Year in Review: Most Viral Student Media of 2011, Part 1

Strippers. Shootings. The Oscars. Osama bin Laden. One-night stands. Natural disasters. Asians in the library. And skinny jeans. These are a few of the most prominent buzzwords at the center of the student news stories, columns, online creations, and video rants that went viral in a major way over the past year.

The spread of some content was linked to its quality, especially when it involved reporting on an issue or event of national importance. Other content garnered web attention for its eye-opening sexual candor or controversial views. One involved an angry A-list celebrity. And another garnered interest for a focus on journalism itself.

Below is a chronological review of student media that blew up on the web in 2011.

COOLEST STUDENT JOURNALIST RÉSUMÉ EVER

In late February, Chris Spurlock, a senior majoring in convergence journalism at the University of Missouri, became the Bono of the blogosphere and Twitterverse. In preparation for his graduation, Spurlock created a résumé awash in design awesomeness, meshing a visual timeline of his experience with a bubble chart breaking down his digital skills.

J-School Buzz, a blog focused on Mizzou’s journalism school, posted a screenshot of the résumé on its own site and The Huffington Post with the header, “Is This the Coolest Student Journalist Résumé Ever?” It quickly spread across the interwebs with a virility that would make Antoine Dodson and that David After Dentist kid proud, “amassing thousands of Facebook ‘Likes,’ hundreds of tweets, and tens of thousands of pageviews,” according to TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis.

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For a brief moment, it seemed like Spurlock was everywhere online. As one Mizzou student jokingly tweeted at the time, “I knew @ChrisSpurlock before he was famous.” He was subsequently featured in a follow-up post in which he offered five snippets of wisdom about résumé-building and personal branding. And in the end, the résumé worked. Spurlock, the most famous journalism job candidate of 2011, accepted a position as a Huffington Post infographic design editor. As Arianna Huffington said, “We couldn’t resist hiring him after seeing his amazing infographic resume, which became a viral sensation.”

THE ANTI-ASIAN RANT

In March, a student’s YouTube video diatribe against Asians uploaded in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami became the “rant heard around the world” and caused huge headaches for the University of California, Los Angeles. As World Monitor TV confirmed, “A UCLA student equipped with a dorm room, a pushup bra, a webcam, and two minutes fifty-two seconds too much free time managed to ignite a ‘Kill the Beast’-caliber Internet mob in a matter of hours.”

In the video, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace complains about the “hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every single year.” She advises Asian students to learn and start using “American manners” while attending the university. And at one point, she imitates Asian students talking on their mobile phones in the library with the phrase, “Ohhhh. Ching chong ling long ting tong.”

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The anti-Asian rant vaulted Wallace into the national consciousness primarily as a face of ignorant bias and as the main character in yet another cautionary tale about online sharing. She said the massive feedback was overrun with “harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats and being ostracized from an entire community.” A few days after posting the video, she left UCLA.

COLLEGE PROBLEMS

In March, Madeline Huerta, a Boston University student majoring in marine science, quietly began College Problems on Tumblr. Her motivation was to provide people with a platform to share the many, varied, and often-hilarious difficulties associated with the undergraduate experience. The site’s tagline: “Everyone’s got them. Tell me yours.”

Among the quick complaints posted by Huerta and her followers in the past year: “Your roommate never leaves the room … So much homework that you don’t know where to start … The only thing lower than your GPA is your bank account balance … Laptop dies [so] forced to pay attention during class … Study abroad where you’re legal to drink. Come back home and you’re still not 21 … Professor says the test is easy. Lies.”

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Upon its launch, College Problems’ popularity skyrocketed, quickly becoming Tumblr’s top humor blog. According to Huerta, CP currently boasts more than 15,000 page views per day and roughly 95,000 Tumblr followers. It also sports more than 15,000 Twitter followers and 7,000 Facebook likes.

“I think the main reason people are drawn to the site is that they can relate to almost everything I post,” she said in May. “Some College Problems are funny things that everyone goes through, and some are more serious issues that students have to deal with. It’s a site that people visit and go, ‘Wow, I thought I was the only person with this problem.’ Students read College Problems and submissions from other students and realize they’re not alone.”

THE LAME-NESS OF JAMES FRANCO’S TWITTER

In March, just after his Oscars hosting debacle, actor-writer-soap star-graduate student James Franco did not publicly acknowledge any of the scathing reviews. Instead, he felt compelled to only respond to a Yale University student’s snarky critique of his tweets. In a 3 a.m. blogging session prior to the Academy Awards, Cokey Cohen wrote a 300-word review-of-sorts for The Yale Daily News focused on “the lame-ness of James Franco’s Twitter.” The nut graf of the post that Franco, and his fans, found offensive: “James Franco, your Twitter sort of sucks.”

Franco’s odd Photoshopped reply: placing sloppy red letters spelling out “F*ck The Yale Daily News” over a photo of himself in a car, seatbelt buckled, sporting a Terminator-as-a-teenager look. With Franco’s post-Oscars buzz still fresh, the image triggered a ton of attention for Cohen and the newspaper, including a string of mentions in the blogosphere and mainstream media and endless repostings of the infamous FU image.

As Perez Hilton noted, “No, New York Times. James Franco has no qualms with you. Relax, Hollywood Reporter, you’re safe from his wrath. Turns out, James has beef with only one publication in the free-speaking world: The Yale Daily News.”

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In a follow-up post, Cohen sarcastically called the incident “the pinnacle of my career as a writer, at least based on the fact that [the original] blog post officially has the most comments of anything I’ve ever written, even if they are all defending James Franco against my typos and general meanness.”

