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Alexander Lewis

It's our 100th birthday! After a few years as Columbia's only weekly publication, we're psyched to hit this milestone. Feeling meta, we wanted to explore Columbia's culture of journalism: how journalists adapt to changing times, how New York plays into the publication experience, and how working for a publication affects campus life. We considered writing a sweeping feature story with a nuanced thesis, but then we thought: Why not just have the major players do the investigating themselves? @newmedia: How Twitter is changing the face of communication by Libby Brittain, BC '11, New York Times digital marketing intern, former Spectator associate copy editor Twitter: Some see it as the future of media, to others, it seems trashy, even pointless. Put simply, why tweet? Everyone's right: Twitter is pretty great. In the four years since it was founded in 2006, the platform has accomplished many things. It has enfranchised the crowd, democratized the news media, reoriented political organizing, upped the ante of the job search process, and fundamentally rescaled what it means to communicate and connect. CNN regularly reads tweets on-air. Every business, publication, organization, and politician is eager to join the conversation with their customers, readers, members, and constituents, respectively. The revolution will be tweeted, and so will, ubiquitously, the sandwich. And so what of the sandwich? You know the sandwich. The "Why would anyone care about the sandwich I am eating for lunch?" sandwich. Almost every conversation about Twitter regresses to it, the universal symbol for Twitter's tendency toward the granular and inane. Take as a given that Twitter's various greatnesses are real and disruptive. And they are perhaps most fortuitous of all for students—not necessarily but especially the degree-seeking kind. Twitter has turned our collective attention toward creating a back-channel of information sharing not just for industries, but for whole societies. For students, in pursuit of jobs in those industries and roles in those societies, what could be better? Not much. But there's still the sandwich. This dichotomy—grand and granular, fascinating and boring, revolution and sandwich—is a reminder that Twitter is also a challenge. It's a challenge not to let our ever-shorter attention spans get the better of us, to be producers and consumers of knowledge that we are proud of, to do our part in creating information ecosystems that benefit our campuses, industries, and societies and, most importantly, to make sure those ecosystems don't become echo chambers. Twitter, like any of our communities, large or small, is what its members (or, specifically, users) make of it. As the platform begins to scale outside the comparatively small cadre of tech enthusiasts that provided for its early popularity, and as more students begin to sign up for the service to get a leg up on the job search, pad their resume, or, yes, tweet about their sandwich, this idea will become ever more important. Especially at an institution like this one, which teaches us to think big and reach far, we are better-suited and -prepared than many others to contribute to these information ecosystems. So as more of us join the conversation, for whatever reason, we should keep in mind the challenge that Twitter represents: It is what we make of it, so let's make it great. Print Humor in the Age of LOL: How the Internet provides inspiration for The Fed by Adam Weiler, GS/JTS '10, senior editor of The Fed With all the web humor content easily available, has it become more difficult for your publication to generate new ideas for college-specific humor? How do you compete with sites like CollegeHumor? I have been a part of The Federalist family for a very long time, I've witnessed it grow over the years into a better publication. I know its strengths and its weaknesses. The Fed is a bit like the little sister that I have helped raise. Now, while the plethora of college humor available may create some difficulties, ultimately it forces us to write and publish funnier material that's not just more variations of "Poop, Hahahha, Balls, Hahha, Women HAHAHHA." Unlike other sources of humor, we are able to produce material that is specifically relevant to Columbia students and therefore more entertaining for them. Our best articles are those that we feel could only have been written by people attending Columbia; people who have toiled through all-nighters in Butler, who have ingested the mysteries of John Jay, who have traveled the ramps of Lerner. These articles could not have been written by the folks at CollegeHumor. One of my favorites is one by Jeffrey Scharfstein, a senior in CC and current co-editor in chief, about Jesus as a Columbia student. CollegeHumor may have written a piece about Jesus as a typical college guy, but only The Fed could give it the precise Columbia details that transformed it from somewhat funny to hysterical. When we pitch an article idea, we sometimes have to dump it, because the same idea has been done somewhere else. However, more often than not, because we know what other humor sites and publications are doing, it allows us to know which ideas are old hat and which are innovative and new. We can straightaway ignore the cliché, and go for the funny. Moreover, as any writer worth