Mashable: Onward State at PSU a “Sociological Petri Dish”

Onward State‘s legend grows.  A new Mashable post about the Penn State University online outlet describes it as nothing less than a “rogue campus blog” and a “sociological Petri dish”- one that is at the center of an epic “old/new media rivalry.”  The new write-up follows a recent Chronicle of Higher Education report that anointed Davis Shaver, Onward State‘s co-founder, as the potential “future of alternative student media.”

The most fascinating assertion of the Mashable breakdown is that this old/new rivalry is not simply the Onward State online whiz kids against the digital immigrants running professional media, but against the traditional press run by their peers- in this case, PSU’s award-winning Daily Collegian.

Mashable paints a portrait of Onward State as the embodiment of Journalism 3.0– engaging in constant chatter with readers on Twitter and pushing for uber-user-generated awesomeness; boldly leaping into the link culture even when it requires a shout-out to its competitors; and treating newsrooms as virtual, not physical, meeting spaces.

As Shaver tells Mashable’s Greg Ferenstein, “Our office really consists of my dorm room, I guess. We don’t have any kind of physical structure, so we use [Google] Wave as our virtual newsroom.” Ferenstein continues: “Throughout the day, Shaver and his team monitor several waves at once, each tailored for a different department. In a single browser tab, Shaver has a unique eagle’s-eye view of the entire newsroom. In real-time, his editorial team can toggle between multiple conversations or throw an idea out to the crowd for greater perspective.”

The Daily Collegian, by contrast, is more reserved on social networking spaces; focused on reporting depth more than delivering “short bursts of information”; against competitor-linking; and still in favor of the face-to-face staff interaction and editorial workflow that only those crazy nights in a newsroom can foster.

What I like is that Ferenstein ultimately does not judge.  Onward State is certainly sold as sexy, but he acknowledges that online student outlets’ overall “flash-bang success” so far is not even close to supplanting campus papers’ century-long triumph.  As he notes, “a comparison of the world views of two camps of student journalists . . . portends a long war to come.” I’m personally not convinced it is a war as of yet.  At present, the camps are simply wonderful complements to one another, with readers reaping the spoils of more news grabbed and delivered in more ways than ever before.

6 Responses to “Mashable: Onward State at PSU a “Sociological Petri Dish””
  1. Admin says:

    “For Skena, linking to a competitor’s story “doesn’t make sense.” A symbolic move which tells readers to “go read our competition” would be devastating to the trust they’ve worked for over a century to gain, according to Skena.”

    This says it all to me. This is a dinosaur mentality that needs to be summarily squashed. Linking to your competition is something the Chicago Tribune and other forward-thinking newspapers do every day. I am not impressed with that justification at all.

    -bryan murley

  2. Dan says:

    Bryan- Good to hear from you. :) Agreed, the inactive linking mentality also stood out to me in Mashable’s ‘spot the difference’ post. In a larger sense, my only worry with write-ups like this one echoes what an NYU Local staffer recently told me: The contrasts seem to be boiling down to student newspaper = old school, in-depth and alt online outlet = shallow but socialmediatastic. I just think it’s selling both camps short. Rossilynne Skena must be one hell of a j-student to be running The Daily Collegian, and I feel like she’s been unfairly characterized in a one-note sense as simply out of touch by Mashable and the recent Chron of Higher Ed piece (both fine reports though certainly in their own right). What do you think? We should podcast it out. :)

  3. Bryan Murley says:

    I agree that the Mashable story does present the two outlets in what is probably too stark a contrast. But it’s certainly not something “new” in college media.

    That statement from Skena is just mind-bogglingly old school. There’s no way to paint that in a positive, forward-thinking light.

    I would be more than happy to podcast this out. Any time. :)

  4. Steve says:

    What the article doesn’t say is that Onward State has continually poked fun at the Collegian, calling it old-school, print-obsessed, or technology impaired.

    Just search “collegian” in Onward State’s archives.

    And that’s all well and good — healthy competition — but almost all of its stories are taken directly from the Collegian.

    Without the Collegian, Onward State wouldn’t exist. They don’t do enough actual reporting; they just link to Collegian articles.

    Newspapers shouldn’t link to competitors. By publishing a link, the newspaper is taking responsibility for the content of the linked article without independently fact checking it. How can you trust a paper that points its readers in the direction of information they haven’t reviewed?

    I think the point is that newspapers and blogs do two different things. Newspapers are better at creating content, and blogs are better at disseminating it. There really isn’t any competition here. Blogs aren’t newspapers.

  5. Bryan Murley says:

    Newspapers shouldn’t link to competitors. By publishing a link, the newspaper is taking responsibility for the content of the linked article without independently fact checking it. How can you trust a paper that points its readers in the direction of information they haven’t reviewed?

    What World Wide Web are you surfing? Seriously. Major newspapers link to outside sources (including competitors) every day of the week. Cruise the NYTimes Media Decoder blog sometime, or check out @coloneltribune and find some links to Sun-Times stories. Do you trust those papers?

    By publishing a link, the newspaper is not “taking responsibility for the content of the linked article.” They didn’t publish the content. If I point out an article from College Media Matters, I’m not “taking responsibility” for the content of that link. Readers on the Web are generally more savvy than that. I’m pointing out something of interest that readers of my Web site might find of value.

    To turn the tables a bit, I’d ask this: How can you trust a paper that prints an astrology column every day? Have they reviewed all the Aquarius predictions to make sure they were accurate yesterday?

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