September 19, 2021

Greetings from the passenger seat of a 2013 Prius, operating from an iPhone hotspot somewhere in rural Pennsylvania.

For the most part, this is how I’ve spent the summer of 2021.

After being fully vaccinated in April, my husband and I left Florida in late May to attempt to get back a little of what the pandemic took from all of us. Traveling across the country while working remotely, we finally got to cuddle a grandson we’d never met; hug children, parents, in-laws, nieces and siblings; drink local beer on brewery patios; and laugh in person with old friends as we crammed into guest bedrooms or slept on couches.

We hiked in the outdoors, reveled in national parks, took pictures of things that ranged from glorious to goofy, sampled local takeout and bought silly trinkets to send back to our loved ones.

Whatever home had been before the pandemic, we now understand that home is where our people are and where we make our memories. For me, the memories of working for a college newspaper — as a student journalist and later an adviser and general manager — remain among my strongest and fondest. Many of the people we visited were college newspaper friends or former students.

That’s why I made it a point to stop by as many college newspapers as I could as we traveled, in addition to planned stops for the Poynter College Media Project, funded by the Charles Koch Foundation.

Documenting those newsrooms and educational spaces were a big part of what excited me about our travels. I wanted to see the places where other student journalists had gathered, stressed, succeeded, laughed, yelled at each other, married each other.

Consider this a literal snapshot of college media organizations across the country, and a big part of where my heart is these days. The College Media Project wraps up this weekend at Hofstra University, but we’re going to keep on crisscrossing the country for a little while longer, collecting those hugs and laughs. It’s not all joyous. I have struggled with our privilege to be able to travel and the ongoing devastating effects of the pandemic. But in that oft-used pandemic analogy, I’m trying to put on my oxygen mask so I can take care of the rest of the folks I care for.

I sincerely hope you’re finding some relief, lightness and joy with the return of your students, and that the burdens of the pandemic are lifting, slowly but surely.

I would truly love to see some shots of your crew working, or the art in your courtyard, or the quotes on your wall. Send them to ballen@poynter.org. Speaking of, I’m going to take a week of vacation after this world tour, so I’ll be back Oct. 2.

Student media: A literal snapshot

First, you have to be willing to walk away from this place for a while. St. Pete, stay gold!

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

My first stop was the University of Florida, where I visited the College of Journalism and Communications. This atrium is none too shabby!

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Even before you walk into the building, UF lets you know it’s serious about the Hearst Awards.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

After that, it was up the road to The University of Georgia and the Grady school.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

At UGA, I got to see the home of the Peabody Awards!

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

One of my favorite parts of visiting all these schools was seeing how they decorated their spaces with homages to students, alumni and events. Renowned journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault was the first Black woman admitted to UGA, and a photo of her ringing the campus chapel bell in 2018 hangs in the hallway.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to Lubbock, Texas! Me, neither, until earlier this summer. For one, it’s much bigger than I expected — about a quarter-million people live there. And their student media has vans. Branded vans!

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

The student radio station at Texas Tech was eager to welcome students back to campus once again.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Obviously we had to stop for barbecue in Texas. My apologies to the vegetarians among you.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Next was a bit of a scramble of family vacations and work visits. First, it was a trip to the Pacific Northwest to meet our newest family member and visit college friends, but I couldn’t go to Seattle without stopping in to see my buddy Diana Kramer and the storied newsroom of The Daily at the University of Washington. There’s a tradition there of notable quotes getting scribbled on the walls (the rules for the graffiti are involved but you get the idea).

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Two-time Pulitzer cartoonist and former Daily editor-in-chief David Horsey left his mark.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Now stay with me, but after all that we headed back to Texas. (I know. Our navigation was a little squirrelly but we got it all done.) I was eager to visit the University of North Texas, and I got a five-star tour (and coffee) from Dorothy Bland, who’s pictured showing off the TV studio.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Decorations at UNT’s journalism school.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Up next was Texas A&M University-San Antonio. This commuter school is a Hispanic-serving institution sitting on 700 acres on the outskirts of the city. It’s just 10 years old, and I was excited to work with the students there as my first stop on the College Media Project. The newness of the school didn’t disappoint, as the student media offices were top-notch.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Student journalist Amparo Polendo takes notes and helps us stay on track as we map out the project for El Espejo, in which the students examine how clubs and organizations for this commuter school hope to rebound after the pandemic.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Here we are outside (where we felt like we could safely unmask momentarily for a group photo) along with adviser Donna Pazdera (second from left).

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

In a shocking twist, I learned that even the students at the newspaper and TV station at the University of Miami like journalism AND pizza.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

And that you call it The U.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Then it was time to zip over (OK, fly over) to Montana, which has one of the coolest traditions in journalism education: The Pollner endowed professorship, which brings in a different outstanding journalist (I’m talking Eli Saslow, Chris Jones, Hank Stuever) to spend a semester teaching a course and mentoring students.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Here we are in the newsroom, talking about the group’s project on Montana and guns.

(Photo by Antonio Ibarra/Montana Kaimin)

The most notable thing about the University of Montana’s journalism school is its obvious commitment to and pride in its independent student media, in particular The Kaimin, its student paper, which it celebrates with front pages and trophy cases all over the school.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

This cool neon sign hangs in front of The Kaimin’s front door.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Plus they have retro decor.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

OK, last Montana thing. Some student journalists from Montana got the first-ever images of the Unabomber.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

At Penn State, we worked in a shared classroom space where students discussed the Jerry Sandusky indictments a decade later.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

I’ll be honest. After that stressful day, I wanted to enjoy a cocktail on the patio of our little Happy Valley Airbnb, so I headed to a package store to grab something to sup. There, I watched a young woman get her fake ID taken. In solidarity with that minor who went home empty-handed, I bought what she was attempting to purchase: some kind of to-go Seagram’s punch slushie. Here’s to college life.

(Photo by Billy Berkenbile)

I got to swing by the journalism school and the Chronicle newsroom at Columbia College Chicago, part of which overlooks the L. I even got to hang out for a bit with adviser Curtis Lawrence.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Editor-in-chief Addison Lathers (below, left, with copy chief Olivia Everett) told me that to find the University of Wisconsin Daily Cardinal newsroom, I should go left at the red and yellow naked lady on the outside of the building. She wasn’t kidding. Still, it’s nice to see public art that celebrates journalism.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

The Cardinal feels like a classic college newsroom, complete with edited marketing material.

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

(Photo by Barbara Allen)

Who’s next indeed? Whether they go on to be journalists or work in other fields, the staffers in our nation’s college news outlets learn firsthand what it means to make deadlines, to communicate clearly, to be responsible for personal failure, and the importance of truth and accuracy to our democracy.

Thank you for sitting through my slideshow. Now show me yours. 🙂

P.S.: We are going to extend the deadline for applications to Poynter’s online group seminar Diversity Across the Curriculum. Apply by Friday, Oct. 8.

P.P.S.: We need your input on NewsU! Will you consider filling out this brief survey about the way you use and interact with our online teaching products?

P.P.P.S: Extra credit assignment alert: Poynter will host an evening with Peter Alexander, chief White House correspondent for NBC News and co-anchor of Weekend Today, on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Details here.

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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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