his or her salt will tell you, restrictions breed creativity. Forcing ourselves to create something uniquely our own produces higher quality amusement. Sometimes we fall short of own goals­—there are probably readers out there who feel that some of our articles are as funny as a dead tortoise. Yet, our harshest critics are, of course, ourselves. We demand better and better articles, and other sources of college humor help us meet our demands. What's Gender Got To Do With It: The Barnard Bulletin and the advantages of a primarily female publication by Samantha Greenberg, BC '11 and Sophia Mossberg, BC '12, co-editors in chief of the Barnard Bulletin On a campus where the student life is basically shared with another school (Columbia), why have a Barnard-centric publication? What value do you see in a primarily female journalism environment? The Barnard-Columbia relationship is impossible to categorize. Whether vaguely addressed by the administrations or hashed out in grammatically incorrect Bwog comments, it never gets any easier to understand. Every Barnard student accepts this tenuous connection when she enrolls, but it only gets more complicated as her education progresses. Clubs and organizations usually exist to serve both populations with a few duplicates—publications are no exception. For years, budding journalists at Barnard and Columbia have sought out the Spectator, for which Barnard students have become editors in chief and held other important positions. Yet Barnard has its own bevy of publications, including the Bulletin. While the Bulletin is comprised of a predominantly female staff, in keeping with the makeup of the Barnard student body, its content is not necessarily limited to or determined by a female-centric voice. The magazine highlights issues that are central to Barnard students, but its content is inextricably linked with the larger Columbia community and New York City. What differentiates the Bulletin is not our all-female staff (though it certainly helps). Like Barnard itself, the magazine represents one faction of the larger university, and yet consistently must grapple with and explore issues that are unique to a single-sex institution, such as the evolving role of women's leadership, and the controversial nature of such an institution itself. The biweekly publication also functions to differentiate the Bulletin from the Spectator, The Eye, and other campus academic and literary journals. This production schedule allows for in-depth reporting on sustained issues, such as sorority recognition, Barnard's role in the Manhattanville expansion, and the new Athena Leadership Lab, within a time frame that ensures topics are fresh. The broad range gives students a forum for everything from restaurant reviews to hard-hitting critiques of fraught social issues. For an assortment of quirky, poignant, and relevant articles, pick up a copy. And, if you're looking to flex your journalistic muscles on campus, the Bulletin serves as a canvas, no matter your gender. College Catwalk: Hoot Magazine and the print debut of Columbia's fashion scene by Noel Duan, CC '13, co-founder and editor in chief of Hoot, founder of Miss Couturable, style blog Miss Couturable arguably represented the future of fashion writing: A high school student starts a blog and generates a worldwide following. So why did you start a Columbia-specific fashion magazine catering to a more limited audience? I started fashion blogging in high school, since no one at my Silicon Valley high school was as serious about fashion as I was, and I wanted to connect with fashion enthusiasts around the world who shared my undying love for the sartorial. It was great—I made friends and connections with people who worked in the fashion industry or who just loved art and fashion, which would not have happened without the Internet. However, when I arrived at Columbia in my first year, I started to meet a lot of students who, like me, read fashion magazines as frequently as, or maybe more frequently than, they read Lit Hum books. I realized that I didn't need to write a fashion blog in order to engage with fashion-savvy individuals anymore—they were right on campus with me. I mean, sure, Hoot serves a "limited" audience, but a powerful one, nonetheless. After doing some research, I found out that Columbia alumnae in the fashion industry include Cecilia Dean, BC '91, founder and editor of Visionaire magazine, to Kelly Killoren Bensimon, GS '98, former editor of ELLE Accessories magazine, to Cameron Russell GS '10, model and entrepreneur, to Tina Chai, another CC alum and freelance stylist for brands such as Thakoon. Hoot co-founder and Beauty and Health Director, Jina Lim, and I wanted to bring the fashion community of our school together—and what better way to do this than to work on a collective project such as a fashion publication? A lot of other colleges and universities, like UC Berkeley and Northwestern, have established fashion magazines, so it only makes sense that Columbia should have one too. Hoot is unique because of the resources that New York City offers; we work with and learn from experienced professionals, book celebrities for our photo shoots, and borrow clothing samples from the same showrooms as major fashion magazines. Hoot educates students about the nuances of fashion publishing, from learning how to properly steam designer clothes at photo