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

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’

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

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?

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

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

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”

Fighting the Coronavirus “funk”

It’s OK to quit your funk.

By Carol Terracina Hartman
Managing Editor for News

As we conduct all the end-of-semester rituals – filing grades, archiving editions, announcing a new slate of editors, hosting our awards banquets, and eventually, clearing off at least one corner of a desk, it’s time to close the chapter on Spring Semester 2020.

Now summer break prep begins: pull out that list of goals from last August and see what was accomplished, what was diverted, what needs reviewing, and what can be tackled over the summer break – research, training, intern development, conference attendance or presentation, tech purchases, check check check.

But wait! That scenario sounds like a past life: Isn’t this what we do when not sheltering at home, teaching remotely, donning masks to go to the market or laundromat, learning how to produce and deliver news in all digital to a terrified readership.

Life is just too uncertain; why pretend everything we knew about life hasn’t changed? Isn’t it best to just wait and see than try to plan and prepare?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s OK to quit your funk. Continue reading “Fighting the Coronavirus “funk””

Research (Vol. 57): Errors, Requests, Apologies…

A case study of 50 years of corrections in a college newspaper

By Alyssa Appelman, Northern Kentucky University
and Kirstie Hettinga, California Lutheran University

Abstract: Corrections increase transparency and credibility, but college newspapers rarely publish them. This study explores trends in college newspaper corrections. In particular, it analyzes 50 years of corrections at a sample college newspaper and its website. Through thematic analysis (N = 95 corrections), it discusses changes in correction style and content over time. It explores the struggles of college newspapers, as well as the influence of professional news outlets. In particular, the authors identified a shift from early “requests for corrections” to more “modern” corrections that included labels and apologies. It also finds a strong influence of the student editor, who occasionally published specific calls for transparency and accuracy. As student newspapers have significant staff turnover, this study recommends that messages about corrections and accuracy be shared by student media’s consistent forces: relevant classes, publication handbooks, and—perhaps most importantly—faculty advisers.

Keywords: Corrections, Accuracy, Transparency, Classes, Handbooks, Advisers

Method: Thematic Analysis Continue reading “Research (Vol. 57): Errors, Requests, Apologies…”

Top tips for launching a college media research project

Balancing Act: Launching a research program requires give-and-take

By Carol Terracina Hartman

The description in the NYC09 program for a faculty adviser session appeared pretty straightforward: “Academic Research: Launching a Program.” It drew a packed room.

Research Director Vince Filak, UW-Oshkosh Professor and then-adviser of The Advance-Titan, led the session, and he opened by suggesting looking at one’s own campus media newsroom to start.

The choice begins with deciding whether to pursue inductive vs. deductive research:

Start with a problem in the newsroom and translate to a trend and find appropriate theory, such as social learning theory. Or, start with a theory, such as framing, and develop a measure, “How do we cover X?” with women in sports, climate change, crime, mental health, or other news topics as possible substitutes for ‘X.’ Continue reading “Top tips for launching a college media research project”

College media adapt to online only formats

Adjustments from COVID-19 may mark permanent changes for student newspapers

By Angel Trinh

While universities across the country have suspended in-person classes to limit the spread of COVID-19, the future for student newspapers remains unknown because being online-only until physical classes resume could create long-term changes.

More than 600 universities responded to a survey conducted by the American Association for Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to gauge the changes institutions are making or considering in response to COVID-19. According to the press release published April 2, 81% of institutions have moved completely online for the rest of the spring term. Of the universities that have moved online, 23% have decided to keep classes online for the summer and 38% are considering doing so.

Student publications have had to quickly adapt to producing web-only content, and some may not return to printing once classes begin again.

College Media Association Treasurer Steven Chappell said the number of student newspapers that decide to move online-only increases each fall, and he thinks he’ll see a larger number make that decision this year than any previous.

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