Syracuse University Magazine

Exploring Innovative Storytelling


Deep in a cave in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a 16-year-old tests his international science fair-winning project, a technology that allows cavers and miners to use text messaging underground. For an aspiring journalist, telling the teen scientist’s story is an exciting assignment. For 10 Newhouse School students, a national initiative known as News21 has transformed telling stories like this from a dream job to a reality. “News21 gives you the time and money to do creative work you normally wouldn’t have the means to do,” says Brian Dawson ’11, a News21 Fellow and a dual major in illustration photography and information management technology.

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, News21 was launched four years ago to train student journalists in new media technology and to advance journalism curricula. Syracuse, in its first of three years in the program, was one of eight universities nationwide selected to participate; four other universities contributed visiting fellows. “News21 is an opportunity for students to expand,” says national director Jody Brannon. “Students used to focus on being a magazine journalist or a broadcaster. Then suddenly, the industry changed and now they need to be able to do everything. It’s a journalistic decathlon.”

During a spring semester course, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students planned multimedia projects with faculty before diving into a 10-week summer internship to create stories about how the United States is changing. This year, student work included projects covering teens experimenting with technology to build solar cars and a congregation in Missouri Twittering to their pastor. Newhouse professors Steve Davis from the newspaper and online department, Bruce Strong, a multimedia specialist with a photography background, and online expert Ken Harper worked with students on producing stories, blogs, and videos about teens and technology. “I want students to emerge from News21 feeling like they learned new skills, produced strong content, and had a good time,” Davis says.

The Newhouse News21 Fellows chose to travel to a total of 11 communities using the Patchwork Nation model, which outlines areas of the country that, when put together, provide an accurate representation of American communities. Pairs visited two or three towns in two-week periods, with a week at SU in between trips to compile data. Once they finished researching, students had two weeks to publish their work on “Our goal was to produce content people remember,” says News21 Fellow Melissa Romero ’10, a newspaper and online journalism major who produced a story about a young woman using video chat to keep in touch with her husband while he served in the Colombian Navy. “I hope our stories make people see that technology can be used in great ways to change something in the world, or to stay in touch with loved ones thousands of miles away.”

In addition to a rare on-the-job multimedia crash course, the use of state-of-the-art technology, paid travel, and a $7,500 paycheck, fellows received other benefits. “I’d never been to the Southwest before,” says Romero, whose assignments took her to New Mexico and Arizona. “I got to see beautiful parts of our country and have great backdrops for my stories. I connected with people and had someone’s mom say to me, ‘You’re part of our family now.’ Those experiences are something I’ll never forget.”

—Courtney Egelston