Caption: Danita Agee, 53, secures a banner at a voter registration drive she helped organize in Pratt City, Ala.
What has people across the country talking? A student-run news project drawing on public records. The journalists with News 21 produced a series on voting rights that generated nearly six million page views. Their next mission - making the data they used for the story more accessible by launching a new e-book.
While the issue of voter-fraud fueled political debate for more than a decade, News21 decided to take a look at the numbers. Reporters headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication created a complete database of alleged voter-fraud cases since 2000, now available through the e-book. They found 2,068 cases of reported fraud, but only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation. These results call into question recent campaigns to require voter ID at the polls in three dozen states.
The evidence spurred a national conversation. According to News 21 reporters, the investigation generated more than 72 published stories on the web and in print. An article by the Washington Post about the report generated more than 1,500 comments. The report was featured on NPR’s Diane Rehm show and the Daily Show with John Stewart show in September. In response to public demand, New21 launched a new e-book version of their voting rights investigation called, “Who can Vote?”. The e-book is available for both Apple and Kindle devices.
Associate Dean of the Cronkite School, Kristin Gilger, compares the student investigation to the work of 19th century muckrakers, digging through records in every county to get the facts.
“What students have done is cut through rhetoric by using in-depth records journalism,” Gilger said. “The result shows us that the younger generation of journalists has a lot to teach us.”
A core group of 24 students worked on the investigation as part of their spring 2012 News21 issues seminar, supported by Knight Foundation and The Carnegie Corporation of New York. News21 received its first grant in 2005 and serves as a cornerstone project for the Knight-Carnegie Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. Since its inception, students have worked with professors and professionals to produce high-profile investigations used by the nation’s top media outlets.
By Jenna Buehler, executive assistant/Communications at Knight Foundation