What's bad publicity for Penn could turn out to be blogger Winfield Myers' big break.
On Thursday evening, Myers posted a photograph of Penn President Amy Gutmann posing with Engineering senior Saad Saadi - who dressed as a suicide bomber for Halloween - and criticized Gutmann over it.
As multiple Web logs linked to the post, the mainstream media took notice, ballooning the story into one that is garnering national attention.
By Friday, several news sources had picked up the story, among them The Associated Press, newsmagazine The Weekly Standard and local television stations CBS 3, ABC 6 and NBC 10. In the next few days, the story made The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Jerusalem Post.
The story also appeared on national television outlets like Fox News and CNN over the weekend.
And all the frenzy can be traced back to Myers' decision to post the photograph Thursday evening in his blogs, the right-leaning "Democracy Project" and "Campus Watch."
The Democracy Project is a group blog, co-founded by Myers, that focuses on higher education and foreign policy. Campus Watch is part of the non-profit Middle East Forum.
Myers said that soon after he posted the story, traffic to "The Democracy Project" increased by tens of thousands of visitors. He said this was a result of being linked to by prominent blogs such as the Minneapolis-based "Power Line," which was named Time magazine's blog of the year in 2004.
According to Syracuse journalism professor Joan Deppa - who specializes in journalism ethics - blogs like Myers' can have the power to make national stories out of events that might not otherwise be considered newsworthy.
In the case of the Gutmann photograph, "You've got something that's quite minor making it into the news stream because of the blogosphere," Deppa said. "Something that started out as rather unimportant can take on importance."
Deppa added that blogs are also prone to taking events out of context, sometimes due to their specific political leanings. When the mainstream media pick up on the events, they often don't bother to put them back into context, according to Deppa.
Although Myers said he could not reveal how he originally obtained the photographs, he said that, as soon as he saw them, he knew they would cause a stir.
"I'm not surprised that it's gotten the kind of attention that it has," he said.
Myers said he thinks Gutmann's decision to pose for a picture showed an implicit approval of Saadi's costume.
Though Myers said Saadi's costume was in poor taste, he added that he believes the blame lies with Gutmann because of the nature of her role as a university president.
"The story is not about him; it's about her," he said.
Gutmann has said she did not realize what Saadi was dressed as when the photo was taken.
According to Chris Beam - a co-editor of the "IvyGate" blog, which covers the Ivy League - one of the reasons this story might have been picked up by the mainstream media is the cachet of the Ivy League.
Beam said some journalists think they will get more readers "if they can put the phrase 'Ivy League' in the beginning."
For mainstream media outlets covering stories that originate from blogs, professionals say it's essential to confirm the facts.
"You need to back up yourself as a reporter," said Christine Olley, who covered the Gutmann controversy for the Daily News.
Still, Olley said blogs are becoming an increasingly important source for more traditional news organizations.
"We get our news from everywhere. … Why not explore" blogs? Olley said.
Though some say the story may have started out with a conservative agenda, for Olley, anything that creates controversy is worthy of news coverage.
"It had so many people talking about it, so many people saying, 'Wow,'" Olley said.