May 1, 2020

Alma Matters is a regularly updated feature on Poynter.org designed to assist educators, journalism students and student media organizations.

Struggling and need advice? Have a tip or tool you want to share with others? Email me at ballen@poynter.org.

Not burying The Lead

Big news for Poynter this week — we’ve partnered with The Lead newsletter for student journalists! The Lead is the brainchild of Seattle Times journalist Taylor Blatchford, a Poynter fellow in 2018 and a proud graduate of the University of Missouri who wanted to stay true to her student media roots. You can subscribe here. Our first Poynter-linked issue is here, but you can see an archive from the past 18 months here.

Show AND tell

Not to be a homer, but check out this video that the Tampa Bay Times produced about the journalism it’s doing during the pandemic. I’m always a fan of this kind of transparency, where journalists face the camera, explain who they are, what they are doing and why it’s important. I think it’s humanizing and helps people better understand our role in a democracy. Plus it might help sell digital subscriptions. It reminds me of the editor letters I’ve seen in student papers explaining how their staffs are covering the virus remotely.

What is your publication doing, and are you letting people peek behind the curtain?

Great transparency

BU Today has this look at what the university’s plans are for opening back up, with the subhead: “Goal is to define what a residential research university will look like in the post-pandemic world.” Does your university have such a plan? Has it been published like this? If not, what are you waiting for?

Up for discussion

I found this to be so interesting: I heard a narrative out of Arizona in which a couple had ingested an aquarium cleaning chemical because President Donald Trump had touted it as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The husband, 68-year-old Gary Lenius, died March 22. The Washington Free Beacon revealed this week that police are investigating, and hinted at something deeper:

“… a series of Free Beacon stories raised questions about the portrayal of the couple in the initial NBC News report that vaulted the story onto the national stage.

“Though that report and others suggested the couple mindlessly followed the president’s medical advice to disastrous results, friends of Gary Lenius told the Free Beacon they were skeptical he would knowingly ingest fish tank treatment.”

Reading between the lines here: A conservative publication is providing specific evidence that the national media jumped on an anti-Trump storyline.

The Free Beacon apparently unearthed domestic assault charges against the wife, Wanda Lenius, and also claims through its reporting that she was a donor to the Democratic Party. The Free Beacon also apparently interviewed some friends of the dead man, who said he was a retired mechanical engineer who would never knowingly ingest poison.

While police in Mesa, Arizona, have not yet ruled this a homicide, his death is under investigation, as all unusual deaths are.

What do your students make of this storyline? Did The Free Beacon make a strong case that this was the sloppy reporting of a liberal mainstream media? What does it say about pack journalism? Why do you think the Washington Free Beacon bothered to look into the woman’s criminal background and examine her political contributions?

Another big win for Howard Center project

The prestigious Punch Sulzberger Award for Innovative Storytelling was given this week to a project with strong student media contributions. “Code Red: Baltimore’s Climate Divide,” is a collaboration about climate change from the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, NPR and Capital News Service.

The award was announced Monday by the News Leaders Association.

The Howard Center allows journalism students at the University of Maryland to work with news organizations across America on stories and topics of national or international importance.

The project “explored the disproportionate impact a warming climate has on residents of primarily poor, urban neighborhoods. The findings of the months-long investigation were presented in stories, photos, graphics, videos and interactives.”

The project has also won a Scripps Howard Award in the Topic of the Year category and the National Press Foundation’s Innovative Storytelling Award.

Remember, send me your questions, ideas, solutions, tips and your guesstimate on how much weight you’ve gained in quarantine … I’ll try to help as much as I can in a future column! Hit me up at ballen@poynter.org or on Twitter, barbara_allen_

Till next time, stay away!

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Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
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