IvyGate Founders Summers and Beam Move On
By Kate Linthicum ’08 Barnard
Two years ago, Nick Summers ’05 and Chris Beam ’06 saw a niche and set out to fill it. “There’s a blog about every single topic known to man,” Beam says, “but there was a gaping hole because there wasn’t a blog about higher education and the small circle of schools that Columbia belongs to.”
The pair considered the problem while vacationing with friends on the Jersey Shore. By the time the trip was over, they had more than just a tan: They had given birth to IvyGateBlog.com, a news and gossip blog about the Ivy League.
“That was the beginning of a long and horrible year,” remembers Summers — and he is only half-joking. Both had full-time jobs in journalism, Summers at Newsweek and Beam at Slate magazine, so they could only tend to the blog after work. They toiled each night until the early morning hours, posting quirky items about students and college life, often with unrewarding results. “In the beginning, we had a couple hundred hits a day,” Summers notes. “I’m sure 190 of those were me and Chris hitting the refresh button.”
Eventually, though, the site took off. “Once students realize they’re being written about, they’ll start reading it,” Beam says. Today, the site, which is for-profit but breaks about even, receives 15,000–20,000 hits daily and is considered by many students to be the go-to source for all things Ivy League.
IvyGate, according to its founders, is meant to provide a fun, tabloid-like escape for the typical overworked college student. “It should be a break,” Summers says. While it is updated daily with links to the biggest news stories on Ivy campuses, it also serves up a heavy dose of gossip. According to Summers, he and Beam chose the name to reflect this inclination: “It sounds like a scandal,” he says.
Indeed, IvyGate has played a part in many memorable Ivy League scandals. The most famous episode involved a Yale undergraduate who sent an investment banking firm a video resume flaunting his “superhuman” skills as a weight lifter, martial-arts expert and dancer. IvyGate posted the video and poked fun at its star, and the story was picked up by news outlets across the country.
Last fall, after more than a year of juggling day jobs and the blog, Summers and Beam handed over the reigns of IvyGate to a staff of three writers. They moved on from covering the biggest scandals in the Ivy League to the biggest story in the country: the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Summers, who is based in New York, is currently reporting on the Clinton campaign for a book to be published by Newsweek. Beam is based in Washington, D.C., but travels the country writing about the race on Slate’s “Trailhead” blog. Occasionally, they bump into each other on the campaign trail. “Its pretty cool to see him where the real news is happening,” Summers says of his best friend.
The two met in Beam’s first year, when he was a cub reporter at Spectator. Summers was the editor who assigned him his first story. “(Summers) wanted someone to go around campus to see if they could survive by eating free food for a week,” remembers Beam.
“Not only did I do it, but, as he will tell you, I gained weight.”
Summers was impressed. “I knew right from the beginning that Chris was a lot like me,” he says. “We have a similar sense of humor and also a healthy distrust for the status quo.”
It’s not surprising that Beam and Summers get along. Both are “journalism babies.” Summers’ mother, K.C., is an editor at The Washington Post and Beam’s father, Alex, is a columnist at The Boston Globe.
Although they couldn’t major in journalism as undergrads, Beam and Summers tailored their class schedules to make them better journalists. Both concentrated in American history and took James Shapiro ’77’s book review class. Summers also took President Lee C. Bollinger’s course on the First Amendment. “He would create some pretty fun hypothetical situations that would mirror real situations you would see in the newsroom,” Summers says.
Midway through his junior year, Summers became Spectator editor-in-chief. Beam wrote for Spectator and also was an editor for The Blue & White, Columbia’s undergraduate magazine. During his senior year, he wrote the script for The Varsity Show, an experience that sharpened his humor and would later serve as a maxim at IvyGate. “If it’s not fun to write and to read,” Beam says, “it’s usually not worth it.”