Ken Sands, BS '81
From Spokane, Washington to Washington, D.C., from the world of print to
the World Wide Web, Ken Sands, BS ’81 discusses a career in online
journalism that has led him to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
By UO Student Lili Wagner
“I’m very fortunate in that I’ve had a straight path from school to where I am now. I have no regrets,” Ken Sands, BS ’81 says.
No regrets? Not a bad review coming from someone who now specializes in issues of higher education. This straight path has carried him from the University of Oregon, where he graduated with a degree in journalism, to the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he works today as the general manager online.
Though Sands has been interested in journalism since the eighth grade, his first major foray into the field came during his time at the University of Oregon when he was working for the Daily Emerald.
“The first editorial I wrote for the Emerald was about the football program, which was at the time a program of cheaters,” he explains. “It was one of their first winning seasons in years but there was a lot of academic cheating and they were put on probation for the season. It was very controversial. My article didn’t make me too popular around campus but I received a journalism award. I won $300.00.”
He’s been hooked, and committed to the highest level of journalistic excellence, since.
“I spent the first half of my career as a reporter and then editor. And then the internet happened,” Sands says. “I was attracted early on to new tools and tech because I thought it would make for better journalism. With the web, content providers are better connected with readers.”
This adaptability and commitment to high quality journalism catalyzed his transition from the world of print to the World Wide Web and led to his success in the field, where he shared his expertise as a speaker and consultant.
“I felt that the newspaper wasn’t evolving fast enough and I wanted to work with a different business model,” he says of his ultimate transition from print to web.
So Sands swapped Washingtons, moving from Spokane to D.C., where he was hired by Congressional Quarterly. After spending time at Congressional Quarterly and then Bloomberg Government, Sands eventually moved to the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2013. Sands describes his position at the Chronicle as being at the intersection of business, editorial, and technology. He explains, “These areas are often distinct and isolated and I enjoy bringing those ideas and departments together.”
“One of the biggest challenges to journalism is the business model. You have to wonder about the sustainability, what will support journalism. Our publication is one of the only that has already transitioned—over half of our revenue is now from our digital production.”
While Sands has specialized throughout his career in content related to government, politics, and congress, he says coming to the Chronicle of Higher Education has been a great learning experience.
“The same disruption that has occurred in journalism is actually happening in higher education—issues of financial sustainability,” he reveals. “Issues that we hear about a lot are, of course, related to the cost of tuition. A lot of times at private colleges the sticker price is much higher than what people actually pay, which can be challenging. Meanwhile, big public schools are struggling with declining state funding and the expected wave of faculty retirements. There are tens of thousands of faculty members who could retire tomorrow. On the other end, that of the student’s experience, there are problems of how to maintain regularity, issues of sexual assault, excessive alcohol consumption.”
Sands has explored these topics, and more, sitting down with university administrators. “Because of our location in Washington D.C. we get a lot of university presidents who come through and are able to stop in our offices. It’s great to hear from them and have conversations with them.”
Recent guests include former University of Oregon Interim President Scott Coltrane. Sands notes, “He was a wonderful guy. I really enjoyed talking to him.”
One product that has emerged from the Chronicle of Higher Education surrounding this dialogue is College Reality Check, an online database designed to help students, parents, and educators make educated decisions regarding college applications and admissions.
“It compiles publicly available data, applied to every university—acceptance rate, loan default, return on investment, et cetera—and makes that readily available to college applicants.”
Not only can you read up on the average net price, debt, and graduation rate, you can also compare universities side-by-side to get the best sense of your choices.
In contrast to the plethora of information now available to high schools students, Sands reflects that his own decision decades ago was easy. “I visited the University of Oregon, interested in journalism, and realized there was no place I’d rather be.”
Though he hasn’t been back to Oregon in about ten years Sands follows the Ducks closely from the East Coast—“Another great thing about the age of the internet,” he jokes.