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Students document stories on immigration, poverty

March 09, 2010

Photojournalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication are documenting immigration and poverty under a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The semester-long project will take students throughout Arizona, to the U.S.-Mexico border and into Mexico to tell stories about people struggling to overcome poverty, hunger, conflict, disease and other issues.

The students are working under the direction of award-winning photojournalist Brad Armstrong, a visiting professional at the Cronkite School. Each of the six students will produce a photo documentary as well as contribute photos to a depth reporting class taught by Carnegie Professor of Journalism Rick Rodriguez.

Armstrong said students are focusing on the inequalities that develop as a result of differences in education, services, opportunity, location or ethnicity, with a special emphasis on Latino or border issues. In the process, they are learning the skills they’ll need to be professional journalists.

“They are going to have to do their own reporting, find contacts and dig to find the issues,” he said. “Then they’ll go to where the story is and do a documentary project.”

For instance, one student is researching a story about a Navajo elder who recently had electricity installed in his home after trying to get power for 30 years. Another is working on a project about Mexican immigrants dying in the desert as they try to cross into the United States.

Branden Eastwood, a junior journalism major, is focusing on commercial overfishing in Mexico and “how that has led to depleted local economies, which in turn, leads to immigration,” he said. “I want to tell the story through an older individual who is still trying to sustain themselves through fishing.”

Eastwood said the project allows him to be a working photojournalist while still in school.

Other students working on the project are Michael Duarte, Joseph Fraska, Jasper Henry, Jennifer Martin and Ryan Wolf. All are Cronkite undergraduates with a special interest in photojournalism.

Armstrong was director of photography at the East Valley Tribune, where he led a team of photographers and video journalists on the “Reasonable Doubt” project about the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Humanitarian Award from the National Press Photographers Association, Arizona Picture of the Year and nearly three dozen other awards from Best of the West, The Associated Press, the Arizona Press Club and the Arizona Newspapers Association.

This semester’s photojournalism project is part of a $1 million Howard G. Buffett Foundation Photojournalism Endowment made to the school last year. Buffett, an international photojournalist, author and philanthropist, has funded three other photojournalism projects at the Cronkite School since 2006 as part of his commitment to educate student photojournalists and provide them with opportunities to practice journalism in other countries.