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Gun rights in America: News21 students investigate

woman posing with hand gun
August 18, 2014

In the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings and the ongoing congressional stalemate over federal gun legislation, students from 16 universities across the country have contributed to a major investigation into the polarizing issues of gun rights and regulation in America.

Working as part of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multi-university reporting initiative headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, the students analyzed gun laws in all 50 states in order to compile the most comprehensive database on gun-related deaths among children in America.

The News21 investigation includes dozens of multimedia stories, videos, databases and photo galleries examining the issue from both sides of the divide. Students traveled to more than 28 states, interviewing hundreds of individuals and sharing their stories.

Media partners

This year’s initiative includes an unprecedented number of media partners expected to publish portions of the project. More than 60 organizations, including The Washington Post, NBC News, USA Today and Scripps Howard News Service, have signed on as partners.

The project was led by a team of award-winning journalists, including four Pulitzer Prize winners: News21 executive editor Jacquee Petchel, former investigative journalist at The Miami Herald and Houston Chronicle; Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism; Peter Bhatia, former top editor at The Oregonian newspaper and the current Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor in Journalism Ethics; and Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism.

“Our students have done an extraordinary job investigating one of the most polarizing issues in the country,” Petchel said. “They received remarkable access to people and communities across the nation to show what forms people’s beliefs and cultural perspectives on guns.”

Work on the project started in January with a video-conference seminar on gun issues taught by Downie. The seminar included special guest speakers such as Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen of The Washington Post.

In May, the students participated in an intensive 10-week investigative reporting fellowship based out of a Cronkite School newsroom on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Students traversed the country in multimedia reporting teams, interviewing gun advocates and proponents in both urban and rural areas. Downie said they worked hard to objectively cover both sides of the issue.

“This is not a pro-gun or anti-gun project,” Downie said. “This is a project that explores the conflicts going on right now in the United States. We wanted to represent all views, interests and cultures.”

Petchel said this year’s project is multimedia-driven, with a remarkable number of photos, videos and interactive databases. Like previous years, students also developed in-depth stories on a range of topics, including state responses to mass shootings and America’s hunting culture.

“News21 has allowed me to work with magnificent editors, as well as peers around the country that I'm sure I'll have contact with for the rest of my life,” Cronkite School student Alex Lancial said. “Making those connections is extremely helpful for a career in journalism. News21 has developed my investigative, multimedia, design and collaborative skills, shaping me into a better reporter.”

Journalism in the digital age

News21 was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is also supported by the Miami Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation and Louis A. “Chip” Weil.

The program is designed to give students experience producing in-depth news coverage on critical issues facing the nation, using innovative digital methods to distribute the content on multiple platforms. Previous projects have included investigations into post-9/11 veterans, voting rights, food safety and transportation safety in America.

Fellows from the 2014 project came from ASU, Elon University, George Washington University, Hofstra University, Kent State University, Marquette University, Syracuse University, Texas Christian University, University of British Columbia, University of Florida, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma, University of Oregon, University of Tennessee and University of Texas.

Individual students were funded by their universities and by several foundations. This year’s Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellows were ASU students Alex Lancial, Lauren Loftus and Erin Patrick O’Connor, and University of Oklahoma students Carmen Forman, Amy Slanchik and Sydney Stavinoha.

Hearst Foundations Fellows were ASU students Jessica Boehm, Emilie Eaton and Brittany Elena Morris.

The Peter Kiewit Foundation of Omaha, Nebraska, provided funding for University of Nebraska students Robby Korth, Jacy Marmaduke and Morgan Spiehs.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation supported ASU student Kristen Hwang, and ASU student Jon LaFlamme was the Weil Fellow.

The complete list of the 2014 News21 fellows:

Arizona State University: Jessica Boehm, Emilie Eaton, Kristen Hwang, Jon LaFlamme, Alex Lancial, Lauren Loftus, Brittany Elena Morris and Erin Patrick O’Connor

Elon University: Kate Murphy

George Washington University: Sarah Ferris

Hofstra University: Claudia Balthazar

Kent State University: Jacob Byk

Marquette University: Aaron Maybin

Syracuse University: Jim Tuttle

Texas Christian University: Jordan Rubio

University of British Columbia: Allison Griner

University of Florida: Wade Millward

University of Maryland: Marlena Chertock and Justine McDaniel

University of Nebraska: Robby Korth, Jacy Marmaduke and Morgan Spiehs

University of Oklahoma: Carmen Forman, Amy Slanchik and Sydney Stavinoha

University of Oregon: Sam Stites

University of Tennessee: Jacqueline DelPilar

University of Texas: Kelsey Jukam and Natalie Krebs