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Intern Insider: Journalism majors focus on depth in News21 internship

Two journalism majors spent their summer in Arizona with the News21 program working on an in-depth reporting project about voting rights.

Caitlin O'Donnell '13 (left) and Kassondra Cloos '13 spent 10 weeks this summer in Arizona interning with the News21 reporting program.


Senior print/online journalism majors Caitlin O’Donnell and Kassondra Cloos are both used to the daily grind of producing news content for The Pendulum and its accompanying website. As former news editors of the paper, they’ve been trained to write quickly, efficiently and quite often—sometimes penning four or five stories for a given week’s edition.

But this summer, through the Carnegie-Knight News Foundation News21 reporting internship program, they’ve been shocked out of their daily deadline pressure. For the last 10 weeks, O’Donnell, Cloos and more than 20 other reporting fellows have worked out of a newsroom at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, completing an in-depth reporting project called “Who Can Vote?” that focuses nationwide voting rights.

O’Donnell and Cloos comprise two-thirds of a trio that’s teamed up to provide extensive content and coverage about voter ID laws in the southeast—O’Donnell studied South Carolina, her home state, and Cloos reported on Tennessee. They’ve spent weeks doing interviews, culling through public records, reading stories and eventually helping write the one story they’ve been assigned for the summer.

“The experience has been both rewarding and challenging,” says O’Donnell, now the editor in chief of The Pendulum. “I have produced only one story that was written over the span of about three weeks and went through more rounds of edits than I can count on two hands. It was a project as detailed in facts as it was specific in scope that taught me the importance of tenacity in finding sources, while also seeing the humanity behind each of them.”

O’Donnell and Cloos have contributed more regularly to a blog attached to the overall reporting project. And they both have lent a behind-the-scenes hand to some of the work that was completed by other reporting groups that include students from ASU, the University of North Carolina, the University of Maryland, Harvard and the University of Florida.

“We all work in the same newsroom, and there’s a lot of overlap,” says Cloos, now a copy editor at The Pendulum. “This is really, really collaborative. It’s good to learn how to collaborate and cooperate effectively for the betterment of the story, not the reporter.”

Both Communications Dean Paul Parsons and professor David Copeland helped O’Donnell and Cloos nail down the internship with News21, for which the two women had to be nominated. News21 began in 2006 and since then, nearly 500 students have participated in the program. Previous News21 reporting fellows have seen their work appear in national publications, including The Washington Post, msnbc.com, USA Today and U.S. News & World Report.

They learned of their acceptance during a Pendulum production night, and shortly thereafter began participating in pre-internship seminars with other students in the program.

While O’Donnell and Cloos have been working together on a single part of the overall project since the spring, they each have gained something different from the internship. For O’Donnell, it’s an increased appreciation for the many storytelling tools available to her.

“I’m primarily a print journalist, and this project allowed me the opportunity to explore photography and video at the same time,” she says. “While I’ve worked on independent photography and video projects, I found myself lugging around, along with my notebook and pen, a video camera, tripod, microphone and Nikon. It’s a type of reporting I’m not used to, but one that I have grown to love and will continue to pursue when I return to campus reporting in the fall.”

Cloos, meanwhile, says she’s become a more confident, able reporter after her 10 weeks with News 21.

“News21 has made me more confident as a reporter. I’ve noticed that,” she says. “I’ve learned how to challenge editors and other reporters in a constructive way. Before (the program), I thought FOIA requests were scary, but now I know how to look up state public records laws and challenge (state authorities). I’m much more confident in my ability to be firm as a reporter. I’m excited to see how that changes the way I report at The Pendulum and for other news organizations I may work for after college.”

And their gains as journalists can be partially attributed to the News21 leadership team. They’ve had their worked edited and critiqued by both previous News21 fellows and professional journalists, including Len Downie, the former executive editor of The Washington Post.

“I must admit,” O’Donnell says, “it was nice to get a break from being the head editor of a publication and have the chance to receive meaningful feedback on the reporting and content I produced.”

Working with older students—both at the undergraduate and graduated—level has also helped. In fact, Cloos and O’Donnell are the two youngest students in the program. And not everyone participating in the internship is thinking about a journalism career.

“I learned how to work in a diverse newsroom—diverse because they’re all from different places,” Cloos says. “I’m also working with people older than me. I’m working with a lot of different people in a very different way than I have before.”

Overall, O’Donnell and Cloos say the News21 reporting experience has been a positive one—one that will certainly impact their final years as on-campus reporters and their careers as journalists.

“Besides the opportunity to work with incredible editors and be inspired by the work of other student journalists, this program broadened my idea of what I’m capable of as a professional journalist,” O’Donnell says. “I’ve been on the print/online track from the start, but this summer I’ve learned to appreciate other methods of storytelling, as well. I’m looking forward to exploring the new skills and interests I gained this summer and using them in my future both at Elon and in my professional career.”

This is the final Intern Insider of the summer.

Colin Donohue,
8/14/2012 1:19 PM