August 24, 2020

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I’ve spent the last 13 days in intense virtual training with college newspaper editors all over the country, part of the Poynter College Media Project.

I’m extremely lucky. I’m a parachute adviser who gets the benefit of quality student face time without the extremely serious health and education issues that my on-campus counterparts are contending with.

Here’s what I’ve noticed in training, from USF St. Pete to Colorado State, from USC to Duquesne: Your students are going to want and need conversation and support about themselves — and not just as it pertains to journalism.

In one activity during my training, we introduced each other via a significant photo (“This is a picture of me and my siblings. I really miss them now that I’m back at school.”). One editor remarked that it was her favorite exercise because it made her feel connected to her college newspaper coworkers in a way that she’d been missing — that personal side of things that disappeared in March.

I saw a professor on Twitter who commented that her planned 15-minute mental health check-in took up the entire first class.

I know you feel a deep responsibility to deliver a quality journalism education. This is a great time to revisit fundamentals: practice interview skills that allow students to go long with explanations and storytelling. Employ some out of the box writing prompts and allow in-class quiet writing and reflection — then sharing — time. Have students link to favorite readings and videos and talk about why they moved the students.

Stop feeling like you have to fill the air in the classroom. Give it to your students more than you ever imagined. Allow them to share, talk, communicate — to practice what we are preaching.

And stop feeling like you have to have all the answers and be everything to everyone. This semester will go down in history as the most challenging and probably least effective. Take this opportunity to change the playbook and create an atmosphere you can live with and that has a few benefits for students beyond textbook teaching.

Story/assignment ideas

Two sources for story ideas this fall from Vince Filak and Taylor Blatchford — Story ideas for college journalists in this time of crisis from Filak’s Dynamics of Writing blog and What does a fall without sports look like for student journalists? from The Lead, Blatchford’s newsletter for student journalists.

For your student editors

The New York Times wants to know How Are Student Newspapers Covering Back to School? Students can fill out this form and potentially be featured in the Times’ Coronavirus Schools Briefing.

Pick a card, any card

Here’s a deck of cards designed to help your student journalists. Create with Mobile is offering a 52-card deck that features mobile journalism tips and techniques, showcasing “40 leading mobile journalism professionals (trainers, storytellers, audio specialists, photographers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and educators) from around the world. Each card is filled with philosophies, hacks, and lessons. The cards also feature a dynamic QR Code that takes the reader to videos, filmmaking tips, and more in-depth lessons.”

Decks are $29.99 plus $5 shipping.

Don’t say it’s Greek to you

I’m keeping an eye on the reporting around Greek life, like this New York Times story that claims to have located more than 250 COVID-19 cases with ties to fraternity and sorority houses. I can say that anecdotally, student newspapers don’t tend to attract a ton of student journalists who are also Greek, and non-Greek students often find the Greek system to be an impenetrable fortress where information is rarely easily found or forthcoming. But Greek communities at most schools run on gossip, so get a student reporter involved early and often. I saw one student newspaper recently tweet a breaking news alert about a sorority outbreak that referenced the wrong house. Getting facts straight when reporting on Greek life is important to your credibility. You can check Greekrank for a list of houses and their nicknames.

Zoom tips

I love this line from “How to curate your Zoom and why you should” by Janine Barchas from the Chronicle of Higher Education: “All the generosity in the world (and there is lots of it at the moment) cannot unsee the stuff in a Zoom frame.”

If no one has shown you, here’s how you insert virtual background. I used this one for a bit but it was distracting.

(I’m from Oklahoma so it has a longer shelf life for me.)

More to explore

Todd Henneman, a lecturer at Cal-State Long Beach, had the cool idea to compile a list of professors who might be willing to partner on a kind of class swap. He wrote on our Teachapalooza Facebook group that the idea started so students from one school could virtually interview students they didn’t know at another school. If you’re interested in working with professors on this initiative, here’s the form link.

Damian Radcliffe, a professor at the University of Oregon, has 9 remote interviewing tips for journalists.

Andy Thomason, senior editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, is a must-follow on Twitter if you’re tracking closure news and administrative handling of the coronavirus. Here’s one highlight.

It’s getting hot in here

I wrote this week in support of The Daily Tar Heel at UNC after they used the F-word in a headline (I was not alone). It looks like the nation’s student editorial boards are fired up, and I’m interested to see what they’ll say as schools ramp into gear the next few weeks. Here’s Friday’s front-page editorial from Notre Dame’s The Observer:

Student editors should embrace this monumental opportunity to give a voice to their readers and college communities. Speak loudly for students, faculty and staff who feel unsafe. Call out administrative lip service, and shine a bright light of shame if you see a profit-over-lives mentality.

This is one of those rare opportunities to truly engender love for your student newspaper. You have the power to say the things that others cannot for fear of job loss, suspension or expulsion. Seize that power for good.

Barbara Allen is the director of college programming. She can be reached at or on Twitter, @barbara_allen_

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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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  • Thanks for the tips! The Trail in Tacoma, WA appreciates your advise.