ASU funded to headquarter national in-depth reporting program for next decade

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News21, a nationally recognized, university-based reporting initiative, will be headquartered at the Cronkite School for the next ten years after the school received a multimillion-dollar grant from the funders to continue the program. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

The Walter Cronkite School’s News21 program, which gives students an opportunity to become involved with in-depth reporting, has been funded for the next decade.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York renewed the school’s flagship program for a total of $2.32 million over the next ten years. News21 is a program that operates currently out of 12 universities, including ASU, where students work on investigative pieces during the summer months.

News21 “blends serious, in-depth journalism with really bold, innovative multimedia reporting and storytelling into this one exciting national project,” Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said.

Though News21 only came to ASU in 2008, the foundations that granted the extension have exclusively focused on Cronkite as a pioneer in multimedia reporting. According to Callahan, News21 operates out of eight newsrooms currently, but the new grant means that the primary one will be headquartered at ASU.

Recent Cronkite graduate Lauren Gambino, who participated in News21 last summer, realizes the tangible benefit that can be brought by the program, articulating the level of specialization students acquire by the end of the session.

“Between the preparation course and the summer of reporting, students have the unique opportunity to become masters in their field,” Gambino said in an email.  “By the end of the summer some students know more about their subjects than professionals who have been covering these subjects for years. I think the funders recognized the value of this level of depth, investigative reporting and deemed the fellowship worth preserving.”

The new grant also spells out changes for participating Cronkite School faculty and the News21 program, providing for more of a focus on investigative reporting.

“This gives us the ability to hire a high-level investigative editor for 12 months a year, who will be in charge of the newsroom in the summer and run in-depth reporting classes for students,” Callahan said.

Callahan cited the program’s reporting on transportation safety last fall as a catalyst for the recent announcement. Under the leadership of Cronkite Associate Dean Kristin Gilger and Weil Family Professor of Journalism Leonard Downie Jr., a group of students from 11 universities investigated the issue and had work published on the front page of the Washington Post and website of MSNBC. In the first 18 days, the report netted over 5.2 million page views on MSNBC.com, setting the record for the most distributed piece of university-generated journalism in history, Callahan said.

This year’s national team, again housed at the Cronkite School, is reporting on food safety in America.

The goal of News21 remains the same, even with the new grant. Students, centered out of the Cronkite School, will focus on national investigative reporting each summer under the guidance of seasoned journalists and journalism professors.

Callahan also cites the support of ASU President Michael Crow as a contributing factor to the renewal of the program. His support at the highest levels provided a positive impetus for the foundations to continue their funding, Callahan said.

Gambino remembers primary lessons she learned from writing for News21, mostly revolving around common journalism cadences.

“News21 taught me that most stories are not (only) two-sided, and to be a fair and unbiased reporter you need to paint the full picture and not just provide two extreme and opposing voices.”

Contact the reporter at anna.gunderson@asu.edu