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Cutting through the ‘New Normal’

Identifying what is credible, in context and complete

by John Bowen, MJE

As the hours turn into days and the days turn into weeks, the amount of information piles up next to the growing stack of conflicting ideas and ways to deal with COVID-19. Will Chloroquine be the right type of medicine? How much time should people stay in homes? When, or if, does quarantine harm the American economy?

Although your journalism students might not tackle these topics, some will deal with the same real information, reporting on the local crisis and the dis- and misinformation attached to topics like this.

My students, in their first journalistic writing/reporting college journalism class, have to find a local story with additional sidebars, infographics, visuals and potentially audio. No longer able to learn in the classrooms, they practice as best they can.

Here are some story ideas they developed:

  • Effect of COVID-19 on local travel agents
  • How are people in the city of XXXXXX dealing with the virus, town and fellow citizens
  • (for context: my high school recently announced it will close at the end of this school year) So, how are cancellations / possible cancellations of classes, prom, graduation, sports, etc. affecting students and teachers in their last year at this school?
  • Various questions about effects of not working, handling kids at home and “essential” employment … or not
  • Children and education, daycare, school trips; keeping kids healthy
  • Impact on local businesses. What they see for the future
  • Nursing homes: occupants and those who work there: the future
  • Virus and those over 70, various angles
  • Cleaning out the grocery stores: the future and its current impact; what will change
  • How Covid-19 has influenced society in terms of social distancing and maintaining connections
  • Side effects of the coronavirus: humans quarantining has caused some environments to improve (Italy’s rivers are clear with fish, less cars on the road might lead to reduced pollution, etc.) – could look at local area and compare it 
  • 2020 election amidst coronavirus: postponed elections, fewer people voting in the primaries because of the virus might lead to fewer voices being heard. How does this impact first time voters (many college freshmen would be voting for the first time)
  • For the idea on restaurants closing/shifting business models, include sidebars on places in the local area offering drive thru/pickup locations
  • The impact of churches closing during the coronavirus pandemic. Discuss how it affects regular attendees, and if churches are organizing events (ex. volunteering) to help their communities during this time
  •  Petitions going around for students of good academic standing to automatically pass this semester due to stressful times. Is this fair? Would it be effective? How do students feel about this?
  • Not everyone has a healthy home to return to. How has covid-19 and social distancing effected those who struggle with mental health issues such as seperation anxiety and depression?

No matter the story, student journalists do their best to report, to verify information, to check source credibility and be transparent.

In the “New Normal” of news gathering and reporting, they will need to ensure stories have a purpose, information has context and is as complete as possible.

Students should do that for every story.

We, as teachers and advisers, have an obligation to students, as they report from dozens of angles. Our obligation is help them present the truth as best they can. We have an obligation to help students locate tools to question authority and then question what authority says. And maybe what authority does not.

To provide some of that help and training, the SPRC has a package of material for teachers who face creation of online activities. Tools of Truth examines fake news, deception, misinformation, sloppy reporting and more.

The Student Press Law Center also released the Coronavirus Toolkit to help student journalists.

Student media will not be in formal classrooms for this story. Our classroom is more real, with more information, context, credibility and reliability, to make sense.

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