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News21 journalism fellows from 16 universities investigate juvenile justice

August 25, 2020

The Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multi-university reporting initiative headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has released “Kids Imprisoned,” a major multimedia investigation about juvenile justice in America.

Each year, students selected into the program report in-depth on a single topic of national importance, usually traveling to 30 or more states from the project’s base in Phoenix. This year, because of COVID-19, the 35 News21 fellows from 16 universities reported virtually from their hometowns or home campuses across the country, using video conferencing and cell phones.

They found innovative ways to produce a multimedia package of 23 main investigative and explanatory stories, 35 additional reports with photo illustrations, plus a seven-part podcast and several video stories. They also made virtual portraits using projectors and video conferencing.

“This project reflects the tenacity of a new generation of young journalists who persisted despite a national pandemic, protests about race and policing, and restrictions that kept them from reporting in the field,” News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel said.

The project can be found at

A key finding of this year’s eight-month investigation: Justice for juveniles is handed down disproportionately, depending on where they live, their race, which police officer arrests them, or which judge, prosecutor or probation officer happens to be involved in the case. Juvenile courts nationwide process nearly 750,000 cases each year.

About 200,000 of these involved detention – removing a young person from home and locking them up. Depending on where a young person lives, the same crime can result in something as mild as rehab and mentoring, or as severe as incarceration behind barbed wire in an environment of rioting and sexual abuse.

News21 fellows investigated private companies that run programs in detention facilities, detention facility conditions, policing practices, employee misconduct and the impact of the juvenile justice system on families, communities and victims.

Work on the project started in January 2019 with a seminar on issues involving juvenile justice taught by Petchel. Students heard from experts on the topic, analyzed data, researched topics and conducted interviews with people across the country.

“At a time when our nation is so acutely focused on the justice system, our project shines a light on how it can profoundly affect the lives of American children, in many cases dramatically shifting the trajectory of their futures,” said Anthony Wallace, one of 12 Cronkite students who were part of the project.

Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, a 2020 University of Iowa graduate, said she was challenged by News21 to become a better interviewer and storyteller. “I learned new communication skills, especially how to navigate a conversation in a virtual space,” Hughes-Shaw said. “I dug deeper into a topic than I ever have before.”

In addition to Petchel, Cronkite faculty and staff who guided students on the project were assistant editor Maureen West, editor-in-residence at the Cronkite School; Sarah Cohen, former New York Times data editor who serves as the Knight Chair in Data Journalism; multimedia, design editor and project manager Alex Lancial; photo and multimedia editor Jennifer Swanson; web application developer Adnan Alam; data visualization developer Hari Subramaniam; and copy editor Marty Dolan.

News21 was established in 2005 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to demonstrate that top journalism students can produce groundbreaking reporting on major national topics and present their findings in innovative ways.

Over the past decade, News21 projects have included investigations into disaster recovery relief, hate in America, voting rights, post-9/11 veterans, marijuana laws, drinking water quality and guns in America, among other topics. Projects have won numerous awards, including three Robert F. Kennedy Awards, five EPPY Awards from Editor & Publisher magazine, four Student Edward R. Murrow Awards, and a host of honors from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Universities participating in the 2020 News21 program are ASU, Butler University, DePauw University, Elon University, Kent State University, Morgan State University, St. Bonaventure University, Syracuse University, University of British Columbia, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Mississippi, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma and the University of Tennessee.

Individual fellows are supported by their universities as well as a variety of foundations, news organizations and philanthropists that include the Arizona Republic, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Knight Foundation, Murray Endowment, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, Myrta J. Pulliam and John and Patty Williams.

Fellows from ASU’s Cronkite School are José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez, Kelsey Collesi, Daja Henry, Delia Johnson, Chloe Jones, Franco LaTona, Haillie Parker, Kimberly Rapanut, Jill Ryan, Calah Schlabach, Katherine Sypher and Anthony Wallace.

Fellows from other universities:

• Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana: Sorell Grow.
• DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana: Byron Mason and Joslyn Fox.
• Elon University, Elon, North Carolina: Victoria Traxler.
• Kent State University, Kent, Ohio: Gretchen Lasso.
• Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland: Chloe Johnson.
• St. Bonaventure University, Allegany, New York: Jeffrey Uveino and Layne Dowdall.
• Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York: Michele Abercrombie and Patrick Linehan.
• University of British Columbia, Canada: Braela Kwan.
• University of Colorado Boulder: Lindsey Nichols.
• University of Iowa, Iowa City: Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw.
• University of Illinois-Chicago: Nicole Sroka and Brody Ford.
• University of Mississippi, Oxford: Matthew Hendley.
• University of Nebraska, Lincoln: Ike Somanas, Morgan Wallace and James Wooldridge.
• University of Oklahoma, Norman: Jana Allen, Abigail Hall and Molly Kruse.
• University of Tennessee-Knoxville: Gabi Szymanowska.

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