Onward State

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Onward State
Onward State.png
Type of site
Student-run news website for the Penn State community
Created by Davis Shaver, Eli Glazier, Evan Kalikow[1]
Editors Elissa Hill
Website onwardstate.com
Users 16 million annually[2]
Launched November 17, 2008; 9 years ago (2008-11-17)

Onward State is a student-run news website geared toward members of the Penn State community in Pennsylvania.[3] The website provides news, features, and commentary on issues impacting Penn State and State College. Onward State has published more than 10,000 stories since its founding in November 2008.[4] It was voted the "Best Alternative Media Outlet" in a February 2009 online contest by U.S. News and World Report.[5] Onward State has been cited in the New York Times,[6] USA TODAY,[7] ESPN,[8] The Washington Post,[9] and many other national news outlets. The Associated Press has described Onward State as "one of Penn State's smarter, if sometimes-snarky blogs."[10] Onward State currently has the largest social media following of any college news source in the world.

Its staff size, including a handful of internally selected editors, fluctuates every semester but generally settles at around 45 people, all Penn State students.[11]


Onward State was founded in November 2008 by three freshmen (Davis Shaver, Eli Glazier, and Evan Kalikow) in their dormitories in Simmons Hall on Penn State's campus. The concept for Onward State was spearheaded by Shaver, who believed that other local media outlets were not adapting quickly enough to the digital age.[12] For instance, The Daily Collegian, the official school newspaper, didn't have a Facebook page until 2009 and its Twitter feed was mostly automated links. As Shaver later put it: "At first, I thought that perhaps the idea could be realized through The Daily Collegian, a student newspaper with a deservedly-great reputation. That plan never came to a head, though; at the time, the paper just wasn't interested in doing things differently."[13]

The site's first post, published on November 17, 2008, was an unsubstantiated rumor about Girl Talk performing at Penn State,[14] which ended up being true.[15] The website quickly picked up a small cult following among students, faculty, and administrators. It became known initially for its utility as a news aggregator and its snarky commentary, much of which was directed at then-President Graham Spanier. The site nicknamed Spanier "G-Span", began a satirical column called "The View from the University House" written in his name,[16] and even photoshopped a picture of Spanier in a bikini.[17]

Blogger Alison Go of U.S. News and World Report organized the online contest "Best Alternative Media Outlet" at the beginning of 2009 and Onward State beat blogs from UC Berkeley, Vassar, Wesleyan, Columbia, Georgetown, Middlebury, Yale, and an Ivy League conglomerate.[18][19] The Daily Collegian first acknowledged Onward State at the time of the website's recognition.[20] In an interview with the Collegian about next year's contest, Shaver explained "We have big ambitions... I think that we're just going to be more established, more of a name within the Penn State community by then. There is a strong possibility of being Alternative Media repeat champions."[21]

On September 21, 2009, after a campus-wide search, Onward State was the first media outlet to report the tragic news that freshman Joe Dado had been found dead in a campus stairwell.[22] It was the first major news break for the website, which resulted in a significant traffic increase and mainstream recognition. Onward State continued the trend toward producing original journalism for a digital audience in the coming years with its coverage of a student riot after the death of Osama Bin Laden,[23] THON,[24] and State Patty's Day.[25] More so than its original news reporting, Onward State became known for irreverent features like "Drunk, Sober, High"[26] and "Overheard at Penn State",[27] along with its more laid student life" reporting style, like its discovery of the only on-campus Coca-Cola machine.[28]

In March 2011, Onward State was sold to a local company called Lazerpro Digital Media Group to ensure sustainability after its original founders graduated and to improve its resources.[29] As part of the partnership, Onward State's all-student staff continues to write, edit, and manage the website's content and day-to-day operations autonomously while Lazerpro manages the website's revenue streams and web hosting.

Sandusky Scandal[edit]

When the Penn State child sex abuse scandal story broke in November 2011, Onward State's traffic increased considerably. Its live coverage and commentary on the fallout caused its Twitter following to double—from 7,500 to 15,000—in only two weeks.[30] The traffic surge was so overwhelming that the website's server crashed as it handled approximately ten times the normal number of readers.[31] A constantly updated live blog provided updates to its readers as the story became a national fixation.[32]

Onward State's coverage of the trial of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky also garnered widespread attention. Two of the website's editors were credentialed to be in the courtroom for the duration of the trial, and its live blog and ensuing coverage was cited by multiple national media outlets.[33]

Paterno Death Error[edit]

On January 21, 2012, Onward State 's official Twitter account tweeted "Our sources can now confirm: Joseph Vincent Paterno has passed away tonight at the age of 85."[34] This tweet, described by The Patriot-News as "an unconfirmed rumor about an anonymous email [that] was taken and reported as fact," was picked up and re-reported by CBS Sports who repeated the rumor, citing Onward State specifically as the source of the information.[34] The national media quickly followed and reported Paterno's death as fact, before the Paterno family issued a statement that he was, in fact, still alive.[34] Later that day, Onward State's managing editor resigned, saying "I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State would be cited by the national media, and today, I sincerely wish it never had been. To all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for misleading you."[35] Paterno died the next day. Onward State explained that they had believed the death reports to be true after receiving an email supposedly sent to the football team (later determined to be a hoax) and confirmation of the email from a writer "whom [Onward State editors] later found out had not been honest in his information."[36]


