Reynolds School Student-Journalist Participates in Prestigious News21 Program
Story by Rachel Yates, RSJ Strategic Communications student
The Reynolds School’s very own Alexa Ard was selected to participate in the highly competitive and prestigious 2015 Carnegie-Knight News21 Program. She joins 28 other top journalism students from 19 universities leading an investigation into the issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana as part of the News21 national multimedia investigative reporting initiative.
“I turned down two other internships for this…but I am excited for the opportunity and I feel very prepared,” Ard said.
Headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, News21 was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to demonstrate that top journalism students can produce in-depth reporting and multimedia innovations.
Students selected as News21 fellows conduct in-depth reporting on critical national issues, traveling the country and using innovative digital reporting techniques. Past projects have investigated veterans’ issues, voting rights, food safety and transportation safety in America. Last year’s project, which examined gun rights and regulation, was published by more than 60 media partners, including The Washington Post, NBC News and USA Today. The investigation received a prestigious EPPY Award from Editor & Publisher magazine and was a finalist in the Investigative Reporters & Editors competition.
Students participating in the 2015 project are spending the spring semester researching and reporting on marijuana issues as part of a seminar taught in person and via video conference by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and Cronkite’s Weil Family Professor of Journalism.
Downie said the investigation will examine the legalization of marijuana – both medical and recreational – in states across the country. He said it will look at the politics of legalization, the medical and recreational marijuana businesses, the cannabis culture and law enforcement issues.
“We chose the legalization of marijuana this year because it is a historic change, debated in election referenda and legislatures in states across the country,” Downie said. “And News21, with student journalists at universities throughout the nation, is uniquely able to dig into all the issues that legalization poses.”
Ard, a 20-year-old junior, has already started conducting research and interviews to gather information about this year’s News21 topic. In addition to working independently to learn about marijuana-use and it’s legality and implications in Nevada, Ard works as part of a research team made up of others in the program, and tunes into class seminars over the web during this entire semester to prepare herself for the summer newsroom.
Alexa, who is KUNR’s photographer and videographer as well as an employee at the @One on campus, has a lot on her plate this year. She feels prepared to work hard for the News21 internship however, thanks to a few professors who have acted as mentors to her. Paul Mitchell and Kari Barber are two professors who’ve significantly influenced Ard in her experience becoming a journalist.
“Kari works hard to find opportunities for you,” said Ard, “And she’s hardcore. [She] makes it very real-world in a lot of her assignments.”
Despite having been recommended for the program by the Reynolds School dean, Al Stavitsky, Ard remains humble. In comparison with her fellow student-journalists in the program, she feels she’s had less experience in the field, as this is her first internship.
“It was surreal, he could’ve chosen anyone [to recommend], but he chose me,” Ard said. She thinks she will feel like she’s challenging herself, since others on her team have a great deal of experience working in news and media internships.
Much of the content created by News21 participants in the past has been printed in major national publications. Despite this, Ard said she deliberated over choosing the internship right away. She knew she wanted to be a journalist since she was 11, but was more interested in sports reporting. However, she decided she was ready to show her capabilities by doing something different and more in-depth. Ard said Stavitsky encouraged her to take the opportunity, as did her mentor from her time in NPR’s Radio Bootcamp program, reporter Jessica Naudziunas.
“I’m really happy I went with News21, it was the right choice,” Ard said.
The students receive information regarding their topic throughout the semester from speakers who visit the class seminars. So far these speakers have included political and investigative reporters, attorneys, professors and marijuana-policy directors, and will include editors from the Washington Post as well. The students have also been asked to read A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition by Alison Martin and Nushin Rashidian to observe the style of reporting the authors used regarding the topic. However participants were not to necessarily adopt the stances of the authors about the subject, and to further ensure their objectivity in reporting, the student-journalists have been told not to use marijuana during the project, despite its legality in their area.
This summer, Ard will move into Roosevelt Point near ASU’s campus, where she will live the duration of the summer newsroom project. The participants will use Walter Cronkite School of Journalism’s equipment and resources during their work. Before the summer newsroom, the students keep their professor and editors up to date with progress reports and memos about their advances in information gathering. They also set up a public blog that all can access during the research process. By the end of the summer a website will go up that includes everyone’s finished work: pictures, stories, videos and interviews that publications can access and use.
Ard is already hard at work and ready to create something “big picture” this summer by contributing her skills and her experience from the Reynolds School.
“I’m looking forward to representing the Reynolds School of Journalism,” Ard said, “This school trusts and believes in me, and I want to make them proud.”