Reporting during a pandemic: An update on Victoria Traxler ’20 and her News21 Fellowship

The Elon alumna’s News21 Fellowship has moved online this summer, but that hasn’t stopped Traxler from reporting on the juvenile justice system, examining employee misconduct and racial disparity.

Like many Elon students and graduates, Victoria Traxler ’20 expected her summer to be spent gaining valuable work experience in pursuit of her professional goals.

Victoria Traxler ’20 is one of 35 journalism students from 16 universities reporting virtually across the country, examining the juvenile justice system this summer. Photo courtesy of News21

The journalism and international & global studies double major earned a prestigious News21 Fellowship at Arizona State University for the summer – a great start as she prepared to enter the workforce after graduating from Elon in just three years. But, like everything that’s transpired during the turbulent spring and summer, the COVID-19 pandemic turned her plans on their head.

Originally, Traxler planned to work in the News21 offices in Phoenix with other Fellows and editors, but it never happened. Instead of working in the field, gathering stories and interviewing subjects face to face, she’s had to pivot and adapt to the world of Zoom and conference calls, just like much of America.

Traxler’s situation is unique. Instead of working from her home state of Virginia, she is in Scottsdale, Arizona, renting an AirBnB property with fellow News21 reporters. The group hoped they might have access to the university at some point. Unfortunately, those plans have been spoiled as Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers have exploded in recent weeks.

“It’s definitely difficult as no one that I’m living with is on any of the articles I’m working on,” Traxler said. “But it’s been nice to have people that are near you that you can bounce ideas off of and communicate with rather than being alone at home.”

At the core of the News21 Fellowship is an incredible summer reporting experience. Fellows become full-time investigative reporters during the 10-week stint at the digital media complex at ASU’s Cronkite School. Students, under normal circumstances, are provided a $2,500 travel stipend, and work in teams to report on one investigative piece across those 10 weeks, authoring various blogs before publishing their final piece.

For Traxler, her investigative piece about the juvenile justice system, specifically employee misconduct and racial disparity, has been given added significance as a result of the current social justice movement that’s swept across the United States.

“It’s given a lot of momentum to that storyline because so many people are just itching to talk about it,” Traxler said. “There’s no better time than right now to present that, yes, we have police brutality and systemic racism in this country. But now let’s talk about how it’s affecting the kids and how minority youth are being incarcerated at higher rates than white youth.”

Beyond the story itself, however, Traxler has taken her experience at News21 to learn more about herself and her journalism pursuits.

“The main thing I’ve got from this is my perspective on narrative and storytelling,” Traxler said.

Much like Anton Delgado ’20 when he visited Brazil for 27 days reporting on leprosy, Traxler’s biggest takeaway this summer is that journalism isn’t about telling the story, but rather giving someone a platform tell their stories.

Read more about Traxler’s work with News21 and the 2020 project, “Kids Imprisoned.”