Campus Overload Live with Jenna Johnson

May 05, 2011

Now days, it seems like everyone on campus has a blog. Lots of university presidents have blogs, as do admissions officers, deans of students, cafeteria chefs and an assortment of professors. And don't forget student blogs.

But what makes a good blog post? Who is reading these blogs? What do students want to read? How do officials keep from being boring? And what should bloggers know to avoid huge embarrassments?

Let's chat about it Thursday at 1 p.m. I will be joined by three bloggers:

Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University who blogs about once a week and has written about technology in education, women in leadership and even D.C. statehood.

Daniel G. Creasy, an associate director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins University who demystifies the application process for students through Hopkins Insider blog posts (that are often funny) and photos.

Lauren Hockenson, a senior at Boston University who is the founder and publisher of The Quad, an independent online student magazine.

Campus Overload's Jenna Johnson chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of interns on her blog each day. In her live chat, she answers your questions about life on campus -- and life off campus, too.

Happy Thursday!

I'm still a little tired from hanging out with college students outside the White House late Sunday night -- but I'm excited to talk about blogging today.

I'm joined by Trinity Prez Pat McGuire, Hopkins' Admissions Daniel and Lauren of The Quad at BU. I am also hoping chat producer Ryan Kellett will join in -- he recently graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, where he started MiddBlog.

Okay -- lots of questions already coming in. Let's get started!

Hi, this is Pat McGuire, president at Trinity Washington University, and I'll be discussing the joy of blogging --- I've been doing it since 2005 (really!) and still enjoy sharing ideas each week.  Looking forward to getting your questions!

Hi everyone. My name is Lauren Hockenson and I am a 21 year-old senior from Boston University. I am the creator and publisher of The Quad, Boston University's independent online magazine, which caters directly to BU students. Thanks for having me on, and I'm excited to be here!

Greetings everyone. I am Daniel from Johns Hopkins University and I have been blogging for five plus years about undergraduate admissions. I look forward to answering your questions. 

As a Trinity alumna, I have enjoyed reading your blogs on a wide variety of subjects. What topics tend to elicit the greatest response to your blogs, and do you see more student response on certain subjects? If so, what are they?

Political topics are always hot... people are passionate about their beliefs!    Trinity students are especially passionate about women's rights (we specialize in women's leadership) and gender equity topics.  A blog I once posted that criticized a major newspaper for using a graphic of a pink purse as a symbol of women's leadership in foreign affairs got a lot of comments.  Trinity students are also passionate on the topics of racial justice and immigration reform --- a series on the Jena 6 case had many days' worth of student comments that I ran in the body of the blog.  Students often ask me to write even more about social justice issues so I try to honor that request as much as possible.

Daniel, has your blog turned you into an admissions office celeb? Do you have high school groupies?

To some extent I have become a psuedo celebrity in the world of Admissions. I use the moniker Admissions_Daniel for all my blogs and there are many people who do visit Johns Hopkins looking to meet me. As far as groupies, I wouldn't say that I have a legion of high schoolers following my every word, but I do have fans and I am mentioned in our applications from time-to-time. It is suprising when I meet someone and they know the name of my dog, my favorite sports teams, etc. ... I just have to remember that people do read my blog.

Lauren, why did you start The Quad? How is it different from other campus news sources?

I started the Quad simply because Boston University didn't have a magazine-style publication on campus and as a magazine major, I felt a bit left out. While I initially envisioned The Quad as a traditional print publication, my shoestring budget really wouldn't allow it. Thus, was born. In hindsight, starting on the web was the best road to take: my team and I are able to provide content nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if we so choose. And I think the students really respond to that accessibility. We're the in-depth, alternative source for news on campus, and I think we've gained a lot of respect both from the students and the administration.

Pat: You tackle some pretty controversial topics on your blog (in politics, sports, popular culture, religion). Usually university presidents play it safe - in their speeches and on their blogs, if they write one. How are you able to write about controversial topics and not cause a big commotion?

Commotion?  Of course!  Learning is about commotion!  I do have my critics who accuse me of all kinds of dreadful things --- like being a 'liberal' --- horrors!  I obviously completely disagree with those who say that college presidents should hide in their tweed jackets.  Leadership in education is about showing students how to stand up for something, say what you believe, mean what you say, say it with style -- and be sure to credit your sources correctly!  I make no apologies for having opinions.... I'd be in the wrong business if I did!  We presidents should do more to take public stands on important issues of the day; presidents used to do that, and the public discourse now is so much poorer because too many university presidents don't use the power of their lecterns to address major issues.

Pres. McGuire: Have there been any topics in particular that have led to student dialogues on campus? Do students give you feedback on your blog?

Yes, students do give me a lot of feedback --- I'm sometimes surprised when a student comes up to me and says that she recently read something on my blog.  I love that!  Students enjoy getting into the debate and I invite them to send in comments --- and their own text or photos that I publish for them on my blog.  Recently, for example, our College Dems went to the Pell Grant demonstrations on the Hill, so I devoted part of a blog to their participation.  I encourage students to let me know if they have something to say, I use my blog to give them space.

Ms. McGuire: Does your staff write and post your blog or do you do it all yourself?

Nope, I write every word myself, except for the comments or input that students or others send me, in which case I use quotes.  I have a fabulous staff, by the way, and they're so good that they let me do things on my own without prior editing.  (THAT could make other presidents jealous!)

Daniel, a few people in the JHU office contribute to Hopkins Insider. How do you decide who writes what? Are some people given specific topics to routinely cover?

When I launched the Hopkins Insider blog the plan was for me to be the only Admissions professional at Johns Hopkins to post entries. Back then we thought one voice would work well for the blog. But as the blog became more popular there was more demand for some of my colleagues to write guest entries. Just this past year my colleague Shannon Miller joined me as a co-author. Basically, Shannon and I will brainstorm topics a few months in advance and ask our colleagues if they are interested in writing topics that they are more knowledgable about. For instance, just today we posted a entry about transfer admission written by my colleague Sarah who coordinates our transfer review process. 

Lauren, do you feel like blogs get as much respect as established newspapers or magazines (or, on the other side, official memos from college presidents)? Are blogs too casual to be taken seriously?

I think it all depends on what sort of topics your blog chooses to cover, and the frame of reporting that is taken. At The Quad, my writers have an opportunity to write in their own voice and express their own opinions, but they also can become objective when a situation calls for it. We've gained respect at Boston University for our comprehensive reporting on the school's most major issues. For example, last semester we broke a story about a student who had developed a program that rated BU girls against each other and asked "Who is hotter?" We identified the student who programmed the website, and allowed girls on the website to weigh in about how their image was being treated on the internet. We're also known for releasing reactions to administrative memos, giving a student's point of view on the issue and inviting readers to comment. In short, a blog doesn't have to be casual, it can gain the same amount of respect as other campus publications and even provide new and interesting takes on emerging issues.

How can we help our daughter adjust to living on campus 4 hours away? What do freshmen students wish they knew now that they are sophomores? What can parents help with and when to back away?

Whether your daughter is living four hours away -- or four minutes down the road -- college is an entire new world and way of life. And everyone adjusts differently.

The best thing that you can do is sit down with your daughter, maybe over lunch or a cup of tea in the kitchen, and ask her what you should do (and not do) to help. Chances are, she wants to try this on her own -- and will call if she needs help. Try to wait for her to call you.

Chances are, your daughter's college will have a parent orientation where you can receive tons of info and advice on this topic. But, until then, maybe some of my readers can help out!

Any advice for this mom?

President McGuire: Why do you think it is so important for university presidents to take time out of their busy day to write a blog?

Most administrators will tell you that while we love our work --- truly! --- what we spend a lot of time doing is solving other people's problems.  That's what administration is all about.  So, every once in a while, stepping back to think about ideas, big issues and the humor or perversity in society helps to create perspective.  I don't have time to do a great deal of research, but for my blog, I always research the topics so there's a bit of intellectual excitement when I have to learn about something new.   I also think it's vitally important for college presidents to be known for more than just raising money or being wheeled out for events --- we should be intellectual leaders and articulate our moral points of view.  That doesn't mean that everyone has to agree, but it does mean that we actually practice the art of leadership.

I agree with Pat on this one. It's important to humanize the college president -- they are people too, I'd hope. 

A university president blog can often be a great place to set an agenda and get feedback from students. But if you do blog, read your comments. Do not think that blogging is a one-way avenue to disseminating information.

President McGuire, how has your blog changed since you first started it?

