Six postgraduate journalism fellows to report on community, ethnicity and presidential campaign

After they graduate this May, six current second-year USC Annenberg journalism master’s students will spend the summer reporting on the intersection of community, ethnicity and the 2012 presidential campaign. The resulting work will appear in the print or online editions of The Guardian.

The students are the latest in a long line of USC Annenberg winners of prestigious News21 Fellowships. Launched in 2006 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, News21 was created “to foster in-depth, interactive and innovative investigative journalism at journalism schools across the country,” according to the program’s website.

“News21 did a really good job of providing remarkable assets,” USC Annenberg Journalism School director Geneva Overholser said, “so that we could attract top students and give them a generous stipend to spend their summer working on deep-dive, substantial reporting projects.”

The school’s six 2012 News21 Fellowship winners are Jacob Chung, Christine Detz, Tom Dotan, Raquel Estupinan, Regina Graham and Dan Watson.

The Fellows will focus their reporting—both from a campus newsroom and out on assignment—on the goings-on in one of seven areas nationwide. Journalism professor Marc Cooper, USC Annenberg’s News21 co-editor, said those locations are: Guadalupe, Ariz.; Santa Ana, Calif.; Pueblo, Colo.; San Antonio; Yakima, Wash.; an Iowa location; and a spot near Orlando, Fla.

What do those places have in common? “We are looking at the election and the issues from the perspective of majority-minority communities in the United States,” Cooper said. 

That means in Texas, a Fellow will examine why the state remains a Republican stronghold. In California, a Fellow will report on Latino alienation from the G.O.P. In Florida, the importance of the Latino vote in a swing city in a swing county in a swing state will be analyzed. And, Cooper said, in Arizona, the topic will be, “What it’s like to be living under the gun of the anti-immigrant epicenter.”

Journalism professor and Annenberg Digital News managing editor Alan Mittelstaedt will serve as Cooper’s News21 co-editor. “My goal will be to demand the most vivid writing from students covering these important parts of the country and making sure that their stories reflect the richness and diversity of life from Arizona to Iowa,” Mittelstaedt said. 

He added: “And they will. Because these are highly motivated students fully engaged in improving our faltering democracy.”

The Fellows developed their story ideas as part of Cooper’s spring semester course, Journalism 590: News21 Directed Research: Political Process, Campaign Management and Funding. After the professor provisionally approved the student’s pitches, they each had to pitch The Guardian. It wasn’t a surprise that the British media enterprise said yes every time, Cooper said.

“The Guardian has shown itself to be one of the most innovative news organizations in the world,” Cooper said, “and one of the organizations most open to engagement, partnerships, networked journalism—all of the things that make other newspapers sweat in the middle of the night.”

Overholser, Cooper and Mittelstaedt each possess deep experience covering politics and political campaigns. Overholser and Cooper stressed that USC Annenberg’s contribution to News21 will not be of the “on the bus” or “horse race” variety.

“We are really going to try to do reporting that engages the community—reporting on race and immigration and the impact of these two powerful facets of the political discourse on the campaign,” Overholser said.

News21 is not the only USC Annenberg project sponsored in part by the Knight Foundation. The supporter of journalism and community causes has funded the Knight Chair in Media and Religion, held by Diane Winston, as well as the Knight Digital Media Center.