Huffington Post College News Section, Behind the Scenes, Part 2: A Chat with Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas can claim one slice of a team reporting Pulitzer Prize. His j-work is credited with inspiring a documentary film on HIV/AIDS in DC. He has taught a university j-class called Storytelling 2.0.  And as The Huffington Post‘s technology and innovations editor he writes a blog on Technology as Anthropology.  Simply put, this is a man who knows journalism and newmediatopia- cold.

In a seminal post on his blog last October, titled “Young Voices in The Future of News,” Vargas writes, “We are at a critical, all-hands-on-deck moment in the history of news. . . . It’s time for young journalists and, just as important, young technologists to . . . explain how news is expanding and being re-defined in a world under Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”

Cue the HuffPost College News section. Vargas sees it as a platform for the new media generation to gain greater exposure for their (re)defining journalistic awesomeness and help them learn a bit more about three elements that Vargas believes are essential to modern journalism success: connection, conversation, and community.  Below, he shares a few thoughts about his plans for the section, the roots of his involvement, and its long term goals.

Jose Antonio Vargas, Huffington Post technology & innovations editor, is overseeing the launch of the site's College News section.

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

More than our growing traffic (which has more than doubled in the past year), more than our engaged readership (thousands of comments are left on the site on a daily basis), more than our reach and influence (in just a few years, the site has become a well-known brand), HuffPost has become a singular hub of news and opinion online. College sites will undoubtedly benefit from the kind of exposure we can provide, hopefully drawing a wider audience to the best and most insightful student journalism being done right now. At HuffPost, news is social.  HuffPost editors consistently and effectively leverage social media (Twitter and Facebook) to present the news and ensure that it spreads. We can help train student journalists in understanding the role that social media plays in our evolving news ecology.

What interested you in helping with the section?

My passion for journalism. Pardon the resume recitation, but here goes: I’ve been a (paid) journalist for 11 years, getting my start at a local weekly community paper, the Mountain View Voice, when I was 17 and still in high school; then getting hired at the San Francisco Chronicle, where I was first worked as a copy boy and eventually promoted to a full-time city reporter, while I was attending San Francisco State; then landing a full-time job at the Washington Post right after college, first as a feature writer for the Style section, where I covered video game culture and Washington, DC’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, then as a national political reporter covering the 2008 presidential campaign, writing mostly about technology’s impact on politics.

To the surprise of many of my former colleagues at WaPo, I left DC, moved to NYC and joined HuffPost last summer because I wanted more experience in Web publishing. I want to deeply understand how social media, crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism are changing the very definition of media. I serve as HuffPost’s Technology and Innovations editor. In September, I launched HuffPost’s new Technology section and its theme (and the title of my HuffPost blog) is technology as anthropologyit’s the people, not the gear, it’s about behavior, not the tools. Overseeing the launch and execution of HuffPost College is part of my Innovations job.

What is your response to concerns addressed that HuffPo is either too liberal or recently too fluff to act as a respectable, objective host of student news content?

I’m aware of the criticism- HuffPost is the liberal Drudge, HuffPost is too fluff. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I heard the criticism when I was still at WashPost. But those concerns/judgments are not fair, and they do not capture the overall scope and depth of the content on the whole site. We do high-brow and low-brow, the cheesecake and the broccoli, as I call it. We report on the health care debate on Capitol Hill and the devastating tragedy in Haiti, but we also report on what Sandra Bullock wore at the Golden Globes and what’s the latest in the Conan-Leno saga. In other words, we report on what the average, mainstream news reader cares about. And that’s the same kind of editorial ethos that will guide HuffPost College.

We care about the rising cost of college education, the effect of the post-recession job market on graduating seniors and the evolution of political identification among college-age voters, among others. But we also care about the emerging rules of college dating and hooking up in the Facebook age- we care about what makes college life fun. I’m a firm believer in letting the work speak for itself.

What do you say to students who are concerned about the HuffPost banner/badge that will be included on their sites in exchange for their participation with the section?

This is the bottom line about the HuffPost widget (banner/badge) that will accompany each school’s participation: We’ll work around what works best for their sites and their layouts. In other words, we won’t be dictating exactly where the widget goes on their sites. We’ll leave that to the editors to decide, and we’re also providing them with different widget sizes. The widget, in my mind, serves two purposes: 1) Signal a partnership between that site and HuffPost. 2) Just as important, expose news sites to the top five stories on HuffPost College at any given time- exposing their specific readership to a larger, broader news diet.

A year after the launch, what would constitute a successful section to you?

The main goal is to provide a vibrant, insightful, fun and distinctive hub of college-oriented news. Success will be measured by how well we reflect the reality of college life in America, aggregating content from many of the best college sites in the country while creating original, compelling and hopefully surprising stories.

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.

Comments
3 Responses to “Huffington Post College News Section, Behind the Scenes, Part 2: A Chat with Jose Antonio Vargas”
  1. Suzanne Yada says:

    Hey Jose, thanks for chatting with us at CollegeJourn the other night. (For those who missed out, the transcript is here: http://chatlogs.meebo.com/room/collegejourn884d55ca/logs/2010/01/10/)

    My badge skepticism still stands. It’s not about the look and feel of the badge, it’s about the principle of it. If you were really looking to aggregate the top news from colleges, you would be much more of a true news-gatherer to look at all college media outlets, rather than the ones who self-select participation with the badge. It’s selective news, and that’s not news at all.

    It also punishes the schools who choose to be politically neutral. I do understand that the HuffPo is doing some good journalistic work, but it doesn’t matter when our readers already have the image of HuffPo in our hands. I don’t want to tarnish our paper’s 75 years of politically-neutral news publishing to make it even appear that we are in some way biased.

    Having said that, I wish you the best with the project. I just don’t think our school will participate, and I expect other schools in our same situation will feel the same.

  2. Suzanne Yada says:

    Excuse the typo:
    “but it doesn’t matter when our readers already have the image of HuffPo in *their minds*. It’s out of our hands.

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