I was more cautious, and I also focused more on campus topics when I started the blog in 2005.  I also used to write more about personal experiences.  But then I realized that the big topics of our town and society were also appropriate for commentary --- so now it's a mix of Trinity topics, topics that readers send me, some personal items from time to time, and quite a lot on issues of great importance to our work at Trinity:  women's rights and civil rights, education reform, the state of D.C. politics, women's leadership nationally, war and peace.

Daniel, every year the admissions cycle is pretty much the same: Students visit, students apply, students wait in agony, students find out if they got in, students celebrate or cry, students enroll. And repeat. How do you avoid the temptation to just copy and paste entries over each year? How do you keep it new and exciting?

Great question and something I often struggle with. I must admit I do re-use entries year-to-year with some updated information (such as changing my pop culture references), however I am not too concerned about that since the audience of my blog changes each year. Once a student/parent has gone through the admissions cycle they are much less likely to be a return visitor, so cyclical entries is not a major problem. Also, I have evolved the blog greatly over the last few years as more universities publish admissions blog and the information students are seeking has changed. 

I know Middlebury's admissions blog invites a new group of Seniors to blog each year. 

Lauren, when college officials try launching blogs (like having students blog for the admissions department or faculty members write about their work) what can they do to avoid being boring? What would students want to read on such blogs?

I think the biggest thing they can do is keep their ear on the ground and their fingers on the pulse of the student body. Becoming linked in to the student-generated blog community is one way to do so. Currently, The Quad is partnering with Boston University Public Relations on a series entitled "The Senior Bucketlist." Essentially, my writers and I pick one thing that an underclassmen or prospective student should do before graduating BU, based on our own experience. BUPR gave us the freedom to come up with the content, and we cross-promote to get people onto BUPR's new blog, BU Now. The result, from my point of view, has been really positive. Students get to see real students talk about things they love about Boston, and what their unique position as a student of an urban campus affords them. I think that when a blog proves that it's up-to-date on student life, and has the voices to prove it, then college officials will find that their blog is not only promoting the university, but articulating the real culture of the campus that readers truly want to see.

Ms. McGuire, does it make a difference that you are the president of your institution? Given campuses and their information offices do tend to play it safe (including clamping down on any subordinates who may get controversial), well, is that a concern? Or are you insulated by your position? Would it make a difference if you were a lower level employee?

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and we uphold that concept at Trinity --- and I, for one, certainly do not think that my position allows me to say things that others may not.  On the contrary, I try to communicate the idea through my own writing that others should feel safe articulating their ideas.  I do try to show how to do so with balance and fairness to all sides --- for example, I do not endorse political candidates, but I do discuss politicians.  If I say something about a politician, I try to summarize various points of view on that.  Writing with balance is important.

President McGuire - do your find that Trinity-specific topics get the most attention/comments, or more political/controversial themes that inspire the greatest reaction?

Political topics, most definitely ... we have other outlets on campus for Trinity themes, including our Facebook page, the website, other blogs that deans and students have, and good old-fashioned email.  People like a rousing discussion of whether D.C. should have the vote, for example.   Trinity themes work best when it's a shout out to students, faculty or staff who have done great jobs.

Pres. McGuire: I am an avid reader of your blog and encourage others to read it regularly. I especially enjoy your Adirondack Chronicles that you write during your summer vacations. Your photos are extraordinary. Why are you so fascinated by nature?

Being out on the water with only the eagles and great blue herons is immensely relaxing.... and a reminder that the whole of creation is so much bigger than any one of us.  I find I can get a great deal of perspective and sense of peace just walking through woods or paddling around a small pond.  Locally, I have come to love the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in southern Maryland, and on weekend afternoons when that's too far, I head over to Jug Bay at the Patuxent River Park.  Thanks for the compliment, I do enjoy this other side of my life!

Lauren, I'm curious what blogs you regularly read. Do you have some favorites?

A better question is: "What blogs do you not read?" My friends have a habit of calling me "The Internet," because I'm constantly reading up on news and trends, and I'm a social media fiend. In any given day, I go to a number of the Gawker Media websites, spend a healthy amount of time on Mashable, read personal and professional blogs of peers and friends, and frequent newspaper websites to get the general gist of world events. I love humor websites as well, and I'm particularly smitten with New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton's blog "Hark, A Vagrant!" and Allie Brosh's "Hyperbole and a Half." The Internet is filled with some informative, enlightening, and amazing stuff.

