The Elon University junior and executive director of Elon News Network has joined student journalists from across the country to participate in a national reporting project focused on policing and justice.
Four years ago, Kyra O’Connor ’23 was a high school journalist – already with aspirations to pursue journalism professionally – when she first learned about the Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellowship, one of the most prestigious student journalism internships in the country. Today, O’Connor, executive director of Elon News Network, has been selected for the 2022 fellowship and is participating in the national reporting project investigating policing and justice.
The Carnegie-Knight News21 is a national reporting initiative headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The program brings together top journalism students from across the country to report and produce in-depth multimedia projects for major media outlets, including The Washington Post, NBC News and USA Today. Alumnae Mackenzie Wilkes ’21, who reported on the impact of the pandemic on minorities in America, and Victoria Traxler ’20, who investigate the juvenile justice system, are Elon’s most recent News21 Fellows.
As part of the paid summer fellowship, O’Connor and more than 30 students from 13 different universities will participate in a 10-week investigative reporting assignment. Depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fellows may work on site at the Cronkite School’s digital media complex in Phoenix.
“I remember looking at the program flyer and thinking how amazing it would be to have the chance to dedicate a whole summer to one long-form investigative journalism project. It was like nothing I had ever seen,” O’Connor said. “I knew, I had to do it.”
O’Connor, who was named to the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund Committee, said she looks forward to diving into the long-form multimedia project. During her time at ENN, O’Connor has reported on local politics, protests and racial justice, higher education and finances. This year’s topic particularly interests O’Connor, and she said she was excited to explore the subject with so many talented student journalists.
“I love breaking news and the consistent coverage we do at ENN, but I am also drawn to the idea of deeply reporting on one topic for weeks at a time,” O’Connor said. “I look forward to being able to explore such deeply impactful topics over the course of the summer.”
Leading up to the summer program, students are participating in a spring seminar led by News21 Executive Editor Christina Leonard, who serves as the director of the Reynolds Business Reporting Bureau at ASU and a professor of practice. Leonard will team with Venita Hawthorne James, another ASU professor of practice, to co-lead the project. The seminar allows the students to immerse themselves in the topic and conduct preliminary reporting.
Colin Donohue, instructor in journalism, said when News21 released its call for applicants this year, many journalism faculty members knew immediately that O’Connor would be Elon’s choice.
“Since Kyra arrived at Elon, she has demonstrated every day that she is a conscientious, ethical and enterprising journalist,” Donohue said. “We know she will do incredible work this summer and be a wonderful addition to the News21 newsroom.”
Donohue said Elon sends students to News21 because of the unique opportunity the fellowship offers to produce immersive storytelling centered on a topic for the public good. Participants leave the program with enhanced skills and great clips, all of which they can take back to Elon’s campus.
“I am deeply honored and grateful to Elon, to my mentors, and to my friends and family for this opportunity,” O’Connor said. “It truly takes a village, and I could not have gotten this far in my career without mine.”