Kyra O’Connor ‘23 explored police reform during News21 Fellowship

The journalism major spent her summer conducting in-depth field reporting as part of a national project published this fall that focused on policing and justice.

Kyra O’Connor ’23, an Elon University senior and executive director of Elon News Network, interviews protesters in downtown Chicago on July 4. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Tumani/News21.

Kyra O’Connor ’23 watched as protesters marched in the streets of downtown Chicago on July 4. While some onlookers might have walked in the other direction, O’Connor and her reporting partner moved toward the protest, interviewing participants and photographing the scene as they went.

“It was raining and we had no idea what the protest was for or even where they were going,” recalled O’Connor, a senior majoring in journalism at Elon. “But I remember looking at my friend and saying, ‘Why not?’ And that’s how I ended up with a great story — just by being curious, the way all great stories start.”

As part of the paid summer fellowship, O’Connor and 33 students from 14 different universities collaborated on this year’s News21 national reporting project.

This summer O’Connor ended up at protests, baseball practices, office buildings and traveling across the U.S. as part of her News21 Fellowship, one of the most prestigious student journalism internships in the country. As part of the paid summer fellowship, O’Connor and 33 students from 14 different universities collaborated on a national reporting project focused on policing and justice. The finished project, titled “In Pursuit,” was published this fall and offers a comprehensive look at police reform across America.

In addition to a 4,000-word story, photography and other multimedia content she helped produce, O’Connor also published two individual stories or pieces of “bonus content.”

Established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the 10-week investigative reporting assignment is headquartered at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School. While in Phoenix, O’Connor said she grew close with the 2022 cohort, bonding while they produced the in-depth multimedia project.

“One of the best parts of this program is meeting other student journalists who are going through the same challenges and triumphs you are,” O’Connor said. “The people I worked with over the summer not only helped me to call Arizona home, but helped me grow as both a journalist and a person. I cannot say thank you enough to my friends from News21.”

To start the program, O’Connor and the other fellows spent time in Phoenix, researching and pre-reporting each of their team topics. O’Connor worked with three other fellows on the topic of transparency within policing, with a specific focus on access to misconduct records and officers, as well as what transparency looks like for stakeholders.

O’Connor then traveled to Chicago and to multiple cities in Texas to report on the ground for a total of two weeks. In Texas, O’Connor worked as a member of a team gathering content for the News21 project, conducting interviews and gathering photography.

The “In Pursuit” reporting project was published this fall and offers a comprehensive look at police reform across America.

In Chicago, O’Connor spoke with transparency advocates, experts and a police officer about how policing can become more transparent in the future. According to the Elon senior, her time in the Windy City was a highlight of the summer.

“I loved the city itself. Everything has history and a story to it,” O’Connor said. “But more than that, every person I spoke to there had so much insight into why transparency hasn’t happened yet, and was more than willing to tell their portion of the story.”

Upon returning to Phoenix, the fellows worked to produce their final projects and bonus content, working past the summer’s end to ensure the project was the best it could be. Following her return to campus, O’Connor said she has incorporated much of what she learned in Phoenix into the Elon News Network newsroom.

“It was great to be in a place where we were all focused on long-term reporting and brought skill sets from our respective universities to one place,” O’Connor said. “I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as a reporter, but also as a member of a team, and I have already been able to use this knowledge at ENN and as I look for jobs.”

O’Connor first learned about the News21 initiative as a 17-year-old at the Journalism Education Association conference. As she looks back on this past summer, O’Connor said she knows she made that hopeful aspiring journalist proud.

“I cannot recommend this program enough. It challenged me as a journalist, as a person, and overall gave me all of the opportunities and more to tell great stories,” O’Connor said. “Thank you to every single person who shared their story with me this summer, and all of the incredible people in my life who support me each day.”