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.



April 13 | Develop a ‘Document State of Mind’

May 11 | How to Interview Hostile Sources

June 7 | How to Find People Online

July 12 | Digging Deeper in Broadcast Journalism


How to Pitch a Story

Instructor: Maggie Mulvihill | NEFAC, Boston University

Whether you are a student journalist or a seasoned professional, pitching a story can be difficult. It can often be a challenge to anticipate the needs of a particular editor and effectively communicate the value of your story. By viewing this lesson, you’ll learn:

• Why pitching a story is a critical skill for journalists of all backgrounds and employment status.
• How to develop relationships with those who will be considering your pitch.
• How to craft and deliver the most effective pitch for your stories.

How to Invoke the Fair Report Privilege

Instructor: Matthew B. Byrne | Gravel & Shea

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. By viewing this lesson, 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.

Making Democracy Reporting Part of Your Beat

Instructor: Geoff Foster | Common Cause Massachusetts

Coverage of democracy-related issues has found its way across all parts of the newsroom, overlapping with many of the beats assigned to journalists. By viewing this lesson, you will learn:

• How to strengthen your beat coverage with democracy-related stories.
• Potential sources for stories on topics relevant to our democracy.
• Specific democracy-related story ideas that you can immediately begin working on.

Finding High Quality Data for Stories

Instructor: Margot Williams | The Intercept

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:

• How to use tools other than Google to find databases.
• How to find databases from other countries.
• Tips on where to find databases that aren’t online.

Microsoft Excel 102

Instructor: Jenifer McKim | GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting

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 class, you will learn:

• How to create pivot tables from large datasets.
• How to use pivot tables to generate findings for your stories.
• Other basic functions of Excel that can be used to begin database analysis.

How to Balance Newsgathering with Privacy Interests

Instructor: Gregory V. Sullivan | Counsel to Union Leader Corp.

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:

• What constitutes “invasion of privacy” under the law.
• The scope of First Amendment protection when reporting in public areas.
• Ways to stay within the legal bounds of privacy when newsgathering.

How to Diversify Your Sources

Instructor: Neema Roshania Patel | The Washington Post

Diversifying your sources can help strengthen your credibility and improve your overall journalism practices. By viewing this lesson, you will learn:

• How diversifying sources can make journalists more trustworthy arbiters of the news.
• Questions that can be asked while newsgathering to help diversify sources.
• Where to find resources to help build new source lists.

How to Navigate the Court System

Instructor: Roy S. Gutterman | Syracuse University

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:

• How the court system operates and the levels of public access.
• The gatekeepers of information and where they can be found.
• Strategies and tips for reporters beginning to cover the courts.

How to Avoid Libel in Your Reporting

Instructor: Gregory V. Sullivan | Malloy & Sullivan

The line where First Amendment protection begins and ends isn’t always clear for those speaking critically of private and public figures. By viewing this class, you will learn:

• The seminal First Amendment cases addressing defamatory speech and recent developments in libel law.
• The current legal standards used to determine if speech is libelous.
• Good practices for you and your newsroom that will help avoid libel claims.

How to Respond to a Subpoena

Instructor: Matt Byrne | Gravel & Shea

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, at least 85 journalists have received subpoenas since 2017. These legal orders can be intimidating and infringe on your rights as a journalists. By completing this lesson, you will learn about:

• The history of subpoenas and their legal authority.
• Arguments and strategies that can be made in response to a subpoena.
• How to advocate for yourself and newsroom when in court.

How to Protect Women Journalists

Instructor: Karin Nazish | Coalition for Women in Journalism

With newsrooms often lacking effective support systems, women journalists are regularly belittled, have their professionalism questioned and endure mistreatment strictly based on their gender. By viewing this class, you will learn about:

• The types of threats currently facing women journalists.
• How to protect yourself from online trolling.
• How to stay safe at protests and large demonstrations.