Sorell Grow’s professional journalism career was off to a busy start this summer as the May 2020 graduate completed a 10-week fellowship with News21. She is the first Butler University student ever to apply for and be accepted into the prestigious investigative reporting program, which recruits fellows from across the nation to produce in-depth, multimedia stories. Content created for the project is often published in major outlets such as The Washington Post, NBC News, and USA Today.
This year, the 35-member team has studied and reported on aspects of the United States juvenile justice system. One of Grow’s stories covers the system’s disparities, and another chronicles the experience of life after incarceration for those who were imprisoned as kids. Overall, the 2020 fellows produced about 20 longform investigative pieces that will be published in mid-August.
While the pandemic meant this year’s fellows had to work remotely instead of traveling to Arizona State University, Grow still loved the opportunity to work with other top journalism students while gaining hands-on experience in investigative reporting.
Why did you pursue this program? What aspects appealed to you most?
I found out about the fellowship through Dean Brooke Barnett and one of my journalism professors, who nominated me for the program. I was most intrigued by the idea of working with fellow journalism students who are around the same age and interested in the same field that I am.
Since Butler’s journalism program is fairly small, I was eager to work with students from other universities and backgrounds. Sadly, I never got to actually meet the other fellows I worked with every day, but we’re planning to meet up once it’s safer to travel!
The topic of our reporting—the juvenile justice system—was very interesting to me, too. It seemed like an often-neglected aspect of this country’s criminal justice and law and order systems. Especially given the national conversation this summer surrounding racial equality and police brutality, this topic felt even more important to cover.
I was also excited to be under the mentorship of veteran investigative reporters and editors, some of whom have won Pulitzer Prizes and produced many of this country’s most compelling investigative pieces in recent history.
What have been the main things you’ve learned from this experience?
When it comes to working from home, I’ve learned how to focus and manage my time well, by creating a healthy work-life balance.
When it comes to journalism, I’ve learned that it’s always possible to dig deeper and find out something new, even if it seems like every possible question has already been asked or every resource has been used. We were tasked with completing a national investigative project—including dozens of videos, longform stories, graphics, and illustrations—while working completely virtually. While this wasn’t an ideal experience for anyone in News21, we still completed the project successfully in these difficult and unfortunate circumstances.
Do you have plans for what you’ll be doing next, now that you’ve wrapped up the fellowship?
I’ll be working for The Christian Science Monitor this fall. I interned there two summers ago and loved the experience of working for a global news organization, so I’m looking forward to working there again.
Read more about the 2020 News21 project here, and be on the lookout for Grow’s stories that will be published in the coming weeks.