How did you come up with the names for your blogs? Does it matter what you name it?

A student who worked for me actually came up with the name Hopkins Insider and it just stuck. I think it works as I hope for the blog to be a look "inside" the admissions office and process. Personally, I do think what you name your blog matters as I am always drawn to blogs with catchy names. 

Initially, the name matters. But in the end, I think the content is way more important. Catchy names can help but nothing replaces the content.

I came up with The Quad at the suggestion of a dear friend of mine, who gave me the most succinct reasoning: Boston University doesn't have a quad, so why don't we make one? I think it really does matter what you name it, because you want it to stick in the reader's brain, and catchy names definitely do that!

There are four of us who are thinking about live streaming our chaotic lives. Any thoughts on the best way to go about it?

I mean: Are your lives REALLY that interesting? Do you think people will really care?

Unless you are a baby hawk getting ready to burst out of your shell outside of the NYU library, most people aren't interested in watching a minute-by-minute live stream.

Maybe instead you can do something more targeted, like capturing five minutes of your awesome amazing life each day.

Agreed with Jenna. It's hard to pull off livestreaming unless you are driving toward a specific event or goal. I've used livestreaming to broadcast a concert, for instance, but to get an idea of everyday hustle, I think there can be better illustrations in produced video, audio slideshows, etc.

President of the Rhode Island School of Design John Maeda has been aggressively using social media to connect with campus (and gather material for a book). Some have found his tweeting, video messaging and online networking impersonal, ineffective and, at times, egotistical. In March, more than 80 percent of faculty members voted "no confidence" in him, The Chronicle reported.

What do you think? Is it possible to use  social media too much?

Well, two different questions here, and I'm not familiar with the specific example of President Maeda ---

....but, first, yes, too much social media can make it appear that the president is not doing his or her job.  I've read criticisms of me that complain that "all she does is blog" which is not true, of course, but gave me pause...

Appearing to be egotistical or self-promoting is an occupational hazard for college presidents.  We are supposed to be out there, giving speeches, promoting our schools, finding ways  to call attention to the best of our universities or colleges.  While it should never be about ME per se, in fact, the office, the person and the institution sometimes get mixed up.  

That's why I take my camera and kayak out to the wilderness every once in a while, disconnecting from media, to step back from the fray and be sure I haven't completely lost perspective.

Should prospective students be maintaining blogs? I was not blogging during my admissions process but if I were to do it again, I'm sure admissions offices would be looking at my online presence.

As social media has taken off over the last couple of years this has become a frequent topic of conversation ... should a high school student's online presence matter in the admissions review process? There is a lot of debate about the topic and I have seen opinions across the spectrum. Personally, for me it comes down to a practical answer. I have over 1,500 applications to review in a very short three month period of time. I do not have the time to be "googling" applicants or looking them up on Facebook. If a student supplied a blog address or Web link I consider it supplemental material, which means I will glance at it. So, no I don't think prospective students should be maintaining blogs to give them an edge in the admissions process; spend that time on working on those essays and getting involved. 

If a student decides to blog, it should be because she/he is passionate about a topic -- not to impress an admissions officer. A boring, forced or, worse of all, offensive blog could actually make a student look less stellar than they are.

Do any of your guests use Twitter? Have you found any pros or cons to this style of microblogging?

I use Twitter mostly as a vehicle for promoting readership of my blog.... it's a very limited form of communication, though I know people who swear by it.   We do use it for emergency communications at Trinity, especially snow days, and that works well!

Hi Jenna and panel - Christian here at Mount St. Mary's University: Do you get a better response from from video blogging or is text blogging king? Thank you

Hey Christian!

Personally: I stick with text blogging (along with pics and links and tweets and chats). I have tried video a couple times (example) but it didn't seem to be wildly successful. I really wonder who was watching (other than my mother).

With that said, I would like to try to do more video. Right now I am working with the Post's Anqoinette Crosby to do regular appearances on Post Today, our online video news program.

Should I be doing more video? Anyone have any advice?

Depends on how much time you have and how much editing you want to do. You'll notice that many have low production value on vlogs (video blogging). That's because it's done quickly without much editing on crummy cameras. A lot of schools are uncomfortable with the rough-and-tumble look of videos which aren't edited down to perfection. I can tell you that these videos, though, can be really genuine and a signal of believability is the low production value itself. In other words, sometimes videos are more believable if they aren't wonderfully produced and edited. Overall, though, text blogging keeps things simple.

