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Q&A: National award highlights excellence of Cronkite investigative journalism

News21 investigation into voter rights takes Editor & Publisher magazine award.
April 11, 2017

Investigative reporting is essential to an informed public: It has the power to uncover exploitation, fraud and wasteful spending.  

But even with the explosion of publishing platforms, media outlets and political experts in the internet age, watchdog journalism remains as challenging as ever.  

Recognizing its importance, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has made the practices of records searches, detailed research and in-depth data analysis an integral part of its curriculum.

Recently, the focus paid off when a News21 investigation into voter rights resulted in recognition from Editor and Publisher magazine. “Voting Wars: Rights, Power, Privilege,” an in-depth large-scale news package, picked up an Investigative Reporters and Editors award with one judge writing, “Students matched or outpaced professional publications to show erosions in voter rights.”

The "Voting Wars" investigation brought together 31 students from 18 universities who traveled to 31 states and interviewed hundreds of individuals. They also turned out more than a dozen stories, hundreds of photos and more than 30 videos. The series was featured in more than 80 media outlets, including NBC News, USA Today and The Washington Post.

Jacquee Petchel is the executive editor of the Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia investigative reporting initiative, a digital news program headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

She is a former investigative reporter, editor and producer who most recently served as senior editor for investigations and enterprise at the Houston Chronicle, and she was inducted into the Cronkite School’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997.

In addition to the recent voting rights package, Petchel has led students in national investigations focusing on food safety and on post-9/11 veterans and produced the half-hour documentary “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” which reached more than 1 million Arizonans and won numerous prestigious journalism awards.

She spoke to ASU Now about how Cronkite has taken a national leadership role in preparing the next generation of investigative journalists, how it has changed and evolved over the years, and the role it will play in the future.

Question: Is it misperception that investigative journalism has seen a decline or has eroded over time?

Answer: I would argue the perception in this country is that investigative journalism is as vibrant and — more importantly — as necessary as it's ever been.

I can say this unequivocally because I just judged a national investigative journalism contest based at Harvard and reviewed stories that exposed egregious betrayals of public trust and, in many cases, saved lives.

Far from withering on the vine, investigative journalism instead is evolving with innovative storytelling and multimedia presentations that are more engaging than ever.

Q: You’ve led several investigative journalism packages at Cronkite. Give me some specific examples of how your packages have created change?

A: Here's a perfect example: The Cronkite-based News21 investigative reporting program, funded by the Knight Foundation and other donors committed to the very work I'm discussing here, just won a national Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for our 2016 investigation into voting rights.

It's one of the highest journalism honors in the country.

The judges noted that ASU students, as well as students from across the country who also participated in the investigation, “outpaced” professional reporters in several areas of our coverage.

Cronkite News also has been honored with the Alfred I. DuPont award, one of the highest professional broadcast awards in the country, for our "Hooked: Tracking Heroin's Hold on Arizona" documentary.

Q: How do you teach investigative journalism, which is often slower-paced, loaded with information and bigger picture, to a generation who grew up on BuzzFeed?

A: I believe that students at Cronkite are embraced by an environment that welcomes a new generation because we provide support for their ideas and innovation.

They represent a new future with their unending imagination and ability to reinvent how we continue to do important work.

We support their ideas in every way we can. That's the Cronkite mantra.

Q: Technology seems to be helpful to investigative journalism. Tell us how you use it in your packages and how it’s effective in storytelling?

A: Probably the most ever-evolving technology is the use of data analysis, which allows us to examine all manner of databases, particularly government data, and extract conclusions that hold public officials and others accountable. Add to that the importance of social media and all the analytics that go with it, you have a better-informed public and students with a sense of social responsibility.

Q: What do you see as the future of investigative journalism, or how will it continue to evolve?

A: Investigative journalism will always be what it's been for decades. Its critical evolution is dependent on reaching our audience in innovative ways while remaining true to compelling journalism.

Top photo: Jacquee Petchel, executive editor of the Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia investigative reporting initiative, leads a group of investigative reporters on a news package inside the Cronkite School at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo courtesy of Kaard Bombe

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User satisfaction: Making smartphones smarter, cooler

ASU professor says new approach to smartphone cooling can lead to new answers.
April 11, 2017

ASU engineering researcher focuses on optimizing performance in devices that don't get too hot

As consumers, we're always looking for better performance and better battery life in our smartphones, and we won’t take one without the other. We also want all this high-capacity performance in a device that doesn’t get too hot.

We like our sleek designs and intuitive operating systems, but for billions of smartphone users, performance is the biggest contributor of user satisfaction — a framework for predicting the nature of mobile workload performance for use in energy optimization research that hasn’t been considered before.

“Optimizing in the context of smartphone user satisfaction gives rise to a set of opportunities that are non-existent in conventional computing platforms,” said Carole-Jean Wu, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Wu is using user satisfaction and users’ low heat tolerance due to processor location temperature and smartphone skin temperature as a jumping-off point for a $450,000, five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award project to better optimize mobile computing performance.

Measuring the performance quality through the lens of perceived application execution time gives rise to significantly more freedom in managing resources in smartphones, Wu said, which means her team can explore solutions previously thought unusable to optimize performance.

“This unique requirement [of skin temperature], compounded with the form factor constraints, necessitates new cooling technologies that need to be considered in the control system for co-optimization,” said Wu, a faculty member in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools.

Another consideration desktop and server performance optimization doesn’t usually take into account is the particular usage patterns common only to smartphones.

“One critical detail that is overlooked by existing work is the significant performance variation of mobile workloads that directly affects user satisfaction,” Wu said. “The unique bursty usage patterns on smartphones enables the use of advanced cooling solutions that otherwise would be impractical for desktop and server processors.”

She and her team are finding new methods to concurrently manage computation power, temperature profiles and runtime behavior for a better overall experience.

“Solving these problems requires a holistic approach taken by our proposed research activities and would result in a new set of solutions that will shed light on the design for a wide range of computing devices,” Wu said.

Wu’s research project was chosen by the NSF due to its timely, ambitious and innovative ideas to address rising issues in handheld systems with new technologies. She has also already demonstrated promising preliminary results.

She credits ASU and the Fulton Schools’ “rich environment that fosters interdisciplinary research,” encouragement of research collaboration with industry partners and its resources dedicated to early-career faculty members to her early success.

“I’ve benefited significantly from the resources and support from the Fulton Schools to establish a solid foundation for designing the system and processor architectures to deliver high performance with high energy efficiency,” Wu said.

Top photo: Assistant Professor Carole-Jean Wu (in gold) is exploring a new approach to performance optimization based on the unique usage and user satisfaction attributes of smartphones in a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award research project. Photo by: Pete Zrioka/ASU

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering