LAWRENCE — Today’s college students have grown up in a digital age, collecting their news online, but at the same time growing disillusioned with politics and the system. A new media project led by a University of Kansas professor will provide political news content designed to engage students in both the production and consumption of serious issues coverage.
PoliticalFiber.com will launch Feb. 1. Pam Fine, Knight Chair in News, Leadership and Community, is the founder and faculty adviser for the site. She has used money from the Knight Chair endowment to hire several recent KU graduates and current students to work on the site, including an editor, two full-time reporters, a part-time marketing director, a part-time web editor and a humorist. Students in advanced reporting classes and student freelancers will contribute to the site as well as to the PoliticalFiber.com Facebook page, Twitter account and mobile site.
Fine said she was inspired by two goals: to teach and inspire journalism students to do serious public affairs coverage, and second, to help build the demand for it, especially in young adults. She said a media study from Northwestern University in 2008 found an unmet need among college students for political coverage that was specifically geared toward them.
“I thought, ‘I want to do something new that is ours here at KU and engages students in public affairs coverage, and also enthuses students to read it,’” Fine said.
Brianne Pfannenstiel, a recent KU grad and editor of the site, said the research shows that students appreciate branded content, they visit news sites about once or twice a week and like clean, easy-to-use sites, free of excess links, headlines and features. PoliticalFiber.com will incorporate those philosophies, providing both original and carefully aggregated political news.
The biggest difference between the site and traditional media, however, will be its focus. All content produced for the site will discuss the issues in a way that is relevant to today’s students.
“We say it’s politics for people who hate politics,” Pfannenstiel said. “Young people care very deeply about important issues but are completely disillusioned with politicians and political bickering. Our site tries to go beyond the day-to-day politics and address students in a way that is meaningful to them.”
The focus will be on issues related to the 2012 national political races and Kansas statehouse seats, including many issues being discussed during the current legislative session.
“We’re not going to be covering the horse race,” Fine said. “Studies show students want to be informed but aren’t that interested in attack politics or the ins and outs of the campaigns. They’re interested in the big picture.”
The site will work not only with student reporters, but with freelance graphic designers, multimedia designers and opinion writers as well. Social media will also play prominently into PoliticalFiber.com’s makeup.
Alex Rausch, marketing director, said students will be able to have a sense of ownership in the site by both reading and adding to the site directly as well as through social media platforms.
“We want to create many different venues to interact with the site,” Rausch said. “We’ll ask students to add content and will increase our visibility around campus in a number of ways.”
Reporters will use social media as a way of “crowd sourcing,” or finding out what issues students are interested in, and the site will provide a place for students to comment and have conversations on the political issues of the day. The site also plans partnerships with other media, including the University Daily Kansan, and with organizations such as Student Senate to gauge interest in topics and provide content and ideas.
Fine, a former managing editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Indianapolis Star, and political editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the project is a pilot and they will monitor its potential to become a sustainable, continued operation. For now they want to help provide a venue for students to find political news that is useful to them and a place for young writers to be read.
“Our goal is build a website that engages young readers. But also to encourage young journalists,” Pfannenstiel said.