President McGuire, so much of the national news media is very partisan these days - FOX on the right, MSNBC on the left. Should opinionated reporting be relegated to bloggers, or are bloggers in a position to broaden the dialog and stop the bias?

Just today I blogged about the "age of chronic disbelief" --- bemoaning what I see as a paralyzing tendency for current discourse to spread lies and mythologies, distinguished from healthy skepticism.  I think blogging can take on some of the more narrow-minded points of view as much as blogging can also be a source of horrific disinformation --- blogging is the ultimate expression of our free society, so we can say what we want.  Responsible commentators need to push back on the fringe that only spreads venom.

Pat: (I feel like I know you from your blog). You write about current news stories and popular culture (I am amazed you can keep up with J Lo and Lady Gaga!). You must read a lot. What are your top 5 favorite news sites? Are they must reads every day?

Natch, I start with the Washington Post online every day, then onto Slate, Politico, the New York Times --- and the Drudge Report to get my daily does of all things skeptical of the current administration.  Sometimes I get to the HuffingtonPost, sometimes Salon.  Also, the broadcast media sites --- CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, and even BBC sometimes, quick skims, not much indepth unless I'm trying to catch up on news I missed.  (I missed The Wedding.  I saw a clip on BBC....)

Okay, be honest: Biggest blogging disaster to date. (And, of course, what you learned from the experience.)

I once wrote a blog about the situation with a radio commentator who made racist comments about a women's basketball team.  My blog had some critical comments about something a sportswriter had written about the controversy.  I was stunned to get a response from the sportswriter who felt that I had completely misrepresented what she had written.  We had some dialogue back and forth and I blogged a clarification.  I learned from that (1) to be more precise when criticizing another writer publicly and (2) people really do read this stuff.

Thankfully I have avoided blogging disasters but I do occasionally get some hate mail. The biggest disaster was in the first year of the blog when I announced our decision release date because the Dean of Admissions had said it in staff meeting. It turns out we mailed two days later and there was a lot of frustration from applicants about the delay. What I learned ... check, double check, and triple check with the Dean before posting any announcements on the blog. 

Always be mindful of your words. I cannot stress this enough. Probably the hardest thing in managing The Quad has been impressing upon my staff that fact-checking and name-checking are essential. Once in a quick attempt to put up a post, one of my staff made a huge typo: instead of the words "Red Tape," another word that rhymes with tape was put in its place (which started with an R). It was only up for a few seconds, but believe me, they were the longest seconds of my life. Whether it's inadvertent or not, words really matter.

At one point, blogs were on the cutting edge of webbyness -- but now there's Facebook with its notes, groups and fan clubs. There's Twitter and Tumbler, YouTube and Vimeo. Is there still a need for blogs?

Absolutely.  I find Twitter fairly limited, and Facebook is about connecting, not thinking.  Blogging well requires thought, research and good writing --- social media do not encourage those habits!

Disagree. While blogging certainly lends itself to lengthy, well-researched debate, I would not discount social media in creating a conversation. I've seen lengthy discussions on Facebook and wonderful exchanges on Tumblr. Twitter too, in all its brevity, can be a powerful tool for engaging audiences of many kinds.

I love blogging and never want to think of a time where there is not a need for them. In the world of admissions, I think there are a lot of issues that confuse people and blog can provide a bit of a tutorial about processes and decisions. You can really explain the admissions review process at a highly selective university in 140 characters or pictures. However, I do see value in other forms of social media and myself and the students who work with me have embraced all forms of communication. 

Absolutely, and I think that Twitter and Facebook aren't the enemy. The Quad is able to interact with BU students directly using Twitter, and we've really created a culture around social media that invites students to speak with us directly. And without Facebook, The Quad would never be what it is today. I think embracing all of these tools and using them to fit the tone of your blog will super-charge your content and really get users interested.

When it comes to your blogging, how much is spontaneous/spur of the moment versus how much do you plan ahead (even if you even plan ahead)?

I pick up topics from news sources all the time, so I've always got a list going, but if something comes up this afternoon that's important, I'll blog about it right away.... so part planned, part spontaneous...

When I first started my blog entries were pretty much spur of the moment updates. As the blog became more popular and more connected with our undergraduate admissions marketing campaign I now work with a handful of colleagues in laying out more of a planned schedule of topics. In the past I would post entries that had nothing to do with Admissions, such as an entry where I ran down the lists of television shows I regularly watch. Now the focus is much more on information visitors to an admissions blog on the Johns Hopkins web site would be looking for ... though I still slip in from time-to-time my favorite TV shows (Friday Night Lights anybody?). 

I always have a list of things that I want to blog about when I get a few free minutes (right now that list includes Prince Charles visiting Georgetown, colleges that snag comedians as their commencement speakers and fake university president Twitter accounts), plus an inbox full of potential guest columns.

But, usually, I end up writing about whatever is hot in higher ed news that day or something that catches my eye right away. If I can't find the energy to write about it immediately, chances are readers won't be very interested either.

Pat, Daniel, and Lauren - As your blogs develop, do you find yourself using more images and video, and, consequently, fewer words, to share your story? If so, can you recommend some tools or tips to add visual resources, like videos, to our blog?

I've tried to embrace multimedia from Day 1 of The Quad, but I am a firm advocate in a healthy mix. We've tried videos, live blogs, breaking news reporting through twitter, slideshows, and nearly everything to find the right tools for us. My big tip? Always be aware of your multimedia personality. I've done a few videos of myself for The Quad, and I see them as an opportunity to engage with my audience. Don't be afraid to be funny, and definitely let your personality shine.

Absolutely I have seen my blog evolve from primarily the written word to more of a multimedia presentation nowadays. When your audience is primarily 15-18 year olds you need pictures and videos and not blocks of text to keep them entertained. In the beginning I thought a sense of humour would keep my audience, but now I need the bells and whistles too. For me, a have an extremely reliable group of students who assist me when the technical aspects of posting pictures or uploading videos becomes too difficult. Despite blogging for as long as I have, I am still pretty technically inept and I am lucky for the students who frequently visit my office. 

I try to use photographs on as many blogs as possible, since that gets more reader interest.... learning how to keep the format interesting and engaging is the same as any publishing enterprise.  Short paragraphs, too!

I am behind the times. How does Gawker work and how do you select from what you read from it? is a leading gossip website nationwide. It's the flagship blog in a family of blogs owned by Gawker Media.

Gawker, the blog, is a celebrity gossip blog produced by Gawker Media. However, they host many other blogs that cater to many different kinds of interests: tech-focused Gizmodo, gamer heaven Kotaku, girl-powered Jezebel, and even the car blog Jalopnik. I would suggest getting an RSS feed on your blogs of choice too, that way you can keep everything all in one place!

How do you let people know about your blog? Do they magically find it, or have you put a lot of effort into promoting it?

Lot of work --- I try to link and tag and otherwise create online ways for people to find it, and of course, since it's accessible on Trinity's home page at we promote it that way all the time...

Thankfully I have a lot of support from the marketing team of the Undergraduate Admissions office and the University as well in the promotion of my blog. This was not always true, and in the first years I really questioned whether I should keep writing entries. Now, the blog address is linked throughout our Admissions homepage and when new blogs are posted we use Twitter, Facebook, and our own Hopkins Interactive ( to promote the new entries. It took a while, and a lot of patience, for buy-in from my superiors but as positive feedback about the transparency provided by the Hopkins Insider blog started coming in, it was easier to promote the blog. 

My staff and I promote The Quad like crazy! Because we do not receive any money from BU, social media has become an essential outlet to get our message out there. We advertise heavily on Facebook and Twitter and encourage our writers to promote their work to their friends. The hard work has paid off though: in just a year and a half, we've grown to the point where the website receives nearly 6,000 unique visits per week. Furthermore, we have a strong community and culture around our publication, and I don't think it would have happened without our promotions strategy.

What are some of YOUR favorite higher ed blogs? What makes those blogs interesting? Send me some links!

In three adjectives, what is the tone you aim for on your blog?

Provocative, thoughtful, revealing

Witty, Cutting-Edge, Diverse

Humorous, informative, and honest.

Newsy. Intriguing. Down-to-earth.

Can blogs compete with the college newspapers? Should they compete or compliment? What does the student media landscape look like at your school?

Certainly. The Quad directly interacts with Boston University's newspaper, the Daily Free Press. Though, I would not say we're entirely in competition with each other: they are hard news, we are editorial and opinionated. Boston University's media landscape has really boomed over the last couple years, filling a vacuum that I believe was present for a while. Still, I'm thankful we've carved out our own reputation and I'm personally in favor of a little friendly competition.

Definitely student press and student media should converge in good ways --- we're working on that at Trinity, trying to figure out how much "ink" should go into a physical newspaper versus encouraging a lot more online publication.  Interestingly enough, we've recently revived our student literary magazine (The Record) and it was a big hit --- in hard copy!

How long does it take you to write a blog? What was your favorite blog you wrote?

Anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Sometimes it takes longer because I am waiting for phone calls back from sources or trying to research the topic more. And sometimes it takes longer because I just can't find the right words (or am distracted by Gawker headlines).

I have had hundreds of blog posts since I started Campus Overload last year but my fav so far: Cook a Thanksgiving feast in your dorm microwave.

I am usually brainstorming and outlining upcoming blogs weeks in advance. When I actually stop procrastinating and sit down to write an entry it usually takes between 30-45 minutes. 

As far as my favorite entry it was one I wrote this past winter and some of the amazing students I have gotten to work with over the years.

Usually an hour or so once I start writing, but it could take me several days to think through a complex topic since i want what I write to be both accurate and done well.  I have lots of favorite blogs over the six years I've been doing them --- the best, in my mind, are those that generate student comments, and those are blogs on gender issues, women's leadership, famous Trinity alumnae like Nancy Pelosi or Cathleen Black or Kathleen Sebelius, or civil and human rights issues.

That's a great question. I blog a lot. But, the time it takes me to write varies. As I've taken more of a managerial role on The Quad, I've had to dial back on some of my personal contributions to focus on the future. Still, this year I've been the dominant voice in the magazines Technology section (which I am a super-fan of). Picking a favorite post is like picking a favorite child, but if I had to choose...I would have to say the 1,000 post retrospective. It was a way for me to celebrate the success of The Quad, which I've carefully kept in for a long time. I'm so proud of my staff!

How do you pick who gets to contribute to your blog? How do you recruit them?

I have a fairly extensive application process with potential students who would like to work for The Quad. Luckily, the website attracts the kind of people I would love to have on my staff, so there's been a lot of great hiring stories. We also have a submission portion to our blog for one-off editorials or creative submissions, and those are usually submitted through our website. We're always looking for new voices.

I often invite comments for publication on my blog through the blog itself, or sometimes through emails to the Trinity campus community.  This often works well for specific topics, e.g., last year's Constitution Day generated many days worth of student and faculty comments on free speech and democracy. 

The Hopkins Insider is a blog about Undergraduate Admissions at Johns Hopkins University so my choices for contributors does pretty much focus on my colleagues - though my Mom was a guest author in the past. For the larger Hopkins Interactive student blogging community I oversee our selection process for new bloggers is extensive. It includes a 5 page application, the submission of two sample blogs, and a 20 minute interview with current bloggers and myself. 

What higher ed topics are not being covered in blogs? Are there topics that bloggers should tackle?

Jenna, since the Washington Post education bloggers got going, it's been terrific --- I read your blog, Dan de Vise, Valerie Strauss and Jay Mathews every day!  I also like it when the blogs link to important other commentaries on hot topics.  The hottest issues in higher education today are centered on too much regulation, the future of financial aid, whether academic assessment is producing results, the future of traditional faculties, whether we're going to have standardized testing like K-12 --- these are all good topics for higher ed bloggers.

My only complaint about higher education blogs by mainstream media outlets that have gained popularity over the last few years is a focus too much on news coming out of the most selective colleges and issues of how competitive it is to "get in." I know I work for a highly selective college, but news about college admissions should not just foucs on schools with the tiniest of admit rates. There is so many wonderful institutions out there for students to investigate and I hope in the future recognition of the full scope of higher education opportunities will become more prevalent. 

How do you develop a blog community at your school? Or does your blog exist completely apart from others? 

It depends on audience first. My blog is directed at prospective students to Johns Hopkins University and not the current campus community. In that sense the community I build with my blogs and the student blogging project I oversee if focusing on students interested in attending Hopkins in the future or current applicants. As part of our process, the most important element is selecting current Johns Hopkins undergraduates who are creative, motivated, and interesting so we can keep our prospective community engaged. 

