Working together to keep campuses COVID-informed? You should be

Plus binge-worthy New York Times work, concrete engagement strategies and profiting off a football rivalry

September 13, 2020

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Last week I mentioned The New York Times’ COVID-19 university tracker. This week, my colleague Al Tompkins threw down a strong gauntlet for journalists and government officials. He wrote, “However, the Times added a note about the data: There is no national government database of COVID-19 cases on campuses, which should prompt journalists to ask, ‘WHY?’ I hope journalists will push universities to publicly report their cases and if they do not, report that refusal to do so.”

I know that a lot of student media groups are doing excellent work, but it seems like a concerted effort would be in order among journalism professors, deans and campus media to push, hard, for answers and information. Talk about a real-life situation! Are you coordinating with your colleagues to make class assignments around information that should be public, from beginner to advanced journalism classes? Are you providing support to your campus media organizations to make sure they have the resources and know-how to stand up to administrations looking to obscure statistics that might make them look bad? I hope so — and I’d love to see examples of classroom and departmental collaborations.

(If you’re looking for COVID-19 stories and ideas, Al has been writing a daily newsletter for journalists about this topic. I am constantly amazed at its depth and thoughtfulness. Sign up here.)

Must-see work

You know what I want to binge on this weekend? New York Times interactives. Here’s their latest, How a Massive Bomb Came Together in Beirut’s Port. My jaw was literally hanging open the entire time I scrolled and read. I feel like this should be a series on Netflix. (Of course, the Times is eight steps ahead of the curve, as usual.)

Context for students

I thought this was a pretty interesting read out of Canada, though the headline is NSFW if you’re squeamish about a word that rhymes with “wool spit.” Here’s the subhead: “These phrases function as PR for police, victim-blame sexual assault survivors, support Canadian foreign policy, and minimize racism.”

A tradition like no other … spiked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the romance of a newsroom on election night (we used to get iced sugar cookies in red elephants and blue donkeys). It’s a fond tradition that journalists are eager to pass along to younger generations. But as we all know, there’s very little romantic about 2020. Here’s one thought leader’s take on how to handle election night.

Beep boop boop beep (CQ)

Tell your students this is their competition — a robot wrote this essay in the Guardian. “The assignment? To convince us robots come in peace.” Can you ask them to write a human rebuttal?

It’s in the Carrds

Tech you need to know about alert: Carrd is among a handful of newish sites that lets you build simple websites in minutes. Though founders say the technology was created with any website build in mind, according to a story in MIT Technology Review, “The internet of protest is being built on single-page websites.”

Gen Z “users create simple sites made up of links, easily embeddable on social media.” I’m thinking cool points for you, Professor, if you namecheck this site in class as another tool in your kit for helping students build portfolios or projects. Perusers will notice similarities to other DIY site builders like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace, but Carrd is totally free and focuses on one main page. The story mentions competitive microsites like bio.fm (which throws some nice shade at Carrd on its home page) and Linktree.

Fight that mis- and disinformation!

Y’all, this is pretty nifty. My buddies at MediaWise have designed a 10-day, text-messaged based fact-checking course, delivered straight to your students’ cell phones. “Prep for the Polls” takes about two minutes a day to read. May I suggest it as a super easy way for students to earn a few points in extra credit ahead of the election? (Make them earn it by taking a screenshot of their answers to the very easy interactives at the end of each day’s exercise and texting or emailing it to you. Or you know, trust them to read it.)

Planting seeds of intrigue

I really really love this Vice piece, “Hundreds of Americans Planted ‘Chinese Mystery Seeds’ — What I learned by reading thousands of internal emails about the Chinese mystery seeds,” mostly because this reporter is so open about his use of records and what he was able to obtain. In the cases in which I’ve assigned open records as an assignment, students always seem so dang delighted when they get their records. If you haven’t already folded this into your class or curriculum, consider a simple FOI request as an assignment and share in the delight of your students. Your state’s department of agriculture seems like a great place to start. (At my previous job at a big state university, we split up athletic teams and requested coaching contracts from within the university and from the other teams within our conference. Records like these usually don’t take much time to produce because they’re so frequently requested and there’s a pretty fast return rate.)

Play on, players

Good news for your gamer students! Bloomberg and The Washington Post are betting big on gaming. Here’s why.

Reading list

Social clout

A pop-up newsroom goes digging on Facebook to share its COVID-19 news: Beyond this just being a cool initiative by the always impressive Missouri School of Journalism, I think there are some good takeaways here for students struggling to engage effectively on social media: “We knew we had to meet people where they were. The easiest way for us to do that was to utilize community Facebook groups. We knew the groups existed; we just had to find them. This was the least fun part of the job because it’s tedious but important scutwork. Newsrooms have always done this kind of granular research, but for stories, not to find audiences.”

Let’s get ready to … raise money!

Pioneered by the Duke Chronicle and the UNC Daily Tar Heel, college newspaper rivalry fundraisers are a smart, easy idea. The latest entrant: The Commonwealth Clash, pitting the Collegiate Times of Virginia Tech against The (UVA) Cavalier Daily! Oh, and there’s a football game involved, too.

No fancy software or programming needed — just set up a GoFundMe. From the Collegiate Times’ page: “From September 5th to kickoff on September 19th Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily will be challenging their students, alumni, and communities to donate and support their newsrooms!” Let me hear from you if your paper is doing this, too. It’s not too late to put this together for the fall football season (well, what’s left of it).

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