And Her Campus, in turn, is training what could become the next wave of young women's magazine writers. In the site's short history, its campus correspondents have landed internships and editorial assistantships at a number of women's magazines, including InStyle, O, and Teen Vogue.
Not everyone is convinced that Her Campus measures up to the hype. Last year, Qichen Zhang — a blogger and former Harvard Voice features director — slammed Wang, Hanger and Kaplan as "the pearl-donning triumvirate of the Ivy League's new Seventeen" on ivygateblog.com. "I feel like their standards are not very high," Zhang tells me. "If you go to the love and sex section of the Web site, it's all these incredibly misogynistic articles written by random guys telling girls how they should cater to college men. I don't understand how they can call that 'top journalism.' That is really misleading."
It also may not matter. To a previous generation, Her Campus's embrace of consumer marketing might have been seen as being at odds with its journalistic integrity. But even that generation's standard-bearers are beginning to embrace the anything-goes spirit of entrepreneurial ambition. "In the 1990s, it was cool and cutting-edge to be indie, make a statement with a low budget, and operate grassroots-style," says Amy Schroeder, once my editor at the indie-oriented women-in-music magazine Venus Zine, which she founded in her Michigan State dorm room. "Selling out was the ultimate no-no. Now, the idea of 'selling out' is old-school thinking."
Schroeder isn't lamenting that change. She sold Venus a few years ago and recently started the DIY Business Association. "I've never been more excited about the future of entrepreneurship than now," she says. She thinks recent college graduates like the Her Campus founders are primed for success. "[B]eing an edgy business is about making the most of technology, building brand power, engaging your audience, and building a robust social network," she says. "The traditional characteristics or success traits that once separated corporations from small businesses are blurring."
The Her Campus girls would agree.
They started the magazine as the economy was tanking. Friends couldn't find jobs or had found them, only to be laid off. "It was a really scary prospect, thinking about the fact that jobs aren't guaranteed anymore for anybody," Hanger says.
Starting a magazine without an aggressive marketing strategy hadn't occurred to them. "Certainly, a college senior could get together a team of writers that were interested in writing content and publishing it online, but it would be difficult to make that profitable," Kaplan says. Adds Hanger: "We've chosen to turn this into a company, rather than run it as a hobby."
To Hanger, that isn't a limiting proposition. On the contrary. "We want Her Campus to encompass all aspects of your life," Hanger says. "You can care about looking cute and meeting a boy to take to your weekend formal, but also how to get ahead in your career and where to go to do non-profit work in Africa this summer."