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From AJR,   February/March 2012  issue

Tailoring Political News for Younger Readers   

The University of Kansas’ PoliticalFiber.com focuses on issues and avoids the horse race. Thurs., February 9, 2012.


By Chelsea Boone
Chelsea Boone (cc_boone@yahoo.com) is a graduate student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

Young people have a healthy interest in political news, says Pam Fine, the Knight Chair for News, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas. The problem is they don't have much interest in the way news has traditionally been covered.

But if they could find content that was edited and presented with them in mind, they just might tune in, the journalism professor and former newspaper editor figured.

Enter PoliticalFiber.com, a Web site Fine launched February 1 aimed squarely at KU students and other young Kansans.

PoliticalFiber.com's goal "is to take a slow news approach to political coverage by providing thoughtful, in-depth analysis and reporting about the 2012 state and presidential elections," the Web site states.

Fine, the only KU professor involved with the site, says students are turned off by coverage of the horse race and the mudslinging and much more interested in articles about substantive issues, particularly those that affect them. "We picked select issues that we felt would be of interest to the students," Fine says.

Among the topics PoliticalFiber.com will cover are illegal immigration, the national debt, student loan debt, unemployment, Iraq, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, climate change, Afghanistan, health care and abortion. One of the site's early articles explored the question of "why tuition costs are out of control."

PoliticalFiber.com's 24-member staff is made up mostly of KU students and recent graduates, and affords students the opportunity to do political reporting and have their work published. In addition, students in an advanced reporting class can write for the site for credit. Fine says the project's $100,000-plus budget is underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Brianne Pfannenstiel, the site's editor and a 2010 Kansas graduate, says there was a place for something like PoliticalFiber.com when she was a student. "There was definitely a need for a higher level of reporting," she says.

There was also a need for a venue where students could get their work published, she adds.

The goal is to get students more involved in politics, Pfannenstiel says. "Make students want to read politics. Make students want to write politics."

PoliticalFiber.com's content is designed to help fill a void, since coverage by the traditional media of Kansas' government and politics has declined, Pfannenstiel says. "I think there's really a lot of need for the type of reporting we're doing." She says she has "gotten a lot of really positive feedback from students and J-school alumni" since its launch.

As for the future, Fine, a former managing editor at the Indianapolis Star and Minneapolis' Star Tribune, says PoliticalFiber.com "is planned to exist through the end of 2012 because it was developed as an election-related site." But she says she hopes to find funding to keep it running past the end of the current election season.

But right now, the mission is "to provide University of Kansas students and other young Kansans with lively, high-quality reporting, analysis and conversation about the political issues that most affect them," the Web site says.

Fine wants to make sure the site maintains a tight focus on its core audience. "The stories that may be at the top of the CNN or New York Times Web sites may not be at the top of our Web site," she says. "I wanted this to be a site for KU students, for millennials.

"If other people read it, fine."