ASU grad found it gratifying to be on forefront of investigative journalism
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.
When José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez was a young boy, his mother emphasized the importance of earning an education in the United States. Now, as a young man, Castañeda has achieved that goal with a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Castañeda, who minored in Italian, is also a recipient of the 2020–2021 Charles A. Stauffer Memorial Scholarship and the 2020–2021 National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ María Elena Salinas Scholarship. In addition, he has been named an Outstanding Undergraduate Student for Cronkite’s Fall 2020 Convocation, scheduled for Dec. 14 at 6 p.m.
“I’ve always tried to make her proud by working hard and accomplishing the most I can while furthering my education at ASU,” Castañeda said, referring to his mother. “My Mexican heritage and immigration into the United States at 6 years old motivated me to focus and excel on my education at Cronkite."
Castañeda, who was born in Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico, and grew up in Aurora, Illinois, aims to work in a digital or print newsroom as an investigative journalist. He also is interested in food and dining reporting. He said his experience at Cronkite gave him the tools to accurately and fairly report important stories, regardless of the subject.
“I focused on being open to new opportunities that contributed to who I wanted to become as a journalist, whether that be investigating a little-known division of ICE or reporting on the Valley’s food scene,” he said. “I tried to focus on who I wanted to be in the future and took the necessary steps to fulfill my goals.”
Castañeda was part of the inaugural class of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, one of the school’s capstone programs that provide students immersive professional experiences. He and his seven teammates investigated ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and its use-of-force incidents nationwide. “It was tough, exciting and gratifying to be on the forefront of investigative journalism at Cronkite, and it was one of the experiences I’m most proud of,” he said.
During summer 2020, Castañeda furthered developed his investigative skills as a reporter in the Carnegie-Knight News21 program at Cronkite, which brings together students from around the country to investigate a topic of national importance. This year’s project, “Kids Imprisoned,” focused on the nation’s juvenile justice system.
Here’s what Castañeda had to say about his path to — and passion for — journalism.
Question: What was your “aha!” moment, when you realized you wanted to study journalism?
Answer: After I wrote one of my first short stories in a creative writing class in high school, I decided to dedicate myself to honing the craft of writing and storytelling. Needless to say, I decided to major in journalism.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Everyone’s version of success is different. I learned to pursue the things I’m passionate about and everything else will follow.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because I understood that it housed the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which offered the most immediate and hands-on experience while studying journalism. The reputation of Cronkite and the experience it offered really drew me in to choosing ASU.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Jacquee Petchel supported me and helped me grow a lot as an investigative reporter. Both in News21 and her in-depth reporting class, she taught me a lot about the field of journalism and how to become a better reporter.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: As Fleetwood Mac would say, “Go your own way.” Create your own trails and blaze your own path as you make your way through your education. Don’t measure your success based off of other people’s accomplishments and experiences. Everyone is on a different path. Figure out what’s important to you and work hard to achieve it.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot, and past workplace, on campus was the Cronkite Global Initiatives suite on the third floor. It was a very calm and relaxing environment that felt like more than a workplace.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I will be continuing my education and pursuing my mass communication master’s degree at Cronkite as part of the 4+1 program. In the future, I hope to work in a digital/print newsroom as an investigative journalist. On the other hand, I also hope to someday work as a food and dining reporter at a newsroom. I’m looking forward to utilizing my journalistic education at Cronkite to accurately and fairly report important stories in the future.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would aim to lift up the voices of underrepresented, minority and remote populations that have not had the platforms to have their voice heard and their stories told. I think this is a problem that multiple industries face, not just journalism.
Written by Kasey Brammell