May 16, 2021

Summer 2021 looms as bright and heady as any summer ever has, but fall will soon follow, and I know you’re already partly there — at least mentally.

That’s why I’d like to suggest something a little different when you head back: an inter-university collaboration, perhaps?

We’re seeing journalism collaborations pop up all the time now, and I’d love to see more journalism professors reach out to their buddies and research partners at other universities to get their students working together toward a common goal. The kind of skills you could instill in them with a collaborative process could really pay off for their careers and on their resumes.

Take the recent investigation “Essential and Exposed,” the product of a four-university collaboration. The group employed a true multimedia approach with four print stories, a podcast, various photos and graphics, plus an explanatory video. The stories were even distributed by The Associated Press.

The project was spearheaded by the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, whose mission is “to teach the next generation of investigative journalists through hands-on investigative projects.” (The center is funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation.)

Hang on, hang on. I know you probably don’t have a dedicated investigative center at your university. That’s why I reached out to Kathy Best, who runs the program, to see how professors at other universities can do something similar.

Best, whose leadership of The Seattle Times led to two Pulitzers before she transitioned to academia, offered the following tips via email:

  • Collaborate with people who share your core journalism values.
  • Put together a MOU (memo of understanding) that clearly lays out roles and responsibilities.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Slack, Zoom, Github and Google Docs are your friends for both weekly editor meetings and more frequent meetings with students.
  • Commit to a rigorous fact-checking process that everyone understands and adheres to.
  • Keep your sense of humor and anticipate that everything will take longer than you think.
  • Set realistic deadlines and empower someone to make sure they’re met.
  • Have fun, because working with other universities will allow your team to acquire new skills.

Best credits Deborah Nelson, associate professor of investigative journalism at Maryland, as being the driving force behind the series. Nelson’s advice, in addition to Best’s, was to know and take advantage of the strengths of each of your partner schools.

She said that collaboration partner Rob Wells of Arkansas had deep experience practicing and teaching business reporting, which they were able to lean on, while other team members were adept at creating data tools like surveys and digging deep for sources and information.

Wells had lots of advice as well.

“I would have a serious discussion with yourself and your partners about the time commitment and the editorial standards,” said. He suggested bi-weekly calls, and said even that was tricky. “Navigating that gulf and aligning expectations required a lot of flexibility.”

He also said you should iron out editorial values, and said in one instance his failure to spell out his fact-checking standards surprised another partner. Missing out on regular discussions and meetings can lead to misunderstandings, he said.

“I would encourage your students to spend as much time as they can on the … calls and try to participate in the various breakout sessions your partners might offer,” he added.

Oh, and Wells had one last piece of advice: to try to keep an open mind and an open schedule.

“Get ready to go to school when you do one of these collaborations,” he said. “I found the process humbling and instructive.”

If all this sounds promising, you might also consider attending the Collaborative Journalism Summit, hosted by Montclair University and featuring a lot of big names in journalism innovation, this week from May 19-21. Registration is $25-$150 and scholarships are available.

Whatever you decide to do, I’d love to see it when it’s complete!

Free-speech violating president is out

(I wrote this up for The Poynter Report last week while my colleague Tom Jones was out but wanted to include it here.)

A university president was fired Friday for muzzling the speech rights of students and faculty — including a student journalist.

Native News Online reported that Ronald Graham “was fired by the Haskell National Board of Regents last Friday after an internal investigation was revealed he was stifling the free speech rights of students and faculty.”

Back in October, we wrote about Graham, president of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. Graham had issued a “directive” to the editor of the student paper at the historically Indigenous-serving institution instructing him not to, among many other things, “contact the police department (or any other governmental agency)” — essentially, barring him from doing journalism.

The president’s scathing order led to the case being taken up by the Student Press Law Center, the Native American Journalists Association and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that about a week after issuing what amounted to a gag order on the student editor, Jared Nally, “Graham sent a directive to his staff restricting how they could communicate.”

The two orders were rescinded in April, but they led Haskell’s faculty senate to a damning 25-0 no-confidence vote in Graham’s leadership. That April vote led to an investigation and Graham’s eventual firing last week.

Free membership to NAHJ

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is offering a one-year free membership to educators. You do not have to be Hispanic/Latino to join, and you can read more here.

How loudly do I have to say this?

May I preach here for just a moment to my choir? The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune had a story this week about a student newspaper butting heads with university administrators. Nothing new there. Except, the paper FOIAed some emails to figure out what was going on, and found an expletive-laden email from one administrator to another, calling the student paper the Ministry of Propaganda and dropping the F-bomb: Yep, she called them “fake news.”

