College Students Become Mini-Moguls While Still in School

In April 2007, Zephyr Basine arrived at school for her noontime biology seminar- and immediately zoned out. Instead of learning science, the sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst carried out a “fashion-scoping session.” While the professor spoke about organisms and evolution, Basine focused on her fellow students’ outfits and accessories, scouting for something new, chic or trendy.

Suddenly, mid-lecture, she beheld a sight that made her smile: A bright white shiny patent leather headband, sported by a female classmate two rows in front of her. Her brain raced with possibilities for other students. Should they go with patent, pleather or plastic? Should they rock out the wide or mini size? And should they throw it atop bedraggled bed-head or a dressier updo?

Zephyr Basine, founder and editor, College Fashion

In the end, the biology talk didn’t stick. “Science just isn’t my thing,” Basine admitted. But the class was a success from a couture perspective.  Basine has the blog post to prove it.

The shiny headband treatise was one of the first entries published on College Fashion, a blog Basine began on a whim while a UMass undergraduate. She quickly spun it into a brand name that’s known and followed worldwide.

College Fashion is a trendsetter.  It’s the first fashion blog by college students for college students. It is also wildly popular, boasting more than one million page views per month.  It has been identified to me by fans from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Singapore simply by its acronym, CF.

“I’ve never been a person who has felt like school is that important, because I feel like I can learn a lot more in real life,” Basine said. “I would kind of skip class a lot to do my site, but I still managed to do pretty well. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA. So it definitely didn’t ruin my academic standing … but CF definitely became my main hobby. It was my extracurricular activity.”

Basine is part of a select group of students who have constructed worthwhile new media niches- and become stars- while still in school. Though student entrepreneurs are not new, it seems that more and more of them are taking advantage of the upheaval in the media world to stake their claim.

Just a few examples: Derek Flanzraich started a web-based satirical news program and online television network, Harvard Undergraduate Television Network, while at Harvard University. Brian Stelter, now a reporter with the New York Times, began TVNewser, the must-read broadcast news industry blog, while at Towson University. Ryan Dunn and Dave Hendricks co-founded College News Network, an online college media content sharing service, while at Ohio University. Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen launched College Humor, the web’s leading comedy site, while at the University of Richmond and Wake Forest University.

Derek Flanzraich, founder, HUTV

These pioneers, and the growing number of students following in their stead, are upending the old media establishment. They are also realigning higher education by creating personal media fiefdoms and full-scale organizations without relying upon traditional leg-ups like an internship, a campus newspaper editorial post, an advanced course, a campus work-study or a college degree.

For example, Wesleyan University junior Peter Frank works more than five hours daily on his student networking site CollegeACB. He still has time for classes, a club sport, and socializing, but, as he told me in May, “[ACB] is my primary collegiate experience.”

An Imprint Magazine profile the previous May confirmed ACB as his top priority: “Peter Frank is a busy man these days. Three months ago, his company closed a major deal that increased their business and his workload tenfold overnight. Right now, he’s designing a vision, developing new product features, and selling space to advertisers. Afterwards, he’ll take a business call and reply to emails. And once he’s done with that, he still has to study for a Psych final and get dinner before the dining hall closes.”

For post-millennial student media entrepreneurs like Frank, college is not a way station on the road to success. It is not a farm system for enhancing future professional prospects. It is not a chance to earn credits and bide time for the next step. It is an end- and an education- unto itself.

To read the rest of this post, check out PBS MediaShift

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  1. […] indy site College Fashion is already a mega-hit (a global brand, started just a few years ago by a single UMASS student).  CollegeFashionista is another popular online student style source.  And while it is still […]