May 17, 2011

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting Hosts Workshop

At a McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute training in Boston last week, organized and hosted by The New England Center for Investigative Reporting , 24 journalists from across the country learned how to follow the money in municipal budgets, union contracts and federal stimulus grants.

Over three days, reporters and editors received in-depth training on how to analyze municipal budgets, dissect union contracts, track stimulus funds, do computer-assisted reporting and present their stories on multi-media platforms.

The “Follow the Money” workshop was funded through a $50,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

In addition to NECIR’s co-directors, Joe Bergantino and Maggie Mulvihill,  guest faculty included Jennifer LeFleur from ProPublica,  Al Tompkins from The Poynter Institute, IRE’s Executive Director Mark Horvit,  Linda Bilmes from Harvard’s Kennedy School, City of Boston former CFO Lisa Calise, Labor Law attorney Joe Ambash and Geoff Beckwith from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

The training’s coordinator, Bergantino, praised the McCormick Foundation for its generous funding of the specialized training.  The foundation covered all of the workshop costs including each participant’s travel, accommodations and meals.

“Most of these reporters never would have been able to participate in a workshop like this one without foundation underwriting and this is training that is essential for them to be able to provide in-depth coverage of the ongoing budget crisis in their communities,” Bergantino said.

Al Tompkins added that the journalists attending the workshop have an enormous responsibility to cover their local cities and towns.

“Nobody is going to cover what they do,” Tompkins said, “Google, Yahoo, and MSNBC don’t cover city hall.”

Reporter Charles Hallman of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder said listening to the budget experts helped clear up language he hadn’t fully understood before.

“After learning specific terms, I’ll be able to ask better questions about the budget and stimulus,” said Hallman, who has been writing for the African-American newspaper based in Minneapolis for almost two decades.

Bergantino said he’s confident the “Follow the Money” workshop provided reporters with the tools they need to write more in-depth stories about their local budget problems.

“These journalists are out there every day covering the budget crisis in their city, town or state,” Bergantino said. "They're covering complex issues and they can benefit from training.”

Within the next month, each participant is committed to publishing an investigative or in-depth story that incorporates learning from the workshop.