February 21, 2024


education gives you strength

How Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis impacts journalism education

Plus a journalism professor on ‘The Bachelorette’ and examples of great journalism to share with your students

Alma Matters is a Poynter newsletter designed to provide ideas, news and insight to those in the journalism education community. Subscribe here to get Alma Matters delivered to you.

For this newsletter to be in your inboxes by Sunday morning, I need to finish it Friday morning. Like many of us, I woke up Friday morning to the news of President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID-19.

In light of this developing story, I’m shifting gears away from what I had planned (tips for student journalists covering election night/week) since there are now new questions about the next few weeks. I strongly encourage that at least for the month of October, you and your students to subscribe to the Poynter newsletters from my colleagues Tom Jones and Al Tompkins — they offer daily looks at what’s happening in the news media and with the coronavirus.

Turns out there’s a professional reason to watch “The Bachelorette.” USC adjunct journalism professor Garin Flowers will be appearing on this season of “The Bachelorette.” According to his Annenberg School bio, Flowers has a master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School and spent almost a decade as a TV reporter across Florida. Now, “(Flowers) is a broadcast writing coach for students across different platforms at USC Annenberg. …Garin is also an on-camera host, writer, and content creator working in the entertainment industry.”

“The Bachelorette” premieres for its 16th season Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

This was a weird week for college media advisers as we watched one of our own become a subject of news herself. Longtime adviser Kenna Griffin had been on her new job just six weeks when students quit in protest of her advising. I wrote about it for Poynter, but it also got attention in The New York Times and most recently in Jezebel (which had a lot of good context, IMHO).

On Tuesday evening, the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, in partnership with Poynter’s MediaWise, will host a one-hour virtual youth town hall to engage students and first-time voters on how to be prepared and better informed ahead of the election. Amna Nawaz, senior national correspondent and primary substitute anchor for “PBS NewsHour,” will host. Special guests will also include Hari Sreenivasan, “NewsHour” senior correspondent and anchor for “NewsHour Weekend,” and Savannah Sellers, NBC News and MSNBC correspondent and co-host of “Stay Tuned,” NBC’s twice-daily news show on Snapchat and Instagram. MediaWise is a digital media literacy project from the Poynter Institute that teaches people of all ages how to sort fact from fiction online.

The event will feature conversations with young people about how to spot election misinformation and engage in the democratic process as they’re making decisions about how to cast their vote. This virtual event will be streamed across PBS NewsHour digital channels to more than 3.5 million followers/subscribers across platforms.

The stream starts at 7 p.m. Eastern. Sign up for tickets here. And as a reminder, here’s our 10-day text message course, our Fact-Checking 101 self-directed course, and our fact-checking certificate course.

The headline says it all: Many Americans Get News on YouTube, Where News Organizations and Independent Producers Thrive Side by Side. This finding, from the Pew Research Center, is worth a read. One interesting finding that emphasizes the importance of personality over brand name: “… seven in 10 of the most popular independent news channels are oriented around a personality. And the people at the center of most of these independent channels are often YouTubers (i.e., people who gained a following through their YouTube presence; 57% of all independent news channels) rather than people who were public figures before gaining attention on YouTube (13%).”

This message was passed along to me from the incredibly thoughtful mind behind SPJ’s Journalist’s Toolbox, University of Illinois at Chicago journalism professor Mike Reilley: “If college students and advisers are looking for deep-dive content on reporting, writing and digital/data resources, give Journalist’s Toolbox a try. Subscribe free to our training videos, newsletter and follow me on @journtoolbox. I share all kinds of cool tools, tips and tricks. We have pages on college journalism, college sports and I just added a link today on how to find FOIA contacts for all Division I college athletic departments. Give it a shot!”

I’ve been following the chain of events happening within Arizona State student media, which has been covered by The Arizona Republic. First, a student radio station manager was removed from her position (maybe?), and then reports indicate that an opinion columnist for the independent student newspaper was fired — both over tweets. Editors released and later erased a statement. The Phoenix New Times has a good summation of the fallout, but here’s what’s really fascinating to me — there are editors from student media interning at both the Republic and the Times. It really makes you think about how students involved in independent student publications might report on their own organizations — and how student newsrooms need to have rules in place that outline publication loyalties and offer some ethical guidance.

I had the good fortune of getting to spend half an hour this week via Google Hangouts with Case Western Reserve University professor James Sheeler. If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the writer of one of my all-time favorite Pulitzer winners, Final salute, a features piece in the Rocky Mountain News about a Marine who notifies families after a warrior dies in combat.

Sheeler shared with me an exercise he does that I thought you all might find instructive. When a speaker virtually visits a class, the students know they are to produce a piece of follow-up writing that’s a thank you note to the speaker that outlines what they got out of the visit. Sheeler said it’s an open assignment without a specific format — it can be written as a first-person essay, a news story or anything the students want. He said it’s an enjoyable activity for the students and the speakers get a lot out of the feedback. Let me know if you try this or do something similar.

“Caliphate” is a Peabody Award-winning podcast (the audio version of the Pulitzers) from The New York Times that features a Canadian who claimed to be an ISIS executioner. This week, Canadian officials arrested that source under terrorism hoax laws for making his story up. The Times reported that it is reexamining the podcast following this revelation, and the international media is asking how the Times — and especially star reporter and four-time Pulitzer finalist Rukmini Callimachi — got it wrong (although the podcast itself questions the source’s authenticity as well).

Students might balk at being asked how they would go about confirming the identity of an ISIS fighter, which is obviously a tough assignment. But it’s worth discussing basics on why it’s important to verify a source’s identity — and to showcase what can happen when journalists don’t go far enough.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is your process for confirming the identity of a source, especially now as more interviews are conducted via email, messaging and other digital manners?
  2. How far should you go in backgrounding a source, and what tools can you use?
  3. Describe the potential impact to a story/series, a publication and a journalist when just one source isn’t credible?
  4. For more questions and background, here’s a tip sheet from CUNY’s graduate journalism school. Also, check out the “Identity” section of Crap Detection Resources from Sourceful.

This is your weekly reminder that you simply must take care of yourself, even if just a few minutes a day is all you can spare. Take time to breathe deeply, walk outside, FaceTime an old friend or student, literally smell some roses. Do a little writing, make it a point to watch a funny show, rediscover an old song you loved when you were a kid. Listen to it loud. And try to have a good week — hang in there.

Barbara Allen is the director of college programming. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @barbara_allen_

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