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The Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, based at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has won the top collegiate award for investigative journalism for its in-depth report on natural disaster response.
“State of Emergency,” a multimedia project documenting how local and federal agencies respond to communities devastated by natural disasters, won the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Award for Student Reporting in the large university category. News21 also was IRE’s winner in 2016 for “Voting Wars,” an investigation of voting rights and election participation across the U.S, and a finalist in 2017 for “Troubled Water: An Investigation of Drinking Water in America.”
News21, established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, brings top journalism students from across the country to the Cronkite School each year to work on a national reporting project. Since 2010, students have produced investigations on transportation and food safety, gun rights and regulations, water quality and hate crimes, among other topics of national concern.
The “State of Emergency” project was the work of 37 journalism students and recent graduates from 19 universities, including ASU. The project includes 16 digital stories, dozens of survivors’ portraits and four half-hour documentaries on hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and flooding. Students also produced a five-episode podcast following a disaster from the moment a storm hit through the long recovery process.
The work, which was published by dozens of news organizations across the country, also has earned a prestigious EPPY Award for student journalism from Editor & Publisher magazine. In all, News21 projects have won a total of seven EPPY awards.
News21 executive editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Jacquee Petchel said student reporters traveled the country, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, to document the plight of disaster survivors, many of whom still were grappling to rebuild their lives years after the trauma.
“Students culled through thousands of online FEMA documents to follow the money, which disproportionately favored large cities, leaving many smaller communities to find a way on their own,” she said. “We could not be more honored by this recognition of the work these reporters accomplished in often uncomfortable and unstable situations.”
Other 2019 IRE awards recognized the work of news organizations such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune. Winning investigations proved Russian jets bombed Syrian hospitals, documented dangerous solitary confinement of vulnerable immigrants, revealed working conditions inside Amazon warehouses and uncovered sexual abuse of children.
Winners were selected from more than 450 entries. The awards, given since 1979, recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 17 categories across media platforms and a range of market sizes.
Students who were part of the 2019 News21 team said the experience prepared them as no other for reporting careers. Isaac Windes, an ASU graduate who now works at the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas, said he is applying what he learned to his reporting on the “disaster-fraught region of Southeast Texas.”
He said the federal government’s disproportionate response to disasters in small communities versus large communities “is more relevant now than ever, with a new kind of disaster stressing our national infrastructure, and I hope to see more reporting on these important topics in the days ahead.”
Stacey Fernandez, a graduate of Syracuse University who now is on the staff of the Texas Tribune said, “I’m really grateful for the people who gave us their time and trust for this project, and it’s rewarding to see their stories and our months of work recognized by such a prominent organization in journalism.”
News21 fellows are supported by their universities as well as a variety of foundations and philanthropists that include the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation; Hearst Foundations; Donald W. Reynolds Foundation; The Dallas Morning News; Don Bolles/Arizona Republic Fellowship; Fred W. Smith Chair at the University of Nevada, Reno; Diane Laney Fitzpatrick Fellowship at Kent State; John and Patty Williams Fellowship at the University of Tennessee; Myrta J. Pulliam Fellowship of DePauw University, Illinois; Murray Endowment Fellowship of the University of Iowa; and the Independent News & Media Fellowship, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland.
The award-winning News21 fellows and their universities are: