Not parachute journalism: How the Washington Post is letting college students lead on some midterm coverage

October 5, 2018
Category: Newsletters

A Post experiment with IGTV; a West Virginia 'genius'; VOA scandal; a 'good' error

Students at four universities are taking the lead on some Washington Post election coverage on Instagram TV, starting Saturday.

"It’s not parachute journalism," says the Post's Teddy Amenabar, who is helping coordinate the effort. "It’s just journalism working with students who know the campus so well.”

The experiment with IGTV is part of a Post fellowship partnership with Instagram, which has supplied an unspecified amount of support for the program's logistics. It may lead to new uses for the vertical medium, which often uses repurposed video from other platforms, says video editor Jayne Orenstein. “I’m hoping that we find what people are looking for,” she said.

Orenstein and Amenabar, from the audience development and engagement team, have been on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville this week helping with the first four-minute IGTV video report. It focuses on activism and the heightened political attention on gun control after the mass shooting in a Parkland, Florida, high school in February. 

UF is one of four universities involved in this midterm project. The Post looked for large public schools with strong journalism programs in battleground states, Orenstein said, and invited students with one instructor from each of the selected schools to The Post to kick off the project. The students and faculty advisers had discussions with The Post's Dan Balz and Wesley Lowery, learned video interviewing and storytelling techniques and thought about parts of the coverage that would fit with their campuses.

Attendees from Ohio University discussed the effects of the #MeToo movement on the campus electorate and students from Texas Christian University considered gauging the attitudes of the substantial veteran population on campus. Students from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California are focusing on free speech.

The videos are being shot on their phones, and students also have tripods, mics, phone cases and lenses. 

Amenabar said he wished he'd had a program like this when he was a student journalist. He hopes the four-part series inspires more videos from these students, and from others as well. “We want other colleges to share what they’re seeing on their campus,” he said.

Quick hits

CALL HIM ‘GENIUS’: Ken Ward Jr., a journalist who has bird-dogged coal, chemical and natural gas interests in West Virginia for a quarter-century, has been given a $625,000 “genius” grant. He is the only journalist in this year’s MacArthur Foundation class, Poynter’s Kristen Hare reports. Advises a former MacArthur winner, Mississippi journalist Jerry Mitchell: “Save as much of it as you can.”

NO 'ME TOO' MOVEMENT HERE: A hush has fallen upon undocumented women and reports of sexual abuse during the Trump administration, prompting an underground effort of Latina women to set up safe houses for survivors too afraid of deportation to go to the police. That's what reporter Lizzie Presser found. "Each woman offered what she could — a guest bedroom, if she had one, couches, or blankets on the floor. They didn’t speak publicly about it; if abusers in their towns knew, they might be at risk," Presser wrote in the latest issue of the California Sunday Magazine.

AN EMPTY SPACE: Friday's editions of The Washington Post include a blank space where the column of Jamal Khashoggi usually goes. An image of the Post Opinion writer appears on top, along with the headline "A Missing Voice" and his byline. Khashoggi, a Saudi national, has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday. Related: His editor, Karen Attiah, writes that Khashoggi "never wanted to be labeled as an exiled dissident."  

LEAVING SLATE: Julia Turner, the site’s editor in chief since 2014, is moving west to become a deputy managing editor at the Los Angeles Times. “Something very exciting is happening at the LAT — for journalism, for Los Angeles, and for everyone counting on journalists to bring them a better understanding of the world,” tweeted Turner, who will head the arts and entertainment coverage beginning in November. The current arts/entertainment editor, Pulitzer winner Mary McNamara, will become a cultural critic and weekly columnist.

