30 Minute Skills: How to Avoid Libel in Your Reporting

The New England First Amendment Coalition launched last year 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 will be 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 Avoid Libel
in Your Reporting

February 16 | 12 p.m. ET

With a highly-publicized libel trial between former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and The New York Times beginning this month, the legalities around defamatory speech are once again in the national conversation. 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:

• 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.

About Your Instructor

GREGORY V. SULLIVAN | Sullivan has served as general counsel for the Union Leader Corporation for the past 40 years. He has represented Union Leader and many other media organizations regarding First Amendment issues in federal and state courts. Sullivan also currently serves on the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s Committee on the Judiciary and the Media and is president of the Hingham, Mass.-based media law firm, Malloy & Sullivan. Sullivan has successfully argued before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in several landmark First Amendment and public access cases. He teaches First Amendment Law at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester, N.H.

Recent 30 Minute Skills Classes

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.

Drone Journalism | Drones are increasingly being used by journalists to capture high-quality images and other types of data to help report important stories. By attending this class, you will learn: (1) the requirements needed to begin using drones in reporting (2) the laws, regulations and ethics governing drone use and (3) additional resources to help your newsroom begin using drones for newsgathering.

How to Verify Information Online | In an age of information overload, finding credible sources is increasingly difficult. By attending this class, you will learn: (1) tech tips to help verify information, including reverse image searching (2) how to identify bots and other fake social media accounts and (3) where to find open-source tools to assist in digital media investigations.

FERPA and Public Records | What is or is not a FERPA record has become more consequential during the COVID-19 pandemic given the increasing demand for school data. By viewing this lesson, you will learn: (1) more about the history and purpose of FERPA (2) under what circumstances and to what types of educational institutions FERPA applies and (3) how to best respond to public record denials that are incorrectly attributed to FERPA.

Self-Care for Journalists | After interviewing people who have suffered great loss or covering various conflicts, journalists of all backgrounds may need help coping with their own exposure to traumatic events. By viewing this class, you will be able to: (1) explain the rationale for good self-care (2) identify areas where self-care practical tools may be necessary and (3) begin to implement specific self-care strategies or practical tools.

Web Scraping 102 | This is the second of two introductory lessons taught by NEFAC’s Maggie Mulvihill about collecting online data through web scraping. By viewing this class, you will learn: (1) additional ways to scrape websites for information (2) how to use free online tools for web scraping and (3) how to scrape data from PDF documents for use in spreadsheets.

Web Scraping 101 | This is the first of two introductory lessons taught by NEFAC’s Maggie Mulvihill about collecting online data through web scraping. By viewing this class, you will learn: (1) how web scraping can be helpful to data collection (2) where to find free tools to use for web scraping and (3) how to begin scraping various websites for information and data.


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 and Linda Pizzuti Henry.