Boston, Mass. — North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, in part­ner­ship with jour­nal­ists and public policy advo­cates throughout New Eng­land, has announced the estab­lish­ment of the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Center to focus public atten­tion on a wor­ri­some increase in efforts to restrict access to public records and meetings.

The university-​​based Center is a joint under­taking of the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion and North­eastern University’s School of Jour­nalism, with assis­tance from the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP).

The coali­tion, alarmed at the growing dif­fi­cul­ties faced by cit­i­zens, jour­nal­ists and public policy advo­cates in gaining access to the work­ings of gov­ern­ment at all levels, selected North­eastern Uni­ver­sity as its aca­d­emic research partner because of the University’s rep­u­ta­tion for “sleeves-​​rolled-​​up” involve­ment in impor­tant issues out­side the school’s aca­d­emic boundaries.

The First Amend­ment Center will con­tin­u­ously update its web­site with news about public access and First Amend­ment issues from across New Eng­land and around the nation. It will offer a wealth of infor­ma­tion for cit­i­zens, jour­nal­ists and public policy orga­ni­za­tions that depend on open access to gov­ern­ment. The Center will main­tain a Hot­line to advise cit­i­zens who are seeking public doc­u­ments, and will con­duct orig­inal research into issues of gov­ern­ment trans­parency. The Center plans to host sem­i­nars on public records statutes and open meeting laws for jour­nal­ists, munic­ipal offi­cials and lawmakers.

In addi­tion, the Center will also main­tain a blog with reg­ular con­tri­bu­tions from the Center’s partner, the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion, as well as First Amend­ment spe­cial­ists and North­eastern Uni­ver­sity fac­ulty members.

The web­site and blog can be found at: http://​north​eastern​.edu/​f​i​r​s​t​a​m​e​n​d​m​ent.

There is a need for greater aware­ness of the impor­tance of freedom of infor­ma­tion in a free society,” said Tom Heslin, the pres­i­dent of the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion and Interim Exec­u­tive Editor at the Prov­i­dence Journal. “The right to know is as essen­tial to a func­tioning democ­racy as the right to vote. The New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion, in part­ner­ship with the Center at North­eastern, will be a force for keeping the First Amend­ment and freedom of infor­ma­tion at the top of the public policy agenda in New England.”

Added Stephen Bur­gard, director of the School of Jour­nalism at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity: “With the Center, North­eastern and the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion will take the lead in cre­ating public aware­ness, increasing public involve­ment and coor­di­nating public action to guar­antee unfet­tered access to the delib­er­a­tions of gov­ern­ment agen­cies and the public records that are so crit­ical to an informed citizenry.”

Both Heslin and Bur­gard said the Center’s advo­cacy role will be all the more piv­otal because many financially-​​strapped news orga­ni­za­tions no longer have the resources to insure that gov­ern­ment agen­cies are scrupu­lously adhering to Public Records and Open Meeting laws — law that were designed to insure the free flow of infor­ma­tion that is so impor­tant to the func­tioning of an open, demo­c­ratic government.

The non-​​profit New Eng­land First Amend­ment Coali­tion was formed in 2006 by a group of jour­nal­ists con­cerned that cit­i­zens, to say nothing of reporters, are rou­tinely denied access to the work of gov­ern­ment: public doc­u­ments, meet­ings and hear­ings. Efforts in each of the six New Eng­land states to combat this growing trend have been mar­gin­ally effec­tive. But the founders saw a need for a uni­fied, region-​​wide orga­ni­za­tion, one that would speak in one, robust voice across the six New Eng­land states.

The coali­tion then found an eager uni­ver­sity partner, the School of Jour­nalism at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. Together, they cre­ated the New Eng­land First Amend­ment Center, which is housed on the Uni­ver­sity campus in Boston.

The coalition’s exec­u­tive director is Doug Clifton, who was the top editor at the Miami Herald and then at the Plain Dealer in Cleve­land when those papers won four Pulitzer prizes. The work of the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Center will be over­seen by Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Jour­nalism Walter V. Robinson, the former editor of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-​​winning inves­tiga­tive team (pic­tured above).

The Coali­tion is funded by grants from the Uni­ver­sity of Missouri-​​based National Freedom of Infor­ma­tion Coali­tion, as well as dona­tions from its direc­tors, media com­pa­nies and inter­ested citizens.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact Samantha Fodrowski at 617–373-5427 or at s.​fodrowski@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.