October 28, 2020

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Maybe this new polling from Ipsos will restore some of your faith in the common sense of your fellow humans. The polling shows that people mostly know truth from nonsense when it comes to the coronavirus.

The people who call, email and tweet conspiracy absurdities may be the loudest, meanest and the least informed, but they are a distant minority. Most people get it.


Ipsos says:

We presented Americans with six true/false statements about the coronavirus pandemic which are commonly part of misinformation. Half of Americans got all six correct (an ‘A’), another 23% got five of six correct (a ‘B’), 13% got four of six correct (a ‘C’), while the final 13% got three or fewer correct answers (an ‘F’).

Americans who got a C or F are less concerned about the outbreak and more likely to trust information from President Trump. They are also less likely to wear a mask at all times and less likely to view attending a political rally as a risky act.

About 12% said voting in person is a large risk. Another 32% called in-person voting a moderate risk.

Why Google saw a spike in people searching “Can I change my vote?”

It is 2020, so of course this happened. Google searches for the phrase “can I change my vote” peaked around 6 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday morning in the U.S.

The searches were especially hot in Delaware (the state Joe Biden represented in the U.S. Senate), Maine, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin and Arizona.

Why did the spike happen? It occurred right after President Donald Trump posted this tweet.

President Trump says the Google searches began last week after the presidential debate, but that is not the case. They peaked Tuesday morning.

(Screenshot, Google Trends)

So, what’s the truth about changing your ballot? Yes, depending on where you are, it might be possible.

New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Mississippi all allow early voters to change their votes. Others — including Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Arizona — say once you vote, that’s it, there are no do-overs.

You can imagine the confusion that will happen if people start changing their votes. ABC News explains how it works in Michigan, as an example:

In Michigan, state law allows for voters to “spoil” their ballots (essentially asking election officials to invalidate a ballot so a voter can get a new one). “Voters can vote absentee and then ‘spoil’ their ballot to re-vote. Spoil ballot requests by voters who have already voted may request a new ballot by mail until 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day or can request a new ballot in-person until 10 a.m. on the Monday prior to the election. There is no option on Election Day to spoil an absentee ballot that has already been cast,” according to state law.

In Wisconsin, according to a memo released by the Wisconsin Elections Commission for this year, “absentee voters can request to spoil their absentee ballot and have another ballot issued as long as the appropriate deadline to request the new absentee ballot has not passed. In addition, voters can request to have their returned absentee ballot spoiled and instead vote in person, either during the in-person absentee period or at their polling place on Election Day, but they must request their ballot be spoiled by the appropriate deadlines. Once that deadline has passed, a returned absentee ballot cannot be changed, and the voter cannot be issued another ballot on Election Day.”

In Minnesota, voters are allowed to change their votes but on a tighter deadline, which has already passed.

A guide for police on Election Day

I suspect all of us have a knot in our gut about what might happen on Election Day if police confront gun-toting poll watchers.

The Voter Protection Program, a group that includes Democrats and Republicans in office and former federal and state officeholders, produced guidance for police who will find themselves next week being asked to patrol voter lines. What will they do when somebody complains about a self-appointed poll watcher who is toting an AR-15?

This is the guidance the group is giving:

(Voter Protection Program)

(Voter Protection Program)

The Voter Protection Program includes litigators and voting rights experts.

Cuts have begun at universities and colleges — and nothing is sacred

The lead paragraph of a story from The New York Times says:

Ohio Wesleyan University is eliminating 18 majors. The University of Florida’s trustees this month took the first steps toward letting the school furlough faculty. The University of California, Berkeley, has paused admissions to its Ph.D. programs in anthropology, sociology and art history.

And it goes on:

The University of South Florida announced last week that its college of education would become a graduate school only, phasing out undergraduate education degrees to help close a $6.8 million budget gap. In Ohio, the University of Akron, citing the coronavirus, successfully invoked a clause in its collective-bargaining agreement in September to supersede tenure rules and lay off 97 unionized faculty members.

St. Ambrose University cut some theatre program majors and Illinois Wesleyan University is cutting some humanities programs and firing even tenured professors. And schools big and small from Marquette University to the University of Memphis and Ithaca College are all shedding hundreds of jobs.

And the shakeup is not reserved just for American universities. The Guardian says:

Hundreds of courses and majors, some more than 50 years old, will be cut from multiple universities across Australia as lost revenue and funding cuts devastate higher education.

At Macquarie University in Sydney, entire degrees in maths and science are slated to be cut, as well as more than half the current majors offered in arts.

The bachelor of mathematical sciences will no longer be taught in 2021, as well as the bachelor of advanced science, bachelor of advanced information technology, and masters in mechanical engineering, according to a document sent to staff and obtained by Guardian Australia.

In total, 31 degrees or combined degrees in the faculty of science and engineering will potentially be cut, while in the faculty of arts, 30 out of the current 56 offered majors could also be removed.

The fall of the college frat house

I have been seeing some interesting stories lately about a move to change or abandon college fraternities/sororities.

The Washington Post framed the story in diversity tones.

The New York Times included these passages:

… students said their real reasons have deeper roots: that Greek life is exclusionary, racist and misogynist, as well as resistant to reform because of the hierarchical nature of the national Greek organizations, which control local chapters.

Similar “Abolish Greek Life” movements have sprung up at other universities around the country, including at the University of Richmond, Duke, Emory, American University, Northwestern and the University of North Carolina.

Other stories focus on how on so many occasions, COVID-19 outbreaks have spread across fraternity rows.

Rich countries are hoarding vaccine supplies

Oxfam found that wealthy countries — representing just 13% of the world’s population — had already secured more than half of the expected supply of leading vaccine candidates. The charity says:

Even in the extremely unlikely event that all five vaccines (in stage 3 trials) succeed, nearly two thirds (61 percent) of the world’s population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022. It’s far more likely some of these experiments will fail, leaving the number of people without access even higher.

The calculations expose a broken system that protects the monopolies and profits of pharmaceutical corporations and favors wealthy nations, while artificially restricting production and leaving most of the world’s population waiting longer than necessary for a vaccine.

Vice explored the issue further if you want a little deeper dive.

Documenting how the pandemic changed journalism

(“Essential Journalists”)

I want to point you toward a well-documented, homespun 18-minute video project about how the pandemic changed journalism, especially local TV.

Marcus Harun is a producer for MSNBC who interviewed more than 30 reporters, photojournalists, producers, news managers and anchors from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

(“Essential Journalists”)

Marcus came from local news before moving to MSNBC.

“There is no rulebook from corporate on how to report in the middle of a pandemic,” he told me. “So, I found individual journalists creating new ways to connect with sources, new ways to use technology, and new ways to tell stories all on their own. They used random items they found in the house and made it possible to set up studios in their kitchens. They also shared ideas with other reporters at other stations, because everyone across the U.S. was in the same boat.”

We owe Marcus a big “thank you” for pulling this project together and documenting what has been a remarkable and probably transformative year of local news reinvention.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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