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Marty Kaiser, editor and senior vice president of digital content for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, opened the fourth annual New England First Amendment Institute on Sunday by posing a challenge to this year’s journalism fellows: Don’t pick up your phone for the duration of my speech.
Kaiser’s cellphone challenge – and the impulse of those in the audience to frequently check their mobile – highlighted a message that would be conveyed throughout his keynote address: Technology should be embraced, but it shouldn’t distract from the importance of journalism values.
“The delivery systems will change and we will adapt,” Kaiser said. “What we must ensure is the survival of journalism values. . . . There is an obligation to the truth, as best as we can determine it. All the new technology in the world won’t change that.”
The New England First Amendment Coalition presents the institute each year, selecting 25 journalists from throughout the region to attend the three-day investigatory reporting workshop. Kaiser is one of more than 35 journalists and media attorneys who will be training those selected fellows on topics such as state public records laws, best legal practices and database analysis.
Kaiser advised each journalist attending the institute to be more engaged with their community, and “when you find something that’s not right in your community, you have to go on a crusade.” Reporters need to be aggressive, he said.
That tenacity and loyalty to the truth will be recognized by readers, Kaiser said. Reporters on the ground, not their editors, provide the strength in investigatory journalism, he added.
“We can’t afford to have ideas come from editors in glass offices,” Kaiser said. “They need to come from reporters.”
Regardless of the medium or how the news is delivered, he said, journalists must focus on the following: Protect, nurture and build trusted news coverage. Provide context and explanation.
“We must take advantage of the technology to change the way we tell stories,” Kaiser said. “Let’s be creative in how we make our journalism more powerful.”
Following Kaiser’s address, PBS’s Michael Kirk, David DesRoches of fergusonfiles.com and Megan Twohey of Reuters shared their own trials and successes as award-winning journalists.
Twohey, a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year for her series the “The Child Exchange,” suggested that the fellows “find the victims who are voiceless and have stories that need to be told.”
DesRoches, recently named New England Reporter of the Year for his work at the Darien (Conn.) Times, spoke about the sourcing in his series on special education and about the challenge of keeping “emotional distance” from sources with sympathetic stories to share.
Kirk addressed the need for more long-form investigatory filmmaking and shared suggestions on how to best get sources in front of the camera and his preferred interviewing techniques: “Chronology is the best thing you can have when you are making a film, when you are telling a story,” he said.
The institute will continue through Tuesday. Carol Leonnig, part of a Pultizer Prize-winning team at the Washington Post, will give the dinner address tonight.
“Our speakers are here to inspire,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of NEFAC. “We want to provide this year’s fellows not only with an opportunity to learn from the best in their field, but to also leave reinvigorated and excited to break important, compelling stories.”
For more information on the New England First Amendment Institute, please visit nefac.org. The institute event page can be viewed here. You can also follow the institute on Twitter by using the hashtag #NEFAI2014.
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.