Huffington Post College News Section, Behind the Scenes, Part 1: A Chat with Leah Finnegan

Leah Finnegan’s motto about the glasses she sports daily: Go big or go home. The former Daily Texan editor in chief has similarly large ambitions about impacting the college journalism scene nationwide.  She has taken a leave of absence from j-grad school at Columbia University to spearhead the launch of a College News section for The Huffington Post.

As previously reported, the section aims to be a high-profile, one-stop site promoting student newswork and providing readers with a glimpse of what’s going down in the current campus zeitgeist. It will aggregate and promote published student media content, linking back to the original piece on student outlets’ home sites.  In a post-UWIRE world, the idea is laudable- but not without some concerns from j-students and the advisers who love them. Among those voiced to me: HuffPost is too liberal.  HuffPost is too superficial. And there is not enough in the arrangement for us (student media).

In an exclusive chat with CMM (i.e. me), Finnegan and fellow project head Jose Antonio Vargas (HuffPost’s technology and innovations editor) address the above concerns and offer their thoughts on why they consider HuffPost and college media to be an excellent fit.  First up, Finnegan. Check back soon for part two of the chat with Vargas.

Leah Finnegan is heading up Huffington Post's College News section, launching later this month.

Why is The Huffington Post the best platform for student journalism content nationwide to be culled together?

Finnegan: In the current scheme of media outlets, HuffPost is a powerhouse. We have the time, space and resources to aggregate college content and a built-in audience of 30 or so million to read it. UWIRE seemed to exist in a vacuum. No one really knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. HuffPost knows how to use and leverage the power of social media like none other, and has a lot to offer burgeoning journalists as those tools become more and more necessary for the proliferation of news media.

What is your response to concerns expressed that the benefit for HuffPost far outweighs the positives for student media outlets participating?

I think the benefits for both sides are scalable. I’m very much an advocate for the college papers, since that experience is still fresh in my mind, so the main thing is that the agreement won’t be a burden for editors- they can participate at a level they feel fit. HuffPost is simply acting as a conduit for content, promoting college news to our reader base and driving them back to the source of the original story, video or commentary piece.

And it really comes back to this built-in audience that, we hope, will be interested in the college vertical and, as a result, the individual papers themselves.  We also want to foster a virtual community for college newspapers- a place where student journalists can go and see what others are doing, a one-stop shop for the most important college stories of the day.

How many student media outlets have signed up? What is your end goal?

We’re about halfway to our goal of 90.

What is the plan of attack for actual site presentation?

At the Texan, I really pushed a hyperlocal ethos, and I’m firmly in the camp that college newspapers are better when they focus on the community they’re in. But above all I’m interested in original reporting on campus events- say if a national figure spoke on campus and there was an acrimonious protest, as was the case when John Ashcroft visited Texas last year. Or there was just a great story in the Colorado Independent about how the regents are banning toy guns on campus.  And the Oregon Daily Emerald has been producing some really interesting stuff about a white supremacist group there. I’ve been reading the papers we hope to partner with for a couple of weeks already, and there’s some awesome work in them- enough, I predict, to fill the vertical and then some.

Why do you feel this section is important enough to have taken a break from graduate school to get up and running?

I was having a hard time deleting college papers from my Google Reader and letting go of my predilection for Mark Yudof news. This project was tailor-fit for me and my residual obsession with college media. I knew I had to do it, and I like working more than studying, so the opportunity spoke for itself.

What is the biggest misconception that you would like to ensure is cleared up prior to your launch?

That we’re going to profit greatly from this, or doing this solely for the profit. If that was the case I wouldn’t be doing it.

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  1. [...] completely unrelated news, this story about my former “dad” at The Daily Texan came across my Google Reader today. I’m [...]

  2. [...] Success will also be measured by how well we engage and provoke our readers to the kind of news we feature on the site. And this bears noting, considering the state of the news industry: I cannot think of a more exciting time to be a journalist, and I cannot think of a more important time to be good at what I do. Worries aside, I think college age journalists feel the same way. Ask Leah. [...]

  3. [...] Success will also be measured by how well we engage and provoke our readers to the kind of news we feature on the site. And this bears noting, considering the state of the news industry: I cannot think of a more exciting time to be a journalist, and I cannot think of a more important time to be good at what I do. Worries aside, I think college age journalists feel the same way. Ask Leah. [...]

  4. [...] As Finnegan wrote in her introductory post, “Suffice it to say that college newsrooms are special places. Reading our partners’ papers, I’m not worried about the future of journalism. Rest assured it exists, en masse, typing away on college campuses around the country. And it’s here at HuffPost College that you’ll get to see a lot more of it.” [...]



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