Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

April 5, 2006:

Doug Lederman ’84

Doug Lederman ’84 started an online publication with two former Chronicle colleagues. (Lisa Helfert)

Taking on the Chronicle
Doug Lederman ’84 starts higher education publication

About a year ago, a Web site called insidehighered.com quietly came online — and threw down the gauntlet to the prestigious Chronicle of Higher Education, challenging that publication for the turf it had dominated for four decades.

Inside Higher Ed was cofounded by Doug Lederman ’84, who worked at the Chronicle for 17 years. From 1999 to 2003 he was managing editor, but differences in vision about the publication’s future eventually prompted him to leave. He joined forces with two other Chronicle colleagues who also had left, and together they decided to launch a Web site.

Lederman and his colleagues share a passion for the world of higher education, and a vision of creating an online community for people in academia. “Higher ed is this fascinating world of ideas,” explains Lederman, who has been a PAW freelancer and lives in Bethesda, Md. It’s “something of a laboratory in which many of the most important and sometimes challenging ideas that we face as a society are played out in somewhat controlled environments.” The partners used their own money and attracted some outside investment to start up the operation, says Lederman.

Inside Higher Ed is part online newspaper, part discussion forum, and part job bank. The Web site publishes news stories, and readers can add their own comments to any article. Advertisements for open faculty and administrative positions appear on the side of each page. Unlike the Chronicle, however, which requires a paid subscription, the content on insidehighered.com is free. Lederman says he and his colleagues want to democratize access to news and commentary by making it available to a wider range of people. As of the beginning of January, Inside Higher Ed had exceeded its Web traffic goals and was on track to meet its revenue targets, says Lederman.

At Princeton, Lederman majored in sociology and covered sports for The Daily Princetonian. After graduation, he was an intern at The New York Times doing clerical work and reporting and writing news stories. Two years later, he joined the Chronicle, where he spent his first six years writing about college athletics again. Meanwhile, he married and had two children. Being a father, Lederman says, made the decision to walk out on a secure position that much tougher. But, he adds, “this opportunity, even if a bit risky, was too good to pass up.”

Building the startup has had its share of challenges. A neophyte in the world of tech entrepreneurship, Lederman took on the twin responsibilities of editor and chief operating officer and has had to learn his way around financial statements and the complexities of technology. The venture remains in startup mode, meaning that Lederman works “virtually around the clock,” he says. But he remains undaunted. Creating a publication “that is an analyzer and a watchdog of an industry that is as valuable and central to our society [as higher education is] makes going to work each day feel noble,” he says.

By E.B. Boyd ’89

E.B. Boyd ’89 works in technology in Silicon Valley.