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Carignan Gains Investigative Experience in Arizona

By Michael Wargo

Junior Sylvia Carignan learned investigative journalism from the pros the Campus Coverage Project, a 4-day workshop in Phoenix, Arizona. The exclusive event brings investigative reporting training to 70 college and university students. The goal is to help student reporters and editors serve as better watchdogs on campus.

Journalism professor Chuck Lewis approached Carignan early in the fall semester about the opportunity, which is held by Investigative Reporters and Editors in parternship with Education Writers Association and the Student Press Law Center.

Lewis, who is also Executive Editor of SOC’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, said many students are intrigued by investigative reporting, but very few actually have an instinct for it. He said Carignan showed herself to be one of those outstanding students, investigating two subjects simultaneously, which is almost unheard of.

“She combines curiosity, creativity, drive, perseverance and a willingness to work long hours in the best possible ways,” he said. “It thus was a no-brainer to recommend her for the prestigious IRE project training in Arizona.”

Carignan headed to the conference hoping to learn how to investigate universities using insider knowledge. “Just like with business or political reporting, there are certain stories that are only found by reporters who know how the system works,” she said.

Carignan says it's the single best thing she’s done for her journalism career. “This conference radically changed how I approach stories, and how I research and write them,” she said. “It's made my journalism education at AU a lot richer, and hopefully I'll get to share what I've learned with other students who are also interested in journalism.”

At the conference, she attended a variety of campus-centric workshops that looked at academic data, budgets and audits, and how to conduct interviews and write long-term stories. “It was really a comprehensive education in investigating campus news.”

Students also got an unexpected lesson in breaking news, when the Rep. Giffords shooting occurred two hours away in Tucson. Carignan says one of the speakers immediately put together a seminar on covering local breaking news, and about 30 of the students formed a mini-newsroom, brainstorming ideas on where to go for information and how to verify it. “It gave me some really good ideas on news sources that I probably wouldn't have thought of myself, even though I'd been in breaking news situations in the WAMU newsroom,” she said.

She said the most important thing she gained from the conference was the network of professional and student journalists that have formed around the Campus Coverage Project to assist each other in news reporting. “The Project invited me to Phoenix so that I could be an ambassador of investigative reporting for my campus, and I'm really looking forward to fulfilling that responsibility with my new tools and reporting perspective."