ASU's Cronkite School receives challenge grant for innovative virtual-reality project

July 17, 2017

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has received a grant to fund a new virtual-reality project through a news initiative from Google News Lab, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Online News Association.

Journalism 360 awarded the Cronkite School a $30,000 grant for “Data Real,” in which students in the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab will develop a tool that easily enables journalists and content creators to add location-based data visualizations to virtual-reality content. Cronkite School building ASU's Cronkite School has received a grant to fund a virtual-reality project that would allow journalists to add statistics, data, pricing and other information on particular neighborhoods through data overlays on VR footage. Download Full Image

The Data Real tool would allow journalists to add statistics, data, pricing and other information on particular neighborhoods through data overlays on VR footage. Users would search neighborhoods by entering a ZIP code.

“This grant will help our students push the limits of storytelling through cutting-edge technologies,” said Kristin Gilger, Cronkite School senior associate dean. “We sincerely appreciate the support of Google News Lab, Knight Foundation and the Online News Association.”

The Cronkite School’s project was one of 11 challenge winners in the contest. The winning projects will help advance Journalism 360’s mission of developing an international network of journalists to explore and share knowledge about their work in immersive storytelling. This is the third time the Cronkite School has received a challenge grant with Knight Foundation support.

Cronkite’s New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, which connects journalism, computer engineering, design and business students at ASU to create pioneering media products, will work on the Data Real project over the next several months. They are invited to the ONA conference in Washington, D.C., in October. They also will share their findings at a special Journalism 360 demo day in early 2018.

Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, said the Data Real tool will enhance VR experiences by allowing users to more deeply interact with the content. Users could explore a neighborhood by wearing a VR headset and interact with data around them by clicking on 3-D visualizations with a controller that reveals information such as crime statistics, school data, dining information and more.

“The data visualization tool will help storytellers bring localized data alive,” Hill said. “I can’t wait to see what my colleagues in journalism will do with the tool once it is available. My students in the lab can’t wait to get started.”

The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab was conceived by ASU President Michael M. Crow and the late Sue Clark-Johnson, who headed Gannett’s newspaper division. Over the past 10 years, students in the lab have created mobile and VR apps, interactive games and social-media sites for a variety of media companies and nonprofits.

Announced in September 2016, Journalism 360 was designed to help accelerate the use of immersive storytelling in the news through innovative technologies such as VR, augmented and mixed reality, and 360-degree video.

Other Journalism 360 projects ranged from the use of augmented reality and data visualization to document the building of a border wall between the United States and Mexico to a tool that allows users to create virtual-reality photo experiences from their smartphones. Grant recipients included media organizations, such as The Arizona Republic and NPR, as well as universities and multimedia companies.

“The overwhelming response to the open call demonstrated that journalists are seizing the opportunity to use immersive storytelling to engage people in new ways,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “There is still much to learn, and the winners will help lead the way by identifying best practices and tools and expanding the Journalism 360 network.”

Communications manager, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication


NY Times correspondent named ASU Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor

July 18, 2017

Fernanda Santos, an award-winning author and Southwest correspondent for The New York Times, is joining the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as a Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor, Arizona State University has announced.

Santos, who covers Arizona and New Mexico for the Times, has reported extensively on border and immigration issues as well as wildfires in the Southwest. Her recent book, “The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots,” covered the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history. Fernanda Santos New York Times Southwest correspondent Fernanda Santos is joining the Cronkite School as a Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor. Photo by Nick Oza Download Full Image

Santos, who starts Aug. 16, will teach short- and long-form narrative journalism to undergraduate and graduate students. She will hold the rank of professor of practice.

“I’m a firm believer in sharing my knowledge, and I can think of no better way to do that than to work with the next generation of journalists at Cronkite, a school that believes in diversity of culture, background and point of view — diversity in its true form,” Santos said. “This is an amazing opportunity to help students become better writers and to mentor them.”

Since joining the Times in 2005, Santos has covered New York City’s public school system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s City Hall and the New York borough of Queens as well as rural and suburban communities in the state of New York. Her story on the first year of freedom for a wrongfully convicted man won awards from the Associated Press Media Editors and the Society of Silurians.

As Phoenix bureau chief, she has reported on the ongoing issues surrounding President Donald Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as on a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Phoenix that was once targeted for demolition.  

“Fernanda’s stories for the Times have brought national and international attention to the important issues of the Southwest through skilled reporting and powerful narrative,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We are thrilled she will be sharing her passion for storytelling with our students and are excited for her to be an integral part of our school.”

Santos, who speaks four languages — English, Portuguese, Spanish and French — got her start in journalism in her home country of Brazil, where she found a passion for storytelling in Rio de Janeiro. There, she said she witnessed “violence, inequality and immeasurable hope.”

In 1998, she came to the U.S. and started reporting for newspapers in Massachusetts. At the Eagle-Tribune, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, she was part of the reporting team that won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service for a multipart series on racial relations in New England. 

She went on to work at the New York Daily News and People Magazine before joining The New York Times.

Santos also was a fellow at the International Reporting Project, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., in 2005. For the fellowship, she traveled to Colombia to explore the reasons behind a steep decline in the rate of violent crimes in Bogotá.

“I've been a journalist for 20 years, 12 of those at The New York Times, where I learned from some of the best editors and reporters in the business,” she said. “This was the perfect time in my career to step away from daily newspapers. Cronkite gave me a home when I took a leave of absence from The Times to write a book about the deadly wildfire of 2013. I’m honored to be joining the full-time faculty at the school, and I can't wait to bring my passion and skills to the classroom.”

Published in 2016, “The Fire Line” provides a narrative of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, which killed 19 firefighters. The book received the Western Writers of America 2017 Spur Award for Best First Nonfiction Book.

At the Cronkite School, Santos will be part of the ASU Southwest Borderlands Initiative. The borderlands initiative, created in 2001 to enhance research and teaching focused on the Southwest and the U.S.-Mexico border, has more than two dozen faculty members across a wide array of disciplines.

Santos will join Cronkite’s Southwest Borderlands Professor Rick Rodriguez, the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and the first Latino president of the American Society of News Editors. Santos, Rodriguez and Vanessa Ruiz, a former lead anchor on 12 News Phoenix and an award-winning bilingual correspondent who also starts at Cronkite next month, are part of a growing cadre of faculty members specializing in coverage of the border and Latino issues.

Santos is a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a board member of the Arizona Latino Media Association and a member of the Journalism and Women Symposium.

She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in communications and sociology from Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro.

“Joining Cronkite is truly an honor,” Santos said. “This is an incredible opportunity to be part of a stellar faculty in one of the best journalism schools in the country.”

Communications manager, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication