Tag Archives: Northeastern University

A conversation I’m going to miss

During the past two months I’ve had the privilege of teaching our Journalism Ethics and Issues class at Northeastern, in which I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the news and related issues with 10 bright, engaged young people. Our last class is Wednesday, but, for me, one of the highlights took place Monday, when we talked about the Charleston shootings.

I’m posting the slides I used for the last part of the class, but I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. It was the students who led all but the last hour of the three-and-a-half-hour class. I could easily have let them continue, but at some point I figured I had to start earning my salary.

The issues that engaged them the most were whether the media are more reluctant to label a white supremacist such as Dylann Roof a “terrorist” than, say, they would be with an Islamist extremist, and how much coverage the media should give to the perpetrator of a notorious crime versus the victims. Although no one took the view that the media should refrain from naming Roof and reporting on his motives, we were unanimous that the media should focus as much as possible on the lives of the victims and their families.

This has been a great group of students, and I’m going to miss them.

Jonathan Kaufman to lead Northeastern’s J-School

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Jonathan Kaufman

Today is an exciting day for Northeastern University’s School of Journalism: We are finally able to announce that our new director will be Jonathan Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the executive editor of Bloomberg News. Kaufman, who is also a veteran of The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal, will be joining us on July 13.

Laura Krantz of the Globe covers the story here.

Jonathan’s arrival means that my stint as interim director will soon be coming to an end. I’ve been serving in that role since last September, filling in for Steve Burgard, who was taking a sabbatical to work on a book project. My term was unexpectedly extended last October when Steve died after a brief illness.

It’s been an interesting and sometimes difficult year to say the least. But Jonathan will be a worthy successor to Steve. We are all expecting great things.

Below is the official announcement, which is also online.

BOSTON — Northeastern University’s School of Journalism today announced the appointment of veteran business journalist and Bloomberg News Executive Editor Jonathan Kaufman as the school’s new director. Kaufman will begin his new role at Northeastern on July 13.

“I am thrilled to be joining Northeastern to help shape the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and globally, expand new media and digital innovation, and reflect and speak out about the challenges and opportunities journalism faces in the 21st century,” said Kaufman. “Northeastern has blazed a trail with its blend of classroom and experiential learning. I look forward to working with the faculty and students in the exciting years ahead.”

As Bloomberg’s Executive Editor for Company News, Kaufman oversees more than 300 reporters and editors worldwide covering business, health, science, education and international news for Bloomberg News newswire, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Bloomberg.com. Under his leadership, Kaufman’s team at Bloomberg has won numerous awards, including a 2015 Pulitzer Prize, several George Polk Awards, an Overseas Press Club Award, a Gerald Loeb Award, and an Education Writers Association Grand Prize.

Before joining Bloomberg, Kaufman held various positions at The Wall Street Journal, most recently as Senior Editor. During his time as the Journal‘s China Bureau Chief, Kaufman led coverage of the country’s emergence as a global economic superpower, the SARS outbreak, and environmental and social issues. A graduate of Yale University (BA) and Harvard (MA), Kaufman began his journalism career at The Boston Globe in the early 1980s, where he won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team examining racism and job discrimination in Boston. He is the author of two books, “A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe” and “Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America.”

“Jonathan is a gifted journalist and an acknowledged leader in his field,” said Bruce Ronkin, Interim Dean in the College of Arts, Media and Design, which houses the School of Journalism. “He brings decades of experience across traditional and digital media to Northeastern, along with deep knowledge of the business sector and a global worldview. He is a perfect fit for our school and the university.”

At the helm of the School of Journalism, Kaufman will lead an accomplished team of faculty, oversee the school’s undergraduate program serving 225 students, and continue to grow graduate programs in professional journalism and media innovation. He succeeds Associate Professor Dan Kennedy, who is serving as the school’s interim director after long-time School of Journalism director Stephen Burgard passed away in 2014.

Journalists, advocates back public-records reform

Journalists, political figures and others testified on Beacon Hill Tuesday in favor of legislation that would strengthen the state’s public-records law. Joshua Miller covers the story for The Boston Globe. In March, the School of Journalism faculty at Northeastern University called for public records reform. Below is a press release on Tuesday’s hearing from the New England First Amendment Coalition.

The New England First Amendment Coalition testified Tuesday in support of legislation that would improve access to public records in Massachusetts. Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, spoke to a state legislative committee on behalf of the coalition, describing a lack of access to records and a strong need for reform.

“The ability to gather news and inform communities, to understand government and engage with elected leaders, is essential to the democratic process,” Silverman said. “Yet in my role as executive director I regularly speak with journalists and community members from throughout the state who are frustrated at the inability to obtain information about their government, information that is public by law but in reality is unobtainable and essentially secret.”

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight provided the hearing to allow testimony on House Bill 2772 and Senate Bill 1676. The legislation would eliminate technological and administrative barriers to the enforcement of the public records statute. It would also update the law to reflect advances in technology, require state agencies to have a “point person” to handle records requests, reduce fees for obtaining public records, and provide attorneys’ fees when agencies unlawfully block access to public information.

“With this legislation, for example, the concerned father who is getting the runaround from school officials over policies affecting his children will have a designated point-person to help fulfill his request,” Silverman said. “That same parent won’t be charged hundreds of dollars in copying costs when electronic files of those policies exist. The journalist from a small suburban newspaper who successfully appealed a denial of records but still hasn’t received those records can use the attorneys’ fees provision to help find a lawyer to litigate on his behalf.”

NEFAC’s full testimony can be read here. More information on the legislation and the coalition’s work as a leading member of the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance — a group formed specifically to advocate for public records reform — can be read here.

The 11th element of journalism

UnknownIn Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s classic work “The Elements of Journalism,” they list nine (later revised to 10) qualities that define good journalism. These include principles such as an obligation to the truth (rather than mere he-said/she-said accuracy), verification of facts and independence.

This week I asked students in my Journalism Ethics and Issues class to come up with an 11th element. I am delighted with the results, which you can read by clicking here.

More details on the Globe’s tweaked-up opinion section

The Boston Globe’s interim editorial-page editor, Ellen Clegg, wasn’t ready to go public about this when we spoke last week. But this week the paper announced a project called “Opinion Reel,” which will run “short documentaries with a point of view” submitted by “local professionals, students, and smartphone auteurs.”

“You could even be Ken Burns and we’ll take a look,” Clegg says.

It’s an intriguing idea, and it will be interesting to see what gets posted. I’ve already made sure our journalism students at Northeastern know about it.

• As I wrote last week, the redesign of the opinion pages in print can’t be looked at in isolation. Instead, the two-page print spread should be seen as kind of a “best of” taken from the larger online opinion section. I’ve heard several people say they were afraid the pages were being dumbed down, a concern that makes sense only if you’re still focused on print. (People: It’s 2015.)

Case in point: On Wednesday, as the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev death-penalty case was being turned over to the jury, the Globe posted a commentary by Boston College Law School professor Kari Hong arguing that the time has come to bring back firing squads. Her piece does not appear in the print edition.

As Mark Twain said of Wagner’s music, Hong’s essay is better than it sounds. Hong, an opponent of capital punishment who’s represented clients on death row, makes a strong case that the firing squad would be more humane than lethal injection.

“If jurors had to choose between giving someone life in prison — without the possibility of parole — or putting them in front of a firing squad,” she concludes, “I have no doubt that many would opt for the former.”

Stomp out clichés and aim for ‘austerity of language’

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

If you feel under par, work your fingers to the bone, and know it’s time for a change, click on the Cliché Site to trade tired phrases for compelling images.

That was one of myriad tips from top nonfiction writers last weekend at Boston University’s annual narrative journalism conference.

Organized by BU journalism department writer-in-residence Mark Kramer, the conference drew some 400 writers and editors from around the world. They discussed everything from viral content to social justice reporting to humanizing even the worst criminals.

Kramer preached his well-known gospel of “austerity of language: elegant, taut” prose that convinces readers they’re in the hands of an engaging storyteller. “Go on a to be hunt,” he said. “Get rid of whens and as’s. Lose clichés and metaphors.”

Keynote speaker Jill Abramson, a former New York Times executive editor now teaching at Harvard, repeated the good writing mantra: “Show, don’t tell. Collect anecdotes and revealing detail.” She called Gay Talese’s 1966 classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” the epitome of the narrative genre.

Abramson had good news and bad news as journalism faces a “rapid riptide of change.” The good: long, ambitious reporting is in high demand. She singled out BuzzFeed’s “wonderful” criminal justice series and former Times colleague Jeff Gerth’s exposé of Hillary Clinton’s private emails as exemplars of excellent coverage delivered over new platforms. Gerth, a two-time Times Pulitzer winner now with ProPublica, co-wrote the March 27 article with Gawker reporter Sam Biddle.

The bad news, according to Abramson: worldwide legal threats to freedom of the press. She noted that a study of corruption in Russia under President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been published in Britain because of fears of legal action.

Abramson sees storytelling platforms consistently shifting, with platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram giving nonfiction writers new tools and outlets.

One of those is BuzzFeed, where Mark Schoofs, a Pulitzer winner at The Village Voice, now leads an investigative unit as the site augments viral content with some 130 domestic and foreign news staffers,

Schoofs said social justice reporting hasn’t changed much since Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell and others started muckraking powerful institutions more than 100 years ago. As ever, he said, it is based on “the desire to change, to expose a wrong, to have your journalism matter.”

He said these stories may start with “outrage,” but you have to skewer sacred cows if their assertions are incorrect. “You’re not in the tank for any one ideology or group. Test your assumptions versus whatever you see on the ground.”

He loves immersive participatory journalism and stories that have wrongdoing at their heart, calling David Barstow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Times series on Wal-Mart bribery one of the best in recent years.

Exposing wrongdoing? Fine. But why humanize evil-doers?

Beth Schwartzapfel examines the inner lives of rapists and murderers because “just calling someone a scumbag is lazy, way too easy. He’s a person” and understanding him can be a valuable way to examine what made him do it.

Schwartzapfel is a staff writer with the Marshall Project, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers the criminal justice, system; she is also a frequent freelancer. She tries to get beyond obvious good guy/bad guy distinctions, asking what if Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “In Cold Blood” had ignored the killers and concentrated only on their victims.

Profiling a man who’s served more than three decades for a murder he committed as a teenager, she doesn’t gloss over what he did. She includes graphic descriptions of the crimes and always details the victim’s family’s grievous loss.

“Don’t give [inmates] a soapbox,” she said. “Being sympathetic is not being their advocate. Let readers come to their own conclusions” about whether they deserve parole. “Show how they’re human, not how they’ve been wronged. That’s up to the reader to decide. I tell them ‘I see it as my task to make you human.’”

As an example of a profile that goes far beyond the image of a stock villain, she praised Albert Samaha’s Village Voice profile of a New York City detective who framed innocent men to boost his conviction rate.

Some dismiss memoir as an unreliable narrator’s narcissistic ramble through the past. But in “Big Little Man,” Alex Tizon created a highly praised blend of history, memoir and social analysis.

“Many people dismiss memoir as easy, and a lot of the time memoir is just a cheaper form of storytelling — but it doesn’t have to be,” said Tizon, who won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting while at The Seattle Times. “Report the hell out of your own story,” he advised, having interviewed about 40 people for his book’s exploration of Asian-American masculinity.

To write a memoir, he said, “you have to risk being a fool unless you’re writing public relations. Include the painful parts. I put my siblings at a certain risk — what to leave out? I had to ask, ‘Could I live with this if a sister never spoke to me again?’ The truth is impossible, but my aim is to be as truthful as possible.”

