THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
The left may clamp down on conservative speech on campus, and liberal views may dominate most newsrooms, but Jennifer Kabbany is fighting to change that, one news article at a time.
From her perch as editor of The College Fix, a blend of online newspaper and college newswire, Ms. Kabbany sees her student journalists as the front line in the fight for the future of free speech.
“This battle has never been more important, as our First Amendment rights continue to be eroded,” she said.
That was the unconventional task The College Fix set for itself 10 years ago when it launched, with a professional rather than political goal.
“I always say it’s a website dedicated to higher education along with a conservative campus newswire,” said Ms. Kabbany, the site’s editor. “It might mean a little extra pizza money for some, but it is also a way to flesh out a budding resume, generate a stack of clips, and show you know how to write, pay attention to detail and meet a deadline.
“It’s a win-win, and we get to feature their writing and mentor and bring up the next generation of conservative, libertarian, center-right journalists,” said Ms. Kabbany, who once interned at The Washington Times. “And this part is very important: We are invested in their careers.”
For The College Fix and its staffers, the goal is to strengthen and preserve a sense of balance and objectivity that once stood as a golden rule for journalism.
The campus is the perfect training ground for “what’s next,” so to speak, as the stories that now percolate through traditional and social media started on campus, Ms. Kabbany said.
“Talk of White privilege, that began on campus, gendered language and pronouns — that started on campus, now it is in our nation’s capital. Critical race theory — that’s all from the halls of academia,” she said. “Cancel culture was born on campus, now it’s in the world.”
The 75 students who comprise The College Fix annual staff file stories that rarely appear in the pages of on-campus newspapers, and the reporters aren’t doing it for credit.
They do, however, get a crack at 14-week or 10-week fellowships in Washington through the nonprofit Student Free Press Association. The fellowships, which pay $5,000 to $10,000, have put students on the staffs of The Hill, USA Today, The Daily Caller and other news outlets.
“I tell all our fellows that I feel like it’s a right of passage for a young journalist to do a semester in D.C. and just really experience that,” she said.
The short pieces comprise The College Fix’s biweekly newsletter, which goes out to 10,300 people. Its website has grown from about 50,000 page views a month in 2011 to as many as 1 million a month now.
The College Fix is both a news aggregation site and a showcase for original content written by students.
“The growth has been astronomical,” Ms. Kabbany said. “It’s been a blast and a blessing.”
There is something unabashedly old-fashioned about the approach at The College Fix and the approach it seeks to instill in undergraduate reporters.
Ms. Kabbany wants the buzz to be professionalism, not politics, just as if they were business or nursing school faculty. Their motto is the same as Rudyard Kipling’s “Six Honest Serving Men” of what, why, when, how, where and who.
Ms. Kabbany said the success that many former College Fix students have found is a testament to that professional emphasis. The status quo in many news operations is far from a right-of-center spot that discourages some who stand there from pursuing the career. But to date, no College Fix reporters have been blacklisted by any organizations or had their motives impugned.
“Certainly subjectivity comes into what we see as news, what we’re reporting on, and perhaps what we see as newsworthy might not be what the college paper sees as a story,” she said. “I always tell the students these aren’t some first-person opinion pieces. I’m not asking you for your opinion. Quote one side, quote the other side, quote the documents. Then throw it all together and let the reader decide.”
In other words, it might not be the norm at college, but Ms. Kabbany thinks it is the norm for professionals. Although most of her “alumni” remain in media, former Fixers have pursued careers in law, politics, public affairs, advertising, lobbying, think tanks and other fields, she said.
“I try to instill passion and excitement, but writing well is a skill that parlays into so many careers,” she said.
Ms. Kabbany, 45, was the editor of The Daily Aztec as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. She remains in Southern California, where she has raised two children, the eldest of whom is a Marine.
It is more the accelerating drift of her profession than her parental experience with schools that drives her.
That drift is not simply gruel for conservative groups, as shown repeatedly by analysis of coverage done at UCLA, the University of Chicago and Harvard. As a former head of CBS News wrote in 2020, “the news media is catching up with the liberalism of the professoriate, the entertainment industry, upscale magazines and the literary world.”
This month, The College Fix highlighted a piece from a University of Michigan student on librarians decrying the “whiteness” of their buildings and demanding that they be “decolonized.” The student is a self-described “Black, queer woman” leading the fight for free speech at Princeton University and, most recently, the forced retirement of a Chapman University law professor who spoke at President Trump’s Jan. 6 rally that preceded the unruly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Cultural fights are conventional on campus these days, Ms. Kabbany said, even if they haven’t reached the workplace. If there is a theme that runs through The College Fix, it might be a modified version of the late Andrew Breitbart’s dictum that “politics is downstream from culture.”
Racial unrest has simmered in America for decades, but its more recent escalation began at “those huge protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University in 2015 and sort of took over the national conversation,” Ms. Kabbany said.
Cancel culture is another baleful trend that Ms. Kabbany said was birthed on campus, although its warriors have not come for The College Fix.
“I think that people really understand now that what is going on on these college campuses ends up going on in the mainstream culture as well,” she said. “Everything we saw on campus first is now part of the mainstream culture. All of these left-leaning ideas, concepts, arguments — all the first waves of these have come from campus.”