Nobody was more surprised at the success of the blog SexandtheIvy.com than its writer, Lena X. Chen ’09. Through the character “Elle,” Chen began writing humorously and explicitly about herself and her sexual encounters—once, memorably, about finding a condom in her nether regions several hours after a tryst—last August.
Since then, Chen, who is also Crimson magazine editor, has written articles for the Boston Globe and Hustler. She has appeared in numerous national media outlets, drawing frequent comparison with Natalie Krinsky, whose raunchy Yale Daily News column spawned the novel Chloe Does Yale. Now, Chen pens a column for CollegeHumor.com and hopes to sign a book deal.
Chen is the most obviously successful of a dozen or so Harvard students who have used their blogs as stepping stones to larger writing opportunities and careers. Harvard Law alum Jeremy Blachman wrote the farcical Anonymous Lawyer blog and the eponymous book. Jonathan C. Liu ’07 and former FM editor-at-large Leon Neyfakh ’07 now write the weekend edition of Gawker. Former FM Chair Elizabeth W. Green ’06 blogs and reports for U.S. News & World Report.
Reflecting a national trend, Harvard students are flooding the blogosphere, individually and in groups, covering their own lives, Harvard life (like Cambridge Common and the again-defunct Team Zebra), and the world. These journalists have used the fame of their blogs and their technological savvy to win everything from book deals, to journalism jobs, to the hatred of would-be brides everywhere.
BLOGS FOR BLOGS’ SAKE
A political junkie, activist, and blogger for Cambridge Common while on Harvard’s campus, Andrew H. Golis ’06, who was also a Crimson columnist, found an ideal job after graduation. Currently, he blogs and edits for TalkingPointsMemo.com (TPM), an influential blog nexus.
TPM, which recently broke the story of the politicized firings of eight U.S. attorneys, garners upwards of 500,000 hits a day. Golis edits one forum, opened to conduct chatter on the midterm elections. He lauds the vetted and fact-checked site’s ability to pace changes in the Washington scene—faster and better than newspapers and magazines, and more accurately than gossip blogs, he says.
“My boss was one of the early, prominent political bloggers,” Golis explains. “[The normal journalistic process] is reversed in our company. It has something to do with our criticizing ‘old media.’”
ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID...
Despite the opportunities that blogging gave them to earn their writing gigs, many Harvard bloggers discuss the understanding gap between the younger e-generation and their elder counterparts. Often this misunderstanding leads to a disconnect between what employers understand about blogging and the actual subject matter that the Harvard bloggers are told to cover. Theodore B. Bressman ’06, who now writes for Sports Illustrated on Campus and hopes to write for television, provides an egregious example of the phenomenon.
Along with former Crimson editor Christopher Schonberger ’06, he wrote the popular blog CheddarTed.com. The blog is still up and running, though the frequency of posts is waning.
The blog was something of a fun-house mirror, chronicling minutiae such as the writers’ love for R. Kelly, Dunkin’ Donuts’ iced coffee and staff, and their girlfriends. Each and every post was written in a memorably bizarre and enthusiastic patois—someone lame is a “chach,” the physical act of love is to “juice.” Despite the seemingly niche topics and potentially alienating vocabulary, the site developed a following, at one point as large as a thousand readers per day.
On the back of the blog’s success, Bressman landed a job at The New York Observer. He started off blogging for the paper, inexplicably, for its Bridal Blog. Knowing little about weddings, Bressman wrote about “love in general” and found himself “really castigated by a group of bridezillas,” he says.
After making a post with no references to weddings at all, the “Comments” section of the blog went wild. “This is your stupidest post yet. I don’t know why you are allowed to post on this BRIDAL blog, but I am going to quit reading it just to avoid your annoying, wholly non-wedding related posts,” one angered bride-to-be posted. The Observer and Bressman called it off.
While Bressman chooses not to read too much into his experiences at The Observer, he proves that while new media outlets like blogs are providing young writers easy access to journalism jobs, there still remain a lot of kinks to work out in communicating the possibilities of the technology to journalists raised in a print-media world.
“Part of what makes my Web site work is that I don’t have an editor telling me what to write,” Chen says. “I’m not writing a weekly sex column—that would stifle my ability to write the blog.” Chen explains that her blogging hasn’t always translated easily into print—and that she doesn’t always put her blog on her resume.
“There are things that you just can’t do in a print article that you can do on a blog, like embed video clips and link to other articles,” Golis says. “Most [old media companies] don’t understand the medium, so they hire kids that do. But sometimes, those kids don’t understand it either.”
But, Harvard students continue to capitalize on the niche created for young, tech-savvy journalists. “It definitely gives you a chance to put yourself out there, which makes people want to take a chance on you,” Chen concludes.