Kristen Lombardi named a Nieman Fellow

Kristen Lombardi

Congratulations to my friend and former Boston Phoenix colleague Kristen Lombardi, who will be a fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation in 2011-’12. FOKs have known for a few weeks, but today Nieman made it official. It looks like an impressive group.

Kristen is a dogged investigative reporter, the best I worked with. While at the Phoenix, she broke several important parts of the pedophile-priest story months before the Boston Globe began its Pulitzer Prize-winning work. I’m proud to say I worked at the Phoenix during the Kristen Lombardi era.

For the past few years she’s been at the Center for Public Integrity, where she recently won a Dart Award for her reporting on sexual assault on college and university campuses.

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Reporting sexual assaults on campus

My former Boston Phoenix colleague Kristen Lombardi is the lead reporter in a series on how college and university administrators respond to allegations of sexual assault. Published by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative-reporting project, the series is the product of months of work and scores of interviews.

Lombardi reports that when law enforcement declines to step in because of insufficient evidence, conflicting stories and the like, colleges are mandated under federal law to investigate. Yet victims and alleged victims encounter a frustrating atmosphere of secrecy and of administrators who don’t always take them seriously. Lombardi writes:

College administrators bristle at the idea they’re shielding rapes. But they admit they’ve wrestled with confidentiality in campus assault proceedings because of FERPA and the Clery Act [federal laws that mandate privacy]. Confusion over the laws has reinforced what critics see as a culture of silence that casts doubt on the credibility of the process. “People will think we’re running star chambers,” says Don Gehring, founder of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, referring to secret, arbitrary courts in old England. “And that’s what’s happening now.”

The series, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice,” is a vivid example of investigative journalism’s migration to online, non-profit organizations. And, as is more and more often the case with such projects, it comes complete with multimedia, additional resources and an extensive “Reporter’s Toolkit” to help news organizations follow up on the work produced by Lombardi and her fellow journalists.

Last week, Lombardi discussed her report on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”