MEANWHILE AT SLATE: Lowen Liu will be acting editor in chief after Turner’s departure. Turner also said she’ll continue her decade-long co-hosting gig for Slate’s weekly Culture Gabfest podcast. Her announced departure came two days after Slate said farewell to Jacob Weisberg, the president of The Slate Group and former editor-in-chief, who is forming an audio venture with Malcolm Gladwell. In her departure essay for Weisberg, Turner said he infused Slate with the characteristics now used to describe the outlet: Smart. Omnivorous. Impish. Contrarian. Playful. “Serious and curious,” she wrote, “but not sober or smug.”

THE BEST KIND OF ERROR: A New York Times feature, a charming nature whodunit, was peppered with little check marks after proper nouns and locations. The notations usually occur in “notes-only mode” and are invisible to readers when posted. In this case, however, they were written on another program and not placed in the non-printing format when the story was transferred to the paper’s content management system, the Times' Rogene Jacquette told me. Jacquette, senior editor in the paper’s Standards Department, added that the check marks were removed from the published story Thursday. In a way, that’s too bad, because the notations show the kind of nuts-and-bolts drive for accuracy that a reader doesn’t (usually) see.

TRONC IS NO MORE: The name at least. As of Thursday, call that company Tribune Publishing, reports Robert Feder. "So glad," tweeted L.A. Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who holds 25 percent of Tribune stock and made little secret of his disdain for the word "Tronc," a mashup of "Tribune Online Content."

ALDEN CAPITAL STRIKES AGAIN: The New York hedge fund known for stripping local newspapers let 20 more staffers go at the scrappy Boston Herald, including two award-winning photographers. The journalists were fired as they showed up for work on Thursday, Jack Sullivan of CommonWealth Magazine reported. The paper has lost most of the 220 employees it had when Alden's Digital First Media bought it in February.

LOOKING FORWARD: In a historic year, new Vanity Fair Editor Radhika Jones said it was obvious to put Emmy-winner Lena Waithe on the April cover. "Her work aligned with the kind of thing that I wanted to be thinking about," Jones told HuffPost editor Lydia Polgreen in the latest Recode Media podcast. With #MeToo, "Black Panther" and "Crazy Rich Asians," Jones said, "there are just all of these truisms about Hollywood that I don’t think are actually true anymore, or at the very least, they bear interrogation. …  We’re in the middle of a very dynamic and kinetic cultural moment."

DIFFERENT TERMS: For decades, mainstream news accounts served to sanitize what happened in Tulsa in 1921, when a crazed white mob committed mass murder and arson upon the African American community. Some sites even used the old "both sides" language Wednesday when announcing that Tulsa's mayor had reopened an investigation into mass graves from the killings. Steve Lackmeyer, a reporter and columnist for The Oklahoman, objected. "In Oklahoma we are no longer going with the white-coined 'race riot' and calling it what it was: 'massacre.'" Lackmeyer wrote me. "This is one of those moments where we as journalists are tasked with interpreting whether the language imposed historically by those in power is accurate or based in manipulating the story."

LAUNCHED: CNN Business, with a focus on Silicon Valley, Digiday’s Lucia Moses writes. This replaces CNN Money, which had begun as a tie-in with the now-offloaded Time Warner product Money magazine. In other CNN news, Brian Stelter, as he put it, got “retitled” as CNN’s chief media correspondent and anchor of "Reliable Sources."

DEPARTED: 15 members of the Voice of America’s Hausa-language service were turned away at the VOA’s headquarters Thursday, fired or in the process, after an illegal payments probe. The VOA said an investigation found they had improperly accepted money from an official from a West African nation. The VOA did not identify the official nor the amounts involved. The Hausa service reaches nearly 20 million people weekly, mainly in Nigeria but also in Niger, Ghana, Chad and Cameroon.

ELECTED: Twitter’s Niketa Patel and The Intercept’s Rubina Madan Fillion will join the Online News Association’s board of directors in January after a membership vote, the ONA announced. Re-elected: board president Mandy Jenkins, VP Benét J. Wilson, AJ+’s Imaeyen Ibanga and ProPublica’s Celeste LeCompte.

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