Graduating Southern Oregon University senior Eli Stillman may have saved the 90-year-old school newspaper The Siskiyou on his way out the door.
Stillman became the editor-in-chief of the now digital-only paper in January 2015 when he was writing for journalism classes taught by Julie Akins, a freelancer for the Daily Tidings.
“I was excited about writing articles and Julie said I showed promise and interest — and that it would be a great learning experience for me,” says Stillman, who leaves for an internship at Astoria's Daily Astorian Monday, June 13, two days after graduating with his bachelor's degree in communications.
Until a few years ago, The Siskiyou was a hard-copy weekly newspaper. But in 2012 it went to online only, costing much less to produce and keeping it viable in a budget-constrained era.
Earlier this spring, university officials announced they would discontinue the newspaper course at the end of spring term for lack of interest.
Encouraged by Akins, Stillman and classmates took an alternate route to The Siskiyou’s survival, getting it approved as a club, which entitled them to apply for financial support from student fees.
“The downside is there was no money for printing," Stillman said. "As a club, we had no professor, but we went before the Student Fees Committee, where I presented for half an hour about how important it is to have The Siskiyou on campus and that we have experience with the paper and can do it and what our plans are for the coming year.”
The Siskiyou was granted $10,000 on a 6-0 vote of the committee, enabling it to hire an editor and pay writers for the coming school year.
Though some may miss being able to pick up a hard copy of the Siskiyou to read between classes, the digital version has its advantages, Stillman said. The editor and writers can update stories, add just-finished sports events and go with breaking news and new events at any time during the week, not just at the old Wednesday deadline. It is promoted on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging students to use it as a central tool of campus communication.
The Siskiyou's readership jumped from 18,000 in its first digital year to 40,000 views last year and 51,000 views so far this school year. This means students are viewing updated Siskiyous multiple times through the week.
Stillman, a resident of Paradise near Chico, Calif., came to SOU for its cross-country running and track program and was taken in by its sense of community and friendliness, he said.
Taking on the chief responsibility for a weekly newspaper, with no such previous experience, was no walk in the park, said Stillman.
“It was tough at times. There was lots of stuff I had no idea how to do — website, editing, everything. It was a complete learning experience but I felt I had a good grasp going into my senior year,” he said. “I tried to do one or two stories a week, in addition to editing.”
Asked to describe his new love for writing, Stillman said, “I’m always real curious. It’s the main reason I’m interested in journalism. I always wonder how things work and why they happen. I don’t have a problem walking up and talking to strangers. I’m a good listener and try to go in with an open mind, even after I do a lot of research. I go in without judgment. If you have a predisposition, it might take away from hearing what they have to tell you.”
Stillman interned last year for the Tidings and Rogue Valley Messenger and obtained a full-time internship with the Daily Astorian via the Charles Snowden Internship Program of the University of Oregon.
About bringing The Siskiyou back from its near-death experience, Spillman said, “I didn’t want to be the guy who dropped the ball on that one. The Siskiyou has got me where I am today.”
Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at email@example.com.