April 4, 2021

The most profound piece of journalism I read this week was “When the Mob Comes,” a first-person piece on Medium by Lyz Lenz, who recounts her own online harassment and discusses the same with fellow journalist Talia Lavin in a Q&A.

The vitriol they and other female journalists face has the pervasive, creeping effect of making  them very, very afraid all the time. Being told how ugly and fat and worthless they are. Threats of death and pipe bombs. Encouragement to kill themselves.

Lenz wrote: “I began going to the movies alone. I’d sneak in some bottles of Sutter Home wine, buy a large popcorn, turn off my phone and hide. It felt safe there in the cool room, where no one could see my face.”

It’s happened to big names and local reporters and interns — Vanity Fair’s “‘I’m afraid to open Twitter’: Next-level harassment of female journalists is putting news outlets to the test”  is yet another recent roundup about this cultural cancer.

There is a really good chance your students are going to face online vitriol, and it’s important that you consider how hateful and deep it can get — and how you’re going to help them get through it.

The days of advising people simply to develop a thick skin are over. Yes, you are going to need to be tough at work, because doing journalism well means constantly standing up to powerful and harmful people.

But you can no longer simply tell your students to toughen up without also providing them with resources, a sounding board and true empathy.

If you want to be an effective adviser or professor, part of your job absolutely, positively has to extend out of the classroom to offer emotional and professional support for your female students and your students of color, especially women of color. Read the tips at the end of the Lenz/Lavin story, Taylor Lorenz’s Twitter thread, and this information about what some media companies are doing to help. Bookmark them. I suspect that unfortunately, you may need these resources one day.

April Fools’ Day editions

Thursday was a day that many college newspaper advisers dread (at least this one did) — the day that student journalists sometimes create prank editions. I feared it because of incidents like this and this, but some of the advisers who reached out to me said their students are actually pretty good at satire and the student body seems to appreciate it. The Rice (University) Thresher became The Rice Trasher, The Rocky Mountain Collegian at Colorado State became the Unprecedented Times and Merrimack College’s The Beacon became The Bacon. The name changes were just part of the joke as many of the issues contained story spoofs as well. Good fun or credibility killer? The debate rages on in student media.

Future tool

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the two New York Times reporters who won a Pulitzer for their exposé of Harvey Weinstein, will be releasing a guide to young reporters on how to do investigative stories like theirs.

“Chasing the Truth: A Young Journalist’s Guide to Investigative Reporting,” is set to publish Sept. 14, according to the AP. You can pre-order here. At $17.99 for hardcover, I can see this making a great graduation gift next year.


How cool is this? Nhuquynh Nguyen and Liana Slomka of The Daily Princetonian write about the shared trait of all Ivy League schools this semester: “Eight papers, eight women: The leaders of Ivy League journalism reflect on historic milestone.” Brava!

You had me at ‘David Fahrenthold’

But you kept me with this subhead: “At the BU Power of Narrative conference, Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold urged small disciplines that can yield big stories.” (If you’re not using Fahrenthold in your classroom yet, here’s a great first-person piece he composed to explain how he tracked down some Trump information in a way that makes it seem like anyone can win a Pulitzer.)

Mastering the basics

Wendi C. Thomas, editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, sparked some interesting conversation with this Twitter thread/query: “Where do college students get that kind of experience today – mastering the basics of speed and accuracy for hundreds of hours before being allowed to do something more?”

Help me with a project?

Through my many travels (OK, Zoom calls) over the past year, I’ve heard horror stories of overbearing administrators and student government leaders

It’s a tale as old as time, but does it always have to be?

I’m collecting anecdotes, incidents and hopefully a few solutions around the age-old tension between student journalists and authority figures, whether it’s your administration, student government or local officials. To make things quicker for everyone, I’ve put together this short collection tool. If you or your students have faced a challenge from authority — whether it ended positively or negatively or is still dragging on — would you consider entering your information and a brief synopsis of what happened? I’ll be reaching out this spring to students and advisers who have a lesson to offer others.

When I’m done with my research, I’ll post it to Poynter.org and be sure to tell you about it here. Hopefully it will be not just a relatable read but a collection of solutions and best practices as well.

Thanks in advance for your help!

The new normal

If you’re looking for an activity this week, two of my most experienced and knowledgeable Poynter colleagues are hosting a 45-minute live webinar Wednesday at noon Eastern called “Newsgathering-From-Home: What we’ve lost and learned in one year of remote journalism.” I’ll have a wrap-up of what Joie Chen and Kristen Hare have to say next week, but I suspect there will be some solid takeaways in this one for student journalists — including what to expect from newsrooms that might hire them, post-pandemic.

College headlines

Great journalism to share with your students

Internship Database

This week in Poynter’s internship database, we’re featuring The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit that covers education in America. From their listing: “The Hechinger Report is looking for a journalism intern interested in pushing the boundaries of digital publishing. Our portfolio of digital journalism has taken public data and transformed it into viral stories and easily understood graphics and interactives that untangle complex issues in K-12 and higher education for students and parents.”

The Lead

This week, editor Taylor Blatchford rounded up “More than 25 places to find journalism jobs and internships.” You can sign up for her newsletter, geared toward student journalists of all stripes, here. I hope you will sign up and encourage your students to do the same!

This week’s Professor’s Press Pass

In this week’s Professor’s Press Pass, we ask students to weigh in on the issue of cameras in the courtroom. As Derek Chauvin’s trial for killing George Floyd continues, many students are seeing court proceedings live for the first time. This exercise includes background on case law and expert opinions, but ultimately asks students to consider the extent to which cameras do or do not belong in American courtrooms.

One last thing

Back when I was advising my college newspaper, Kevin Durant, then of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was bored and looking to compete during the NBA lockout. He ended up in a late-night pickup game of flag football on campus, and our reporters were there to capture it on video. This was in 2011. It currently has 1.8 million views, most of them from right after it was posted. I’ve always wished I’d been more nimble at the time with a plan for monetization, or better branding for our student media organization. (Regret! What a thing to live with!)

I know some of you have shared this pain — thinking about how to capture lightning in a bottle — so I’m delighted to share this with you. This guy knew what he was doing: “The website received around 50 million views in a 5 day period. That puts it roughly on par with the New York Times, though all the visitors to istheshipstillstuck.com were seeing exactly the same page. At its peak, there were 8,404 requests to the site per second.”

Resources for Journalists

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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…
Barbara Allen

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