Major food safety investigation- produced by students in Knight-funded program- published by The Washington Post and

Oct. 3, 2011 -- A major national investigation into food safety in America, conducted by student journalists from five universities participating in the national Carnegie-Knight News21 program, is getting prominent play in The Washington Post and on this week.

Twenty-seven News21 Fellows from Arizona State University, University of Maryland, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska and Harvard University collaborated to produce the project, which examines food safety issues through in-depth stories, photos, video,  graphics and interactive data bases.

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The News21 program, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, promotes in-depth, interactive and innovative investigative journalism at journalism schools across the country. It is headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The stories being published by The Washington Post this week detail the widespread incidence and many causes of foodborne illness in the U.S. and show how a combination of industry practices and gaps in government oversight leaves consumers vulnerable. Earlier, the Post published two breaking news stories from the News21 national project about food safety at farmers' markets and a corporate challenge to the way federal and state governments investigate foodborne illness outbreaks.

Among the News21 stories to be featured on this week are an examination of the dangers posed by seafood and how hundreds of millions of pounds of contaminated meat is approved for sale in the U.S.

The project also appears on the websites of News21 and the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.


Last year’s national News21 investigation on transportation safety, “Breakdown: Traveling Dangerously in America,” was featured in the Post and on the websites of and the Center for Public Integrity. It drew more than 5.2 million page views in its first 18 days – the largest distribution of university-produced journalism in history. The project was a finalist in the Online News Association investigative reporting contest in the professional category.

"News21 proves that top journalism schools and top teachers can produce journalism as good as any in America today," said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation. "News leaders and major news organizations agree — because they use News21's journalism."

The 2011 food safety investigation’s findings included:

  • Foodborne illnesses sicken one person in six — 48 million — in the U.S. each year. Of those, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 die.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration anticipates that 24 million agency-regulated products will enter the U.S. in 2011, but it expects to inspect only 1.59 percent of them.

  • Nearly three million Americans are sickened by contaminated meat and poultry each year. Poultry carrying the salmonella pathogen is routinely sold to consumers with the expectation that they’ll protect themselves from infections.

  • Even though small farms lobbied Congress successfully for an exemption from stringent new federal food safety regulations, there is no scientific evidence that their products are safer than those produced by large farms.

News21 students at ASU and the universities of Maryland, Missouri and Nebraska began this year's reporting project with a teleconferenced spring semester seminar in which they researched food safety issues and interviewed experts in the field. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and the Cronkite School's Weil Family Professor of Journalism, led the seminar from the Cronkite School and coordinated the program.

Students selected for the summer reporting fellowship spent 10 weeks reporting and producing their projects, working out of newsrooms at Maryland and ASU.  Sharon Rosenhause, former managing editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, managed the newsroom in Arizona, while the Maryland newsroom was led by Deborah Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and senior lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and fellow faculty members Sandy Banisky, former deputy managing editor at The Baltimore Sun, and Sean Mussenden, a director of the college’s Capital News Service.

Downie, who worked with students at both universities throughout the summer, said he was impressed with the student’s work. “They did a lot of very important original reporting, showed a great deal of initiative and accepted criticism from professional journalists,” he said.

Nelson added, “The program tapped and cultivated the innovative, investigative energy of some of the country's most talented journalism students. Those of us who had the chance to work with them can't help but be optimistic about the future of news.”

Rosenhause said food safety proved to be an issue to which everyone could relate. “We shop, we cook, we eat out, but a lot of us don’t think about what goes into the decisions we make about food,” she said.

Cronkite student Nathan O’Neal relished the opportunity to do in-depth reporting. O’Neal and fellow Cronkite student Stephanie Snyder spent seven months on their story about an E. coli outbreak linked to spinach. 

In News21, “the story has time to evolve and the reporter has time to make it impactful,” O’Neal said.

Carnegie and Knight recently renewed their commitment to News21 with a $2.32 million in grants over the next 10 years.  The next generation of the program will be modeled after the past two year’s multi-university investigative projects and will be open to students from any accredited journalism school in the U.S. 

The 2011 News21 fellows were:

  • Rachel Albin, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Jeffrey Benzing, University of Maryland

  • Kyle Bruggeman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Maggie Clark, University of Maryland

  • Alicia Cormie, Arizona State University

  • Kerry Davis, University of Maryland

  • Esther French, University of Maryland

  • Nicole Gilbert, Arizona State University

  • Judah Gross, University of Maryland

  • Emily Hooper, University of Maryland

  • Joanne Ingram, Arizona State University

  • Mattea Kramer, Harvard University

  • Max Levy, Arizona State University

  • Teresa Lostroh, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Andrew Mach, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Andy Marso, University of Maryland

  • Robynne McCullough, University of Maryland

  • Tarryn Mento, Arizona State University

  • Nathan O’Neal, Arizona State University

  • Whitney Phillips, Arizona State University

  • Brandon Quester, Arizona State University

  • Brad Racino, University of Missouri

  • Madhu Rajarman, University of Maryland

  • Stephanie Snyder, Arizona State University

  • Dustin Volz, Arizona State University

  • Joe Yerardi, University of Missouri

  • Maria Zilberman, University of Maryland

About the Carnegie Corporation of New York
Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 "to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding," is one of the oldest, largest and most influential of American grantmaking foundations. The foundation makes grants to promote international peace and to advance education and knowledge. For more information, visit:

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit