ASU alumni to transform journalism with innovation grant

September 15, 2015

Arizona State University graduates working at The Wall Street Journal and USA Today are among five recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant, a special journalism innovation fund for alumni of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cronkite School alumni Ilan Brat of The Wall Street Journal’s Chicago office, Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle, Shannon Green of USA Today, Stephen Harding of and Stephanie Snyder of Chalkbeat in New York each received up to $15,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to drive change in journalism. Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant ASU alumni (clockwise top left) Shannon Green, Ilan Brat, Matt Dempsey, Stephen Harding and Stephanie Snyder are the winners of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant. Download Full Image

The Knight-Cronkite Grant, created by Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen specifically for Cronkite alumni working in newsrooms, aims to disrupt the status quo in journalism and stimulate new cutting-edge technologies, practices and ideas.

“The Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant empowers our tremendous alumni to take their ideas from the drawing board and make a significant impact in newsrooms across the country,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We are incredibly proud of the creativity and initiative demonstrated by these five outstanding graduates.”

Brat, a 2006 graduate who serves as a senior staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, will use the grant to bring virtual storytelling to the publication. Using 360-degree video and audio technology, he is producing a series of projects focused on transporting readers to locations around the world to experience new situations and environments.

“I believe that storytelling brings people together, and the Knight-Cronkite grant is a fantastic opportunity to develop new skills and experiment with new ways to tell stories,” he said. “The Wall Street Journal is planning to develop 360-degree videos that take readers places few get to see. Ultimately, we hope these kinds of immersive experiences will make the world feel a little smaller.”

Dempsey is a 2005 graduate and a data reporter at the Houston Chronicle. He will use the grant to fund an easy-to-transport video booth that can be transported to news events, such as storms or protests, as well as locations such as baseball games and rodeos. The video testimonial booth will help expand the publication’s online video presence and allow people to tell their stories firsthand.

Snyder is a 2012 graduate and the community editor for Chalkbeat New York, a nonprofit news organization covering educational change. Snyder will use the grant to drive community engagement in Chalkbeat’s reporting efforts through an online platform that allows readers to share their questions on local education issues. Chalkbeat and readers will then select top issues to cover.

Green, a 2009 graduate who is a senior multimedia producer at USA Today, will use the grant to launch a mobile-first interactive digital audio player, native to USA Today’s mobile apps. It will present a playlist of all USA Today audio, allowing users to share on social media as well as skip ahead to chapters within longer pieces. It also will allow users to record their own audio, which USA Today can share.

“People are consuming audio content like crazy — in their cars, public transportation, while exercising, cooking dinner,” Green said. “The project aims to innovate audio journalism while simultaneously giving users a better listening experience and unique stories.”

Harding, a 2008 graduate, is a digital producer at, the news website of The Arizona Republic. He will use the grant to develop a mobile-optimized site where citizens can find the resources needed to request public records. aims to educate citizens on public records law and increase government transparency and civic engagement.

Ibargüen unveiled the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant during the Cronkite School’s May 2014 convocation ceremony, pledging $250,000 for Cronkite graduates with the drive and imagination to lead in the digital era. To date, 11 graduates have received the grant to fund projects ranging from multimedia stories examining air quality near shale gas operations in Pennsylvania to a next-generation newspaper rack that sends news alerts and video to mobile devices.

Applications for the Knight-Cronkite Grant are accepted on an ongoing basis with periodic deadlines — the next on Oct. 30. Cronkite graduates can apply here.

Arizona communities must cooperate to achieve water sustainability, say ASU engineers

September 15, 2015

Mapping the “water footprints” and “virtual water trade” of Arizona municipalities reveals some potentially big challenges for parts of the state’s largest metropolitan area under a forecast of continuing drought and reduced Colorado River allocations to Arizona.

Looming water cuts mean problems for agricultural towns and newer bedroom communities, but these water-scarcity problems will be shared throughout Arizona through knock-on economic effects. Phoenix area water dependency The network graphic shows net virtual water dependency by Phoenix-area municipalities on their neighbors, in both labor (commuters) and commodity (food and other goods) categories. Phoenix is the most dependent, and Buckeye is the biggest supplier of virtual water within the metropolitan area. Download Full Image

If development is curtailed on the edges of Phoenix, core communities and industries will feel the impact through a squeezed commuting labor supply. But the metro area’s cities and towns could meet this challenge with a spirit of neighborly cooperation in managing water resources.

The details are spelled out by Richard Rushforth and Benjamin Ruddell in their recent paper in the research journal Sustainability, “The Hydro-Economic Interdependency of Cities: Virtual Water Connections of the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan Area.”

Ruddell is an associate professor in the Polytechnic School, and Rushforth is a doctoral student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. Both schools are part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

“Your economic sustainability can be closely intertwined with your neighbor’s water sustainability,” explained Ruddell, who is also a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “The strongest connections to Arizona’s cities are close to home, with neighboring communities that share the same aquifers and river supplies. Because of these close connections, you can take a big hit to your water supply chain, even if your home city isn’t directly affected by a drought.”

The lesson provided by the research is that there are imbalances in the hydro-economic relationships between various regions and municipalities that will place unequal burdens on some communities during droughts — but everyone feels the indirect impacts through the network of connections.

Core communities such as the city of Phoenix would need more water to supply homes and farms if they didn’t outsource that water use to their nearby neighbors. But Phoenix will be impacted if its neighbors suffer from drought — even if Phoenix has planned for water sustainability and has no problems of its own with water supply.

Arizona's communities need to protect themselves by working together with their neighbors on water supply problems, and by diversifying their water supply chain to avoid excess exposure to risk of drought in any one location, such as California, the Lower Colorado River or neighboring communities that share the same water supply, Ruddell said.

Applications of this data to solve municipal water management problems are detailed in a second paper recently published in the journal Sustainability, “Water Footprint of Cities: A Review and Suggestions for Future Research,” authored by a team of researchers including Ruddell and Rushforth.

The research conducted to reveal the water resource connections among Arizona cities is motivated by the goals of the Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program led by ASU researchers. The program is supported by the National Science Foundation to study the urban ecology of the Phoenix metropolitan area and the surrounding Sonoran Desert region.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering