April 6, 2020

Welcome to Alma Matters, a regularly updated feature on Poynter.org to assist educators with online teaching and help student media organizations with resources during the COVID-19 shutdown.

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

Reminder: All News University self-directed courses and webinars are free until May 31. Use the discount code 20college100 

The good kind of bot

Students at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism have been using Stylebot, a copy editing chatbot, on Slack for a couple of years. The school is now opening up free access to the bot — request to use the beta version here.

Just keep teaching …

Student media adviser Vince Filak wrote up a great interview with University of Indiana Southeast elearning expert Adam Maksl, who points toward a helpful resource at Indiana called Keep Teaching for campus closures or building shutdowns (someone at Indiana was thinking ahead!) that includes strategies and resources.

Free help x 3

  • Here’s a list of COVID-19 stories from Solutions Journalism Network that any publication can run for free (including stories from places like ProPublica and the Christian Science Monitor). You can also submit your own stories for worldwide distribution.
  • Here’s a free graphics set from SciLine, updated daily from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and powered by Tableau. Publications can tailor the graphic to their local audience, select their state, the type of case that they would like to see, and the date range they would like to display. Journalists, including student media organizations, are welcome to use these graphics in their reporting and embed them in their publications.
  • And if you’re worried about the veracity of your journalism math, you can apply for a peer coach through Open News’ data review program: “When you aren’t sure the data really says what you think, or you feel anxious about making a math mistake, walking through your process with someone else can help.”

Advice from the pros

This week I talked to two journalism professors at Ball State University, Ryan Sparrow and Brian Hayes. They are missing their students but helping their fellow faculty make the migration to 100% online teaching. Here’s some of their advice (worth a mention as some schools plan exclusively online classes for the summer):

  • Don’t do too much to overcompensate for a lack of class time. Scaling back is probably ideal in this abrupt shift.
  • Students not responding to email? Call them to check on them.
  • Need better engagement? Start a Slack workspace or channel, or a Facebook group.
  • Encourage social distancing — refuse at the outset to accept assignments that put students in group settings.
  • Keep videos short — think 15 minutes max.

Some background on that open letter

I had an email exchange this week with Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin, who wrote this open letter condemning Fox News. I asked him to tell us a little more about what made him write it and request other professors to sign on. Here’s what he said:

“Unsurprisingly, I’ve been privy to many conversations over the years about the wretchedness of Fox News, but in conversation with friends in recent days there was a new point to them: that what the channel had done was not only bad for journalism and the quality of public life in general but bad for public health in particular. I can’t remember exactly when I realized that (Fox News) has been jeopardizing their own constituency. As it goes with such open letters, some folks thought my draft too strong, others not strong enough. So I reworked the draft on Sunday, went looking for co-signers, solicited the four others (Frances FitzGerald, Mark Feldstein, Edward Wasserman and Adam Hochschild) by Monday morning, got help from a Columbia journalism colleague to figure out how to make a Google Form, and sent the letter and link out to as many J-school professors as I knew or knew of (and a few unaffiliated renowned journalists as well, including Frances FitzGerald at first and later Sir Harold Evans), asking them in turn to circulate it further, among their own faculties and elsewhere. Then I sent out a press release. We’ve gotten some pretty good pickup so far from a variety of sites: CNN, Newsweek, Daily Beast, HuffPost, The Hill, The Independent, Washington Examiner, Washington Times, Times of San Diego, Newsmax, Columbia Journalism Review. (Insert bad joke here about going viral.) … Hate mail is already pouring in, way outdone by support.”

Remember, send me your questions, ideas, solutions, tips and interview questions for the “Tiger King” reunion special in 2022 … 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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