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Two St. Bonaventure graduates part of News21 team that earned prestigious RFK Journalism Award

Jul 23, 2021 |
kids imprisoned screenshot

Two recent graduates of St. Bonaventure University were part of the nationally acclaimed Carnegie-Knight News 21 Initiative that won a 2021 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

It is the third straight year that students in the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, have won the prestigious RFK Journalism Award recognizing the best collegiate reporting in the country on social justice issues.

St. Bonaventure University graduates Jeffrey Uveino, ’21, and Layne Dowdall, ’20, were part of the 2021 winning project, “Kids Imprisoned,” the work of 35 student journalists from 16 universities across the country who spent eight months reporting on the state of the country’s juvenile justice system. St. Bonaventure’s Jandoli School of Communication supported Uveino and Dowdall’s participation in the News21 program.

“Jeff and Layne represent the ideals of the Jandoli School and our long history with their commitment to pursuing journalism on issues of significant public importance,” said Aaron Chimbel, dean of the Jandoli School. “This RFK award was well earned.”

Working during the pandemic in 2020, the students investigated private companies that run programs in detention facilities, conditions in detention facilities, policing practices, employee misconduct, and the impact of the juvenile justice system on families, communities and victims. They worked under the direction of News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Dowdall covers the education beat as a reporter at Investigative Post in Buffalo.

“Working on ‘Kids Imprisoned’ for News21 gave me an amazing opportunity to not only apply all I had learned at St. Bonaventure about reporting, but to do so while working alongside and learning from so many talented people,” she said. “From the early stages of researching to connecting with the children, families and individuals whose stories I was able to listen to and share, I learned everything that goes into in-depth reporting and storytelling. I can now carry that with me into my career.”

Uveino said the investigative project took him out of his comfort zone, a requirement to improve as a professional.

“Dozens of extremely talented journalists worked on this project, which required my colleagues and me to bring our best every day,” he said. “The connections that we made and people that we spoke to also made me feel as though the work we were doing was important, a feeling that is both gratifying and surreal. It felt as though we could change the world with our findings.”

Uveino, who graduated in May, is a sports reporter at The Bradford Era and assistant sports editor for its corporate parent, Bradford Publishing Company.

“I’ve always been a sportswriter and, if it’s up to me, always will be. This investigative project required a different set of skills, however, that evolved within me out of necessity while working with News21. For that, the opportunity to travel and live in Arizona, and the connections that I made while working on the project, I’ll be forever thankful,” Uveino said.

In their investigations, the New21 team discovered that juvenile courts across the country hand down justice disproportionately depending on geographical location, race and the arresting officers, judges, prosecutors and probation officers involved.

Sentencing for the same crime varied widely, from mentoring and rehabilitation to incarceration behind barbed wire in an environment of rioting and sexual abuse. Students found that about 200,000 of the nearly 750,000 cases processed each year resulted in young people being sentenced to a locked detention facility.

Dowdall hopes the team’s reporting spreads awareness of serious issues that exist in the juvenile justice system and sparks conversations to address them as quickly as possible.

“If the system isn’t working 100%, it needs to change,” she said. 

Despite being unable to work together in person or travel to do their reporting, the students produced 23 deeply reported stories, 35 additional reports with photo illustrations, a seven-part podcast, several video stories and created visual portraits by using projectors and video conferencing. View the “Kids Imprisoned” report at https://kidsimprisoned.news21.com/.

It is the sixth time students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication have captured the prize.

The RFK Journalism Awards program honors outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Kennedy’s passions, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the U.S. and around the world.

St. Bonaventure journalism student Meghan Hall, ’22, is investigating poverty and the pandemic this summer as a Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow.

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About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2020, St. Bonaventure was named the #2 regional university value in New York and #3 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.