Students report from Dominican Republic on stateless population

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Seventeen students from the Walter Cronkite School left Wednesday to spend 10 days reporting in the Dominican Republic.

The group, led by professors Rick Rodriguez and Jason Manning, will cover the country’s stateless population out of Santo Domingo, Rodriguez said.

“The stateless is a timely subject for people in Arizona and really across the U.S.,” Rodriguez said.

The Dominican Republic was chosen as the location for the trip partially because of its parallels to Arizona’s situation: The country revoked birthright citizenship last year.

Students will report on topics including health issues, disparities along the Haitian border, children with deported parents in orphanages as well as labor requirements, and Jesuits in conflict with both the Roman Catholic Church and government for trying to help undocumented Haitians and other immigrants.

The students will conduct multimedia reporting with a focus on photojournalism, Rodriguez said.

The students were chosen primarily from Rodriguez’s Depth Reporting course. The majority are graduate students, as well as students completing dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees through Barrett, the Honors College and the Cronkite School.

Planning for the trip began last November, with the original intention of a trip to Mexico. But with the travel advisory and drug cartel violence in Mexico, that idea could not move forward. Instead, Rodriguez zoned in on the Dominican Republic, whose American ambassador, Raul Yzaguirre, worked as an ASU professor until last year.

Students found out in early December if they would be going on the trip, said Tarryn Mento, a graduate journalism student. They have been researching for their stories ever since, reading documents over winter break and conducting dozens of interviews, she said.

“I go back and forth every day — sometimes it’s excitement,” Mento said. “Most of the time, it’s nerves.”

Reporting abroad poses some challenges for students. Mento said this includes the ability to communicate effectively in Spanish and the limited time period the students have to build relationships and produce in-depth pieces on sensitive subjects. Mento will be reporting on maternal mortality rates of Haitian immigrants.

There are also safety concerns such as public transportation, theft and recent cases of cholera. While the cholera worries have died down, Rodriguez said the trip organizers have all thoroughly planned to avoid danger.

Mento underwent two immunizations and had to get anti-malarial medication to prepare for the trip.

For security, the majority of the students will go out in reporting teams of two, along with guides who know the area.

“You just have to be aware, but that’s part of the growing process as a journalist, too,” Rodriguez said, adding that the nature of journalism is to be in situations that might not be the safest. Some of the concerns also stem from traveling to a different country.

International reporting is being cut in many media organizations, and this could be some of the students’ only opportunity to work on this kind of project, Rodriguez said.

“No one else is going to be able to say, ‘This is where you’re going, this is what you’re doing’ and just letting me have at it and giving me this kind of trust in my reporting,” Mento said. “Very few professional journalists are allowed this. It’s kind of exciting knowing that as a student I get this opportunity.”

The trip was funded by an endowment from the Buffett Initiative, Rodriguez said, though he would not disclose the amount.

Warren Buffett’s son, Howard Buffett, was behind the grant which provided funds of around $1 million for projects of this kind, said Kristin Gilger, associate dean of the Cronkite School. This will be the first use of the money, aimed at funding journalism, especially visual journalism, in different countries and cultures.

The Buffett Foundation was also involved in funding a Cronkite School reporting trip to South Africa three years ago, led by then-Cronkite School professor Carol Schwalbe.

These trips have all been border-related, Gilger said.

“We do think going to another country like the Dominican Republic and South Africa and Mexico helps us to understand our own border,” she said.

Students will complete print and broadcast projects such as a 30-minute television program by the end of the spring semester, but it could take longer to appear in news outlets and on the website to be produced.

Negotiations are under way for where the final products will run, but Rodriguez said local media outlets had expressed interest. Cronkite outlets were also an option.

Contact the reporter at vpelham@asu.edu

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

Clarification: March 13, 2011

An earlier version of this article stated that the Buffett Foundation grant provided funds of around $100,000. Following publication, Cronkite School Associate Dean Kristin Gilger notified the Downtown Devil that the actual amount of the grant was $1 million.

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