At Trinity our staff who maintain our website and online presence are really encouraging blogs from other administrators, students and faculty --- the website has other blogs in addition to mine linked on the home page, www.

Yes to both, actually. Boston University does have a blogging community, through their accounts. However, The Quad has and always will be independent from that. We are our own entity, providing our own stories to the campus.

Thanks, everybody, I enjoyed your questions!  Visit my blog --- and remember to send comments! --- on ---- from Trinity, Pat McGuire...

By putting yourself out there as a public blogger, you sometimes make yourself a target for hate mail, offensive comments and general mean insults. Do you ever respond? If so, how?

I've never had someone personally attack my character in reaction to a blog I've written or my presence on the website. However, I do have some writers who have gone through some attacks. I always stress to them to take the high road. I back my staff up 100%, and I believe in their capability to produce an effective and compelling story. Haters will hate, but you should never stoop to their level.

Oh, that goes with the territory, and I usually ignore them.  It's not just from blogging, being a 'public figure' (kind of what a president must be at times...) invites criticism.  I have found that direct responses or efforts to prove the hater wrong are just pointless.  Ignoring hateful personal attacks is my usual strategy.

Haters gonna hate.

When I first started blogging I didn't expect to receive negative responses but I guess I was just naive. I typically ignore offensive comments and insults, but occassionally I do respond with my point-of-view. As an example, a few years ago a supposed alum of Hopkins was attacking some of my posts on a popular college admissions discussion forum and my absense of any response or comment seemed suspect. I responded to the claims that this anonymous posted was making but never addressed any of the personal insults or even directly responded to the person. Many on the forum appreciated that I did respond in such a polite and respectful manner. 

How do you feel about anonymous commenting on your blogs? In college communities, should anyone (who clearly is part of the community) be anonymous?

We try to teach students to know what they believe in and to stand up for what they believe --- anonymity undermines truthfulness in too many cases, and indulges people who want to trash others without responsibility.  Anonymity has its place in other venues --- whistleblowing, for example, or reporting sexual harassment, and people need anonymity when there is real fear of reprisal.  But when it comes to expressing opinions in the public forum, if you can't put your name by your comment, you don't deserve publication.

We do our best to curb anonymous or abusive commenting, but can happen anyways. In my experience, I always find that the audience will be the final judge. If someone says something particularly hateful, then usually the community will speak up and be critical of that commenter. 

Thanks so much again for the opportunity to speak with you all. It's been a total blast, and I appreciate the questions. Be sure to check out The Quad at!

Thanks so much for this opportunity Jenna. It was a lot of fun. Happy blogging everyone. 

And it's already 2 p.m. What a great chat! Thanks to Prez McGuire, Daniel, Lauren & Ryan for joining me today. (I will be using a lot of their advice for my own blog.)

Until next week, you can find me on Twitter (@wpjenna) and at Campus Overload.

Have a great week!

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
Patricia McGuire
Patricia McGuire has been president of Trinity Washington University since 1989. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity and her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. She is currently a member of the boards of directors of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Washington Hospital Center, Women’s College Coalition, Washington Metropolitan Consortium of Universities, D.C. College Success Foundation, Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, United Educators, and the UNIFI Mutual Holding Company. She has been blogging on the Trinity web site since 2005 on a wide range of topics, from politics, higher education and leadership to sports, nature and popular culture.
Lauren Hockenson
Lauren Hockenson is a Senior at Boston University, double-majoring in English and Magazine Journalism. She is the founder and publisher of The Quad, Boston University's independent online lifestyle magazine (, which sees more than 6,000 unique visits a week. Growing up in local TV newsrooms in her hometown of Sacramento, California, Lauren has always had a passion for journalism. She has held internships at Rolling Stone Australia and People, and is now preparing to dive into the great unknown of the New York City magazine industry. Right now, she’s looking for the next step!
Daniel Creasy
Daniel G. Creasy is associate director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, M.D. where he oversees a number of University outreach efforts including the award-winning Hopkins Interactive Web site. He earned his bachelor's degree from Brown University and previously worked in admissions at American University in Washington, D.C. Daniel began the Hopkins Insider admissions blog in December 2005 and has posted over 300 entries that provide a behind-the-scenes look at operations in the Johns Hopkins Admissions office and seeks to easy the anxiety of prospective applicants. Creasy has presented nationally on the benefits of using social media applications to assist in the recruitment and retention of undergraduate students.
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