Classroom as Incubator: University of Florida Produces National Health Site for Young Adults
There are more than 21 million U.S. college students, and some campuses are so big they’re like cities within cities. Every institution of higher learning has myriad news sources, from official newspapers to social media platforms to — most recently and infamously — anonymous campus crier Yik Yak. Some college publications have ambitions and appeal that transcend the campus boundaries.
One such example is The Student Body (TSB), a digital magazine that focuses on the physical, mental, and social health of college students and other young people ages 18 to 24. It emerged from an enterprising class of DIY students at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville and now aims to reach a national audience. With 31.5 million in its demographic, TSB bills itself as “a one-stop shop for information on how young adults can enhance their quality of life.”
To find out more about how this publication came to life in a classroom, I put these questions to its two teacher-editors, Nicki Karimipour, doctoral student and Health Media Innovations course instructor at the college, and Tom Burton, adjunct lecturer for the Health Media Innovations course:
Why is The Student Body important to young adults?
They’re on their own and making health and fitness decisions for themselves, sometimes for the first time.
Who determines the topics that get covered?
The content of the site is driven by the students in the class. The instructors provide guidance on possible topics, but ultimately the students make the decisions on what they want to write about and what gets published. They aim at topics and issues that interest and are important to all young people between the ages of 18 and 24, not just those in college. One of our strengths is that the reporting is done by the demographic the site is aimed at. As instructors/editors, we need to trust their perspectives on what is important and relevant to their peer groups.
TSB is publishing articles on health issues like sleep deprivation that usually require solid research. Do the site’s editors work with the students to ensure that such articles have a firm foundation?
The stories are edited and directed by the instructors. Instruction in the course includes teaching how to vet qualified sources for stories. We direct them to include industry experts from across the nation. We also are building a source list for national health and fitness experts that can be used by students in future sessions of the course.
College students are a big market. Their collective discretionary spending is $163 billion annually. Do you have any plans to go after advertising? If so, would it be by national companies or could it be zoned for individual campuses?
Advertising could be an option as the site gains an audience. The tools exist to focus advertising on geolocation or on content interest. In addition, there may be opportunities in the future to establish partnerships with local institutions (college or industry) to provide more localized information and attract local revenue. Since the course is focused on innovation, it’s also possible to look at other revenue streams.
If TSB is a success, are there the resources in the UF College of Journalism and Communications to scale it with editorial content about health issues at individual colleges?
The College of Journalism and Communications has a working newsroom providing content to our seven broadcast properties (including local NPR and PBS affiliates) and digital platforms serving both the University and the North Central Florida region. We also have a professional advertising and public relations agency focused on millennials. So we do have the opportunity to integrate a variety of relevant, local content and to build awareness with the young adult demographic we serve.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.