When news breaks during a Poynter workshop

One of the benefits of coming to a training at Poynter is the opportunity to step away from the newsroom. Typically, journalists focus on developing their career instead of the stories developing on their beat. But sometimes, news breaks and changes the content of a seminar in real-time. 

On Nov. 16, Poynter hosted 25 journalists for the second day of a two-day workshop, “The World Beyond High School: Covering Education Equity and the Future of Work.” At 9:30 a.m., the Department of Education released its proposed guidelines around sexual assault on college campuses. At 10 a.m., Shiwali Patel, education senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, was set to sit on Poynter’s panel about equity in education.  

Facing a room full of education reporters, Patel switched gears to host an informal press conference about the guidelines. 

“It just happened to be perfect timing for both of us, the group of reporters and for me,” said Patel, who grabbed her laptop halfway through the panel so she could reference the 140-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) she only had time to skim before speaking. “I was very much in the moment because the news just broke.” 

Journalists at this workshop covered the breaking news story about Title IX that day, while also collecting longer-term story ideas about community colleges, student debt, admissions policies and programs for minority groups. 

At the end of the workshop, participants pitched their ideas, which are worth borrowing. They included:

  • Retention rates are low with community colleges. With spread-out campuses, how many students drop out because of transportation issues?
  • What are colleges doing to re-engage students who have dropped out? How do recruitment officers determine who is a worthwhile student to re-target? 
  • What is happening with college programs geared toward DACA students?
  • What is the effect of test-optional admissions policies on students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged? Do those students apply more to schools that offer this? Why would certain branch campuses offer this while others don’t? 
  • How are programs like Peace Corps and Teach for America changing during the Trump administration?
  • Student debt has tripled in the last decade. Has debt become normalized? 
  • Black students borrow more than Latino or white students. Why?
  • How does income inequality further harm black women with student debt?
  • In an era of deregulation, will public service loan forgiveness change? 
  • How have men’s rights organizations’ access to the current administration impacted recent Title IX guidelines?

“I always find Poynter trainings relevant to the key industry and social trends of the moment,” said Kathleen Bartzen Culver, the lead faculty for The World Beyond High School training. “With our equity seminar, we had a leading expert on gender equity right there in the room when news of the Trump Administration’s new guidance on Title IX broke. Journalists benefit from expertise on a breaking story like that, as well as the larger issues we saw in the pitch session.”

For shorter workshops like The World Beyond High School, the pitch session keeps journalists focused on practical applications. During Poynter’s weeklong seminars, participants present "personal development plans" to showcase three things they will implement when they return to the newsroom, based on the revelations they made throughout the week. 

Regardless of the length and structure of training, Poynter graduates leave with well-formed ideas about how they will use what they learned — whether it’s reporting breaking news or investigating bigger trends. 


“The World Beyond High School: Covering Education Equity and the Future of Work” was tuition-free, thanks to the Lumina Foundation.

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