Puerto Rico will be the spring break destination for 18 students of the Walter Cronkite School in March. But soft, sandy beaches and colorful sunsets are not on the agenda.
Led by Cronkite School Professor Rick Rodriguez and ASU Student Media Director Jason Manning, the team consisting of 15 graduate students and three undergraduates will spend their spring break reporting on immigration issues on the island.
“Students will remember this trip for the rest of their lives,” Rodriguez said.
Funded by a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a private charitable foundation, the in-depth reporting project has covered various health, immigration and border issues. This is the fourth year of the program. Last year’s trip to the Dominican Republic reported on immigrants coming from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.
The focus of this year’s project is on immigrants who travel from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and — similar to previous projects — will continue to investigate issues surrounding birthright citizenship.
“It is a hot-button issue,” Rodriguez said. “These governments are dealing with similar issues that the United States has been dealing with for years.”
Birthright citizenship in Puerto Rico especially impacts the United States because it is a U.S. territory and children of immigrants born in Puerto Rico could have a potential gateway into the United States.
Several of the students selected for the project began preparing for the experience this semester by taking Rodriguez’s Latino and Transnational Issues seminar class, which focuses on relevant issues such as immigration.
“There are a lot of issues that people need to know the background of,” Rodriguez said. “What we are trying to do is fill in the gaps.”
Last year’s project, “Stateless in the Dominican Republic,” was published as a multimedia website. Parts of the project were picked up by various media outlets including the Washington Post and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. A video documentary also won a 2011 Rocky Mountain Emmy.
Journalism graduate student Brandon Quester is returning to the program as a mentor and photography instructor after working on the Dominican Republic project last year.
“I will be teaching them visual storytelling — where you are literally reporting with a camera,” Quester said.
Logistical problems, cultural differences and language barriers can make reporting in foreign countries difficult, Manning said. Reporters only have a few days in the country to report, communicate with sources and travel to different sites.
“You are not going back to do another face-to-face interview,” Manning said. “That’s all the time you get in the country.”
In addition to problems students might face in Puerto Rico, the class has three fewer weeks to write and edit content compared to last year, which means they will need to start working on the final production before students ever go abroad so they can get the most reporting out of their limited time in Puerto Rico.
“There is no substitute to reporting from a remote location,” Manning said. “You cannot replicate it without going on the ground.”
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