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Students' Stories Run in Major Media Outlets

September 2, 2011

A Cronkite student reporting project in the Dominican Republic is getting national distribution through The Washington Post and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Post ran a story on its international page about Haitian women crossing the border to give birth, and the Florida center is featuring the entire series on its website. The project also is being distributed through Cronkite News Service to other media outlets around the country.

The multimedia reporting project was reported and produced by 17 students in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It uses text, video and photos to tell stories of how immigration and border policies are affecting the country’s large Haitian population. The students also produced a half-hour documentary on their experiences in the country.

Student Whitney Phillips examined how the Dominican Republic has rewritten its Constitution, re-interpreted old laws and passed new ones that effectively deny Haitians birthright citizenship. The FCIR, a nonprofit, bilingual investigative journalism organization headquartered at the International Media Center in Miami, published the story in both English and Spanish.

Other stories describe pregnant Haitian women crossing the border into the Dominican Republic to give birth, children who are unable to go to high school because they can’t prove their citizenship and a couple who can’t marry because they are in the country illegally.

The issues mirror many of those in the U.S., said Dustin Volz, one of the student reporters.

“Though the island nation speaks a different language and is poor by American standards, their problems are not so different, and what has happened there could easy happen here,” he wrote in a column about the project. “In some ways, it has already has.”

Lauren Gilger, whose story about women crossing the border to give birth was published in the Post, said reporting the story “was one of the most intense, challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.”

“I was prepared for the poverty of the border; I was prepared for language barriers and dirt and sweat and soldiers and chaos and all of the other challenges that come with reporting in the field,” she said. “What I wasn't prepared for were the amazing people I'd meet along the way. Their kindness and selflessness blew me away.”

The students worked under the direction of Cronkite faculty members Rick Rodriguez, the former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, and Jason Manning, former political editor for washingtonpost.com. During the spring semester, they researched the complex immigration issues in the Dominican Republic in a seminar taught by Rodriguez. They then spent 10 days traveling the country to interview officials and residents impacted by the debate about birthright citizenship, which was revoked in 2010.

The student reporting project was funded by a $1 million endowment to the Cronkite School from the Buffett Foundation, which is led by philanthropist and photojournalist Howard Buffett. Since 2006, his foundation has funded four other projects that have given Cronkite students the opportunity to practice journalism in other countries, including Mexico and South Africa.

One of the Mexico-based projects, “Divided Families,” was the recipient of the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the college print journalism category. The award recognizes outstanding reporting around the world on social justice and human rights concerns.