shoots, to interviewing fashion designers, to dealing with demanding public relations officers—that's something that not many campus publications can offer. That said, I'm always going to love blogging, but blogging is more personal to me. Hoot is a collaborative project for Columbia, by Columbia. Still Relevant: The value of a single photo by Angela Radulescu, CC '11, former photo editor of Spectator, 133rd managing board, co-coordinator of 99 Columbians How has the presence of (and pressure to produce) online multimedia affected still photography? Is there still value in a single photo? Not a week passes nowadays without someone out there lamenting the so-called "death of photojournalism." Major publications that have dedicated entire stories to this collective requiem include the New York Times and the Guardian. The rise of online media, and more specifically, the ruthless business practices of major wire companies such as Getty Images or the Associated Press have put a lot of traditional photo staffs out of business. Established photojournalists tend to operate on a freelance basis, relying on representation from agencies and on the strength of their online portfolios and reputations for steady work. To be sure, hardly anyone in the industry would advise a young journalist to make a living with a camera. Yet the passion for visual storytelling remains, and seems to be flourishing more than ever. Spurred, rather than stifled by multimedia journalism, serious still photography that aims to inform rather than just illustrate is reinventing itself in a variety of ways. From simple online slide shows that every news outlet now has the resources to produce, to elaborate multimedia presentations, savvy photojournalists are finding new ways to present and market work they find worthwhile. Not everyone is quick to adapt, and more or less lucrative run-of-the-mill assignments are still the day-to-day norm for many. But online technologies have brought about change that has created new opportunities for more ample personal projects with selling potential. This change has also trickled down to many college newspapers. At the Spectator, a new group of talented photographers emerges every year, eager to understand Columbia from the perspective of a student photojournalist. Very few go on to be photojournalists, but while on the paper they all come back with a lot more great images than the print publication would be able to sustain. I was lucky to join the staff at a time when the online face of the Spectator went from little more than an online canvas for print content five years ago, to a complex web space in which photography plays a more prominent role. In large part due to a handful of forward-thinking editors who have taught the rest of us about the potential of multimedia storytelling when larger publications were only beginning to adopt it, visual journalism has given Spectator photographers, writers, web developers and designers a chance to come together and find creative ways to package traditional reporting. Being on a college newspaper these days is an exciting opportunity for experimentation, not only with visual journalism itself, but also with management of new technologies. Opportunities do exist for those who may be looking beyond their college newspapers: Despite the general gloom, some people are still willing to buy top quality still images and visual content, as long as photographers give their best shot at selling them. Niches and recognition exist for many kinds of work, in traditional print media, in foundations and NGOs, in multimedia, in wire agencies, in a variety of web publications. Much like writers, few photographers are tied to a traditional news desk anymore. But it is up to photojournalists to adapt to the fast-paced environment by embracing new forms of journalism, producing original work, marketing themselves in new ways, and even shooting outside their areas of expertise. They are entrepreneurs as much as they are journalists. They still won't advise the younger among us to take this route. But they do it anyway. They make it work. In short, yes, there still is value in a single photo, and truly iconic images will always have the power to embed and reshape our common conscience. Judging by the passion and tenacity of many photographers, photojournalism is far from dead. But while the "decisive moment" is something to be cherished, those who embrace the new opportunities that multimedia is providing for in-depth visual storytelling will likely fare much better once the journalism industry manages to find itself. Not Just for BDSM-Loving Pinkos: The Columbia Political Review and the challenge to stay multi-partisan by Ethan Wong, CC '11, managing editor of the Columbia Political Review As a multi-partisan political publication, do you try to be objective as a whole, and how do you do that with so many subjective voices? "Objective" isn't how the Columbia Political Review likes to see itself. In fact, we hope that each of our articles presents a strong and subjective (but of course, well-researched) argument. And at the end of the day, we don't envision each issue on the whole as establishing an objective, God-approved Truth. So objective, no. Multi-partisan, yes. As nebulous (aka utterly contrived) as the term might seem, it's a word that aptly describes CPR's main objective: to get as many Columbia