All across the country, the millennial generation is penning its’ thoughts. Whether it be about an injustice in the community, a view on the upcoming presidential election, or even just “20 Thoughts While Watching Netflix” with a few .gif images wedged in, Odyssey Online is voicing the opinions of the next generation.
From the comfort of their dorm rooms (with a bulk of writers being college students), they are creating a slew of articles with titles like: “The Honeybee Crisis,” or, “What’s The Truth About Vaping?,” or, “Why Cruz And Kasich Backing Out Is Bad For Women,” that pop into your Facebook news feed. Odyssey hands over the storytelling conch shell to the millennial generation to report the news, share personal anecdotes, or rally up some laughs with a .gif-heavy listicle.
Started in 2009 by then Indiana University student Evan Burns, and now current CEO, Burns wanted his campus newspaper and other local news outlets at Indiana University to cover more Greek life events. He launched his own print Greek life-centric newspaper (deriving the name Odyssey from the Greek system) and tailored his publication to bring alive the issues college students want to read and write about that were not covered in the school newspaper.
After proving to be a success on his campus, Burns allowed other large universities, such as San Diego State University, University of South Carolina and University of Alabama, to establish their own print chapters.
In 2014, in order to boost circulation, Burns saw an opportunity to develop Odyssey further by going completely digital. After receiving a hefty amount of funding, he hired web engineers to launch an online platform completely native to Odyssey, says managing editor Hilarey Wojtowicz. From there, Odyssey’s community pool began to snowball exponentially, having only 90 communities in 2014 to approximately 1,000 communities nationwide today. With 11,000 articles being published every week and over 30 million unique monthly users, the platform quickly made a name for itself.
While many traditional companies, websites and publishers follow the top down model, where editors assign articles to writers, Odyssey follows the bottom-up model, granting writers the freedom to write about whatever may be tumbleweeding through their mind.
While over 600 Odyssey chapters are based on college campuses, the remaining chapters are geographic communities where aspiring storytellers aged 18-28, not necessarily enrolled in a college or university program, are invited to come draft their thoughts.
For example, if a chapter was launched in Ewing, New Jersey, where The College of New Jersey already has an existing chapter, high school students, post-graduates and other locals in the area would be able to join the geographic community.
Friday night marks the deadline for writers. After submission to the content management system, named MUSE, each article goes through three rounds of editing before going live on either Monday or Tuesday of the following week. The chapter’s local Editor-in-Chief is the first edit, then a freelance copy editor, focusing on AP style, grammar, spelling, punctuation and format, makes the necessary revisions in round two. Finally, articles continue to a Managing Editor’s screen. It's the ME who performs the final sweep - examining content, headlines, dismissing any vulgar terminology or bullying/violence insinuations and overall, checking that each piece is up to brand guidelines before hitting publish.
While there is a very structured editorial process, the majority of the articles published weekly are the writer's words, untouched, as editors do not want to misconstrue the writer’s voice, and focus mainly on copy editing tasks rather than changing words around.
According to Business Insider, Odyssey has raised over $25 million from its investors, and is referred to as “a college newspaper on steroids.” -- not too shabby for a startup. As of right now, Odyssey profits on advertising, sponsored content and traffic-based revenue, as well as earnings from the number of page views and clicks. However, as the company grows, they intend to return more money to its writers, who are currently unpaid.
Odyssey offers a writer incentive program. The author of the most-shared article on social media in his or her community each week is rewarded $20, encouraging writers to publish engaging content in order to garner more page views.
Writers also reap the other benefits of being a contributor. A worthy resume entry, writing clips, knowledge of how to use a content management system and having an array of accessible resources and mentors available to them, such as the Odyssey managing team.
Other similar online platforms, such as HerCampus (also unpaid), with 300 college campus chapters worldwide and 9,000 contributors, according to its website, differ from Odyssey by catering only to females. HerCampus also requires its writers to hold an editorial position to gain access to the content managing system.
Odyssey users receive the experience of uploading their article to the content management system, choosing a headline and cover photo, choosing the slug the article gets filed under and inputting keywords to make their article more accessible on search engines. This setup teaches contributors the ins-and-outs of content management, an invaluable skill in the media and publishing industries.
HerCampus writers do not gain this kind of experience - rather they simply email their work to editors who perform behind-the-scenes magic before an article goes live on the site. Not to mention, HerCampus follows a top-down model, assigning its writers articles.
Platforms such as HerCampus may have writers join for a few weeks, whereas Odyssey thrives on consistency.
To keep a constant stable of writers working for the publication, Odyssey takes a triple-strike approach. When writers fail to submit their weekly article without a valid excuse, they receive a strike - and just like in baseball, three strikes and you’re out.
Also, just recently, Odyssey 2.0 was rolled out, revamping a user’s experience by allowing writers to not only be a creator on the back end of the site, but also be a user on the front end. The new “follow” feature allows writers to follow topics or other writers and fully engage with the content. Because so many articles are published each week, the ability to find select writers and topics makes the platform more personalized for readers following their interests, whether they are published by a writer in their own chapter or across the country.
Odyssey has also allowed their content creators to put the pen down and pick the recorder up, launching a podcast option for writers to create and publish, which is now available on iTunes.
While Odyssey adds on more options to renovate its platform, the contributors continue to bask in this millennial-style platform tailored particularly towards them.
This is Odyssey.