As the point man for polishing—and on the rare occasion, performing word-surgery on—the written content of the current reigning student media organization here, The Tab’s tagline was provocative enough to get me interested.
“The Tab is a like (sic) your student paper except better! We cover the news students care about, in a style that they actually want to read,” the Twitter bio reads.
The Tab’s tagline, touting its conversational style and openness to “anything a Temple student wants to write about”—as expressed by Dylan Keith, a senior journalism major and one of the three top editors for The Tab’s Temple edition.
I just spent hours unifying The Temple News’ voice before seeing that tagline for the first time. What is this big corporation, and what is it doing in our market?
I felt the disruption.
In the past month, this stylebook-less, “conversational” online news startup has burst onto the discourse of the Temple community with content ranging from a Valentine’s Day video in which staffers give passersby roses (and Tab-branded condoms) to breaking news coverage.
Its rise to popularity on campus has been helped by sharing articles on Facebook and tabling at campus events (where condoms, T-shirts, water bottles and other “swag” make an appearance). A post on a student’s disorderly conduct arrest in the TECH Center, rumored to be for stealing Twinkies from 7-Eleven, drew 115 likes and a plethora of comments.
But what about that tagline?
I sat down for an hour-long interview in Annenberg Hall last week with the three top editors including Keith, junior journalism major Jordan Gunselman and sophomore journalism major Alexa Ross, who stressed the tagline was handed down from higher-ups and that it didn’t apply here.
“We’re still establishing ourselves here, we’re still finding our voice at Temple, so for now we’re just going with what The Tab brand itself uses,” Gunselman said.
“I don’t think The Tab is better than The Temple News,” Keith later added. “We are two separate types of writing, two separate types of journalism.”
The Tab is a British media company which has opened 44 university bureaus in the United Kingdom and has plans to expand to about 200 schools in the United States, according to the Press Gazette, a British publication. The Temple iteration, which launched this year, boasts about 15 “core” staff and about 90 “interested” who could get involved in the future, the editors told me.
Across the country, professional newspapers are undergoing layoffs or buyouts, and we’re seeing the decline of City Hall bureaus, daily print editions and investigative reporting. There’s an emergence of national organizations reaching into the college media market as some students become disenchanted with their print newspaper. Besides The Tab, there’s The Odyssey Online and Her Campus, similarly structured and minded organizations. The Odyssey also brands itself as a student-newspaper alternative.
“Student newspapers have put the people writing first and not really bothered to think about the audience, in my experience,” The Tab’s co-founder Jack Rivlin told the Press Gazette last week.
“They tend to be filled with stuff about Middle Eastern politics, dry university press releases, Hollywood film reviews.”
The difference between The Temple News and whichever papers Rivlin was talking about is that we are covering what people care about, on top of what they actually need to know. We haven’t had a Hollywood review in years and we’re the best account of what is happening in the North Philadelphia community.
We have a set of checks and balances in place that would deter some of the more controversial editorial decisions made at The Tab. In recent weeks, they’ve gotten their most attention yet, the editors told me.
Last week, The Tab found a photograph of a car on which three men in Philly sports jerseys had drawn the N-word and a swastika in the snow. They published both the word and the Nazi symbol.
“It’s sad that something like that happened,” said Student Body President Ryan Rinaldi, who added that Temple Student Government later referred Temple Police to The Tab’s post. “We just wish it was blanked out. We got the gist.”
“If a child is walking down the street and can see that, a college student can handle it,” Ross said. “It should be known that these things are going on … we just put it out there, like, this happened, and they’re looking for the people who did it.”
That’s one way of doing it, and consistent with The Tab’s organizational values—to be first, to be conversational. “We don’t need to change our voice” for serious news, Ross said. “And we do things as they’re happening.”
Other media organizations which picked up the story chose to censor, including philly.com.
The Tab’s format of times—“2am” instead of the proper Associated Press “2 a.m.” and other inconsistencies, as well as writers competing in a national contest to have their stories reach a certain benchmark of shares (the local branch of The Tab will allegedly win money if they do) will continue to infuriate me. And some of their editorial decisions that we wouldn’t be caught dead doing, like publishing the N-word and a swastika, or making a spectacle out of a disorderly conduct arrest, will infuriate me too.
But for the most part, I’m going to remain an optimist, even though some of my stodgier colleagues disagree. The Tab, as a more open forum for student voices, is a fundamentally good idea. The trouble is in the execution and maintaining its relatable and conversational tone when covering tough news.
But we’ll always be there for that.
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.