Ethics takeaways from CNN’s early days, tragedies strike student journalism communities and how next semester might look

Alma Matters: News for educators, young journalists and student media

May 8, 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.

CNN’s early days and ethics takeaways

Did you see this Vanity Fair piece about CNN’s coverage of the attempted 1981 assassination of President Ronald Reagan? Burgeoning broadcast journalists, there’s a lot to peel back here. “The only pandemonium greater than the scene of a shooting is the unfolding madness of a newsroom trying to sort out the aftermath,” writes Lisa Napoli.

An interesting class discussion from this reading: Despite other networks announcing it, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw refused to say on the air that press secretary James Brady was dead. We know now, of course, that he wasn’t. That real-life anecdote was reminiscent of the end of episode four in the first season of The Newsroom (you’re going to need an HBO subscription — I can’t find the clip I used to show). It’s a great ethics discussion for class. As producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) says, “A doctor pronounces her dead. Not the news.”

In lieu of flowers, give to student journalists

The family of a woman who died due to coronavirus complications has asked that instead of flowers, mourners send donations to the student newspaper she worked for and loved.

Alison Schwartz, who died April 28 at age 29, graduated from the University of Florida in 2012, where she was a staff writer and co-metro editor of The Alligator. She went on to a career at People magazine, starting as an editorial intern and working her way up to director of digital platforms.

At publication time, more than half of the $5,000 goal had been raised.

Speaking of giving …

Family and friends have raised more than $23,000 for the medical expenses of a University of Missouri journalism student who was struck by a bullet while studying at home. Jasmine Johnson is now in ICU in a St. Louis, Missouri, hospital. She was home for spring break when the bullet somehow passed through the walls of her family’s home and struck her in the head.

Because of the pandemic, no one has been able to visit her in the hospital, her family said.

And now for something completely different

Usually when I link to student work, it’s to highlight excellence or encourage localization. In this case, it’s just because it’s bizarre (still, great storytelling instincts!). Here’s a video from the University of South Carolina’s Student Gamecock Television about a professor who’s using a marionette who looks like him and makes fun of him while teaching online. That is all.

Must-watch movie

Have you watched “Bad Education” yet? The HBO film is loosely based on the real-life story of administrators from the public school system in Roslyn, New York, who embezzled millions from the district — and were exposed by high school journalists. (I’m sorry to keep directing you to HBO content — I know it costs money and I do try to focus on free resources.)

Here’s a first-person account from one of the editors in a 2004 New York Times story, and here’s the New Yorker article from which the film material was drawn. This Rolling Stone article highlights what really went down vs. what Hollywood took liberties with, but at the end of the day “Bad Education” is a love letter to student journalism. And who among us doesn’t love that?

Finding work

Two Poynter resources for you when you’re on the job hunt. The first is a piece by The New York Times’ director of newsroom fellowships and internships Theodore Kim, who wrote “How do you launch a journalism career in the middle of a pandemic?” this week for poynter.org. The second is the replay and tipsheet of a webinar titled, “How to Job Hunt in a Pandemic.” I hope you’ll find these useful!

What school might look like — and why

NPR was out this week with a piece rounding up what college might look like in the fall (or spring, as it were, in places that are considering pushing back start dates). It references this list, where the Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking reopening plans. This investigative-journalist-at-heart would love to see some intrepid students do an open records request for emails between administrators that include “football” and “reopening” in the body (or some derivation — you get the gist). You have to wonder, with almost 75% of schools on the list reporting that they plan to be operational for in-person teaching the fall, how much athletics are driving this push?

Remember, send me your questions, ideas, solutions, tips and your feelings using funny coronavirus memes to keep your sanity … 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!