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ASU grad 1st to win student Murrow award for video journalism

June 12, 2015
portrait of ASU grad Erin Patrick O’Connor
Erin Patrick O'Connor

A recent Arizona State University graduate has won the first Edward R. Murrow award honoring a college student for work in video journalism.

Erin Patrick O’Connor, a December graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is the inaugural winner of a Student Edward R. Murrow Award in overall video excellence for his work on “Gun Wars,” a Carnegie-Knight News21 investigation into gun rights and regulations in America. O’Connor will accept the award from the Radio Television Digital News Association during an October awards ceremony in New York.

Established in 2014, the Student Murrow Awards celebrate overall excellence in student journalism at the collegiate and high school levels. Unlike the professional Murrow Awards, which are presented to a news organization, the Student Murrows are awarded to individuals in one of three categories – audio, video and digital journalism.

O’Connor’s award-winning News21 stories, “Colorado: Battle on the Front Range” and “Camden, N.J. – Homicides,” examined how two states are trying to balance gun rights and regulations in two distinct regions of the country. In Colorado, O’Connor profiled the tension between the rural community and the expanding urban population, sparked by gun-control legislation. In New Jersey, he highlighted government initiatives to curb gun violence in a city with a murder rate 17 times higher than the national average.

“It's such an honor to be considered for such a prestigious award, and then to win it is a bit overwhelming,” said O'Connor, who was an Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Fellow with News21. “You put your heart and soul into a story and hope it benefits the community. I'm just happy people are listening, and it makes me want to do more.”

News21 is a multimedia investigative-reporting initiative established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Twenty-nine college students from 16 universities participated in the 2014 project headquartered at the Cronkite School. Students traveled to more than 28 states to interview hundreds of people about their experiences with guns. News organizations across the country, including the Washington Post, USA Today and NBC News, published portions of the project.

The investigation was led by News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, and Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of the Washington Post and current Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School.

“Erin is an extraordinary visual storyteller and reporter whose ability to capture the essence of his characters is matched only by his determination and humility,” Petchel said. “His attention to detail at a student level is unparalleled. He is, in every way, remarkable.”

As a Cronkite student, O'Connor specialized in documentary production. He served as the director of “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” a Cronkite School and Arizona Broadcasters Association-produced documentary that aired on all 33 Arizona television stations and reached 1 million viewers earlier this year. The documentary recently won an Arizona Press Club Award in video storytelling, marking the first time in the history of the 91-year-old organization that students won against professional journalists.

At the Cronkite School, O'Connor held internships with Republic Media and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. He also traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, to participate in Cronkite’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative, a semesterlong in-depth reporting project examining border and immigration issues in the U.S. and other countries.

Just last week, O’Connor finished second in the multimedia competition at the Hearst Journalism Awards Program’s National Championship in San Francisco for an in-depth story on gentrification and urban renewal.

Originally from Wrightwood, California, he is currently working at the Washington Post as a part of a 12-week video internship, where he is producing short-form stories in the nation’s capital.

“Erin tells vivid narrative stories through the people and places in his videography that make important statements without the intrusion of Erin's own voice – a rare talent at any age and level of experience – as recognized by this well-earned award,” Downie said.

The Radio Television Digital News Association has been honoring outstanding achievements in professional journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards since 1971. Murrow Award recipients demonstrate the excellence that Edward R. Murrow made a standard for the electronic news profession. The association is the world’s largest professional organization exclusively serving the electronic news profession. Members include local and network news executives, news directors, producers, reporters and digital news professionals as well as educators and students.