College Media News / Interviews

ICM interview: Joe Weasel of Palestra.net/Uwire

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Following up on yesterday’s news that Palestra.net purchased UWire.com from CBS, I spoke to Joe Weasel, CEO of the company, about the purchase. Below are some notes from the interview. (Also be sure to check out Dan Reimold’s interview)

First off, to dispel a misunderstanding, NewsCorp. (read: FOX News) does not own Palestra.net. Weasel said NewsCorp. owns a small stake in the company, but most of the funding for the start-up came from more than 50 individuals. “We didn’t go the venture capital route,” Weasel said. Palestra.net does have distribution deals with FOX and other media companies.

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The sale of Uwire was completed at the first of the year, but the final contractual agreements were only signed recently. The company will maintain distribution deals that UWire already had with outlets like CNN and CBS, among others.

Weasel said the new company would keep the UWire name and begin transitioning their 152 digital college journalists to the UWire brand. However, the Palestra music site will stay with that brand, as Weasel said the brand is more recognized in the music industry.

Weasel said he does not anticipate much of a change in the way UWire works with college newspapers, but he does see the new combined entity as a way to provide more opportunities to get student content out there and also help student newspapers.

“What we have to do, we have to find ways to pick up where Ben (French, UWire founder former general manager – my error, not Mr. Weasel’s – ed.) left off and find new avenues not only for students to find exposure, but find ways for papers to generate traffic,” he said. “We have to find ways of being a bridge to the future. UWire’s got to be more active in being a bridge to the future.”

Weasel said his print background (he’s worked in tv, radio and print, and also taught journalism at Ohio State) makes him bullish on college newspapers.

“The biggest message we have is the school paper is the best place for (student journalists) to start,” he said. He said most of Palestra’s digital journalists are juniors and seniors, “students who have written for the paper for a couple of years.”

One of the emphases of the new organization will be trying to address the future of college media.

“It’s important that the college papers survive and thrive,” Weasel said. “We’re going to try to help drive traffic to them. right now the way UWire distributes content, it’s noted by paper and student. We’re going to be creating some ways where some of that content can be used as traffic drivers to the sites. Schools will notice heavier emphasis on helping drive traffic to school papers.”

He hopes that the combination of Palestra’s online video emphasis and UWire’s emphasis on college newspapers will make for a good combination.

“Ultimately, when you bring these two together, that puts the strongest organization out front,” Weasel said. “The combined resources allows us to do initiatives … things that might be really important for getting jobs in the future.”

“I get concerned when I see college papers go totally online or three-day a week,” Weasel said. “We’re watching regular newspapers go out of busines. We have to be an innovator in helping papers get exposure, try to help them with models that will increase their own exposure.”

Weasel also said UWire will continue to work with Associated Collegiate Press and College Media Advisers, Inc. as a sponsor. “Hopefully we’ll be more involved with them,” he said.

Palestra.net pays college journalists to produce primarily video content for the site, focused on stories with broader appeal than on campus (which Weasel says differentiates their coverage from traditional college newspapers).

Analysis: All in all, the UWire/Palestra combination seems like a pretty good fit. We’ll have to see how it plays out, as Weasel said there will be some new educational initiatives announced over the coming months.

The thing that is promising about the deal is that it puts UWire in the fold with a company that is focused on college journalism in a way that CBS was not.That’s not a knock on CBS, it’s just reality.

There are advantages to being part of a huge media conglomerate – like greater access to resources and distribution channels. But there are disadvantages too. In a company the size of CBS, a unit like UWire might be mistaken for a rounding error.

If the combination of UWire and Palestra works to help college media generate more online revenue and gain greater exposure for college journalists, then it will be a good thing in the long run.

Thoughts? Please respond in the comments.