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Cronkite students push innovation on the Web

August 31, 2009

Arizona State University students are part of a national experiment showcasing how journalism can be done in innovative and in-depth ways on the Web.

Ten students in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication produced a series of multimedia reporting projects on “Latino America” that are featured on a national Web site for the Carnegie-Knight News21 Journalism Initiative. The work also is being distributed to news organizations around the country via McClatchy-Tribune News Service and Gannett Digital.

The projects look at the social, economic, cultural and political impact of the surging Latino population in the United States. Among the highlights:

"Shifting Faith" examines how Latinos are finding new faiths as Mormons, Pentacostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the same time, a number of Latinos are discovering their Jewish roots and are becoming “re-conversos.”

"Changing Policy" delves into the national E-Verify program, which helps employers avoid hiring illegal immigrants. It examines the program in Arizona and Illinois and shows how naturalized citizens are much more likely to be falsely flagged by the system and to be discriminated against. It includes stories of two legislators – one whose son was shot by an illegal immigrant and another who experienced discrimination as a child.

"Analyzing Amnesty" is about the experiences of two communities – Albuquerque, N.M., which was significantly affected by the 1986 amnesty bill, and Culpeper, Va., where a similar bill would have a huge impact today.

"Fighting Battles" tells the stories of Latinos and their experiences in the military, from the first non-citizen U.S. soldier killed in Iraq to an activist who is trying to counter the military’s recruitment efforts in heavily Latino communities.

"Building Success" turns the tables on most stories about Latinos and education, focusing on programs in Phoenix and Tulsa, Okla., that have won national recognition for helping Latino students close the achievement gap.

"The Traveling Virgin" traces the rise of the Virgin of Guadalupe from a Mexican religious figure to cultural icon. The Virgin’s image is found on lowrider cars in Japan, sweat shirts in Brazil, paintings in the Philippines, and key chains and tattoos in the United States.

"Crossing Lines" is a three-part narrative that tells the stories of people in Mexico who are trying to build their own economic opportunities so their children won’t feel compelled to leave.

The projects are presented in innovative ways, including a video player that allows the user to access text and graphics without exiting the video; a “carousel” tool that allows viewers to scroll forward and back through a project, interacting with the story via video and text; and Twitter widgets on each page of a story calibrated to bring in discussion on specific topics.

The students also experimented with how to weave multimedia into text stories and how to present information in a non-linear format.

The students traveled throughout Mexico, Arizona and Canada, as well as to six other states to report their stories this summer, says Jason Manning, student media director at ASU who ran the Cronkite News21 newsroom this summer.

“The experience was intense and incredibly demanding, but the team unanimously agreed that the result was well worth the effort,” Manning says. “With the state the news profession is in, this experience is not one that our students will likely be able to repeat any time soon in professional newsrooms. News21 offers a truly unique experience not available anywhere else.”

The summer program was preceded by a spring semester seminar taught by Carnegie Professor of Journalism Rick Rodriguez, the former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee. During the seminar, Cronkite students studied Latino issues and heard from experts across the university.

One of the students in the program, Chris Cameron of Chandler, Ariz., said the News21 experience helped him build skills that he hopes will set him apart from other young journalists.

“The News21 program was an amazing experience for me this summer,” Cameron says. “While the ASU incubator allowed me to further develop my multimedia production skills, it also helped me to step outside of my normal reporting comfort zone and to really focus deeply on investigative storytelling.”

Cronkite Assistant Dean Kristin Gilger, who helped oversee the project, said she hopes that media outlets will learn from the students’ work – “and not just what they produced, but how and why,” she says. “The students taught us a lot about how to tell stories that make the most of the Web. They get it.”

More than 90 journalism students from the nation’s top journalism schools participated in similar projects this summer.

The schools included the Cronkite School, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of Southern California, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina and Syracuse University, all of which hosted summer programs.

News21, headquartered at the Cronkite School, is a joint program of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami. It is part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

Cronkite students’ work is available at