Hitting the road for News21’s Voting Wars

Recent SOJC grad Sami Edge traveled the nation to investigate and cover stories about voting rights and election participation as a fellow with News21's Voting Wars project.
Recent SOJC grad Sami Edge traveled the nation to investigate and cover stories about voting rights and election participation as a fellow with News21's Voting Wars project.

Story and photos by Sami Edge, BA ’16

As a fellow at News21, I spent the summer digging into an issue of national importance: voting rights.

News21 is an investigative reporting program that gathers two dozen or so students from all over the nation in a summer newsroom at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communication at Arizona State University. For 10 weeks, we reported from Arizona and flew across the country to explore access and participation at the polls in a federal election year. The topic is one of particular importance in 2016, after a slew of legislative measures and court rulings have tweaked voting rules over the last five years.

My student reporting career has taken me from subject to subject, party to party, assertion to assertion, and down into the numeral depths of data collection and analysis. I love this work, and I’ve done it before.

What I hadn’t done before this summer was book a cross-country reporting trip. I’d never planned interviews around a flight schedule or tried to collect the entire personality of a town through sights, sounds and interviews in just a few days.

I did that for News21 on a 12-day reporting trip in three very different places: big-city Philadelphia, small-town Massachusetts and all over Wisconsin.One of the best parts of this summer has been learning with — and from — those peers. Collaborating in the field and in the newsroom has pushed my reporting and my storytelling into dimensions I never would have achieved on my own. I only hope that my influence has helped my peers accomplish new things too.

I’ve never had an experience quite like reporting for News21, and I count myself lucky to have been a part of the program. At the end of it all, I’ve learned that there’s no bonding quite the same as working long hours with your teammates, and no feeling quite as rewarding as sharing the pain and reward of hard work with other dedicated journalists.

Check out our reporting efforts for the Voting Wars project, which was released on Aug. 20.I’m happy to announce that my trip went off without a hitch. As a life experience, it was a major success. I feel much more adult having crossed “rent a car” off of my checklist, twice.

As a journalism endeavor, the trip was a learning experience. I came back with too much of some things and not enough of others, and I might forever be kicking myself for the questions I didn’t ask, the areas I didn’t visit and the pictures I didn’t shoot.

But I’m a better journalist because of that trip. I think harder about which questions to ask if I’ve only got one shot. I plan my outings better to make sure I get all the multimedia I need. And I ask people for access to their lives that I used to feel uncomfortable with. It’s amazing what reporting possibilities lie at your fingertips if you aren’t afraid to ask. Desperation taught me that lesson.

The last two months have held plenty of learning experiences for me and for the other reporting fellows spending the summer at News21. I catalogued prosecutions of voter fraud for a story, examined why Asian-Americans have the lowest turnout of any voting bloc, and talked with Latinos around the country about their relationship to voting and access to the booth.

Sami Edge recently graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and is pursuing a career in watchdog reporting. She has interned at The Seattle Times and Portland’s investigative alt-weekly newspaper Willamette Week. While at the SOJC, she served as editor of the independent student newspaper the Daily Emerald and led the first solutions journalism edition of the student-produced iPad publication OR Magazine.