Learning from “Spotlight”

The Boston Globe’s Walter Robinson and I prepare to chat about investigative journalism Tuesday night at UNH. Photo credit/Hadley Barndollar.

During one of the opening scenes in Spotlight, Walter Robinson (as portrayed by Michael Keaton) uses the term “player-coach” to describe his role as editor of the Globe’s famed investigative team. That characterization is accurate – something I know after working as Robinson’s teaching assistant at Northeastern University.

At the time, Robinson was running NU’s investigative journalism program, teaching students how to dig up stories about gun policies at community colleges, racial disparities in Boston firehouses and more. He’s a master at teaching by doing, and, by watching him, I learned as much about running a classroom as I did about mining documents and cultivating sources. (Robinson is back at the Globe now, and NU’s investigative work continues thanks to longtime TV journalist Mike Beaudet.)

It was an honor to interview Robinson in front of an (over) packed room at UNH earlier this week. We talked for an hour or so about the investigation that inspired the Spotlight movie, the importance of access to public information and why knocking on doors is a better reporting technique than sending emails.

Robinson’s visit was the culmination of a series of lessons built around the Spotlight film. And, judging by the conversations I’ve had with students over the last few days, lots of them are inspired to dig just a little deeper on their next stories.



Study: NYT front page lacks female sources

New research from the University of Nevada has found that women are sorely underrepresented as sources on the front page of the New York Times. You can — and should — read a breakdown of the data here, but the basic numbers are grim. In the 352 stories analyzed, just 19 percent of sources were female.

Ugh. There are, however, two glimmers of hope:

1.) This study was conducted by journalism students. It’s fantastic that young journalists and the faculty supervising their studies are curious about issues of gender in the media. That bodes well for their ability to push for change within the newsrooms of their future employers — or, perhaps, to start news organizations of their own that examine current events through a more diverse lens.

2.) Hiring women matters. The research found that female reporters are slightly more likely to interview female sources. This is similar to the findings from this study about sourcing during the last presidential election.

More female reporters = more female voices in the news

Here’s an interesting detail from the 4th Estate Project, a group that uses data to monitor media trends. The project amassed oodles of numbers from coverage of the 2012 elections.

As you can read here, men were used as expert sources far more often than women. But, when the researchers focused on stories from National Public Radio, they found something interesting:

There was a huge discrepancy in the sourcing patterns between men and women journalists at NPR… While men NPR journalists quoted men 80% of the time and women 20% of the time, women NPR journalists quoted men 52% of the time and women 48% of the time.  This is a dramatic difference, and suggests that NPR women journalists are doing their part in trying to change the culture of sourcing in new stories.  Interestingly, NPR women journalists stand out in this regard as compared to their counterparts in print or broadcast. We did not see the same discrepancy when looking at the sourcing patterns of men and women journalists working in either print or broadcast.