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The fifth annual New England First Amendment Institute began Sunday with a reminder that investigative reporting is essential to democracy and there are grave injustices waiting to be exposed.
The Boston Globe’s Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson opened the institute — provided each year by the New England First Amendment Coalition — by discussing their work as part of the paper’s 2002 Spotlight Team investigation into the abuse of children by priests and the subsequent coverup by the Catholic Church. Their work earned them a Pulitzer Prize and is the basis of the movie to be released next month.
“There exist many other injustices, many of them undetected, that await your good reporting,” Robinson told this year’s class of journalism fellows.
NEFAC provides the three-day institute for 25 New England journalists each year. These journalism fellows are selected by the coalition and are given access to many of the country’s top reporters, editors and media attorneys. Topics covered by the institute include state and federal freedom of information law, how to access and use SEC documents, database reporting, Internet and social media research, source development, writing strategies, investigative techniques, and accuracy and responsibility in reporting.
“Without investigative reporting, democracy probably doesn’t work,” said Rezendes, adding that his time with the Spotlight Team “reinforced to me how important this work is, just what a difference you can make.”
In addition to discussing their investigation into the Catholic Church, the three also shared stories about consulting on the set of the upcoming film, “Spotlight,” which will be released on Nov. 6.
“It was a good experience for us,” Pfeiffer said, “being on the other side of the questions.”
A panel discussion on investigative reporting techniques and freedom of information law followed, featuring Cindy Galli of ABC News, Joe Mahr of the Chicago Tribune and Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald.
The institute continues today with discussions on FOI requests, avoiding legal trouble, the federal Freedom of Information Act, and an address by 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Berry Hawes of The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.
Sponsors and supporters of this year’s institute include The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, the Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, the New England Newspaper & Press Association, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Plymouth Rock Foundation, the Stone Family and Sam Adams.
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. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, The Boston Globe and Boston University.