Friday, April 9, 2010

Old Media vs. New Media Hits Penn State

By Stefen Lovelace

The tug of war between the old-guard, traditional journalism and new-school journalism, which embraces social media, has been ongoing. We’ve talked at length about some of the traditional media’s cautiousness about fully embracing social media before. It looks like the war is even moving to colleges. According to, there’s a bit of a journalism battle going on at Penn State between The Daily Collegian, the long-standing, award-winning student newspaper and a new upstart blog, Onward State.

On the campus of Penn State University, a rivalry between a rogue campus blog and the official newspaper has become a fascinating mirror of the strife between old and new media. In only a matter of months, the unofficial campus blog Onward State, has marshaled the power of social media to compete with the award winning 112-year-old campus paper The Daily Collegian. With one-tenth of the Collegian’s staff size, Onward State has constructed a virtual newsroom that collaborates in real-time with Google Wave, outsourced its tip-line to Twitter, and is unabashed about linking to a competitor’s story.

Full disclosure time. I’m a Penn State grad, and actually worked for The Collegian. I learned a lot from my time working for the student newspaper, and worked with some very talented people while there. I view The Collegian as one of the best student newspapers in the country.
I do find Onward State to be a very interesting alternative though. It’s clear that social media enhances journalism, and it looks like Onward State is fully embracing social media as a way to compete with The Collegian’s larger staff, and more experienced reporters.

“We focused on our Twitter presence from the very beginning, and it’s paid dividends for us in terms of referring traffic to the site and really becoming a part of the community,” said Davis Shaver, founder of Onward State. Tapping the power of the crowd has been essential to multiplying the resources of Onward State’s relatively tiny news team. By being responsive to the social media community, Shaver told Mashable that they “curated this ecosystem in the sense that people will actually send stories to us on Twitter.”

This is in stark contrast to The Collegian, which utilizes social media only for “getting out short bursts of information.”

Onward State also has no qualms about linking to Collegian stories if the Collegian breaks the story first. This is common practice in the digital age, as bloggers have been doing this for years. Not surprisingly, The Collegian is against this practice as they believe it drives traffic to competitors.

I certainly see The Collegian’s concern, but don’t completely agree. With the immediacy that news is broken, it’s time to stop getting fixated on who beats who to stories, and get news out as quickly as possible. Like it or not, that’s the news world we live in.

Another creative advantage Onward State is taking is utilizing Google Wave.

“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,” said Shaver. 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.

I must admit, I like what Onward State is doing. I still believe that the best journalism is coming from The Collegian and should be a must-read for every student on campus. But for a small upstart website to compete, utilizing social media is a great way to do this.

This is also an interesting example of the differences between old media and new media, and I’ll be interested to see how this competition plays out.

The story is a fascinating read, and I’d encourage all to check it out HERE.

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. Contact him at

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