After more than three decades of reporting, editing and running the investigative unit at The Boston Globe, Professor Walter Robinson returned to his alma mater, Northeastern, to teach journalism his way: through a “boots-on-the-ground” approach.
Callum Borchers, a student in the University’s Master of Arts program in Journalism, came because he wanted to learn it.
Working together with three other students in Robinson’s investigative reporting seminar, they exposed details of the Boston Fire Department’s shift-swapping practices that, along with another class’ research, led to a state investigation and a pending pension reform law. “We take on investigative projects because they’re important,” Robinson says, “and not incidentally, they really help students learn how to do a good job.”
The story, like some 20 others that Northeastern students broke in the past four years, appeared on the front page of the Globe.
“I’d never worked on a project that took months to report and write,” Borchers says, “and it really gave me an idea of the magnitude of some of the best journalism that is out there – something I’d never been exposed to before.”
Robinson describes Borchers as the type of graduate student who thrives in the journalism program: he loves the field, he has some background in it and he came to Northeastern with what Robinson describes as “reporting skills”. “I don’t mean to say he has done extensive reporting,” the professor explains, “but he has an inquisitive nature and a skeptical eye and he knows you can’t just interview one or two people when you’re doing a story.”
Borchers is also working with Robinson and his colleagues outside of the classroom — on a six-month statewide watchdog project under the wing of three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Stephen Kurkjian.
“My biggest concern for going back to school was taking myself out of the professional industry for a year, but I haven’t at all,” Borchers says.
Substantial news reporting and news writing experience is a trademark of Northeastern’s program, which benefits from being in Boston’s large market with varied media outlets.
“When students come to Northeastern,” Robinson details, “they have the added advantage of a faculty that is deeply connected to many of the news organizations in the city, so we have co-op programs, internships and faculty members who help the best students get good jobs.”
Borchers came to Northeastern for the faculty, but also so that he could tailor-fit his master’s degree to build on what he learned as an undergraduate.
His perspective and passion is echoed by Robinson, “it’s a pleasure to come back to teach students who are so smart and so eager to learn as much as they possibly can about what I care about and what they care about” he says, “and that’s journalism.”
Professor Walter Robinson is Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Northeastern, where he leads the Initiative for Investigative Reporting and the New England First Amendment Center. He spent more than 30 years at The Boston Globe, including seven years in the Globe’s Washington Bureau and ten years as the Globe’s Middle East Bureau Chief. He led the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning team that uncovered the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
Callum Borchers will graduate in December 2011 with a MA in Journalism from Northeastern. He is the former editor of Citizen’s News in Naugatuck, Connecticut, where he won 15 Excellence in Journalism awards. In addition to radio and television work, he has written freelance articles for Boston.com, Patch.com and GateHouse Media News Service.
The Northeastern School of Journalism is part of the College of Arts, Media and Design and admits students from different backgrounds into its Masters of Arts in Journalism program, which features close interaction with faculty and concentrations in Professional Journalism, Journalism in Public Policy and Research. More information can be found here.
Submitted by Beth Giudicessi, October 2011.