August 2, 2020

Alma Matters is a Poynter newsletter designed to provide ideas, news and insight to those in the journalism education community. Subscribe here to get Alma Matters delivered to you.

Today I want to talk to you about how much I’ve been thinking about journalism education — really, about you —  since this pandemic began.

My personal lockdown started this year just before St. Patrick’s Day, and about a week before my 16th annual 29th birthday celebration.

Back then, birthdays in isolation seemed especially pitiful, so my spouse and coworkers made sure I felt the love that lonely day away from friends and family.

Here’s a photo of the plant my supervisor sent, exactly 20 days after I started my new position within Poynter as the director of college programming.

The plant has been in the same spot since it arrived. Like most of us, it’s been doing its best, reaching toward the light and trying to thrive. Here it is today.

I didn’t realize until this week how much I’ve relied on that little guy to mark the passage of time (and I’m terrible at succulent care, so tips appreciated). It reminds me, as it bends toward the big window in my living room, to keep striving for the light.

In the five-plus months that this little plant and I have been at home together, I’ve been hard at work on a specific initiative for Poynter — college programming.

Below you’ll find a complete rundown of everything we’ve done so far in the hopes that Poynter can make your fall a little easier. We’re just getting started, and as I’ve said repeatedly (and will continue to say): We want to hear from you. Help us help you, and together we can go forward as partners in education until a brighter day emerges.

Ready-made courses

Poynter has long offered its e-learning in packages designed for classroom engagement. That tradition continues with our Digital Course Packs, where you’ll find almost 25 different virtual learning options like Ethics in Journalism, The Art of the Interview, Cleaning Your Copy and more. Most courses are about an hour long, and we can bundle them in custom orders specific to your classes at $10 per course per student. Each course comes with an assessment so you can grade your students on their proficiency. To see the courses, go here (follow the links to the order form). For questions, email

Newsroom Readiness Certificate

The Newsroom Readiness Certificate is a new five-hour, self-directed course designed to make sure journalism students are ready for employment. Whether your students are headed to an internship or about to start working on campus at a newspaper, TV or radio station, the course is designed to fill knowledge gaps around newsgathering, interviewing, media law, media ethics and diversity to ensure that students are, in fact, newsroom ready. Students have to pass an assessment, and will receive a certificate of completion to share with employers. Discounted group licenses are available for journalism and student media departments. Email for more information, or check out the certificate here.

Fight mis/disinformation and get ready to vote

Are you concerned about the proliferation of mis- and disinformation impacting the 2020 presidential election? We’ve got three options for your students in the fall.

Our text message course will roll out this fall semester and feature 10 days of text-message training delivered straight to your students’ phones. Enter your email and we’ll send you more information.

Our MediaWise fact-checking certificate is a deeper dive into this issue and will make you and/or your students experts in spotting falsities online — and helping others spot them as well. You can enroll here for a light version of this course or here for the full certificate, and we’ll send you information when the courses come online.

And of course there are the MediaWise Voter Project Campus Correspondents, available for virtual in-class training up until election day. Sign up for a classroom visit here.

How student media handled the crisis

College Journalism Covid-19 Coverage U.S. Map
This spring, I was approached by students from Duke University about a project they were working on — a collection of stories produced by student media organizations around the country. We were happy to offer them a partnership with Poynter to bring their vision to life. “How college journalists cover COVID-19” is a database of work by student media organizations. Check to see if your school is represented, and if not, submit your COVID-19 articles here. This ongoing database will catalog the work being done by student journalists at universities across the country during what promises to be a tumultuous fall semester. Seek it out for story ideas and localization angles as well.

Let’s visit

Should you want custom teaching, Poynter is an expert away. Fill out this form to get started. Think custom workshops, drop-in lessons, even student newsroom overhauls … we’ll work within your timeframe and budget to make a difference for your department, organization and students.

This newsletter, among others

Of course, the main way I correspond with you is here, with Alma Matters, which is 18-ish issues old today! Maybe it will be allowed to vote in Florida.

Thank you for your support and readership. And if Alma Matters was forwarded to you and you want to sign up, you can do so here. It’s delivered into your inbox every Sunday to help you plan your week in journalism education.

Another excellent newsletter for you to consider is The Lead, produced by my colleague Taylor Blatchford and designed for student journalists.

Back to the show

Now that you’ve read all about me, let’s shift focus back to planning your weeks in the classroom.

Syllabus swap?

I heard from readers last week curious about any kind of syllabus sharing groups. I know some of you belong to Facebook groups like Teachapalooza and ONA Educators … am I missing any other good Facebook groups, and do you ever participate in any kind of formal syllabus swaps? Let me know. I’d be happy to facilitate such an exchange.

Is it politics when it’s personal?

I know some of you are worried about how to guide students around issues of expression — protests, social media and the like. Here’s how Kristin Roberts at McClatchy cleared things up for her staff around Black Lives Matter. Axios has already said it’s OK for employees to protest. It’s an interesting time to consider an activism policy for your students.

Classroom exercise

This is a revealing first-person piece from Andrew Yang about his experience with reporters during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. His last lines, “Instead, many members of the national media feel they have a responsibility to reinforce particular candidates and narratives and dismiss others. They don’t just report on the news — they form it,” feel like he’s just getting started instead of wrapping up.

Here’s an idea for an exercise: Have your students write a conclusion for his essay, a kind of best practices list to address some of the problems Yang lays out. List what national political journalists should do to provide fair coverage and not set a national narrative. Then have them find a political journalist from a national publication and examine that person’s recent stories and social media. Does the journalist’s writing or social media posts reflect more closely the students’ best practices or Yang’s assertions about the media?

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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  • Journalism education must focus on real-world experiences, not just academia. Students must learn mostly from those who have been in the trenches, who have real deadline experiences, not just from those who have only read about them in their graduate school textbooks. Without that knowledge guiding the next generation of journalists they will only know what they have learned from books, and that’s not going to give them the tools they need to succeed in this world and whatever world is coming.