Joe Weasel worked in radio. He wrote a newspaper column. He taught journalism. But he had enough foresight to see the digital revolution coalescing on the horizon.
But four years ago, when he wanted investors for a news Website staffed by and catering to college students, "People looked at me like I had three heads," he says.
Today, Palestra.net has 200 participating colleges, 12,000 videos and 15,000 student-produced stories on the site, and a deal with Fox News that gives its student reporters national exposure on FoxNews.com. Coming soon is a series of youth election forums on FoxNews.com and ThePalestra. A partnership with FoxSports.com is also in the works.
"I really believed the whole way that people were going to consume and decipher and disseminate and aggregate information was all going to change," he says.
"Nobody believed that college students would be responsible enough to meet a deadline," says Weasel, who taught journalism at Ohio State University, his alma mater. "People who knew media were saying, we're not going to invest in media when newspapers are dying," he adds. "They weren't making the connection. Kids weren't not consuming media; they were just doing it differently."
Weasel, 47, had faith in the work ethic of young people. The driving force behind ThePalestra (Greek for an arena used for training and practice) is to mentor and empower them.
Weasel loathes the idea of unpaid internships. Since ThePalestra bowed in August 2006, more than 250 students have received a paycheck.
"The kids who are up to their necks in student loans and trying to buy food, in most cases, make the best journalists," he says. "Paying student reporters and holding them accountable helps create a very effective organization." —Marisa Guthrie