ESPN Gives It the Ole College Try

ESPNU announced a pretty bold move today. The network is launching the ESPNU Campus Connection, which will solicit content from college students for use on all ESPN platforms.

In many ways, this is ESPN’s attempt at Web 2.0… though without the whole Web part. Web sites such as The Huffington Post (and HuffPo’s Off the Bus campaign site) and Digg, as well as television efforts such as CNN I-Reports, use content submitted to them by users and viewers. Sometimes the companies pay nothing for the contributions (as with most of HuffPo’s bloggers) or they buy the content at a bargain price (I-Reports).

College students are likely to be excited about getting their content on ESPN or, so if the company is paying them for their content (it was not clear based on the information I received), they could likely buy it at a price far below what it would cost them to produce in-house.

Increasingly, media companies are looking at citizen journalists and Web 2.0 contributors not only as a means of generating unusual content, but also as a means of saving money.

Sure, someone at the scene of a bridge collapse in Minnesota can provide insight (and cell phone video) immediately after it happens, but by airing the I-Report, CNN is saving money in the process. The I-Report will cost them far less than hiring a local crew to head to the scene ASAP after it happens. The scoop becomes cheaper than the follow up.

Such is the case with ESPN’s initiative. I am sure it will generate lots of good content and fresh perspectives, but that content could also end up costing less than if ESPN was paying the students what pros (or semi-pros) would make for the same jobs.

College students at the participating schools will have a pretty incredible opportunity: to produce video for ESPN, and writing for ESPN the Magazine and In return, ESPN gets knowledge about the schools from the people who know it best, and they also get to save some cash in the process.

So, dear readers, is this the future of journalism? How long until we have a major network or magazine or newspaper that is all user driven? I know Current TV is on the right track, but I said a major network.