I know few, if any, top-level education administrators read this newsletter (I see you deans and directors — I’m talking student affairs/provost/president types). But how loudly do journalism educators have to say this? Your state-issued email correspondence is not private! Anyone can request to read it, and your student journalists are trained to do just that!

OK, whew. That felt good. And who am I kidding? I don’t want them to stop writing these juicy, behind-the-scenes emails that get exposed and reveal the true nature of the governors of the university.

But actually, I do, because you know what? Their job is to educate students — not just the ones they like, not just the ones who make the honor roll and get to be homecoming royalty and go on to big careers and become major donors to their alma maters —but all students.

It speaks volumes about the administrators who pass up a teaching moment to badmouth members of their learning community. Look, I get having problems and getting frustrated at work. Journalism educators of all people know how our students can drive us batty. But here are some alternatives to writing out your feelings on a (potentially) public forum: Complain to your significant other, or best friend, or office mate. Don’t write it down. Or better yet, take the high road and communicate with the person you have the issue with.

The administrator in question has apologized and expressed her embarrassment. That’s the right thing to do, and I applaud her for it. Now if only other administrators would heed her cautionary tale.

How much money will your school get?

As you’re planning this fall’s capstones, student media investigations and other coursework, here’s some data to keep on your radar. The Chronicle of Higher Education (login required to access some free content before a paywall) writes, “The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday announced how it would allocate more than $36 billion in Covid-19 relief to America’s universities and colleges, and the students who attend them. It’s the third round of pandemic-relief money from the federal government, thanks to the enacting, in March, of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”

The Chronicle has a searchable database of how much schools will get, including the amount allotted to student aid. Speaking of that … the Biden administration is changing the rules set forth by the Trump administration on student aid for undocumented and international students (The Washington Post has more). So it might be worth asking your students to explore that money — how it’s going to be allocated at your school, by who, using what guiding principles, etc. It would also be interesting to find some students for whom these new student aid rules make a big difference.

What to do when the law calls

A Chicago law firm has subpoenaed the notes and sources of a former Medill Innocence Project student reporter, now a staffer at The Washington Post. The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has taken up Fenit Nirappil’s case, reports, “During the 2011-2012 school year, Nirappil and a team of other students at Northwestern University published two groundbreaking stories about the conviction of Ariel Gomez for a 1997 murder in Chicago. Their reporting cast doubt on evidence prosecution presented at trial, as well as Gomez’s claims of innocence. Now freed, Gomez is suing the city of Chicago and law enforcement officials.”

The subpoena came from the law firm that’s representing the cops and officials who are defendants in his civil rights lawsuit.

Here’s a good primer on shield laws from the First Amendment Encyclopedia and a state-by-state breakdown on reporter’s privilege from the RCFP. This is your annual reminder that students might not yet know what their obligations are to their sources or what to do with their notes after a story publishes. (That’s the subject of this week’s Professor’s Press Pass — see more below).

Gotta get back in time

Do your students know about the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine? If not, this headline from the Global Investigative Journalism Network says it all: Tips for Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine in Your Next Investigation. Students can use it to see how their school’s website has evolved through the years, or look for documents the university claims to no longer have, or check out their mom’s blog on Xanga.

Diverse headlines

One valuable way that you can reinforce diversity, equity and inclusion in your classroom is by sharing journalism about, by and for diverse communities — not just stories that are predominantly by and about cisgender white people. Consider ways in which you could use these stories in your curriculum. Here are a few examples I saw this week.

College headlines

Great journalism to share with your students

The Lead

This week, we featured the Student Journalism Wellness Project, a new resource created by journalism students at USC.

Subscribe to The Lead, Poynter’s weekly newsletter for student journalists, and encourage your students to do the same.

This week’s Professor’s Press Pass

In this week’s Professor’s Press Pass, we dive into the case of a former student journalist at Northwestern — now a Washington Post reporter — whose records were subpoenaed recently in relation to the work he did in college. Providing that example and some great background from the Student Press Law Center and the First Amendment Encyclopedia, we ask students to consider what they should or would do if law enforcement ever asked them to turn over their notes, sources or materials.

One last thing

I plucked this one early last week, so there’s a chance you’ve seen it, but if not, please spend two minutes on the most aggressive investigative journalism you’ll see all month.

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 She spent two decades in…
Barbara Allen

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