voices as possible out into public, campus discussion. And, with the pitches we receive each issue, it's not hard to do so. With Columbia's reputation for being radically liberal, one might expect us to only get pitches on the "How to Start Your Own Commune" or, as the New York Daily News has "reported," the proper social norms in university-sanctioned orgies. But, surprisingly, none of the pitches we receive are written by BDSM-loving pinkos (or at least none that we know of; we try not to pry into our writers' private lives). Our articles have covered a wide-range of subjects, from health care policy in San Francisco to the status of Somalia to ABC's "Modern Family" and its societal implications. We've had conservative stances on New York housing policies and a personal account of living on a Vermont hippie commune. Unlike many other political reviews, we don't structure our magazine around quarterly "themes" (i.e. various views on African development). But recently we've tried a more point-counterpoint-countercounterpoint format with our expanded website and with our ties to the Alliance of Collegiate Editors (ACE). The current discussion is on CIA drone killings; it's all very fascinating and all very multi-partisan, so, being the informed and open-minded Columbia student you are, you should check it out. Hit Me Baby One More Time: How online analytical tools do (or do not) inform content at Bwog by Eliza Shapiro, editor of Bwog For the first time, publications can track the exact demographics of their readership (thanks to analytics tools). How has this influenced content, perhaps in general and specifically on Bwog? So I'm a person who doesn't really understand computers, as my marvelous, angelic computer-savvy fellow Bwoggers can vouch for. We have a basic Google Analytics account and probably five people in the short history of Bwog have ever seen it. I go on probably once a month and look at numbers and watch all the weird Google Analytics knobs and levels whirl around and then call my boyfriend and tell him how many people read Bwog that week, which gets bigger and more thrilling each time I check it. Then he says, "OK, cool Eliza," then I forget about it and go back to running Bwog. We aren't trying to reach a demographic outside of the undergraduate student population. That's who we are and who we write for. We are absolutely delighted and shocked when people who aren't undergrads at Columbia read it—we get most excited when we discover that lots of our professors and TAs read it, our parents read it, some people at other schools read it—which kind of baffles me, but is very exciting, and sometimes real websites read it and link to us. All we care about is that undergrads at Columbia are reading Bwog, which is something we've always been able to gauge without Google Analytics, by the comments, emails, and by lots of people coming up to Bwog staffers in real-not-Internet life and telling us stuff and asking us stuff and telling us that they liked or didn't like a particular post. It's nice to have Google Analytics around to give us concrete numbers and to let freshmen we're trying to snag know that Bwog is quite widely read on campus, but analytics haven't changed anything about the way Bwog is run. Nothing about our content has changed due to Google Analytics. Paper v. Screen: The profitability of Spectator both online and off by Akhil Mehta, SEAS '11, publisher of Spectator, 134th managing board How has the changing nature of media affected the financial side of running a student publication? Like most other independent media organizations, Spectator has been hit hard over the last several years by the combined recession and move from print journalism to new media. Advertisers who would spend tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago have completely shifted their priorities, and nonprofit institutions have suffered budget cuts that are prohibitive to advertising with us. However, the recession has allowed us to seek out advertisers in a way that we never have in recent memory. Our market is unique in that we are a college newspaper in a city dominated by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Spectator's advantage is that we have a target audience that is massively attractive to many advertisers–captive 18-to-22-year-old students without brand loyalty who are likely to have above-average disposable income, both now and in the future. However, the business opportunities that come with being the primary or secondary news source in a college town are not available to us as advertisers do not immediately think of Spectator. Advertisers have seen online ads as more economical than print ones, and we've seen an influx of businesses who can't afford print ads begin taking out online ones. The main difference in presenting our information is the dearth of space on our website. There's only so much "above the fold" page space, which is coveted by advertisers and content providers alike. There have been and will continue to be refinements to strike the right balance of ads and content. We've also struggled to adapt to the changing nature of media. The introduction of Spectrum on our front page has proved to be the catalyst for our online advertising presence. The next big challenge will be determining a price for these ads, and whether it is on a per-view basis, a time basis, or another means.