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'Hooked' earns prestigious duPont award

"Hooked" earns ASU Cronkite School prestigious honor.
ASU's Cronkite School documentary on heroin adds to its awards.
December 15, 2015

Documentary produced by ASU's Cronkite School examines heroin's hold on Arizona

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Tuesday won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, which has recognized the very best in broadcast journalism for more than 70 years.

Cronkite News, the school's student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, received the honor for “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” a 30-minute documentary produced in association with the Arizona Broadcasters Association (ABA), which reached more than 1 million Arizonans. The report, the final product of more than 70 dedicated student journalists, which aired on all 33 broadcast television stations and 93 radio stations in Arizona in January, examined the rise of heroin use and its impact on the state.

Other duPont Award winners this year included ABC News, “Frontline” on PBS, “60 Minutes” on CBS, as well as WBEZ and “This American Life” for the “Serial” podcast.

The win marks just the third time in the history of the duPont Awards that a Phoenix-based news operation has received the honor. Cronkite News joins 12 News KPNX-TV, which won the award last year, and KOOL-TV, which won the award in 1979 when it was the region’s CBS affiliate.

“This is a tremendous honor for our amazing students and faculty,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “More than 70 students and eight faculty members worked on this project, traveling across Arizona to shine a light on this terrible epidemic. To be recognized with a duPont Award says a lot about how the work of our students is impacting the state.”

Work on the documentary started in August 2014 under the direction of Cronkite professor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. Teams of advanced student journalists interviewed numerous sources across Arizona, telling stories of addicts struggling with sobriety, families grappling for solace, and law enforcement officials battling on the frontlines.  

The documentary included an interactive website with more than a dozen in-depth reports and an unprecedented data analysis of more than 10 million Arizona hospital emergency room cases, led by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Knight Chair Steve Doig. The Cronkite Public Insight Network Bureau, led by veteran public radio journalist Rebecca Blatt, located sources not previously tapped by journalists.

Students also produced a tablet app on the history of heroin under the guidance of Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Director Retha Hill. Additionally, public relations students produced strategic communication plans for the TV special under the direction of Cronkite PR Lab Director Fran Matera.

“They exceeded every expectation, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how daunting, without so much as a flinch of doubt,” Petchel said. “It's not only a testament to the Cronkite School's innovative journalism program, but to Arizona State University's commitment that we be relevant to our community.”

On Jan. 13, the commercial-free documentary premiered on all Arizona television stations in English and Spanish, drawing nearly half of the Phoenix viewing audience of the 2014 Super Bowl. During and after the simulcast in Arizona, recovery counselors answered 438 calls through an ABA-sponsored call center at Arizona PBS for assistance on heroin and opioid addiction.

Tubes in a hand.

A hand holds tubes of naloxone hydrochloride, a chemical used to remedy opiod overdoses. Photo courtesy Cronkite News. Top photo by Dominick DiFurio.

The duPont Award is the latest honor for the “Hooked” documentary, which has made history in several journalism contests winning awards typically reserved for professional news operations.

In October, the documentary received two of the region’s top professional honors at the Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, an Emmy in the category of “Societal Concerns – Program/Special,” as well as the Governors’ Award. In May, students who worked on “Hooked” took first place in video storytelling at the Arizona Press Club Awards.

“I think it’s a testament to what we do here,” Petchel said. “Students can do what others cannot do, and you can do it because you’re at the Cronkite School.”

Since the documentary’s airing, ASU students have continued to produce broadcast and digital reports on the heroin epidemic through Cronkite News.

“Producing ‘Hooked’ was the first time I experienced the influence of strong, community journalism,” said Cronkite graduate Erin Patrick O’Connor, who served as the documentary’s director and is now a news video editor for The Washington Post. “This project served as a voice for local Arizonans that were feeling the pressures of heroin addiction. I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to work with ASU and Jacquee Petchel and bring this story to life.”

Joining O’Connor in the award are Petchel and Assistant Dean Mark Lodato, who served as executive producers; producer/assistant editor Elizabeth Blackburn; reporters Sandy Balazic, Lauren Loftus and Hunter Marrow; reporters/photographers Sean Logan, Jessica Boehm, Dominick DiFurio, Emilie Eaton, Danielle Grobmeier, Lauren Handley, Vivian Padilla, Hannah Lawrence and Liliana Salgado; and Cronkite lecturer Jim Jacoby, production manager.

They will receive the award during a ceremony hosted by Tom Brokaw, special correspondent for NBC News, and ABC News “Nightline” anchor Juju Chang on Jan. 19 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library. It will be livestreamed at

The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honor excellence in broadcast, digital and documentary journalism. The awards, established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her husband Alfred I. duPont, are generously supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

"Hooked" can be seen online at

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Appreciating her parents' sacrifices

Sara Santos recalls her parents' sacrifices so she could graduate from ASU.
ASU grad has already given back to her community.
December 15, 2015

First-generation ASU grad Sara Santos reflects on how her family helped her succeed

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

It’s the eve of fall commencement and Sara Santos is quietly shedding tears.

It’s not an expression of joy or sorrow; she’s crying for the people who have made big sacrifices on her behalf so she could attend college.

“Graduation makes me emotional because my parents are from Guatemala and they came to the United States in their early 20s,” said Santos, a first-generation college student who will receive her degree from ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Santos will also receive the Jose Ronstadt Outstanding Undergraduate award at ASU’s Hispanic Convocation, for her service to others in the Latino community.

“Neither one had a formal education, and both were forced to quit school when they were young to help out their families. Growing up, my dad had to work in the fields with his brothers and father, and I remember as a kid he only had two shirts and two pairs of pants for the whole week. I may not have had as much as other kids in the neighborhood, but I knew I was privileged because I was never hungry, always had a roof over my head and was somehow able to get a formal education. I never had to worry about the things my parents worried about. They always led me to believe I was going to have it better than them and made many sacrifices to ensure I did.”

These days Santos is not only expressing gratitude towards her parents — Marta and Marcony — but is reflecting back on the teachers, counselors and mentors who provided encouragement when she was a student in the Phoenix Union High School District, where she graduated third in her class. They’re the reason she wanted to attend college, and the combination of the Doran Community Scholars program and the Provost’s Scholarship enabled Santos to attend ASU the past four years.

Some might say Santos has already paid it forward. She was recently named the National Undergraduate Philanthropist of the Year by Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, which she serves as president, for her 1,000 hours of community service — from raising money for Relay for Life to helping build a playground in downtown Phoenix — while attending ASU. Santos also served as vice president of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations.

“I teach Sunday School class with a gentleman who was my teacher when I was growing up. He pointed at me and said to the class, ‘Years ago she was seated right where you are, and now she’s teaching you,’ ” Santos said. “I feel like a role model to these kids, and I like the responsibility of being a role model for them. That was something I was always looking for, and now I can be that person for someone else.”

Santos also wants to be a go-to person for Hispanic patients and had the opportunity while completing her coursework at Banner Medical University Center in downtown Phoenix.

“One of the patients I was working with on my community health rotation had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and he didn’t really understand the need for insulin or why he needed to check his blood level,” Santos said. “I was able to explain everything in Spanish and developed a rapport with him. When I did follow-up visits and he fully understood the treatment and the actual benefits, we saw a vast improvement in him.”

Santos said she has to take her board-certified tests in order to become an official registered nurse and eventually plans on pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice. For now she wants to take in the twin celebrations with her parents and siblings in tow, and collect the Ronstadt award, which she says was a complete surprise.

“They were proud before, but this takes it to another level of proud,” Santos said.

Her tears have evaporated by the end of the interview, replaced with a smile.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now