During his 10-week fellowship this summer, the journalism major and Elon News Network executive director joined 37 student journalists from across the country to explore the growing climate of hate in the United States.
Reporting on hate, bigotry and prejudice on a nationwide scale can seem like a daunting undertaking. And Emmanuel Morgan ’19 admitted he could feel the weight of topic at the beginning of the summer.
But the Elon journalism major turned 2018 Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellow found his bearings, dove into the topic, and supported an expansive multi-university reporting initiative published in mid-August titled “Hate in America.”
The investigation examined intolerance, racism and hate crimes as part of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a 10-week multimedia reporting project produced by the nation’s top journalism students and graduates. Each year, students selected into the program report in-depth on a single topic of national importance. Since 2012, seven Elon students have participated in News21 projects.
This year, 38 journalism students from 19 universities canvassed 36 states, conducting hundreds of interviews and reviewing thousands of pages of federal court documents, FBI data and state and federal statutes. The final product included more than a dozen digital stories and a 43-minute documentary exploring the legacy of hate in America and how it has shaped the country today. The Fellows also produced a five-episode podcast following the life cycle of hate.
“It was a mentally taxing summer,” said Morgan, ENN’s executive director. “But I’m so glad I got to be a part of this project – a project unlike any other in the country.”
Headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Morgan and his fellow student journalists broke into reporting groups to cover specific issues relating to hate and intolerance. The cohorts highlighted the victims of hate crimes and incidents, the inciters of hate, and Americans concerned about it. They analyzed national crime victimization data, examined hate groups, investigated online bigotry, and interviewed minority and religious groups adversely affected by prejudice.
While Morgan, a black millennial male, could have chosen any topic, he decided to stretch himself, joining the reporting group focused on violent crimes and other hate incidents targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
“From the beginning, I wanted to be on the LGBTQ team,” he said. “When you think of hate crimes, you often think of how it affects black and Hispanic communities. I wanted to do something completely different and to challenge myself. I’ll likely never have an opportunity to cover LGBTQ issues to this extent ever again – so I thought this was my chance.”
As the eight-person LGBTQ team dug into the subject matter, the student journalists investigated the murders of LGBTQ individuals in the last seven years. It was in these grim statistics that Morgan identified the topic he’d devote his summer to: violence against transgender sex workers.
The issue led Morgan from coast to coast, visiting both New York City and San Francisco during his summer-long fellowship. Through his research and on-site reporting, he learned that while these cities are considered progressive, that doesn’t necessarily mean safe for LGBTQ sex workers.
Morgan conducted several interviews with victims of violent crimes, often sitting down with the individuals in their own homes. This included an in-depth conversation with Brandon Ballone, a white gay drag performer, at his residence near Long Island. Two years ago, the 27-year-old was beaten by group of teenagers with a glass bottle, leaving him with a severed tendon in one hand, a torn ear and damaged jaw. Morgan’s reporting is available in a wide-ranging article titled “Lack of trust in law enforcement hinders reporting of LGBTQ crimes,’ written by two fellow News21 participants.
“Once I got comfortable with the scope of the project, reporting and everything else that comes with it was second nature,” Morgan said. “Once I knew what my story was, it was very similar to the reporting I’ve done at Elon.”
Morgan authored two blog posts supplementing the overarching project, including a July 25 post titled “Transgender sex workers experience hate at high rates.” The piece features Danielle Castro, a Latina transgender woman, and the perils she faced while working in the sex trade.
Through his research, Morgan discovered that more than half of the transgender people killed worldwide since 2008 were sex workers. But in the United States, charging these murders as hate crimes can be complicated for a variety of factors.
He also investigated the recent increase of hate crimes in California, publishing a July 23 article titled, “Despite rainbow flags, LBGTQ hate crimes rise in San Francisco.”
Being on location, talking to Castro in her own living room as her two dogs and boyfriend came and went, provided Morgan with a rare vantage point to report her story.
“It is one thing to call and talk to an expert in an office, but to actually go to an individual’s house or go to an event, it gives you a great perspective of what they go through,” he said.
He was struck by the resiliency his interviewees displayed, particularly Ballone’s willingness to share the trauma he endured. Unsurprisingly, Morgan said he matured both personally and professionally from this time traversing the country and collaborating in Phoenix.
Additionally, he proudly noted he is the first student of color to represent Elon in the News21 project, adding, “I hope that it starts a trend because News21 is a great program, and it needs diverse perspectives to tell the stories it needs to.”
Morgan thanked his editors, particularly News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, for their support and instruction. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist helped Morgan better incorporate research and documentation into his reporting – an area he previously perceived as a weakness.
“Jacquee is the best in the business,” Morgan said. “She can be very intense at times, but she knows what she is doing.”
The Charlotte native admitted the cross-country fellowship did cause some trepidation because he had never been away from home – besides his time at Elon. But he found a support group with the other News21 Fellows, mixing in researching and reporting with social activities – like weekly get-togethers to watch “The Bachelorette.”
“We lived together, we worked together, and we went out together – a bond developed,” he said. “It was great to know all of them on a personal level and I consider them like family.”
Now Morgan plans to incorporate what he learned from his News21 experience into his ENN newsroom. His hopes to instill a culture that places accuracy first and encourages reporters to ask tough questions.
“This summer, I really noticed how much attention to detail great reporting needs. We triple-checked every fact, and every figure.” Morgan said. “I want to make sure we do that as a staff here at Elon. And, this year especially, I want to make sure that we challenge authority, that we challenge what people in power tell us.”