Investigative Reporting Workshop lets intern take on overview of immigration bills

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“States tackle immigration on their home turfs” was a project reported entirely by Meryl Kornfield, an IRW intern. Graphic designed by Kelly Martin/IRW.

University of Florida 2019 graduate Meryl Kornfield knew what she was looking for in her post-graduation journalism internship. She was ready to dive into an investigative project.

Kornfield had experience with data projects and covering the Florida Legislature through past internships at WUFT News and the South Florida Sun Sentinel and during her time at student paper The Independent Florida Alligator.

“I just never really had the chance to grab a huge project because they had me working dailies and doing breaking news, which I think is pretty typical for beginners,” she said. She believes big projects inform a reporter’s ability to plan, schedule a large workload, cultivate a thorough list of sources on a single topic and more — all valuable skills for any type of future reporting.

An internship at the Investigative Reporting Workshop was the right place for her. In just three months, Kornfield created “States tackle immigration on their home turfs,” a comprehensive look at more than 250 immigration bills in the latest legislative session, state-by-state. Kornfield focused on legislation involving sanctuary cities and professional licensing. Her story also provided a 50-state overview showing the different approaches on driver’s licenses and in-state tuition.

The biggest challenge was gathering the information. Kornfield started her internship in May, when most of the legislatures were not in session. She went through every state legislative website, came up with a list of key terms that were in immigration bills and filtered out irrelevant bills before categorizing them in a giant spreadsheet.

The idea came from her editor at IRW, who also pitched a similar project focusing on abortion that eventually went to another intern and was recently published. Managing editor Lynne Perri said the outlet does a fair amount of coverage of immigration and this project seemed like a strong addition.

The Investigative Reporting Workshop, an INN member based at the School of Communication at American University, often partners with news organizations such as The Washington Post and NPR. This story was targeted at IRW’s website audience, but took off on social media. It appeared in Reddit’s r/Law and r/Economy subreddits, with combined subscribers totaling more than 200,000.

Kornfield was proud of the project, noting that it wasn’t just a story about a single, interesting bill. She said it showed the capacity of nonprofit journalism to rethink how investigative journalism can broaden the conversation. She also credits her time at IRW as an incredibly helpful stepping stone as she’s now interning at The Washington Post, doing investigative work.

She said her story shows what can be done when newsrooms help train students and trust their interns.

“I just really don’t think that it makes a difference about my age — it’s really about what I’m able to write and report,” she said. “I think that student journalists are capable of anything that they put their minds to.”

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This is the third in a series taking you behind the scenes of stories selected by the Institute for Nonprofit News for INN’s Best of Nonprofit News 2019 because of their high impact. Statewide reporting takes time and money but builds trust between journalists and the public. This news matters! And without your financial support, stories like this go untold. If you would like to support this kind of high-quality reporting, please donate to Investigative Reporting Workshop or similar programs in your area. From now until Dec. 31, your gift will be doubled by NewsMatch. And a gift to INN will help us nurture and support these newsrooms year-around. All money raised will contribute to journalism that creates change, informs communities and holds those in power accountable.

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