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Ted Bridis

616. What does the next generation of investigative journalists need to know?

Today’s college journalism students are digital natives, making them already adept and skilled at the way some newsrooms are packing and sharing their reporting, says Ted Bridis, senior lecturer at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. 

“They’re terrific. They want the world to be a better place. They want to protect democracy. They want to tell interesting stories about interesting audiences. They care about what’s right and what’s wrong. They want to hold accountable people in power, people who make decisions,” says Bridis, who spent his career with the Associated Press before becoming an instructor five years ago. 

But his students are still young and in need of guidance, even if their hearts and intentions are in the right place. 

“The challenge we have in dealing with 20 and 22-year-olds; sometimes they come in with the mindset that everything’s black and white,” he says. “We have to caution them that public policy issues are incredibly complicated. There’s a lot of nuance and a lot of gray. Sometimes it is black at white: Racism is bad. When understanding the motivations of politicians, you can’t be cynical. You can be skeptical, you should be skeptical, but don’t be cynical.” 

Bridis teaches a variety of journalism courses, including political and investigative journalism, alongside how to cover breaking news and how to cover news on deadline without compromising quality and accuracy. 

He also teaches a well-attended public records course that he calls “foundational,” in which students learn “where to find credible, accurate information so you don’t have to wait for a public information officer to call you back. You can go find the information yourself.” The course also discusses how to find and review court records, police records and how to pull public property and voter registration efforts. 

Some of his students are already learning the importance of these kinds of maneuvers and ways of accessing information when those tasked with speaking to the media fail, or refuse, to do so. 

“Just last week, we revealed a big government agency here in Florida had been hacked and (the attackers) were holding the files for ransom. The office paid to respond to reporters’ questions was not answering questions from my student journalists,” Bridis says. “We started contacting higher-level officials and some would talk to us. The public affairs officer called back and screamed how unprofessional it was for us to go around them. Answer our questions! She gave us a two-sentence statement that didn’t say much and refused to answer questions about the fact that this public agency that’s very, very important in Florida had been hacked.” 

In his courses, Bridis is showing young journalists that public officials, elected leaders and others are becoming very sophisticated in dodging questions and, instead, spinning a situation to make it look better for them, or at least not as bad as it might be.

“Prior to Trump, we saw politicians getting better and better at convincing the voting public that reporters can’t be trusted. That we’re the enemy. That’s just not true. We’re such an important part of democracy, a watchdog on all parts of government. Do we make mistakes? Sometimes. Sometimes they’re really dumb mistakes. But when we do, our own rules say to correct them quickly and transparently admit when we screw up. There are lots of reporters and outsiders keeping watch.” 

With their digital native skills and their increased savvy and skepticism, Bridis says this new generation of journalists are graduating and entering newsrooms prepared and ready to find creative ways of reporting. 

“We’re hiring journalists who don’t write articles, they write newsletters to send to subscribers every morning. We’re training experts in packaging journalism for social media platforms so we can reach more people and different audiences at different times and using different kinds of storytelling techniques. Traditional print newsrooms are doing terrific video work. Data experts and AI programmers are helping to build new tools to let fewer journalists in newsrooms do more and do it efficiently without compromising the accuracy of reporting,” he says. “As college journalism professors, we’re having to learn all these new skills plus the old stuff, how to track people down, how to write a compelling story. (The students have) these skills. We’re honing them and we’re making sure to get it first but get it right. Operate with ethics and integrity.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ted Bridis teaches investigative journalism to the next generation of media professionals at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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