IvyGate founder and 2006 Columbia alumnus Chris Beam keeps an eye out for breaking news from the steps of Widener Library.
E-mails flew last week when the infamous bloggers of www.ivygateblog.com, breakers of the jerk-heard-round-the-world story of Yale student/Tai Chi Chuan Master Aleksey Vayner, revealed their identities. This week, FM catches up with online journalism’s latest princes, Columbia grads J. Chris Beam and Nick Summers.
Fifteen Minutes: What unique attributes make your blog “the” Ivy Blog, and would you say that you guys piggybacked on the Ivy blog craze?
Chris Beam: We were first, there was nobody else. If anything, we’d like to consider ourselves “conductors of the Ivy League blog train.” One of our earlier posts tried to declare it “year of the college blog,” and it’s like watching a prophesy play out before your eyes.
Nick Summers: Just for the record, we don’t consider ourselves visionaries or anything. We rue the fact that [we] weren’t around for Kaavya last year. We and everyone else are a semester late.
FM: Why this year as opposed to any other year?
C: Blogging is becoming something that is more socially acceptable. There’s that, and it’s probably that a lot of college kids are discovering that there’s an alternative to the campus daily. It’s way too tempting to set up blogs that do their own reporting.
N: For 25 dollars a month, we can run a website that gets more traffic than 02138.
FM: On your website there is a link to the DC blog Wonkette, where they describe you as “Either for or against Ivys, we’re not sure.” So how about it?
C: I mean, we quoted that for a reason. I think it’s because we ourselves haven’t really decided. We’re not on a crusade. I think we decided that there are only so many things that beg for mockery on a daily basis and the Ivy League is one of them.
N: We’ve always said that the cure for thinking highly of an Ivy school is actually attending one and that’s definitely true. There’s never a shortage. At the same time, there’s also a lot of great stuff going on. Unfortunately, for every kid that writes a brilliant thesis there’s an Aleksey Vayner, and you know which one we’re going to talk about.
FM: How do you balance writing IvyGate with the rest of your lives?
C: With difficulty.
N: It just takes a lot of time. Usually we get home at night and put in four or six hours. We write everything at night and program the site to release it periodically throughout the next day. It’s pretty much like having two jobs.
FM: Who is funnier, Chris or Nick?
C: My answer is going to be that Nick is funnier.
N: Definitely Chris.
FM: Chris, Facebook.com tells me you live with someone else’s grandmother.
C: Um, yeah. I’ve got a pretty sweet setup with a lady who has this house, she’s the grandmother of a friend of mine, and the house is empty six days of the week, but on Tuesday she comes in and we hang out. On the other six days she’s horseback riding in the country I think. She’s a pretty vibrant 80.
FM: You guys have been doing a thorough coverage of Ivy news, even breaking the infamous Aleksey Vayner story. Where do you get all of your information?
N: When you go to an Ivy you tend to have friends at the other Ivy schools. You sort of build up this network. Then it really feeds itself. You get a really good tip, you write a really good item, and then more people will become tipsters.
FM: How many tips do you usually receive?
C: It’s usually a handful every day. The inbox is a pretty amazing wonderland of claims about students and professors. We sort of have to gauge if it’s true or newsworthy and amusing enough to get a post. Especially post Aleksey our readers have been pretty instrumental to the site.
FM: Speaking of Aleksey, have you guys mostly exhausted the gossip, or is there always more to go around? And any more threatening e-mails?
N: There’s always more Aleksey stuff to talk about, but we’ve pretty much chosen not to do it. We don’t want to beat it to the ground. Although we were thinking about having a launch party sometime this winter and it very well might be an Aleksey Vayner charity benefit gala. Chris called me...to tell me that a cease and desist had just arrived [from Aleksey]. I was literally jumping for joy. It’s just always cool to get a cease and desist—it’s every reporter’s dream.
C: If he follows through on suing us we’re hoping it’ll be the next Martha Stewart. We’re sure Harvard Law School profs have got our backs.
FM: Any admirers cyber-throwing themselves against your comment pages and Facebook walls?
C: No love letters, if that’s what you’re asking. In terms of weird e-mails, people will write in claiming to be the son of Aleksey Vayner’s martial arts master. The weirdness has increased. Admiration, not as much.
N: Blogging, not so sexy.
FM: There is no Wikipedia page for you. How do you guys feel about this, and do you think there will be one for you guys in the future?
C: I think that if someone else wanted to set it up we definitely wouldn’t object. We also want to put in a plug that we’re looking for interns. If you don’t include that in the article you can have the info to yourself and you can take advantage of it. You could by default get it.
FM: What would being an intern for you guys entail?
C: It would probably just involve doing the same research that we do—calling newspapers, e-mailing people on campus, looking for story ideas.
N: The pay is nothing, but the emotional reward for putting a lot of hours [in] is even lower. They will go to any party on a campus and they will probably get punched, slapped, or get laid. Or met with complete indifference. We guarantee one of the four.
FM: Now that you’ve “come out of hiding,” what are some of the reactions you’ve been getting about your identities?
C: Believe me, we were preparing for the worst. I mean, we love our readers but we don’t doubt their capability to write compelling death threats. Nothing like that happened.
N: Disappointingly positive. I was hoping for more vitriol. Most people responded with an enormous shrug. [But] I figured the odds are about fifty fifty that Aleksey Vayner will kill me. With any of the numerous deadly weapons at his disposal.
FM: Do you read FM?
C: Definitely, we’re big fans.
FM: Last comments?
C: We reserve the right to publish our own version of this interview.
N: Send us all your unconfirmed rumors and baseless allegations. And we’ll check them out.