Research (Vol. 58): Freedom of Information in College

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How student journalists learn to file public records requests

By Katherine Fink
Pace University
kfink@pace.edu

Abstract: This interview-based study examines the experiences of college journalists who have filed freedom of information (FOI) requests. Sixteen college journalists were asked about specific public-records requests they filed and their feelings about FOI in general. This study finds that college journalists generally learned how to file FOI requests not in the classroom, but rather from their peers. Students filed requests that tended to seek records from their home institutions rather than from other agencies. College journalists were generally optimistic about the potential of FOI to yield newsworthy information, despite that many of their requests went nowhere. College journalists also believed their status as students put them at a disadvantage. Finally, some students recognized that the outcomes of requests were highly situational, based on the records officers handling them.

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Legal Analysis: Nicholas Sandmann v. ‘The Media’

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The image and the reports–and seeking the truth behind them

By Carolyn Schurr Levin

We’ve all seen the video or picture, or both. What we may not know, unfortunately, is the truth behind them.

In January 2019, 16 year old Nicholas Sandmann participated in a school trip to Washington D.C. along with other students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky. Sandmann, who wore a Make America Great Again hat, participated with his classmates in a March For Life rally and then went to the Lincoln Memorial to wait for the buses that would bring them home to Kentucky. While at the Lincoln Memorial, Sandmann encountered 64-year-old Native American activist Nathan Phillips, who was standing in front of him, playing a drum and chanting at an Indigenous Peoples March.

Sandmann’s interaction with Phillips was captured in photos and videos, which went viral. In addition to being reported by mainstream media outlets CNN, the Washington Post, NBC, and others, a video of the encounter was uploaded and widely shared on social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, receiving millions of views. The video led to widespread accusations of bigotry by Sandmann. Almost universally, the media coverage of the encounter portrayed Sandmann as the smirking aggressor. That is not, apparently, what really happened.

Days later, new video provided additional context and showed that the initial media reports had omitted key details of the encounter. In the new video, a group of black men who identify as members of the Hebrew Israelites was seen taunting the Covington Catholic High School students with disparaging language and shouting racist slurs at participants of the Indigenous Peoples Rally and others. Continue reading “Legal Analysis: Nicholas Sandmann v. ‘The Media’”

Book Review: Media Ethics

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A Guide For Professional Conduct by SPJ

Reviewed by Carolyn Schurr Levin

Book Review: Media Ethics: A Guide For Professional Conduct, 5th edition, Published by the Society of Professional Journalists, Revised by Fred Brown, editor, and members of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee

There is no shortage of course materials for media ethics classes. Yet, can there ever be too many? I’d argue no – the more the better. That is also clearly the position of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, which on June 25, 2020, released the 5th edition of its ethics handbook and collection of cases. Both the new edition and the 4th edition, which was released in 2011, are the effort of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, and were edited by long time journalist Fred Brown, a former chairperson of the Ethics Committee and former SPJ national president. (The first three editions were primarily the work of the Poynter Institute.)

In the six years since the 4th edition was printed, everything has changed, and nothing has changed. The SPJ Journalists Code of Ethics still imparts the profession’s collective wisdom, and remains the focus of the book – “the news industry’s widely accepted gold standard of journalism principles,” according to the book’s promotion. Like the four editions before it, this book is organized around the SPJ Code of Ethics, whose basic principles are reflected in many other codes of ethics across a wide range of communications disciplines, Brown said.

The new edition expands beyond journalism to those other communications disciplines and a growing number of technologies. “Media Ethics: A Guide for Professional Conduct” is intended to be used as a college-level textbook in ethics classes whose students are not just aspiring journalists, but strategic communicators such as P.R. professionals or workers in political campaigns,” Brown said. And, the new edition is, for the first time, available in online form as well as in print, to be both more accessible and less expensive for those students. (The paperback is $24.99 and the ebook is $19.99.) Continue reading “Book Review: Media Ethics”

Research (Vol. 58): What’s in an Editorial Frame?

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How Award-Winning Student Newspaper Editorials Framed COVID-19

By Brittany L. Fleming
and Emily A. Dolan
Slippery Rock University

Abstract: The current study explored the content of initial COVID-19 editorials from award-winning student newspapers across the country in an effort to understand how these editorials framed the issue. Using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, we found that top student newspapers framed the issue largely around morality and economic issues. Other frames were also employed (e.g., conflict), albeit to a lesser extent. Our analyses also provide details on the common language editorials employed within each frame and how frames were strategically employed across editorials. Our discussion provides an in-depth analysis of the structure of initial COVID-19 editorials and a framework for editorial reporting on crises in the future is proposed. Continue reading “Research (Vol. 58): What’s in an Editorial Frame?”

Survey: College media continue despite pandemic

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‘State of College Media’ survey results.

Special to College Media Review

Ninety-four percent of college media outlets continued production during the COVID-19 pandemic amid campus shutdowns and restructuring operations to work virtually, according to the results of CMA’s 2020 benchmarking survey.

The fourth annual “State of College Media” survey provides a snapshot of what college media operations face and also identifies industry trends. Approximately 135 CMA members nationwide completed the survey, which was distributed electronically on June 4, 2020.

The survey was sent to all 635 CMA members. This yielded a 44% open rate and a 34% click through rate. A follow-up reminder on June 16 had a 41% open rate and a 20% click through rate. Results were released on June 26, 2020. With a total of 135 members participating, the overall response rate is 21%.

