The New England First Amendment Coalition launched in 2020 a monthly educational series featuring short, practical lessons on journalism and the First Amendment.
The goal of the program — called “30 Minute Skills” — is to provide reporters and other citizens knowledge they can use immediately in newsgathering, data collection, storytelling and other areas of journalism and First Amendment law.
The lessons are provided in a 30-minute format to accommodate the demanding schedules faced by many working in New England newsrooms. The program is free and open to the public. Registration for each lesson is required.
How to Invoke the Fair Report Privilege
February 17, 2023 | 12 p.m. ET
According to the First Amendment Encyclopedia, the fair report privilege is a widely recognized, state-law defense to libel actions when journalists report on or republish defamatory statements made by government. It can be a very valuable tool for journalists but its protection can vary depending on the state. By attending this class, you’ll learn:
• How the fair report privilege works and current legal questions about the protection it provides.
• Where to find out if your state has a fair reporting privilege and, if so, its scope of protection.
• Good practices you can begin now to make your reporting more likely covered by the privilege.
About Your Instructor
Matthew B. Byrne is an attorney at Gravel & Shea in Burlington, Vt. He practices in all areas of business litigation and frequently represents clients in complex commercial cases. Before coming to Vermont, Byrne was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, a large Chicago law firm. He has appeared in both federal and state courts across the country. Byrne’s practice covers all facets of business litigation, including First Amendment litigation, failed merger litigation, federal securities class actions, derivative suits, federal preemption claims, insurance coverage, contract disputes, trademarks, trade secrets, non-competition, non-solicitation, technology, unfair competition, and personal injury cases. He has tried cases to completion before jurors, courts, and arbitration panels. Byrne has also sought and received emergency relief in a number of different factual contexts and judicial forums.
Recent 30 Minute Skills Classes
Finding High Quality Data for Stories | Before using data cleaning and visualization tools, it’s important to first obtain the most relevant datasets. Your reporting will improve with the quality of the data you use. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how to use tools other than Google to find databases (2) how to find databases from other countries and (3) tips on where to find databases that aren’t online.
Microsoft Excel 102 | The first step in database analysis is learning how spreadsheets function and how data can be used to share compelling stories. This is the second of two introductory classes on Microsoft Excel. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how to create pivot tables from large datasets (2) how to use pivot tables to generate findings for your stories and (3) other basic functions of Excel that can be used to begin database analysis.
Microsoft Excel 101 | The first step in database analysis is learning how spreadsheets function and how data can be used to share compelling stories. This is the first of two introductory classes on Microsoft Excel. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how to sort and filter data imported into Microsoft Excel (2) how to use the sum, median, percent and whole functions and (3) other basic functions of Excel that can be used to begin database analysis.
How to Balance Newsgathering with Privacy Interests | The line between responsible public interest reporting and the invasion of individual privacy can often be difficult to see. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) what constitutes “invasion of privacy” under the law (2) the scope of First Amendment protection when reporting in public areas and (3) ways to stay within the legal bounds of privacy when newsgathering.
How to Diversify Your Sources |Diversifying your sources can help strengthen your credibility and improve your overall journalism practices. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how diversifying sources can make journalists more trustworthy arbiters of the news (2) questions that can be asked while newsgathering to help diversify sources and (3) where to find resources to help build new source lists.
How to Navigate the Court System | Accessing local, state and federal courts can be an intimidating task. It can often be a challenge to obtain information about hearings, attend proceedings and receive copies of judicial records. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how the court system operates and the levels of public access (2) the gatekeepers of information and where they can be found and (3) strategies and tips for reporters beginning to cover the courts.
How to Avoid Libel in Your Reporting | The line where First Amendment protection begins and ends isn’t always clear for those speaking critically of private and public figures. By attending our class, you will learn: (1) the seminal First Amendment cases addressing defamatory speech and recent developments in libel law (2) the current legal standards used to determine if speech is libelous and (3) good practices for you and your newsroom that will help avoid libel claims.
Interviewing Traumatized Sources | Thoughtless journalism can cause collateral damage to victims of trauma. Journalists must know how to cover sensitive stories without causing additional harm. By viewing this lesson, you will learn (1) how to build trust with victims and other vulnerable sources (2) how to motivate sources to share their story in empowering ways and (3) additional resources to use when covering stories involving victims of trauma.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Leadership Circle donors include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.