Scoop08 gives voice to youth studying elections

By Pete Alfano

McClatchy Newspapers

Their timing was impeccable. When Andrew Mangino, the student editor of the Yale Daily News, and Alexander Heffner, a high school student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., met while working on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s re-election campaign in New York, they sowed the seeds of an idea that over time, could change the landscape of election coverage in the United States — an online newspaper staffed by students around the country putting a youthful spin on the 2008 presidential race.

Out of the mouths of babes (relatively speaking), would come comprehensive coverage, commentary, analysis and opinion about a groundbreaking election involving the most diverse field of candidates in American history.

Scoop08 ( was launched Nov. 4 and has more than 400 high school and university student contributors — editors and reporters — making it one of the biggest news gathering organizations of any kind. And although Mangino and Heffner worked for the Clinton Senate campaign, this is a bipartisan venture in which every political point of view is represented and minor party candidates get the kind of in-depth attention not afforded by traditional print and broadcast media.


In other words, this is not your father’s newspaper.

"It’s an incredible year to be doing this," says Heffner, 17, who, besides being co-founder of Scoop08, is general manager of the Phillips Academy radio station and a full-time student. "We’ve had waves of enthusiasm that have enabled us to connect to young people. We’re talking new and fresh angles."

Heffner was speaking from New Hampshire, where he was on the air with his radio show for five hours during the Jan. 8 primary. He just finished a quick lunch and pauses to say hello to a passer-by.

Despite an exhausting primary day and night, Heffner says the experience is invigorating. He senses a growing level of enthusiasm among the young people volunteering for Scoop08, who have not yet become jaded by the political process.

"We can track the contributions coming in, and we’re getting a lot of college and high school students and even some older people who are disillusioned," Heffner says.

So whether it is exploring the compatibility of democracy and Islam as one columnist did, or even examining how sports and politics can mix, the tone and approach of Scoop08 is a lot different from watching the political pundits on "Meet the Press."

Mangino and Heffner embarked on their start-up Web publication based on two assumptions: The Internet is generally the media vehicle of choice among students and is changing campaigns the way television revolutionized campaigns in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race. And "there was unprecedented interest on campuses in the race," Mangino says.

"Whether you are conservative or liberal," he says, "there is a feeling that the U.S. is at a watershed in its history and in its place in the world, and there is an energy level for change that is making people feel they need to do something."


Respected advisers

Scoop08 is not "Animal House" for student-journalists. Mangino and Heffner conducted phone interviews with prospective reporters and editors and read samples of their work. They also have enlisted a panel of respected advisers, among them newspaper and magazine editors and columnists, as well as U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

There is also a clear distinction made between opinion voiced in columns, ranting in blogs and covering breaking news in the traditional impartial manner. Scoop08 also relies on multimedia links to popular Web sites such as YouTube.

"We want to be a source for readers, interesting and provocative, but not amateurish or sensational," Mangino says. "When a story is written it goes through the journalistic process — an editor, copy editors and managing editors — similar to the standards of traditional publications."

Heffner said the mainstream media has been receptive to Scoop08 and that its staffers have received credentials to debates and other official media functions. The demands on students, however, can be great in the lengthy process of choosing the next president. They still have to attend classes, write papers and take exams, which makes for a delicate balancing act.

Anna Schumann is a senior at Texas Tech University who learned about Scoop08 from her journalism professors. She applied online last spring and spoke to Mangino. "I’m a journalism and political science major, and that was my motivation," she says. "I was drawn by the idea of doing something so unusual."

Her assignment was to be the principal correspondent for the Constitution party, which Schumann says, "is cool because it never gets covered."

But in a recent e-mail she said that while she still covers the Constitution party and is a copy editor, she hasn’t been as involved as she hoped to be because, "I’ve just been really busy with school and trying to find a job and such."


Heffner laughs when reminded about the intrusion of schoolwork at Phillips Academy and how even a Yalie like Mangino has to juggle responsibilities as the editor of the oldest student newspaper in the country and nurturing Scoop08.

In this case, however, youth is apparently not being wasted on the young.

"We’re both kind of Energizer-Bunny types with a lot of firepower in us," Heffner says. "We maintain our schedule and dedicate ourselves to Scoop. We set high expectations, but I think we’re off to a good start."


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