Voter Rights and Patterns
Kent State journalism major Jimmy Miller, ’17, and alumna Emily Mills, '16, recently spent 10 weeks traveling the country, reporting on and examining the political views of white working-class Americans.
The project was part of News21, a national Carnegie-Knight initiative. Each year, the program invites top student journalists from across the country to Arizona State University to report on and investigate a topic. This year 31 students – including Miller and Mills – were selected to explore voting rights and patterns, in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
The final project, “Voting Wars” (https://votingwars.news21.com/), features 19 multimedia-driven, investigative stories related to voter rights, specifically examining the topics of race and rights, power and privilege and facing the future.
Both Mills’ and Miller’s work focused on the voting patterns of individuals living in Midwestern towns that have historically voted Democrat but are now supporting the Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“They feel so burned by the Democratic party and by Hillary Clinton,” Miller said, explaining that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allowed local factories to relocate, leaving the townspeople with no work, which destroyed their faith in the Democratic party.
To find these stories, the two traveled throughout the Midwest, to Mahoning County in Ohio, Clay County in Tennessee, Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania and Knott County in Kentucky.
This was a new experience for Miller, who doesn’t describe himself as the person who normally “just gets up and travels somewhere.” Before News21, Miller had mainly traveled to tourist destinations; the areas he visited for the program were completely different.
“I had been to Kentucky in passing, but I never experienced the parts of the Midwest that I did (in the program),” Miller said.
Each source and each location tested his perception of a so-called “normal town.”
“It is so easy to think that normal in our world is normal in everybody’s world, but it’s not,” Miller said.
Mills, who completed the program post-graduation after serving as editor of The Kent Stater, said her JMC education equipped her with the skills she needed to report her story for News21.
“JMC taught me how to research story ideas quickly yet efficiently, how to ask difficult questions during reporting and how to tell all sides of a story, which were all vital skills in our story,” she said.
She is now a breaking news reporter at the Mansfield News Journal.
For Miller, News21 gave him the opportunity to explore a new realm of journalism as he wrote political articles with multimedia elements. Prior to participating in the program, Miller had focused mainly on sports journalism.
“I had never been in a newsroom where every single person was so dedicated and so good at the craft,” Miller said.
Before leaving for Arizona at the beginning of the summer, Miller and Mills participated in several webinars with award-winning professional journalists and the other student participants throughout the spring 2016 semester.
It was intimidating at first, Miller admitted, but intimidation turned into appreciation by the end of the summer because he was able to learn from his peers and gain confidence in his own skills.
“I was so excited to get back here because that confidence carried over,” Miller said.
As the current editor of The Kent Stater, Miller said he has high expectations for student media after his journey with News21.
“I am really excited for the next (few) weeks. I think people here are going to produce some really awesome things,” said Miller.