The Collegian, Onward State, and the State of the Media

May 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm 2 comments

PaperChaseOpenerOne of the adjustments I’ve had to make as I moved from daily newspaper journalism to every-other-month magazine journalism is how much time we at The Penn Stater devote to story selection. We don’t just come up with an idea, assign it, edit it, publish it. We can spend months and months figuring out the best writer for a story, the best angle to take on a story, and the best way for it to fit in our magazine, which averages only three full-length features an issue. We like to think of that space as prime real estate, and we want to use it to its best advantage.

One of the stories in our current issue, “Paper Chase,” has been in the works even longer. When I returned to campus in 2009, I noticed right away the changes in The Daily Collegian—where I had spent the vast majority of my time as an undergrad—and began paying careful attention to a new information source founded by students, the website Onward State. It turns out that my colleague Ryan Jones ’95, who had already been here for a couple of years and who had also worked at the Collegian, was doing the same thing. We needed a story, we said, about the state of student media. Was it mirroring, we wondered, the evolution of media everywhere?

I’m not kidding when I say we kicked that idea around, on and off, for nearly four years. (Yes, perhaps we could stand to streamline our story pitching process.) But news got in the way, and more timely stories popped up. But we kept kicking it around. We watched how the students covered the Sandusky scandal. We got to know many of the students who work at the Collegian and at Onward State. Some are my students. Some, Ryan and I mentor. Some, we know basically as fellow media members, sitting side-by-side in the Beaver Stadium press box or at the Board of Trustees media table.

Last spring, we finally settled on the perfect writer: another Collegian alum, Brian Raftery ’99, who is plugged in to the new media side of things as an intelligent and involved journalist and a contributing editor at Wired. He delved into the reporting and found a fabulous tale to tell. It’s in the issue that should be arriving in Alumni Association members’ mailboxes any day  now (if it hasn’t already), but because we suspect this will have wider interest beyond our usual readers, we’re making an exception and posting it online. Click here to download a PDF.

We also want to note one clarification: Onward State managing editor Kevin Horne says that based on updated statistics from September 2013 to March 2014,  their website averages about 50,000 page views a day, and has upward of 100,000 on a good day.

We hope you’ll enjoy the story. Let us know what you think.

Lori Shontz, senior editor


Entry filed under: From the Magazine. Tags: , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chris Korman  |  May 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Really interesting story, Lori. As it points out, this process is going on with professional newspapers, too. Nimble online outlets with relaxed standards are drawing readers away with a mix of content — some of it journalism but most of it not. The reaction from newspapers has been uneven. They aren’t built to smartly chase page views, and their awkward attempts to do so have pulled them away fro the core mission of real journalism. News organizations need to stick to their standards; that’s the value they provide, and as the internet gets more and more crowded with muck, vetted truth becomes even more important. What sites like Onward State can teach newspapers, though, is to let writers actually write. And to have a sense of humor. Most stories don’t need the stodgy AP inverted pyramid treatment. Newspaper reporters need to be allowed — no encouraged — to write in a more engaging way. And to do it, in most cases, with brevity. More and more of the audience is reading on mobile, where 500 words looks like 2,000 words.

  • 2. Scott Kimler  |  May 17, 2014 at 2:45 am

    Best article I’ve seen in the Collegian for a while – thanks Lori. I totally support O/S and believe that they are on the bleeding edge of collegiate reporting. Great kudos to their staff and the work they are doing!


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