Student Journalist Traverses Nation to Document Voting Rights Challenges
Kent State University journalism major Jimmy Miller recently spent 10 weeks traveling the country examining the political views of white, working-class Americans, a group now credited as a difference maker in the successful campaign of President-elect Donald Trump.
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.
Miller, who currently serves as editor of The Kent Stater, was one of 31 reporters selected to explore voting rights and patterns in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
The final project, “Voting Wars,” 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.
Miller’s work focused on the voting patterns of residents living in Midwestern towns who have historically voted for Democrats but who were supporting then-Republican nominee Trump.
“They felt 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, taking valuable jobs with them and destroying their faith in the Democratic Party.
To find these stories, Miller traveled throughout the Midwest, to Mahoning County in Ohio, Clay County in Tennessee, Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania and Knott County in Kentucky.
Miller, whose hometown is Stow, Ohio, said this was a new experience because he typically traveled only to tourist destinations.
“I had been to Kentucky in passing, but I never experienced the parts of the Midwest that I did (in the program),” Miller said. “It is so easy to think that normal in our world is normal in everybody’s world, but it’s not.”
Kent State alumna Emily Mills, who studied at Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism in 2016, also took part in the project for News21. Like Miller, she also served as editor of The Kent Stater.
“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.
Mills 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.
The training was intimidating at first, Miller admitted, but the intimidation turned into appreciation by the end of the summer because he was able to learn valuable skills that he brought back to Kent State.
“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 this year,” he said. “I think people here are going to produce some really awesome things.”