Criticism of mainstream news organizations is on the rise, especially among the young and educated crowd, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. As a result, many Americans are turning from network TV and newspaper coverage to Internet sources: nearly a quarter of the group surveyed by Pew claimed the Internet served as their main news source.
Enter Alexander Heffner and Andrew Mangino, a high school student and a college student, respectively, with an innovative idea. Their website, Scoop08.com, is a national student newspaper that culls high school and college journalists from across the globe to cover the 2008 election in a new way.
"As soon as we came up with [the idea in late 2006], it didn't seem like our idea as much as a natural progression of where the Internet, politics and youth should be headed anyway," co-founder Andrew Mangino said. "There's this current of the Internet becoming such a key part of our lives, and then at the same time, this enhanced interest in the 2008 race. You combine these things and you get this national student newspaper."
Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry explained that websites like Scoop08 are possible because of the Internet's accessibility.
"The social science [explanation] is that the barriers to entry are low," he said. "People can create these vehicles because they can do it without a significant outlay of resources. If you went to start a conventional newspaper in a big city, it would cost a large amount of money and the chances of success would be low."
In addition to hosting more than 400 student journalists, Scoop08 also boasts an impressive list of advisers: senior editors from Newsweek, the Columbia Journalism Review, NPR and PBS; columnists from The Washington Post and The New York Times; former presidential candidates, senators, and a former White House Political Director; scholars from the Ivy League and several think tanks, and even the most recent winner of the reality television show "Survivor."Coverage of Scoop08 has been extensive, with both the BBC and The New York Times covering its launch a few weeks ago.
"We were on the radio in Iran and in Europe. All over the world, news outlets have been interested," Mangino said.
But how much of an effect websites like Scoop08 will have in the upcoming election is hard to say, according to Berry.
"Most news consumed on the Internet is from conventional news sites like ABC News or CNN, and not independent political news sources or political organizations. Among those [news sources] that are independent ... there are so many of them that it's hard to systematically assess what the impact of any one of them is," Berry said.
Political science lecturer Michael Goldman, who is a senior consultant for the Government Insight Group, explained that Scoop08 may serve as a forum for students, even if it does not influence the number of young people who show up on voting day.
"The percentage of young people who participate in national politics each election cycle is pathetically small, so anything that gets voting age students to think that it makes a difference to participate I think is a good thing," he said. "In the end, will it make a difference in the overall numbers? Probably not, but it does give students a place to go and think that they're being heard."
Goldman said mainstream media has so far neglected to make issues like the war in Iraq significant to students or anyone else in America.
"The media has ... not followed the story in a way that would generate an activist movement among voters," he said. "The stories on the war are buried on pages eight to 18 rather than seeing them every day. That sas to people that it's not as important."
The difference between mainstream for-profit journalism and independent non-profit journalism like Scoop08 is significant, Mangino said.
"[The Internet] opens the door to new angles because just looking at the network news or the major newspapers, you only hear about the things that are at the top of the fold or on the six o'clock news," he said. "[Websites like Scoop08] let you dig up different angles and report on them. It's a kind of journalism that will be developed over time ... Particularly in the non-profit model, there's no need to make profits, so it's really a public service," Mangino said.
Despite Berry and Goldman's concerns about quantifiable changes in the political system, Mangino is not concerned with Scoop08's potential readership.
"There were 60,000 hits the last time I checked, about a week ago, and I think the number is only growing. We're going to reveal a new design and layout in just a few days with new features that should make communication easier," he said.
The number of writers continues to grow, Mangino explained.
"There are these moments, especially after a story comes out, when we get dozens and dozens of applications from people who want to write, and that's really exciting," he said.
Mangino was also quick to add that Jumbos would make ideal contributors to Scoop08.
"Places like Tufts have so many people who would be great for this," he said. "There are so many people studying abroad, and they can report from the places they're in -- so someone in Buenos Aires could report on what they think about the 2008 race. That's something that isn't reported in the mainstream press, and that would be a way of shaping the campaign."
While Goldman explained that he is not fully convinced that the 2008 election cycle will produce higher numbers of young voters simply as a result of the Internet, he does believe it will have an effect on a more individual level.
"[Scoop08] will have an impact on the people who do find it, the people who are in fact interested in the political process -- and that may make [their level of participation] better because they'll find each other, and they'll find that there are lots of people who care about this. That could be a very empowering experience," he said.
© 2007 Tufts Daily via U-WIRE