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Watch now: Illinois State University's Vidette prints last paper; going all-digital

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Incoming Vidette Editor-in-Chief Kellie Foy checks her cellphone as she works on the newspaper at Illinois State University on Monday, April 19. The growth of digital communication has put a nail in the coffin of the printed paper on the college campus.

John Plevka, general manager of the Illinois State University Vidette student newspaper, talks about the publication becoming digital-only.

NORMAL — On Monday, the editors at The Vidette, Illinois State University’s student newspaper, did what they always do on Mondays: put together the print edition of the newspaper.

But this Monday was different. It was the last print edition — not just for the semester, but forever.

As a consequence of declining revenue and changes in newspaper journalism that go beyond college campuses, The Vidette will become all digital after 133 years as a print publication.

“I’m bummed to see the print product go away, but the journalism doesn’t go away,” said John Plevka, the paper’s general manager since 2012. “We’re not the first college paper to end the print edition and we won’t be the last.”

The Vidette already has been publishing an online edition and Plevka said, “I do plan to push polishing our web presence.” He will be at ISU another year to help with the transition.

Student editor-in-chief Elizabeth Seils of Chicago said, of finding out she would be overseeing the final print editions of the paper, “I felt like I was the Grim Reaper.”

The impending end of the print edition hasn’t sunk in yet, said Seils, who is graduating this semester and hopes to join the public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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Printed editions of the Vidette and awards line the office of John Plevka, the general manager of the Illinois State University newspaper. The publication is becoming digital-only.  

“It will probably hit me in mid-July. That’s when it will really feel like it’s over and done,” she said.

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One of the last printed Vidette newspapers at Illinois State University received a positive review. The award-winning publication will be fully online in May.

At one time, The Vidette was self-supported through advertising revenue. That plunged to only a few thousand dollars annually and three years ago, the paper exhausted reserve funds saved from more lucrative years. The university provided some supplemental funding, but changes were needed.

When Plevka came to ISU, the paper was printed five days a week and all the students on the staff were paid. The print schedule went to four days a week, then twice a week and eventually weekly. Only the core editors are paid and Plevka said that will continue.

What also will continue is a commitment to providing the news.

Plevka said people who go into journalism want to be story-tellers and want to help inform their communities.

“We’re not in it to get rich,” he said.

Although the delivery methods may be changing, Plevka said, “for those who believe passionately about being a story-teller, it’s a good time.”

Today’s journalists need to know how to use a variety of tools, including video, even if they work for a news “paper,” he said, adding, “Journalists were always expected to be generalists.”

Incoming editor-in-chief Kellie Foy of Naperville, finishing her sophomore year at ISU, said, “I kind of knew what I was getting myself into” when she was named as the next editor.

“I think it’s a thrill. …Going through that transition is exciting,” she said. “It’s going to be an experience you won’t get in a classroom setting. Try to make the most of it.”

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Vidette Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Seils, right, talks to Sports Editor Rachel Hickey on April 19. 

She said the past year has been overwhelming, not just dealing with online or hybrid classes and the upcoming transition at the paper, but also “dealing with historical events” from COVID-19 and a presidential election to racial justice issues.

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Vidette General Manager John Plevka has hung some of the award-winning layouts from the printed student newspaper on his wall at Illinois State University.

“The nice thing is with that digital aspect, you have more opportunities to do multimedia. … You can get more creative.”

Sports editor Jake Sermersheim, a junior from Danville who has been at The Vidette since the first week of his freshman year, is looking forward to having more time to improve the website and get into video production and editing.

The future is “definitely digital,” he said. “You have to be able to do everything. … People have to be adaptable.”

Foy said her goal as the next editor is “to maintain the family and community aspects we’ve had here.”

Seils said she is going to miss The Vidette after graduation.

“I owe a lot of where I am right now to The Vidette,” she said. “I came here as a nervous, shy, mousey little freshman. … I’ve been able to grow.”


Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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A publication that has survived the turn of two centuries, the Great Depression, two World Wars, JFK, MLK, 9/11, 17 university presidents and the growth of a college of about 800 students to 25 times that today, the ink-on-paper Vidette is about to go online only.

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