February 7, 2021

This week I had the pleasure of zooming into an ethics course at the University of Nebraska.

With about 100 upperclassmen, I worked through this week’s Professor’s Press Pass case study (see below), which examines the tension between personal safety and the need for important storytelling.

I was impressed with their comments, many of which centered on the fact that journalism can be a tough industry, and no one who’s studying it should be deluded about that fact.

I think I needed to hear that this week. Readers of this newsletter know that I preach empathy and listening, both of students and to students. It was refreshing to be reminded that tenacity, toughness and a strong sense of personal ethics are still hallmarks of journalism education; that students know they can be sweet and still be strong.

So good work out there, raising up our next generation to be tough but fair. I appreciate you and the work you are doing — this week and every week.

Bested by Ben

Last week I talked about my ambivalence about social media posting and how to guide students. This week, The New York Times’ Ben Smith had a thoughtful piece that was more analytical than my spitballing. In it, he commissioned Morning Consult, a polling firm, to ask Americans about their views on journalists and social media.

He wrote, “The findings were mixed. Asked directly whether ‘journalists have a responsibility to keep their opinions private, even on their personal social media,’ a majority of those polled agreed, by a margin of almost 2-1.

But the details of the poll of 3,423 people, with a margin of error of 2%, show deeper division. Given the choice between two alternatives, 41% agreed with the statement, ‘I trust journalists more if they keep their political and social views private,’ while 36% agreed with the opposite statement, ‘I trust journalists more if they are open and honest about their political and social views.’”

Here’s a link to the full survey. (The image they asked people about concerned this tweet.)

Too bad the answers weren’t more definitive, but it might be an interesting study to share with your students to continue this conversation about what is and what isn’t appropriate on social media. (Also, check out the fun anecdote about Olivia Nuzzi testing The Washington Post’s commitment not to muzzle her on social if she accepted a job there.)

Protest policies

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with some student editors from the student newspaper at Western Washington University, The Western Front. They are working hard to craft a policy around protest coverage to provide guidance for their peer student journalists. I’d love to see a policy if you have one and will be happy to share in a future issue if I get a few good responses.

Big award alert!

Have your students done something that might qualify for this new $5,000 award from the University of Texas?

The Dan Rather Medals for News and Guts honor the process of journalism as much as the end product. They will be awarded to professional and collegiate journalists who go the extra yard — overcoming obstacles like stonewalling and harassment — to get the story that tells truth to power.” I was honored with a request to help judge these new awards, and I’d like to encourage applications. (I accepted because one, cool name, and two, I’m a big Rather fan — he’s not just a news legend. He once won HQ Trivia with his grandson, and of course his Twitter is media insights gold.)

Student journalists can earn a $5,000 prize for work published or broadcast between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020. A series is eligible as long as it falls within that range, as are collaborations. Submissions are due Feb. 15, and you’ll have to upload your piece(s) and “A detailed statement … describing how the content meets the selection criteria of overcoming extraordinary conditions in reporting.”

What would you do?

I thought this was interesting. The students at North Carolina State’s Technician student newspapers wrote in favor of firing an employee in EDITORIAL: NC State administration harboring Seagraves contradicts its ‘anti-racism stance’. The employee wrote a response.

If you learned that your students planned to call for someone to be fired, what steps would you walk them through to make sure they proceeded ethically? What would you advise them to do if the employee wanted a rebuttal published? This is a pretty fascinating slice of college media life, and reminds me that you just never know what news is going to break today.

Really great journalism to share with your students

When I link to a New York Times story as an example of great journalism, I feel a little twinge, knowing how resourced and talented that team is. I often wonder if using their work actually resonates with busy, stressed-out students. Sure, there are often great examples of the strength of storytelling and holding power to account, but do they feel too out of the realm of the probable for students?

Forty Hours Later, a Shot at a Vaccine doesn’t have that problem. It’s a simple but sophisticated example of storytelling that merges all the fundamentals we preach: Be there. Take photos. Get video. Talk to many people. Diversify your subjects. Write for an eighth-grade audience. Make people feel tension. Tell a story.

I could go on, but judge for yourself. (Tip: Your students should be able to create this kind of simple presentation within their own content management system, but if not, try Adobe Spark. A student license for Adobe’s Creative Cloud is $20 a month, a worthwhile investment for your organization. Or find a reliable student who had to purchase Creative Cloud for class and doesn’t mind using it for student media work.)

College headlines

Great journalism to share with your students

Poynter’s Internship Database

A reminder that Poynter’s internship database is up and running. New this week: The Colorado Springs Gazette!

“Join a teaching newsroom in a wonderful, scenic location.”

This week’s Professor’s Press Pass

This week, I emailed with New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill about her recent piece A Vast Web of Vengeance, in which she risked her own online safety to report on one family’s heartbreak as they were defamed online.

I thought Hill’s willingness to put herself at risk for the greater good of telling this important story made a great lesson for students.

“I did go into the story with open eyes, having interviewed so many of the victims and being familiar with the assailant’s tactics,” Hill wrote to Poynter. “I took some precautions by making my social media profiles more private and trying to delete any public sharing of information about people related to me.”

Share her story with her students and see the rest of her interview in this week’s Professor’s Press Pass.

One last thing

Alexa Wray, a graduate of North Carolina A&T and an editor in the 2018-2019 Poynter College Media Project, recently wrote about that experience for Scalawag.

She writes: “Frustrated by the consistent lack of Black perspectives in the media, for nine months during 2018 and 2019, I led a group of fellow students through an in-depth dive of local news reporting coming out of Greensboro, identifying the ways outlets covered our school. Our data confirmed what we’d suspected: That media outlets were using the university as a locator for crime in East Greensboro even though those crimes rarely — if ever — had anything to do with the campus, students, or faculty.”

Her piece outlines the project and the tenacity she and her team needed to follow it through. (My hat’s off to them — they predated my involvement in the project.)

But what I’ve really been thinking about this week is her closing letter from that piece. It reads:

To my fellow HBCU journalists —

I felt consumed by this investigation. I couldn’t escape the nasty reality of journalists who don’t know how to cover communities of color.

This reporting deterred me from a traditional career in journalism.

I was tired of writing about the issues and decided to be a part of the change. I now use my passion for storytelling in nonprofit work, and I am able to focus on telling the people’s narrative through a new lens.

While this investigation played a huge part in what my career looks like today it is also a reminder that my work isn’t over. Biased coverage rooted in unconscious racism not only affects HBCUs but communities of color throughout the country, and I will continue to work and fight to combat false narratives.

There is power in student journalism.

As a collective of badass students who want fair representation in the media, I invite you to restore narratives and repair broken trust between journalists and communities of color.

Lead your charge, student journalists, and command a fair narrative.

I hope you’ll pass those powerful words on to your student journalists of color and offer to help them as they navigate their college years. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the image used by researchers from the data intelligence company Morning Consult reflected the sentiment and the phrasing of the Lauren Wolfe tweet, but was not the actual tweet itself.

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Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
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