On Monday afternoon, Axios’ “Smarter Faster Revolution” came to Ohio State to discuss the future of work and American politics. The panel, hosted by Axios Executive Editor Mike Allen and CEO Jim VandeHei, featured Ohio Gov. John Kasich, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban and Amy Bonitatibus, the chief marketing officer for JP Morgan Chase and Co.’s home lending division.
As part of the event, I answered questions from Alexi McCammond, a political reporter at Axios, about The Lantern and the future of journalism.
The interview transcript is below. You can find full coverage of the event here.
AM: Since you’re EIC I’m guessing you’ve been involved with The Lantern since your freshman year. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen at The Lantern from then until now?
KS: The biggest change is how often we print. I assume that’s the case at a lot of college papers, too. I wasn’t an editor my freshman year — just a freelancer — but the paper was printed four days a week, so there were new issues Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. If there was a home football game during the fall, I believe they would print one for Friday morning, too. As assistant sports editor my sophomore year, we printed three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday). For the last two years, we’ve printed twice weekly (Tuesday and Thursday).
While part of me thinks it would be cool to print more often, the reduction has allowed our staff — which has the size and time constraints many other college outlets have — to hammer down on our efforts to be digital first. We still have room for improvement there, but each year we’ve gotten better. A couple years ago that meant doing things like leaving Adobe InCopy behind and doing all of our editing through Google Docs; Last year it meant developing a consistent social-media strategy; this year it meant doubling down on SEO and writing web-first headlines.
AM: The media landscape is constantly changing. What challenge(s) does that present to you as EIC? And in what ways has that change excited you in your journalistic role?
KS: I think the challenges are less specific to my role as editor, and rather faced by all the people on our staff and the industry more broadly. This includes thinking about ways to secure stable, long-term funding so The Lantern can continue to financially support the hard-working editors (unfortunately, we have some writers who aren’t paid). It’s about ensuring we cover Ohio State, as well as the city of Columbus, in a competitive way that provides value to our readers because there’s a host of other outlets they can rely on to stay informed; it’s about sometimes having to do more with less.
I think I speak for most college journalists when I say this is an exciting time to enter the field. Yes, the industry has clear challenges — some of which I just mentioned — that it needs to develop solutions for, but journalism is important right now. The media landscape isn’t the only thing that is changing. Our world is changing. It’s happening quickly and often in ways unknown, and we need journalists now more than ever to help people make sense of what’s going on. I think a lot of young reporters — or at least the ones I know — recognize that.
AM: What’s one topic your friends/schoolmates are obsessed with that we (in DC media) don’t understand?
KS: It might not necessarily be a case of misunderstanding, but I think the cost of college and how it impacts the lives of students every day. It’s not like people just start worrying about it once they graduate and need to begin making loan payments. It’s a constant weight that many students feel, especially when they have to shell out hundreds of dollars for textbooks, off-campus rent or tuition costs. The reason I say it might not be a case of something that’s not understood is because I know there are recent college graduates working in DC media who are facing student-loan payments, etc. It’s just that this issue isn’t reflected in media coverage to the extent students worry about it. There is reporting about how crippling student debt can be, but the cost of college is felt while you’re still enrolled. It’s not a can that is kicked down the road.
AM: What makes The Lantern unique from other school publications?
KS: Our affiliation with Ohio State is somewhat unique. The Lantern is part of the university. Our newsroom is in a campus building; our equipment — from desktop computers to cameras to podcast microphones — are owned by the school; a decent percent of our reporters come to the paper through a course that’s part of the journalism curriculum. It’s only a semester-long class, but it’s how a lot of people get their start before moving up the ladder. Our adviser, Spencer Hunt, is a university employee who teaches journalism. Even so, The Lantern has no prior review, and the administration and other high-level faculty do not have editorial control. We are editorially independent, but we do rely heavily on the support — financially and in other ways — Ohio State gives The Lantern.
AM: How are you pushing the limits of what you cover and how you cover them at The Lantern?
KS: Our staff this year is probably the most talented, ambitious group of which I’ve been a part. For instance, we’ve have had a huge growth in our podcasts, and that’s been driven by a number of different people who have a passion for it and wanted to pursue it and tell stories through audio. Our assistant photo editor, Ris Twigg, started a podcast focused on sustainability. Our sports editors had a football podcast during the fall. And, most impressively, a group of eight people have formed a team to spearhead a daily news podcast in the morning. People have noticed holes in our coverage and stepped up to the plate to fill them.
Another example has been a commitment to public records and enhancing stories that way. Our campus editors, Summer Cartwright and Owen Daugherty, have probably filed enough FOIA requests that the records manager knows their names. Even our sports editor, Colin Hass-Hill, had a scoop over winter break that he obtained through a records request. Our coverage has been pushed forward this year, and it’s because the staff has not been afraid to take on new challenges in what we cover in order to better serve our readers.
What’s the most common question young, aspiring journalists are asking today?
KS: It’s simple — Will there be jobs available when I graduate? That might appear to be a boilerplate answer, but when you see some of your favorite reporters tweeting that they’ve been let go, or hear about major staff reductions at your hometown metro, it’s hard not to ask that question.
AM: What is one “newsworthy” thing that you think has gotten too much attention?
KS: It’s not one thing as much as it is a general approach to political reporting that has become widespread, an approach which emphasizes theatrics and optics over consequence. Take, for instance, the coverage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It’s necessary to understand how Congress is handling the issue, what the prospects of a long-term solution are, what the president is telling people, how particular representatives feel. But any news outlets’ coverage of the DACA debate has to emphasize what it’s like for the nearly 800,000 recipients to live a life shrouded in uncertainty. There needs to be a commitment to understanding how what’s happening inside the Beltway impacts people living outside it — and in a way that doesn’t make the central issue how it will impact the midterm elections.
AM: When you graduate from OSU, what do you hope will be The Lantern’s legacy?
KS: The Lantern’s legacy will hopefully be its consistent coverage of the issues that impact students — access to quality mental health services, cost of college, the culture of sexual assault, minority representation, gender pay gap and on- and off-campus redevelopment. This year alone, Lantern staffers have produced tremendous coverage of these critical topics, and I know that future reporters at the paper won’t back down from pursuing stories on things that matter.