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College media reporting during a tumultuous spring

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Community College student newspapers illustrate publishing trends

By Richard Cameron
Cerritos College

What types of stories do community college student newspapers publish on their online sites in a typical semester/quarter? That was the original purposed of a content review of 46 California community college student publications conducted for the spring 2020 term.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” Sherlock Holmes, “A Study in Scarlett” (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Of course, the spring 2020 term turned out to be anything but typical as COVID-19 caused a mid-term shutdown of campuses and a shift to remote instruction. While not intended, the bifurcated study was fortuitous in timing, however, as it appears all campuses will start a new academic year with remote instruction, indeed the whole academic year may be remote.

Slightly less than 40% of California’s 119 community colleges offer associate degrees in journalism, and an important component in those degrees requires course work on the student publication. Forty-six have online publications. The colleges offer multiple levels of enrollment in publication courses, from beginning to advanced, and nearly all combine up to four levels of courses into one newspaper staff, so the mix of experience on a given staff varies greatly from campus to campus. Continue reading “College media reporting during a tumultuous spring”

Navigating disasters and tragedy as a journalist  

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‘Empathy to the forefront’

By Christine Bartruff
University of South Carolina Honors College

A chemical smell. A haze in the air. Broken windows. Abandoned jugs of milk. Through the eyes of a reporter, this was the scene in Minneapolis following protests against police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd. 

Erin Ailworth, Midwest correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, spoke to students via Google Hangouts while she was on the ground in Minneapolis. Ailworth is well-versed in covering heavy subject matter. She’s been The Wall Street Journal’s go-to disaster reporter since 2017, reporting on hurricanes, wildfires and, most recently, protests. 

READ AILWORTH’S STORIES
IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When interviewing people, especially those who are traumatized by the events she’s covering, Ailworth exercises empathy. Approach people gently, she said, without shoving a camera or notebook or recording device in their face. Start with introducing yourself, and then ask if they would be willing to talk with you. Continue reading “Navigating disasters and tragedy as a journalist  “

Local media leaders encourage prospective journalists

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Community journalism ‘never more important’ than now

By Megan Wehring
Texas State University

The Pew Research Center continues to report on declining newspaper circulation (“its lowest level since 1940”), revenue (“declined dramatically between 2008 and 2018”) and employment (“dropped by nearly half between 2008 and 2018”).

But Frank Blethen, in a Washington Post column, says, “Local journalism has never been more important or sought after.”

And longtime journalist Joyce Dehli calls local journalism “an essential force in our democracy.”

Emphasizing the continuing role of local media in American society, a panel of local journalists visited with college students as part of Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association intern training May 27.

Panelists discussed how local journalists need to earn and maintain the public’s trust. They must tell all the stories of the community. Continue reading “Local media leaders encourage prospective journalists”

COVID19: Telling ‘The story of why’

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Using a health equity lens to cover COVID-19 in minority communities

By Lyndsey Brennan
Kent State University

For the media to cover the effect of the coronavirus on minority communities in a way that is just, journalists must frame stories using a health equity lens, said Nicole Bronzan, senior communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Bronzan addressed about 60 Dow Jones News Fund interns and their supervisors in a May 27 webinar. 

Bronzan, who worked as an editor at The New York Times before directing communications for nonprofit organizations, said reporters should apply two major principles when covering these communities:

First, journalists should focus on the reasons situations aren’t equitable. “You have to start [the story] with the problem because people don’t always know about it,” Bronzan said. “But don’t stay there. Don’t let that be all the story is about.”

If journalists are reporting a statistic that says black people are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, they should dig into the underlying causes—such as access to affordable and stable housing and good jobs with fair pay—that led to that disparity in health. Continue reading “COVID19: Telling ‘The story of why’”

Losing grip: Drafts, Self-Editing and Story Pitching as Exercises in Narrative Humility

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Writer-coaching is not a new concept

By Michael A. Longinow
Biola University

Admit it. You wish the writing was better in your student-run newspaper or magazine. The problem is bigger than you might think. But the good news is it’s not all on you as adviser. It’s the students’ thing — it has to be. And your students are probably more willing to make their writing better than you expect.

That might be surprising. We think of students of the generation sitting in our undergrad classrooms as post-literate: stuck on their phones, never touching books, baffled by people who turn wood pulp newspaper pages or read slick magazines. A 2019 study based on U.S. Education statistics suggests more than 30 million adults in the U.S. cannot read, let alone write. The National Bureau of Economic Research, in 2008, said children whose parents have low literacy are more likely to have low literacy themselves — and to struggle in school, perhaps dropping out. So what’s the answer? Not just us. It’s our students. When students help each other figure out how to learn, how to figure out a task like writing, more than just better articles results. Better students, better learners come of it.

Be warned, though: it’s complicated. To learn journalistic writing is an exercise in courage. It’s confrontation — not merely of the blank screen, or the labyrinth that is English grammar, or the nuances of quoting, paraphrasing and attributing fact or opinion. The real face-off is with self. A writer who wants to get published must give up control of their baby, their creation. They must admit that what they have written, how they connected ideas using words, could be better. It might need to be thrown out entirely in favor of a different direction, a different approach.

Continue reading “Losing grip: Drafts, Self-Editing and Story Pitching as Exercises in Narrative Humility”