One man's quest to change investigative journalism in Arizona
Photo by Sophia Thomas
His resume reads like an aspiring journalist’s bucket list. Helping people, traveling the globe, holding the powerful accountable; Brandon Quester is not only a talented and esteemed journalist and photojournalist, but now he has entered the ranks of entrepreneurship. With all of these accomplishments early in his life, Quester has undoubtedly earned bragging rights; however, he is wholly humble and is genuinely passionate about the work he is doing.
Quester had been in the journalism field all throughout his college career, ultimately receiving his master’s degree in 2012 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he also completed his undergraduate degree in 2005. In his career, he has focused on issues such as children living along the United States-Mexico border, U.S. soldiers serving in Kuwait and Iraq, and children living on the street in the Dominican Republic.
Quester has also been a photo editor for the State Press, an accomplished fellow at Cronkite News21, a multimedia editor for News21 and he now teaches photography every other semester at the Cronkite School. He has made his mark on Cronkite and in the process has formed relationships with professors he sees as mentors, such as Leonard Downie Jr. and Rick Rodriguez. Rick Rodriguez, Carnegie Professor of Journalism at Cronkite, Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor and professor of practice, muses about Quester and his accomplishments from Cronkite and beyond saying, “Brandon has been one of the best students I've had at Cronkite. He's very versatile, very skilled and very committed to impactful, quality journalism."
Rodriguez says Quester impressed him with his work in the depth reporting classes he taught that traveled to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
"The quality of his photography, reporting and video were all terrific and he was clearly a class leader," Rodriguez says. "What's also impressed me is his dedication to his startup, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, which does much-needed work in this state.”
Quester took time off after getting his undergraduate degree to work for the Student Conservation Association where he patrolled the woods of Olympic National Park in Washington. He also got the opportunity to work with the Wyoming National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo. There he worked more as a photographer and a reporter for the military. He also travelled to Kuwait and Iraq and reported on issues from the perspective inside the military.
Though he took time off to explore other avenues of life, he says about his career in journalism, “No matter what, I keep coming back.” He continues, laughing, “It’s in my blood.”
In 2012, Quester formulated the idea of creating a non-profit investigative reporting service that focuses on the issues plaguing Arizona.
The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (AZCIR) is designed to hold the powerful accountable. AZCIR has worked on projects such as rejected ballots in Arizona counties and “Mapping the Vote,” where they analyzed more than 2.3 million votes cast from the Nov. 6 general election. In their analysis, breakdowns of votes cast were combined with the demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Watching Quester talk about his life is intoxicating, as he has such fervor for his work, particularly the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. “AZCIR is my real passion,” Quester states. His job description ranges from working on the website and reporting, crunching data, being a board member and applying for grant funding from Arizona foundations. However, the enormousness of his job doesn’t seem to faze him as he remarks that his work is, “A lifestyle, not a job.” Leonard Downie Jr., a Cronkite professor of practice, speaks fondly of Quester, stating, “Brandon Quester is a digital age Renaissance man — investigative reporter, photographer, database journalist, multimedia editor and founder and leader of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. His commitment to accountability journalism is strong, his standards high and his ethics absolute.” Quester's success and love for his work certainly go hand in hand. Without his hard work and countless hours of working on AZCIR, it would not be what it is today.
“It really does require great effort to be a great entrepreneur,” Quester says. He is currently working to grow AZCIR, as his long-term goal for the nonprofit organization is for it to become a collaborative resource for other media outlets to report on the real issues in Arizona. “I want AZCIR to better investigative journalism in Arizona,” Quester says, “Accountability is what every journalist should be striving for.” With such bold ambition, Quester is looking to further expand AZCIR. He wishes to cultivate the internship program and hopes it will become an avenue for talented journalists to get their foot in the door while at Cronkite or after graduation. His ambitions extend beyond an internship program for AZCIR. Quester says of his goals for the company: “I’d like to produce original content, collaborate with other news organizations, provide public education and training on investigative journalism and public records, and we eventually want to do events and panel reviews.” Quester is working to change the face of investigative journalism in Arizona with AZCIR, making it his mission to help the helpless and uncover the political woes that are plaguing the valley.
He is truly living the dream of nearly every aspiring journalist.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @andangelo15.