2016 Pro-Am Student Award finalist

America’s Weed Rush

A News21 investigation of marijuana legalization in America

About the Project

Carnegie-Knight News21 is a national multimedia investigative reporting project produced by top journalism students from across the country. In 2015, 27 journalism students from 19 universities worked together to produce “America’s Weed Rush,” a News21 investigation of marijuana legalization in America.

The student work began in January 2015 with a seminar for academic credit that included reporting and research on marijuana laws. In the summer of 2015, the fellows completed the 10-week investigative reporting fellowship based out of a newsroom at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. News21 fellows traveled across the country to examine issues surrounding marijuana legalization. They collected and analyzed state-by-state data about marijuana laws and arrests, and they conducted an analysis of marijuana-related tweets to illustrate changes in perceptions of marijuana over time.

They published their findings on the “Weed Rush” project site in August 2015. In addition to dozens of text elements, the project included 56 photo slideshows or standalone images, 15 elements with photo and audio, and 55 videos. One especially rich story (Advocates: Marijuana culture has broken from its original values) including a stop-motion video that used approximately 3,000 individual images.

Audience engagement was a significant focus for the fellows. In order to build an audience for the project and take readers along during travel across the country, the fellows produced a project blog. The blog featured vignettes from the communities they visited and news updates about marijuana policy. It also featured a series of 10 podcasts highlighting reporting from a variety of states.

News21 fellows worked with students in the Cronkite School’s Public Insight Network Bureau to produce PIN queries to gather marijuana-related stories and experiences from people across the country. They gathered responses from dozens of sources in advance of the full project launch. Fellows read each of these submissions, which informed their reporting in a number of ways. In some cases, they helped the fellows get a better sense of how particular issues were playing out in different communities. Three of the “Weed Rush” stories featured sources who shared their stories first through PIN queries.

The PIN Bureau also worked with News21 fellows to produce a weekly email newsletter throughout the summer leading up to the publication of the project in August. The newsletter was designed to help build an audience in advance of the launch date and also allowed fellows to distribute content placed on the blog. In addition, each “Weed Rush” story on the final project site included a button linking to a PIN form asking readers to share feedback on the project. The form asks whether the reporting was fair, whether the story affected the reader’s views on the topic and whether he or she would share it with a friend.

All of the News21 content is offered to news organizations under Creative Commons licensing. Elements of this project were picked up by dozens of media partners, including The Washington Post and NBC News.