Onward State maintains a rivalry with The Daily Collegian, the traditional student newspaper for the Penn State community. Onward State actively recruits the best Daily Collegian writers to switch sides and join its staff. Since 2012, more than 20 Collegian staff members have left to join Onward State, including six of its editors. In the Media Dodgeball Classic, four Penn State campus media outlets (Onward State, Daily Collegian, Valley Magazine, and Phroth) compete in a dodgeball tournament for bragging rights and camaraderie.[37]

Onward State celebrated its 5th birthday in November 2013. More than 100 alumni, friends, and current staff members returned to campus for a quinquennial banquet to celebrate the first five years of the website.[11] Penn State acknowledged the anniversary.[38]

In February 2014, Onward State broke the story that then Florida State University President Eric J. Barron had accepted an offer to become Penn State's president.[39]

As part of its community mission, Onward State has planned local charity events[40] and hosts a weekly radio talk show on The LION 90.7 FM called "Onward State Old Timey Audio Hour."[41]


  1. ^ "Masthead". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  2. ^ [1] Archived December 23, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Raftery, Brian (May 1, 2014). "Paper Chase". Penn Stater Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Archives". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  5. ^ "Best Alternative Media Outlet: Onward State". US News. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  6. ^ "NCAA Questioned Its Authority in Penalizing Penn State". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  7. ^ "Emails show NCAA uncertainty about Penn State case". Usatoday.com. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  8. ^ "Thousands gather on Penn State campus - ESPN". Espn.go.com. 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  9. ^ Boren, Cindy (2014-04-23). "Statue of Penn State's Joe Paterno planned for downtown State College". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  10. ^ Litke, Jim (December 26, 2013). "Two years later, scandal still divides Penn State". Associated Press. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b "The Penn Stater : Paper Chase" (PDF). Pennstatemag.files.wordpress.com. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  12. ^ (PDF) https://web.archive.org/web/20120708152351/http://onwardstate.com/wp-content/uploads/history/Full%20Blog%20Proposal.pdf. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 8, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ [2] Archived December 27, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Rumor mill". Onward State. 2008-11-18. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  15. ^ "Girl talk debacle initiates new policy". Daily Collegian. 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2015-03-26. 
  16. ^ "The View From Schreyer House". Onward State. 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  17. ^ Weiss, Eric (2010-10-18). "Graham Spanier In a Bra". Onwardstate.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  18. ^ Go, Alison (February 18, 2009). "Best Alternative Media Outlet: Onward State". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved April 20, 2011. 
  19. ^ Which nontraditional medium do you prefer? U.S. News and World Report.
  20. ^ Raftery, Brian (2014-05-01). "Paper Chase" (PDF). Penn Stater Magazine. Retrieved 2015-03-26. 
  21. ^ Karas, Kristen (February 19, 2009). "Last-minute voting propels student-run blog to victory in national poll". The Daily Collegian. Retrieved April 20, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Joe Dado Found Dead in West Campus Stairwell". Onward State. 2009-09-21. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  23. ^ "On Beaver Ave, Penn State Students Celebrate Osama bin Laden's Death". Onward State. 2011-05-02. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  24. ^ "THON 2011 Live Blog: Sunday". Onward State. 2011-02-20. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  25. ^ Perlow, Becky (2011-02-26). "State Patty's Day Update: Quantity Over Quality". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  26. ^ "Drunk, Sober, High: Herman Cain Visits Penn State". Onward State. 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  27. ^ Thomas, Alicia (2012-09-10). "Overheard on Beaver Ave". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  28. ^ Ponter, Evan (2011-04-29). "Secret Stash of Coca-Cola Found in Campus Building". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  29. ^ Tralka, Chase (2011-03-15). "StateCollege.com and OnwardState.com Forge Online Partnership". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  30. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20150209212324/http://onwardstate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Social-growth.png. Archived from the original on February 9, 2015. Retrieved December 23, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20150209212923/http://onwardstate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Screen-Shot-2014-12-23-at-10.12.34-AM.png. Archived from the original on February 9, 2015. Retrieved December 23, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ "Day 8: What's Worse, the Pain or the Hangover?". Onward State. 2011-11-11. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  33. ^ "Jerry Sandusky Trial: Day One [Live Coverage". Onward State. 2012-06-22. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  34. ^ a b c "False report of Joe Paterno's death: Here's how it spread like wildfire". The Patriot-News. January 22, 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Joe Paterno Erroneously Reported Dead Saturday Night By Many Media Outlets". Time. January 22, 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2012. 
  36. ^ Shaver, Davis (2012-01-22). "What Happened Last Night". Onward State. Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  37. ^ "State College, PA - Think You Know Your People? Not until They've Played Dodgeball". Statecollege.com. 2011-10-24. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  38. ^ "Penn State on Twitter: "Happy fifth birthday, @OnwardState!"". Twitter.com. 2013-11-16. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  39. ^ Horne, Kevin (2014-02-14). "Sources: FSU President Eric J. Barron to Become Next Penn State President". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  40. ^ Horne, Kevin (2014-04-15). "Join Us For The Inaugural 'Herb Hand Pizza Crawl'". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  41. ^ Horne, Kevin (2015-03-01). "'Onward State Old Timey Audio Hour' Returns to the LION". Onward State. Retrieved 2015-05-22.