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Cronkite News21 Team Tells Stories of Immigration

November 21, 2010

Top journalism students at Arizona State University have produced a series of in-depth, multimedia stories on immigrants and immigration issues facing the United States.

The project is part of the News21 program, a 12-school consortium headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

ASU students covered topics such as:

• The dangers and abuse faced by many women who illegally immigrate to the United States.
• A successful South Carolina program that cracks down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
• U.S. cities that have decided to provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants.
• States that are taking steps to ensure undocumented students don’t receive in-state tuition for college.
• The dilemmas that face children when their immigrant parents are deported.
• The effect of illegal immigration on crime rates.

The stories are told in rich multimedia formats, with video, graphics and photos, and are displayed on a student-created website at http://asu.news21.com.

In addition, one of the stories, comparing how South Carolina and Arizona use different approaches to preventing employers from hiring illegal immigrants, was featured on the Business Sunday section of The Arizona Republic in October.

Grant Martin, a student member of the ASU News21 team, said the stories “should open the eyes of the readers to some of the problems that are being faced by the immigrant communities … not necessarily just where the readers are living but around the country.”

In preparation for the program, Martin and others spent a semester studying borderlands issues in a seminar course on Latino and transnational issues taught by Rick Rodriguez, former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee and the Cronkite School’s Carnegie Professor of Journalism.

They then worked for 10 weeks this past summer reporting across the country and in Mexico and writing and producing their stories.

The opportunity to do that kind of in-depth journalism is increasingly rare, said Jason Manning, ASU’s director of student media who served as managing editor for the ASU News21 project.

“Students in News21 learn what in-depth reporting really means,” he said. “In today's climate, most professional newsrooms find it hard to dedicate that amount of time, people and resources to a project.”

Graduate student Lauren Gilger was part of a team that produced a package about the experiences of women immigrants, who her research showed were uniquely vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and human trafficking. The team traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border and into Mexico four times as well as to Texas and Pennsylvania.

Gilger said she savored having the time and resources to focus on one story in depth.

“You can’t do a 10-inch article or any kind of two-minute package on air and get any sort of actual understanding of what these issues are about,” she said. “There’s so much nuance to them; there’s so much depth to them.”

Gilger said she hopes the stories provide a service to the public by illuminating what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S. today.

Rodriguez said immigration is a natural topic for Cronkite students to tackle.

“Arizona is ground zero in the national debate over immigration,” he said. “But the student journalists took the issues way past Arizona’s borders and did some terrific work on a national level examining controversial topics that outline what is really happening beyond the rhetoric in the immigration wars.”

Cronkite is one of 12 leading journalism schools that participate in the national News21 initiative. The others are the University of North Carolina; University of Maryland; University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University; Northwestern University, University of Southern California; Syracuse University; Harvard University; University of Missouri; University of Texas; and the University of Nebraska.

The schools produced projects on topics ranging from homeless veterans and pollution to energy use and transportation dangers in the U.S. In addition to depth reporting, News21 reporters are encouraged to use innovative digital methods of storytelling. Their work can be seen at http://news21.com.