A Journalist’s Guide to Covering Jails — Dallas

TEACHING DATE: January 22-23
LOCATION: WFAA-TV, downtown Dallas
COST: Free for selected applicants

Local jails are the gateway to the U.S. justice system, but they are overloaded, overused and under-covered by resource-strapped journalists.

While local jails were intended to house people who were deemed to be a societal danger or flight risk before trial, they have become warehouses — often for people who have not been convicted of a crime and cannot afford to bail themselves out. In many cities, jails are increasingly filled with women, juveniles, immigrants and people who suffer from addictions and mental illness.

This intensive two-day workshop will focus on understanding the causes and consequences of local jail incarceration and explore some ways that communities are addressing the issue. Poynter’s experts and experienced journalists will help reporters find engaging stories and reliable data so they can provide aggressive and thoughtful coverage of this vitally important topic. The sessions will be practical, inspiring and non-political.

For the third year in a row, Poynter is partnering with The Marshall Project and the Vera Institute of Justice to bring this workshop to journalists in different cities across the U.S. This work is again made possible through the support of the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge.

“This seminar has not only changed the way I’m covering jails, but changed the way I’m covering news in general. I’m more inclined to see what the bigger issue is on a story and what are some ways that elected officials can be held accountable.”
— Leslie Rangel, Fox44 KWKT

Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at Poynter, will lead this training in 2020 in four cities:

  • Dallas, Texas — WFAA-TV, Jan. 22-23
  • Baltimore, Maryland — Morgan State School of Global Journalism & Communication, March 5-6
  • Memphis, Tennessee —The University of Memphis, June 24-25
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota — The University of Minnesota, Aug 4-5


Workshop Participants in 2019


Percent Who Rated the Workshop
“Exceptional” or “Above Average”


Host Cities Across the U.S.


Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online

Al Tompkins
Senior Faculty of Broadcast and Online
The Poynter Institute

Christina Melton Crain, Esq.
Founder and President/CEO
Unlocking DOORS®

Nancy Fishman
Project Director
Vera Institute of Social Justice

Dr. Lipi Roy
Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Langone Health, New York, NY


Sample schedule from 2019. 2020 Schedule will be posted closer to the event.

9:00 a.m. — Goals and introductions
9:15 a.m. — The pathway to jail: Who’s in and why?
10:30 a.m. — Break
10:45 a.m. — Incarceration trends: rural and small, big and metro, juveniles, women and the immigration impact
12:15 p.m. — Lunch/The opioid crisis in jail
1:45 p.m. — Break
2:00 p.m. — Local examples: Inspirational stories of journalists who have done great work
3:30 p.m. — Break
3:44 p.m. — First-person account: Hear from someone who has had a personal touch with the system
5:15 p.m. — Closing thoughts

9:00 a.m. — Pathways out of jail: Seeking alternatives
10:15 a.m. — Break
10:30 a.m. — How to approach enterprise reporting on jails
12:00 p.m. — Lunch
1:00 p.m. — Participants share their story ideas
2:15 p.m. — Closing thoughts/conclusion

“This seminar was so extremely valuable to me. It had fabulous information that helped me rethink how we cover courts, jails and criminal justice. I find myself repeatedly mentioning bits I learned from the seminar to my colleagues. Beyond that, it provided a great respite from the daily grind that reinvigorated, inspired and excited me about my work as a journalist.”
— Susanne Cervenka, Asbury Park Press


Thanks to a grant from The MacArthur Foundation, tuition, hotel costs and most meals will be covered for those whose applications are accepted. You or your organization will cover any flights or transportation.


This workshop will take place at WFAA-TV in downtown Dallas.

606 Young Street
Dallas, TX 75202

Who should apply

The workshop is open to professional journalists of all descriptions in the United States. This includes reporters who cover criminal justice, assignment editors, government reporters, general assignment, health (mental health) reporters, photojournalists and editors. We will look for a rich mix of applications from various media, market size and years of experience.

Participants in 2019 came from 34 states and from news organizations as diverse as the Chattanooga Times Free Press, CNN, HuffPost, Fort Myers Free-Press, The State, Univision, Toledo Blade, USA TODAY, WGN-TV and WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio.

We will receive far more applications than we can accommodate in these programs. Our goal is to be as diverse as possible, including job title, market size, big cities, rural areas, ethnicity, etc.

Apply as soon as you know this learning would benefit your coverage and can get the time away to attend. If you are a good fit for the program and we can’t offer you a seat for your preferred city, we will make an attempt to move you to another city.

“I thought the amazing part of this workshop was the focus on being able to localize jail reporting in any market. I also appreciated the focus on the justice system in general as jails are just a small part of a larger pipeline.”
— Niccole Caan, Investigative Reporter, KVII-ABC 7

Application process

The process to apply is straightforward and simple. No letter of recommendation or reference is required. Please be prepared to answer questions about your professional experience, areas of interest and basic demographic information. We’ll give preference to those most likely to cover these issues, so if you have story ideas or the interest of your editor, please let us know.

While we are hosting four workshops in 2020, please only apply for one. If there is an overwhelming reason that you want one location/date over another, let us know in your application, and we will do the best we can to get you the training you want.


We’d love to hear from you. Email us at seminars@poynter.org.

Thank you to our sponsors and teaching partners: