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Intern wins Polk Award – what next?

March 11, 2014

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Kyger wrote two of the stories in the award-winning series.

At only 22-years-old, one recent Arizona State University graduate has already accomplished what most professionals take years to achieve.

Lauren Kyger has won the 2013 George Polk Award in Journalism for business reporting for her first major investigative project while interning with the Center for Public Integrity.

“I was honestly shocked. I was really, really shocked,” she said of hearing the news from her project manager, Alison Fitzgerald. “She said, ‘Lauren, this is a big deal.’”

Immediately after graduating from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication last May, Kyger moved to Washington D.C. to join the team of reporters to work on the winning series, “After the Meltdown.”

Kyger said winning the award so early in her career is “mind-boggling.”

“I just have so much respect for the organization and the other people that won the award this year,” she said. “Just to even be mentioned in the same breath as all those … incredible journalists, places that have done such amazing work, it’s more than words can describe.”

The project sheds light on the individuals responsible for the 2008 financial crisis who have yet to be held accountable for their actions leading to the crash.

The investigation took Kyger from chasing down congressmen at the Capitol to mining through heaps of paperwork. She had to quickly learn how to read SEC documents and mortgage and financial reports to build her story, something she says, she didn’t realize she was able to do coming right out of college.

“Once I really started to see that I could really do that and find things and say ‘wow’ this makes sense and start to put it all together, it was really empowering,” said Kyger, who only started taking business journalism classes her last year of school.

She said she’s thankful to the other reporters who helped her throughout the process, and watching them work and learning from their process was a lesson in itself.

“Just to even be mentioned
in the same breath as
all those … incredible journalists,
places that have done
such amazing work,
it’s more than words
can describe.”

“These are journalists that have been in the business for years and years and have had crazy experiences and have worked for really influential outlets,” she said of her teammates Fitzgerald, Daniel Wagner and John Dunbar. “I was just excited to be breathing the same oxygen as them.”

As a trained broadcast reporter at Cronkite, Kyger had to break away from the traditional short video story and dive into longer form storytelling, something she said she’s always been interested in pursuing.

“I really wanted to do more investigative work … that impacted people,” she said. “We were spending months and months of research on the story. It just made me fall in love with print more than I already was.”

Kyger’s internship may have ended last October, but in August, she will be getting her master’s degree in global business journalism in Beijing as a fellow at Tsinghua University.

Kyger minored in Chinese and has been studying the language since she was a senior in high school. She is now “close to fluent” and plans to report on China related issues in the future.

Her fascination with the culture started when she was a child (her favorite Disney princess was Mulan), and after studying abroad in the country a few years ago, she knew it was the right fit.

“I just fell in love with China—the people, the food, the atmosphere, the language,” she said. “And I knew that’s just what I wanted to do.”

To fill up the time in between graduate school, Kyger is doing research for the Hinrich Foundation (the organization sponsoring her fellowship) and taking on small jobs in her hometown outside of Boston. She didn’t want to start applying for reporting jobs knowing that she could only commit a year of her time before she had to move.

Kyger will receive her award in New York City in April, and although the award is “the cherry on top of the perfect ice cream sundae,” she would still be proud of the project if she hadn’t won anything.

“The work and the experience I got from the internship and the people I met—that’s the real award.”

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