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News21 Students Investigate Gun Rights and Regulation in America

August 17, 2014

The Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multi-university reporting initiative headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, today released a major investigation into the polarizing issues of gun rights and regulation in America.

In the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings and the ongoing congressional stalemate over federal gun legislation, 29 students from 16 universities produced dozens of multimedia stories, videos, databases and photo galleries examining the issue from both sides of the divide.

Students analyzed gun laws in all 50 states and compiled the most complete database on gun-related deaths among children in America. They also traveled to more than 28 states interviewing hundreds of individuals and sharing their stories.

This year’s initiative includes an unprecedented number of media partners expected to publish portions of the project. More than 60 organizations, including The Washington Post, NBC News, USA Today and Scripps Howard News Service, have signed on as partners.

The project was led by a team of award-winning journalists that included four Pulitzer Prize winners: News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, former investigative journalist at The Miami Herald and Houston Chronicle; Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism; Peter Bhatia, former top editor at The Oregonian newspaper and the current Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor in Journalism Ethics; and Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism.

“Our students have done an extraordinary job investigating one of the most polarizing issues in the country,” Petchel said. “They received remarkable access to people and communities across the nation to show what forms people’s beliefs and cultural perspectives on guns.”

Work on the project started in January with a video-conference seminar on gun issues taught by Downie. The seminar included special guest speakers such as Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen of The Washington Post.

In May, the students participated in an intensive 10-week investigative reporting fellowship based out of a Cronkite School newsroom on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Students traversed the country in multimedia reporting teams, interviewing gun advocates and proponents in both urban and rural areas. Downie said they worked hard to objectively cover both sides of the issue.

“This is not a pro-gun or anti-gun project,” Downie said. “This is a project that explores the conflicts going on right now in the United States. We wanted to represent all views, interests and cultures.”

Petchel said this year’s project is multimedia driven with a remarkable number of photos, videos and interactive databases. Like previous years, students also developed in-depth stories on a range of topics, including state responses to mass shootings and America’s hunting culture.

“News21 has allowed me to work with magnificent editors, as well as peers around the country that I'm sure I'll have contact with for the rest of my life,” Cronkite student Alex Lancial said. “Making those connections is extremely helpful for a career in journalism. News21 has developed my investigative, multimedia, design and collaborative skills, shaping me into a better reporter.”

News21 was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It also is supported by the Miami Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation and Louis A. “Chip” Weil.

The program is designed to give students experience producing in-depth news coverage on critical issues facing the nation, using innovative digital methods to distribute the content on multiple platforms. Previous projects have included investigations into post-9/11 veterans, voting rights, food safety and transportation safety in America.

Fellows from the 2014 project came from ASU, Elon University, George Washington University, Hofstra University, Kent State University, Marquette University, Syracuse University, Texas Christian University, University of British Columbia, University of Florida, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma, University of Oregon, University of Tennessee and University of Texas.

Individual students were funded by their universities and by several foundations. This year’s Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellows were ASU students Alex Lancial, Lauren Loftus and Erin Patrick O’Connor and University of Oklahoma students Carmen Forman, Amy Slanchik and Sydney Stavinoha.

Hearst Foundations Fellows were ASU students Jessica Boehm, Emilie Eaton and Brittany Elena Morris.

The Peter Kiewit Foundation of Omaha, Neb., provided funding for University of Nebraska students Robby Korth, Jacy Marmaduke and Morgan Spiehs.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation supported ASU student Kristen Hwang, and ASU student Jon LaFlamme was the Weil Fellow.

The complete list of the 2014 News21 fellows:

  • Arizona State University: Jessica Boehm, Emilie Eaton, Kristen Hwang, Jon LaFlamme, Alex Lancial, Lauren Loftus, Brittany Elena Morris and Erin Patrick O’Connor
  • Elon University: Kate Murphy
  • George Washington University: Sarah Ferris
  • Hofstra University: Claudia Balthazar
  • Kent State University: Jacob Byk
  • Marquette University: Aaron Maybin
  • Syracuse University: Jim Tuttle
  • Texas Christian University: Jordan Rubio
  • University of British Columbia: Allison Griner
  • University of Florida: Wade Millward
  • University of Maryland: Marlena Chertock and Justine McDaniel
  • University of Nebraska: Robby Korth, Jacy Marmaduke and Morgan Spiehs
  • University of Oklahoma: Carmen Forman, Amy Slanchik and Sydney Stavinoha
  • University of Oregon: Sam Stites
  • University of Tennessee: Jacqueline DelPilar
  • University of Texas: Kelsey Jukam and Natalie Krebs

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. The Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 "to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding," is one of the oldest, largest and most influential American grant-making foundations. The foundation makes grants to promote international peace and to advance education and knowledge.

The Miami Foundation: Established in 1967, The Miami Foundation, formerly the Dade Community Foundation, has helped hundreds of people create personal, permanent and powerful legacies by establishing custom charitable funds. With the foundation’s help, fund holders have fostered the arts, awarded scholarships, championed diversity, taught children to read, provided food and shelter for the hungry and homeless and more.

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation: The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was founded by Edith Kinney Gaylord, the daughter of Daily Oklahoman Publisher E.K. Gaylord. Ms. Gaylord created the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation in 1982 to improve the quality of journalism by supporting research and creative projects that promote excellence and foster high ethical standards in journalism.

The Hearst Foundations: Publisher and philanthropist William Randolph Hearst founded The Hearst Foundation Inc. in 1945. Three years later, he established the California Charities Foundation, which was renamed the William Randolph Hearst Foundation in 1951. Today the foundations operate as a single entity under the name the Hearst Foundations and function as private philanthropic organizations independent of The Hearst Corporation. The foundations’ funding priorities include the fields of education, health, culture and social service.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation: The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it has committed more than $115 million nationwide through its Journalism Program.

The Peter Kiewit Foundation: The Peter Kiewit Foundation was formed in 1979 and is committed to charitable endeavors in Omaha, Neb., and the surrounding region. The foundation awards grants in the areas of education, the arts, children and families, community development, health and human services.