thursday, April 25. The walkout will entail a strict 24-hour period where no stories will be published on our website, idsnews.com. In addition, our editorial staff will not be coming into the newsroom on April 25. At midnight on Friday, April 26, we will release all the stories we would have published Thursday, a testament to what IDS readers could miss out on if the university continues to pursue budgetary cuts. In the case of any urgent breaking news, we will post on the IDS’ social media pages.

Otherwise, the only content you will receive from the IDS on April 25 is the print paper and our daily newsletter, which you will notice will look different than normal.

Our goal is to preserve the future of the IDS and all other student media. We love this newsroom and everything it stands for, and we do not want to see that change.

What we ask of you, our readers, is to voice your support for all of IU student media and to demand an end to administrative ignorance and disrespect. Send emails or letters to IU administration demanding proper investment in our media organizations and sharing what student media means to you.

We regret that the walkout will have an impact on you and prevent us from delivering you the news for one day. However, we fear the impact will be much greater if we do not act now. We hesitate to focus the story on ourselves, but the IDS may not continue to exist as it has for the past 157 years without taking any action.

We hope this letter and the walkout will allow us to continue serving you for many years to come.

As always, thank you for reading.

***

Before publication of this letter, the IDS reached out to the IU administration for comment. We were then directed to a statement from IU Media School Dean David Tolchinsky, which we have provided below:

“Student media is a cornerstone of a Media School education. Its success is critical to our school’s success. We value it not only as a learning lab, but as a tool to recruit the highest-quality students, a connection to a passionate alumni base, and a resource for social good and democracy. Media School leadership and IU leadership want to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of all student media, particularly the IDS. This spring, I convened a Student Media Committee which included faculty as well as student leaders from the IDS, IUSTV, and WIUX. This group has brought forth innovative ideas, on which we aim to build to ensure a future of success and impact for student practitioners, faculty, alumni, our local communities, industry partners, and the university as a whole."

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe