On April 16, 2019, TechNews publishes its last issue of the 2018-2019 academic year, amid organizational growth and controversial stories that incited major change.
Ethan Castro, editor-in-chief of TechNews, recounts the increase in writing volume over the last year. Formerly stretching for content in consistent eight-page issues, TechNews faced a new problem at times this year: too much content. Issues now average 12 pages, even reaching the 20-page maximum on one occasion.
TechNews’s dramatic growth is attributed to recent efforts on combating exclusivity and encouraging participation regardless of major or experience level, two components that are typically present in large, liberal arts-focused universities. TechNews is notably less competitive than newspapers at other institutions. Castro describes TechNews as being in a “unique place,” allowing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and other non-liberal arts majors to explore journalism and improve writing, editing, and photography skills, which are not usually part of class curriculum.
Rachael Bolek, journalism student and former online managing editor at the Daily Illini (the student newspaper at University of Illinois (U of I)), recounts majors of students on staff. “We’ve had people who major in different forms of engineering to computer science to various other things, too. However, I would definitely say a vast majority of our staff members are in the College of Media (journalism, advertising, etc.) or in communications,” Bolek said. The Daily Illini is published two times a week. Despite frequency, Bolek says publication is competitive, especially in print. Stories sometimes appear only online due to lack of space in print issues. While journalism opportunities are present at U of I, publication is clearly more competitive and earning a high role on staff oftentimes takes years in the making.
Perhaps the most surprising opportunity TechNews provides is the ability for international students to improve English skills through reporting. Tarang Vaidya is one student who combined a personal interest in writing with further development in English. Vaidya has a column titled “Boy in the New Country,” where he shares personal experiences of life in the United States. With nearly 50 percent of Illinois Tech students being international, Vaidya’s column has become widely popular and relatable among the student body. “There’s been a noticeable evolution in their [international students’] writing over the time they’ve been with the organization,” Castro explains.
According to The Washington Post, newspapers have been dying for two decades, threatening democracy. This sparks questions about TechNews’ future state, especially with a student body that at times lacks interest in on-campus journalism.
TechNews articles do not require approval from the dean of students. Recently, writers have been fierce in the pursuit of uncovering truth and becoming a voice for the student body. Castro recalled recent graduate Soren Spicknall’s controversial stories that inspired change at Illinois Tech. Some of the most notable resulted in the firing of “bigot” adjunct professor Bill Slater and the end of Public Safety discouraging students to venture south of 35th Street.
Some of the most diligent TechNews readers happen to be university staff. For some, TechNews serves as the only window into the student perspective. Many instances of on-campus change were due to staff readers addressing issues raised by TechNews reporters. Dr. Sally Laurent-Muehleisen, physics professor at Illinois Tech, is one of TechNews’ most devout readers. Laurent-Muehleisen noticed a rise in “impressive, serious journalism” this academic year and wishes more students would take advantage of writing for TechNews. Effective writing skills can greatly impact those in the STEM fields. “Students must learn to communicate with people outside of their narrow academic focus. Lots of STEM funding comes from grants, so students must be able to communicate well. TechNews is an easy way to practice writing skills, get feedback and improve,” said Laurent-Muehleisen.
Alexandra Detweiler, editor-in-chief for the upcoming academic year, has witnessed TechNews grow into what it is today. Previously, writers' meetings would consist of a tight-knit group, only a select few. Now, the TechNews office is full during writers' meetings, thanks to continued participation from a larger group. Next academic year, Detweiler plans to increase TechNews’s membership and visibility, continuing momentum from this year’s success.