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During chaotic college reopens, student newspapers hold the powerful accountable: Poynter

Alma Matters is a Poynter newsletter designed to provide ideas, news and insights to those in the community of journalism education. Subscribe here to receive Alma Matters.

I was finishing my newsletter last week when the student newspaper at Notre Dame / St. Mary's / Holy Cross published a front page editorial asking the administration not to "force us to write obituaries." That came just after the Daily Tar Heel released the most palatable f-bomb headline in recent history. (By the way, they've finished talking about this, hoping everyone else will focus on the real COVID-19 problem on campus.)

The media across the country picked up the student media narrative as watchdogs this week, and it was a real boost for many of us in the journalism education community to see our student newspapers praised by the national media.

The national media were all over UNC history, including The Washington Post, while CNN spoke to Notre Dame students. NPR highlighted work at UNC, the University of Kansas, and the University of Texas in its article "We're Living the News": Student Journalists Own the University's Reopening Story. And the Axios student media sounded the alarm about unsafe college reopening and reviewed student media work at Penn State, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State.

(And while not exactly related, did you see that The New York Times is now tracking college shoots in a new interactive?)

I saw mentions of this editorial Crimson and White from the University of Alabama, No, president Bell, we won't be your PR and the Daily Mississippian cover editorial, "Are we ready? Hell no." And here is the front page of the virtual Daily Forty-Niner in Cal-State Long Beach:

As we face another challenging week in higher education, let's not forget the important role journalism students play in college. American democracy. While they serve as college watchdogs, they are also learning skills and habits that will carry over into their professional careers (in journalism and elsewhere). As educators, let us support them with praise, but challenge them to rise to this rare occasion by researching higher education, securing diverse voices, and holding powerful people accountable for their actions.

In today's craziest section of news, the University of Alabama orders professors to keep quiet about the outbreak. Really?! Who else was ordered to do this?

A couple of newsletters ago, I listed all the places I could find to get reliable information related to the pandemic and coronavirus. Here's another cool source for you to pass on to your journalism students or to suggest on assignments. Documenting COVID-19 is a “repository of search documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic obtained through state open records laws and the Freedom of Information Act” (story idea alert!). Created by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between the Stanford University School of Engineering and the Columbia School of Journalism, the project is ongoing and also seeking collaborators.

This week, Poynter launched the TV News Toolbox for Teachers, a series of 38 microlearning activities organized into eight lessons. From the course page: "If you teach broadcast journalism, you're always looking for powerful videos to showcase your students and spark meaningful conversations about the craft.… Now you can bring duPont, Peabody, and the national Emmy award winners from local and local news. network to your classroom… Watch stories together as a class and then engage students in the provided discussion questions. Share behind-the-scenes moments with the storytellers to complete the lesson circle.

The course costs $ 75 and enrollment is now open.

As I mentioned last week, I've spent much of August in intense virtual training with students who run college newspapers across the country. One of the activities I do for them To do is reflect on a person in his life who demonstrated a value that we consider intrinsic to journalism (truthfulness, curiosity, tenacity). Over and over again, without Ask them, these students mark the names of two groups of people: their parents and their journalism teachers / advisers.

You are making a difference. They are listening. They care about what you have to say and are modeling themselves after your example. Despite these difficult times, know that the students you work with on a daily basis, whether they ever express this to you or not, rank you as highly as their parents as mentors and value bearers. I thought you would want to know that. Hold on, we're all in this together.

Like most of the Gen Xers I know, I don't excel at the personal care part of the program, but I do take time off and enjoy the Labor Day vacation. My next newsletter will be September 13th. (That's serious breaking news, I know, but the smart people in the newsletter told me I should let you know.)

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

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