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News21's "State of Emergency" Wins ONA Award

October 28, 2020

State of Emergency

By Lisa Diethelm

Carnegie-Knight News21’s 2019 project, “State of Emergency,” which examined the state and federal responses to natural disasters, has won the 2020 Pro-Am Student Award for the Online Journalism Awards.

“State of Emergency” highlights the large discrepancies between state and federal aid provided to communities across the country who are facing and recovering from the growing threat of natural disasters. The project also won the 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in June.

The eight-month investigation brought together 37 journalism students from the Cronkite School and 18 other universities. The reporters traveled to 25 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and produced 15 multimedia stories, portraits of more than 50 disaster survivors, four half-hour documentaries on hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and flooding, and a five-episode podcast that followed the disasters directly.

The student journalists also investigated whether the U.S. is doing everything possible at local and federal levels to help communities recover. Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and executive editor for News21, said the project brought different mediums together to tell the different stories of remote and impoverished communities, and how governments responded to these disasters.

“State of Emergency” was an important and timely project because it highlighted how many communities are still recovering from natural disasters, in some cases, months or years after the fact,” Petchel said. “Whether or not the federal government provides assistance depends considerably on the number of people who were affected, leaving some decimated communities with little financial help after damage and loss from tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding.”

The project was published by both major media organizations and dozens of local news outlets around the country, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

“I think what probably was a tipping point for the recognition the project has received is how expansive it was and how many people we talked to, and how many places we went, to really give a national view of how challenging it is for people to recover from natural disasters that are very destructive to both property and life,” Petchel said.

Isaac Windes, of Tucson, one of 14 Cronkite students who participated in the project, used federal data to show how much money was going to communities impacted by natural disasters. He said the experience at News21 prepared him for his job at the Beaumont Enterprise in southeast Texas, one of the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to hurricanes.

“It was an incredible experience to work on a project of that scope, kind of right out of college. I traveled, just my team, to five or six states, talked to a former FEMA administrator and top state officials in states across the country,” he said. To get that kind of exposure, that kind of high-level reporting, he said, launched his career.

Windes also said that it is great for the project to be recognized, because “it presents a really unique opportunity that you don't really get very often in journalism, which is to take an issue of vital importance and have dozens of journalists take a serious look at it for months at a time.”

News21 is an in-depth journalism and multi-university collaborative based at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Each year, News21 brings together top journalism students from across the country to cover national issues such as voting rights, marijuana laws, water quality and hate in America.

In 2005, News21 was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Fifteen years later, the program continues to produce groundbreaking and innovating reporting on major national topics from top journalism students.

Since 2000, the Online Journalism Awards has honored major, international and independent media through digital storytelling. The awards are the only comprehensive set of journalism prizes that honor data journalism, investigative journalism, public service, climate change reporting and community engagement.

The 2019 News21 journalism students who worked on “State of Emergency,” their universities, and their named fellowships are listed below:

Natalie Anderson, Louisiana State University
Allie Barton, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Kailey Broussard, ASU, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Fellow
Briana Castañón, University of North Texas, The Dallas Morning News fellow
Justine Coleman, George Washington University
Anton Delgado, Elon University
Molly Duerig, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Jordan Elder, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Rachel Farrell, Veronica Guerin, Ireland Funds Fellow, Dublin City University
Stacy Fernández, Syracuse University
Jake Goodrick, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Yael Grauer, ASU, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Christian Gravius, St. Bonaventure University
Sophie Grosserode, University of Tennessee, John and Patty Williams Fellow
Sarah Beth Guevara, University of Oklahoma, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Carly Henry, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Katie Hunger, Depauw University, Myrta J. Pulliam Fellow
Anna Huntsman, Kent State, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick Fellow
Drew Hutchinson, University of Oklahoma, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Jordan Laird, Hofstra University
Bailey Lewis, University of Oklahoma, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Anya Magnuson, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Priscilla Malavet, University of Puerto Rico
Harrison Mantas, ASU, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Peter Nicieja, DePauw University, Myrta J. Pulliam Fellow
Ellen O’Brien, ASU, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Miguel Octavio, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Dustin Patar, University of British Columbia
McKenzie Pavacich, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Ariel Salk, ASU, Hearst Foundation Fellow
Becca Scadden, The University of Iowa, Murray Endowment Fellow
Ben Sessoms, Appalachian State University
Alex Simon, ASU, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Fellow
Jake Steinberg, University of Minnesota
Natalie Wadas, University of Colorado at Boulder
Brigette Waltermire, University of Oklahoma, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow
Isaac Windes, ASU, Don Bolles/Arizona Republic News21 Fellow