The lights were dimmed at The Vidette offices, with just the sound of a clip from the previous night’s 60 minutes gently humming over a projector’s speakers. A group of student editors gathered around, watching CBS tell the story of famed national sports reporter and Central Illinois resident Dave Kindred, who rebranded himself in retirement.
The eager student journalists watched as Kindred, now 79, shared how his sought-after print columns, which had homes in The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Sporting News, quietly faded as journalism became more digitized. In his later years, Kindred has covered Morton High School girls’ basketball for the team’s website—only after attending a game as a fan and deciding he couldn’t not write about what he was seeing.
At the end of the clip, Kindred told CBS’ Jon Wertheim that “writers write.”
John Plevka, general manager of The Vidette, then turned off the screen and repeated the line to his staff. “Writers write.” And with that, students continued to lay out the pages of the paper, which will print its final pages on April 27. The following week, The Vidette will release a special commemorative edition of the student-run publication that has been an anchor of information at Illinois State since 1888. Details about obtaining a copy will be available soon on The Vidette’s website. The Vidette will move to an entirely online format starting in the fall semester.
While the industry has shifted gears, the need for strong storytelling remains as high as it ever has in an increasingly fast-paced world.
“It’s gonna take a while for some of that stuff to play out, but I do think those opportunities will still be there because the appetite for information hasn’t gone away,” Plevka said. “It’s still about storytelling. I mean think about it. There’s never been a better and more exciting time to be a storyteller.”
Current staff members have taken that to heart and have found ways to deliver compelling content in challenging circumstances. Despite having to work virtually all last spring because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, student journalists documented student responses to what was taking place around the world.
Their efforts resulted in a record eight first-place awards for editorial achievement in the 2020-2021 Illinois College Press Association contest. Senior Lizzie Seils, editor-in-chief of the paper, said college students were particularly invested in topics such as social justice movements and election coverage because young people tend to be civically involved. She was proud of how the staff localized those stories for the campus community.
“I think those spring additions we did last year were some of the strongest stuff we’ve ever done just because we all just felt like we had to do something,” Seils said. “So, we put it into that and really captured I think how students were feeling.”
The Vidette was active all school year on digital platforms, a focus it has had over the last decade. Staff has produced content across social medias, podcasts, and web-friendly formats, which Plevka hopes will make for an easier transition.
The publication announced its decision to become entirely online in early December. The Vidette will remain part of the School of Communication (COM), as it has since 2010. Eventually, “gateway courses” within the COM curriculum could be required for employment at the publication. WGLT will assume The Vidette’s business and administrative oversight.
The Vidette is losing its tangible product of the last 132 years, but the flagship of the publication now becomes the website instead of the paper.
“Essentially the thing we’re losing is seeing ourselves in print, which is sad, but I know what we are doing is worthwhile stuff,” Seils said.
Plevka hopes the paper can still be a learning lab for aspiring professionals. It has helped launch the careers of journalists who have worked at places such as The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many other outlets.
“You’re able to treat this more like a job, and that is a lot more rewarding,” said current Vidette photo editor Alex Gant.
While The Vidette is changing along with the industry, its commitment to excellence is not.
After all, writers write, and content creators create.
Editor’s note: A longer version of this story will appear in the summer issue of Illinois State alumni magazine.