Elon alumna Victoria Traxler ’20 investigates juvenile justice in the U.S.

As part of her 2020 Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellowship, Victoria Traxler ’20 reported on racial disparities, facility conditions and lack of data in the juvenile justice system.

Elon alumna Victoria Traxler ’20 spent her summer in Scottsdale, Arizona, combing through lawsuits, submitting FOIA requests and contacting lawyers — a typical day for a News21 Fellow.

Elon alumna Victoria Traxler ’20 was one of 30 journalism students from 16 universities reporting virtually across the country, examining the juvenile justice system this summer. Photo courtesy of News21

Despite being unable to meet in person during her 2020 Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellowship, the journalism and international and global studies double major completed the 10-week investigative reporting assignment, one of 30 students from 16 universities examining the juvenile justice system in America.

The final multimedia project, titled “Kids Imprisoned,” includes topics such as the school-to-prison pipeline, facility conditions, racial disparities and the overall setup of the juvenile justice system in America.

The News21 Fellows began working on the project in January through a video seminar that included reporting and research. Normally, Fellows reside in Phoenix during the summer months, headquartered at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School. From there, they canvas the U.S. to cover their respective topics. But the pandemic and travel restrictions meant that the 2020 Fellows had to report remotely.

Traxler said remote reporting was difficult, especially when it came to visuals. But Traxler and her fellow reporters found themselves dedicating more time to reporting, making sure they got every interview they needed.

“I had a lot of really powerful interviews,” Traxler said. “You see that the juvenile justice system is not isolated to only affecting you, when you’re a kid. It can really follow you throughout the rest of your life.”

“Kids Imprisoned,” an investigation into juvenile justice in America, features a multimedia package of 23 main investigative and explanatory stories, 35 additional reports with photo illustrations, plus a seven-part podcast and several video stories.

Traxler co-reported on two of the project’s primary stories: racial disparities and employee misconduct in the juvenile justice system. Additionally, she authored a blog post highlighting the lack of data surrounding Latino youth in the juvenile justice system. Her articles included both writing and video production work.

Traxler examined racial disparities in the juvenile justice system while protests for racial justice took place across the country, a fact she said impacted her experience writing.

“You want to find that common ground where every person reading it can see their own kid in this and not really feel blue or red about it,” Traxler said.

According to Traxler, the fellowship not only improved her writing, it also gave her more confidence, as she was conducting research and work that felt previously out of reach.

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“It gave me the opportunity to grow and push myself and challenge myself,” Traxler said. “I also learned a lot from my peers and my editors, so it was a nice balance between solidifying what I felt like I had, and knowing there’s always more that can be learned.”

About News21

Headquartered at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School, News21 is one of the most prestigious student journalism internships in the country. It was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to provide a platform for college students and graduates to produce in-depth multimedia projects on a national scale. Past News21 investigations have focused on water pollution, food safety, marijuana use and U.S. gun legislation.

In 2019, Anton Delgado ’20 and Alex Simon ’17, then an Arizona State master’s student, joined 35 student journalists from across the country to examine how the federal government has responded to natural disasters ranging from hurricanes to wildfires.