Bill Kirtz is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

Arrest records and mug shots are not secret under state law

pyleBy Jeffrey J. Pyle

Thanks to The Boston Globe’s Todd Wallack, we learned last week that the supervisor of records, charged with enforcing the Massachusetts public records law, has permitted police departments withhold arrest reports and mug shots from the public in their “discretion.” Unsurprisingly, police departments have exercised that “discretion” to shield the identities of police officers arrested for drunken driving while publicizing the arrests of other Massachusetts residents for the same crime.

Yesterday, Secretary of State William Galvin took to Jim Braude’s “Greater Boston” show on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) to defend the rulings. He pointed out that he had previously ruled that arrest reports to be public, but said he had to back down because another agency, the Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems (DCJIS), told him the records are secret under the “criminal offender record information” (CORI) statute. Former attorney general Martha Coakley shared that view, Galvin said, and the new attorney general, Maura Healey, has tentatively agreed.

But are they correct? Does the law allow the police officers to decide which arrest reports do and do not get released? The answer, thankfully, is no.

First some quick background. The public records law creates a presumption that all government records are public. Only if a specific, listed exemption applies can the government withhold documents, and those exemptions are supposed to be construed narrowly. Galvin relies on the exemption for records “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure by statute,” here, the CORI law. The CORI law does impose certain limits on the disclosure of “criminal offender record information,” but it limits that term to information “recorded as the result of the initiation of criminal proceedings and any consequent proceedings related thereto.”

The word “initiation” is important. As late as 2010, Galvin’s office held the commonsense view that a “criminal proceeding” is initiated with the filing of a criminal complaint. Arrest reports and mug shots are generated before criminal complaints are filed, so they’re presumptively public. But in 2011, the DCJIS (which administers the state’s CORI database) told Galvin it believed “initiation of criminal proceedings” means “the point when a criminal investigation is sufficiently complete that the investigating officers take actions toward bringing a specific suspect to court.” That necessarily precedes arrest and booking, so all arrest reports and mug shots are covered by CORI. This “interpretation” is now contained in a DCJIS regulation. Another regulation says that police can release CORI information surrounding an investigation if they think it’s appropriate to do so.

In the common parlance, however, “criminal proceedings” occur in court, and they begin with the filing of a criminal charge. We don’t typically think of an arrest without charges as involving a “proceeding.” Galvin seems to agree — his office’s rulings have said only that DCJIS believes “initiation” occurs earlier — but he has thrown up his hands and deferred to this odd “interpretation” of the CORI statute.

The thing is, Galvin isn’t bound by what DCJIS says. The public records law says that the supervisor of records is entitled to determine “whether the record requested is public.” The DCJIS’s regulation adopting this view is irrelevant, too, because as noted above, the public records law only exempts documents “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure by statute.” The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1999 that the “statutory” exemption doesn’t extend to mere regulatory enactments “promulgated under statutory authority,” even “in close cooperation with the Legislature.” Despite this ruling, just Wednesday, Galvin’s office again refused to order state police officer mug shots to Wallack on the ground that “[b]y regulation,” — not statute — they are exempt CORI documents.

Wallack’s reporting has led us to a momentous Sunshine Week in Massachusetts. We’ve seen unusual, coordinated editorials in major Massachusetts newspapers condemning the rulings, a letter published in the Globe, the Boston Herald and GateHouse Media newspapers (including The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and The Herald News of Fall River) signed by members of the Northeastern Journalism School faculty, and extensive coverage on the normally neglected subject of government transparency.

To his credit, Galvin is calling for reforms to the public records law, and Attorney General Healey has vowed to work with his office to strengthen transparency. Reforms are sorely needed, especially to require shifting of attorneys’ fees if a requester successfully sues. But in the meantime, Galvin can and should reconsider his misguided rulings on arrest records.

Jeffrey J. Pyle is a partner at the Boston law firm of Prince Lobel Tye and a trial lawyer specializing in First Amendment and media law.