“State of Emergency,” a major investigation into natural disasters, is the 2019 project of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multimedia reporting project produced by some of the nation’s top journalism students, working out of a newsroom at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU..
A total of 37 journalism students from Cronkite and 18 other universities traveled to 25 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, conducting hundreds of interviews and reviewing thousands of pages of government documents, data and state and federal statutes.
The News 21 package includes 15 multimedia stories, portraits of more than 50 disaster survivors, four half-hour documentaries on hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and flooding. Students also produced a five-episode podcast following a disaster from the moment a storm hit through the long recovery process.
This work not only is remarkable in its scope, but also provides a national perspective on the woeful recovery efforts on the ground after a natural disaster.
The students investigated if the U.S. is doing everything possible to help individuals and communities recover, and found large discrepancies between state and federal aid provided.
A News21 analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data over the past two decades shows that small disasters accounted for more than 60% of all federally declared disasters between 2003 and 2018. Yet they received at least $57.8 billion less in public assistance from FEMA.
Students who were part of the 2019 News21 team said the experience prepared them as no other for reporting careers. Isaac Windes, an ASU graduate who now works at the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas, said he is applying what he learned to his reporting on the “disaster-fraught region of Southeast Texas.”
He said the federal government’s disproportionate response to disasters in small communities versus large communities “is more relevant now than ever.”
Graduate student Molly Duerig reported on last year’s historic Midwest floods and then traveled to Puerto Rico for a story about Hurricane Maria’s lasting impact on young people. She also co-wrote an investigative story on the electric power grid in the U.S. and storms that cause power outages.
“Throughout our reporting, we constantly evaluated how to most effectively and empathetically gather the information we needed to tell the most informative, sensitive story possible of how people respond and recover from natural disasters,” Duerig said.
Universities participating in the 2019 News21 program besides ASU were Appalachia State University, DePauw University, Dublin City University, Elon University, George Washington University, Hofstra University, Kent State University, Louisiana State University, St. Bonaventure University, Syracuse University, University of British Columbia, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of North Texas, University of Oklahoma, the University of Puerto Rico and University of Tennessee.