SEE BELOW THE FOLD

The legend of Vinny Vella is built atop strippers, censorship, and a partially blank front page. This past spring, an embarrassing story began leaking at Philadelphia’s La Salle University about a professor hiring exotic dancers to participate in an extra-credit student seminar.

The La Salle University Collegian, run by Vella (since graduated), had the scoop but was forced to hold off on publishing due to a temporary embargo imposed by school officials. After the news broke elsewhere, administrators finally gave the Collegian the green light, but only if the piece was first vetted by a university lawyer and run below the fold of the front page.

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At that point, Vella decided enough was enough. So he beat the school at its own game, by following its edict literally. In the subsequent issue, the paper ran nothing above the fold except a teaser to check out what was beneath it — the story its staffers had been waiting weeks to print. The four-word message, surrounded by white space, stated simply: “See below the fold.” As Vella said at the time, “You need to stand up for yourself every once in awhile. You can’t let authorities intimidate you.”

The pushback prompted nationwide press attention and strong statements of support from the journalism community. In August, Philadelphia Magazine included Vella on a “Best of Philly” list under the heading, “Flouter of Authority.”

PROVIDING DISASTER UPDATES

The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper, earned major kudos from the journalism community and shout-outs from celebrities for its coverage of the late April tornado that tore through UA’s hometown of Tuscaloosa and the death, destruction, and emotional devastation it wrought.

In the storm’s wake, as the rest of the student body went home, current and outgoing staff reported from Tuscaloosa for 20 hours a day. They temporarily added a three-word phrase to the CW’s online masthead that summed up their singular mission: “Providing Disaster Updates.”

Under the direction of editor-in-chief Victor Luckerson, the paper delivered frequent related stories, photo series, and video reports — and a slew of tweets. The Crimson White‘s web traffic surged to historically high levels, and its Twitter followers increased by roughly 1,000 a day.

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As the paper’s editorial adviser, Mark Mayfield, wrote, by the end of the paper’s initial coverage phase, “MSNBC, The New York Times, Dateline NBC, and other national media outlets would link to stories in the Crimson White, or use images from the newspaper’s photographers. National TV personalities, including CBS News anchor Katie Couric and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (a UA graduate), ‘tweeted’ links to CW articles … Video interviews with NBC News anchor Brian Williams and celebrity Charlie Sheen drew tens of thousands of viewers nationally.”

Among its most viral efforts was a Google map providing a geographic breakdown of everything tornado-related, including the path it took, the lives it claimed, the communities it affected, the buildings it leveled, and the volunteer opportunities available to help locals lessen its impact.  Brandee Easter, the CW staffer who created the map, even received recognition from a United Nations representative.

THE OSAMA CIRCUS

In early May, amid the conversations — and celebrations — that erupted immediately after Osama bin Laden’s killing, the national student newsmagazine NextGen Journal published more stories on more angles than any other student media outlet. NextGen earned the attention of the wider web for its dispatches on student reactions at roughly two dozen schools — from West Point cadets running around in “crazy patriotic costumes and underwear” to Stanford University students who “roasted s’mores, drank beer (mostly the American variety), and chanted ‘U-S-A U-S-A!’”

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NextGen staff simultaneously debated the merits of the country’s celebratory mood, including a Michigan State University student who decried the “Osama circus” atmosphere and a Tulane University student who separately described the national party as “perhaps the only time that I’ve felt proud to call myself a young college student.” NextGen also reflected on the meaning of the terror kingpin’s death for current students who were in grade school when 9/11 occurred. It ran a reminder op-ed that “terrorism does not die with Osama bin Laden.” And it discussed the growing skepticism surrounding Pakistan’s alleged ignorance of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Similar stories were run throughout the professional press, but hardly any on a national level from the student perspective. As NextGen editor in chief Connor Toohill, a student at Notre Dame University, said, “Our best pieces, our most popular pieces — whether it’s Egypt or the State of the Union or health care reform or the Super Bowl — really look at, what is the impact here for students? What is the significance for our generation? We’ve seen there is really a demand for that. Huffington Post College is sort of established as a section to cover what’s going on at college. Basically, what we’re saying is that college students deserve their own Huffington Post.”

HARVARD, PLEASE ADMIT ME!

Over the spring and summer, Grace Oberhofer was a web sensation on the Harvard waitlist. In late April, the high school senior from Tacoma, Wash., went viral with a song she wrote and placed on YouTube aimed at convincing Harvard University admissions officials to change her enrollment status from waitlist to fully accepted.

In the video, while sporting a maroon Harvard winter cap with oversized Harry Potter-inspired spectacles, Oberhofer plays the piano and sings with satirical earnestness about Harvard’s many virtues. Imploring the school to let her in, she closes the original anthem, “Dear Harvard,” by crooning, “H-A-R-V-A-R-D College, so scholarly. H-A-R-V-A-R-D be my universe-ity. Harvard, you mean the world to me. On John Harvard’s statue I’d never pee … Let me into your community. Harvard, please admit me!”

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The video has since received more than 93,000 hits on YouTube, garnering especially high kudos from tech geeks, Harvard students and alums, and Oberhofer’s fellow Ivy League wannabes. As one student commented in late May, “Hi Grace, I’m a fellow waitlistee … I really hope you got in. I think you deserve Harvard! I didn’t do anything half as cool as this to get into Harvard!”

Ultimately, Oberhofer was not admitted to Harvard’s incoming freshmen class. Instead, she enrolled at nearby Tufts University, a school that has earned plaudits for its web-friendly admissions practices. To share the news, she wrote a follow-up song titled, appropriately, “Dearest Tufts.”

To Be Continued…

To see the full review, click here or on the screenshot below.

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