2020 Virtual CMA Conference

Wilson College students are afforded the opportunity to attend the National College Media Convention once a semester. Despite the hardships of 2020, several students were still able to participate, though unsurprisingly, this year’s fall conference was held virtually. 

The conference, held October 22 through 24, featured two keynote speakers this year, as well as a host of other presenters that filled time slots on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Guests spoke on topics such as diversity, leadership, editing, reporting, professional development, and more, all via Zoom and Pathable 

Each session was approximately an hour long and allowed viewers to listen to engaging presentations, followed by a time for questions. While the atmosphere was slightly different than that of a traditional convention, participants were still able to learn a great deal from communication and journalism experts and are even able to view the recorded sessions as late as November 7, something that would have been impossible in previous years. 


Here is a recap of some of the segments from the Fall National College Media Convention. 


Keynote: A Look at Media Coverage of the 2020 Election by Brian Stelter 

Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent of CNN, defines journalism as “a first draft of history.” And certainly, in days like these, it is more important than ever for news outlets to be covering daily news as objectively as possible, in an effort to paint a clear picture of this year for the generations to come. In this election season, major news outlets like CNN are striving to describe polls carefully and downplay their significance, as well as highlight the American people’s voices, not just the candidates themselves. “Lessons were learned in the 2016 election,” Stelter comments. “Fewer rally coverages have taken place this year, and Trump’s intense anti-media statements have led to attacks on news outlets like never before. Overall, journalists need to be a unit,” he said. In terms of the election, not everything is politics, Stelter reminded, finishing by saying, “A slow count is a safe count.” 

The Pot Unmelted: Racism in Media by Omari Souza 

Omari Souza is a writer, designer, and professor who strives to educate people about the inherent racism embedded in American media. “Anti-black propaganda is built into brand deals and advertising,” he states, “especially in the comparison of black men to apes and beasts, or ‘thugs.’” Black criminality is unnecessarily highlighted in today’s media, often in reference to the war on drugs or the prison system. “Design itself has an enormous social impact,” Souza argues. Advertisements and marketing strategies not only influence how we feel about products or companies, but about people themselves. So how can white creators and designers remain involved in projects while enabling people of color to take the lead? Souza recommends advocacy, empathy, persistence, and a willingness to be in uncomfortable situations. 

When “Clusterfuck” is the Headline by Erica Perel, Paige Masten, Anna Pogaric, Maddie Ellis 

PerelMastenPogaric and Ellis, all writers, editors or advisors of North Carolina University’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Tarheel, made the controversial decision this fall to print an editorial with a curse word in the headline. The article itself focused on NCU’s decision to bring students back to campus for the fall, which was met with heavy backlash, and ultimately resulted in several COVID breakouts at the university, within weeks of the start of classes. Their session focused heavily on how student journalists should respond when pieces gain unexpected traction and excessive media attention. Their tips include dealing with media requests by ensuring not everything falls to one person, responding to questions you cannot answer by saying what you can without overstepping, and making sure not to lose sight of the big picture by continuing to focus on daily and investigative reporting, not hanging on too tightly to an article that has gone viral. They also suggest jumping on unexpected fame by using it to bring in funds so reporting can continue. 

FBI Strategies for Interviewing: Getting Information without Pulling Teeth by Holly Johnson 

Holly Johnson is a journalist and professor who has found FBI interview tactics to be more than helpful when speaking to sources. “Verbal pressure,” she said, “does not always work, so journalists must find alternative strategies to gain the information they need.” She outlined five tips that both FBI agents and investigative journalists can use in interviews: withholding judgement (keep your feelings to yourself), joining (using language that shows you see the other perspective), mirroring (copying body posture), showing curiosity (using your body to show natural curiosity) and active listening (resisting the urge to formulate your next question while subjects are answering your current question). “Paying attention to personality types is also crucial,” Johnson stated, “as well as making adjustments for interviews on Zoom, which are now prevalent due to the virus.” Overall, making the interviewee feel comfortable and understood seem to be the best ways to get a great interview. 

Keynote: Journalism is Storytelling and Storytelling is a Revolutionary Act by Monique Judge 

Similar to Omari Souza’s presentation, Monique Judge, journalist and news editor for The Root, began her presentation by noting that the stories people tell are heavily influenced by the world around them. Journalists are the watchdogs of society, Judge argues, when focusing on the history books instead of the real stories, it is much easier to miss big picture. The dehumanization of black people is an unceasing problem in American media, and the only way to change this is to change the stories journalists tell. Digging deeper and choosing a path that involves showing the humanity of those involved is one way to ensure that the stories of minorities’ lives are being told appropriately. Judge urged her audience not to be a stenographer, but a storyteller. Her final words of wisdom were, “Just tell the truth.” 

Gender in Journalism: Busting Up the Newsroom Boysclub by Abby Johnston 

Abby Johnston is one of the founding members of The 19th*a news organization that focuses on gender and politics and has an intentionally diverse staff. Johnston covered topics such as the sexism present in most journalistic language and the fact that the overwhelming majority of news writers and editors are cisgender white men. Gender plays into how journalists frame things, and the struggle to retain women in the newsroom directly affects the news that Americans are reading. Johnston and her coworkers at The 19th* hope to change the narrative by encouraging different stories to be told, and to be intentional with which experts weigh in on articles. It is time for the media to adopt a new lens, she argued -that of women and minorities. 

Making the Most of a Communications Degree by Amy Phillips Bursch and Eric Bursch 

Amy Phillips Bursch and her husband, Eric Bursch, are both professional speechwriters for U.S. Senators, and had an open discussion about possible ways to use an undergraduate degree in Communications. Journalism, public relations, speechwriting, marketing, graphic design, and radio and television broadcasting are all wide-open fields for people with degrees in Communications. The Burschs never expected to end up in speech writing, but both have found it to be an excellent use of the skills they have gained over the years studying communications. Their two tips for communication students are these: remember that writing, editing, and research skills will be useful in any field, and confidence under deadline is key. 


Search the hashtag #collegemedia20 for more posts and information about this year’s conference. 

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