Jour­nalism grad­uate stu­dent Marino Eccher took a rou­tine class assign­ment to inves­ti­gate public records and turned it into an award-​​winning story that ran on page one of the Boston Globe.

In April, the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent was hon­ored with a Society of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists (SPJ) award, taking first place in the north­east region in the Gen­eral News Reporting cat­e­gory for his story revealing an apparent con­flict of interest for U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.

The piece, which ran in the Globe on Nov. 10, was born out of an expe­ri­en­tial learning assign­ment Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor Walter Robinson gives every stu­dent in his inves­tiga­tive jour­nalism sem­inar — a public records inves­ti­ga­tion of a public offi­cial. Eccher was assigned Lynch, and he ulti­mately reported that the con­gressman had “engi­neered” grants for two com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions with which his wife was affiliated.

Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-​​winning jour­nalist and long­time chief of the Boston Globe’s inves­tiga­tive reporting team, teaches the ambi­tious course, which has, in three years, pro­duced 15 sto­ries appearing on the front page of the Globe. The goal, he said, is to teach stu­dents how to effec­tively use the inves­tiga­tive tools at a reporter’s dis­posal, such as seeking public records and interviewing.

This opened a whole new realm to me of tech­niques, of places to look, and beyond. It raised the bar in terms of what I expect of myself and the work I hope to pro­duce,” said Eccher, who is in the midst of a co-​​op at Boston​.com as a busi­ness producer.

North­eastern grad­uate stu­dent Kelly Glista and under­grad­uate stu­dent Pamela King won a second-​​place regional SPJ award in the In-​​Depth Reporting cat­e­gory for their story on state offi­cials lag­ging on reporting cer­tain donor infor­ma­tion. The story included addi­tional reporting by grad­uate stu­dent Aaron Lester, under­grad­uate stu­dent Michele Richinick and Eccher.

Regional first-​​place win­ners advance to the national round of judging, and SPJ will announce the national win­ners on May 3.

The jour­nalism sem­inar has been offered since 2007. Robinson praised the hard work of all of his stu­dents, who, he said, tackle chal­lenging assign­ments on serious sub­jects. He said the goal of a good reporter should be to seek the truth, a dif­fi­cult task but one that can be made easier by knowing how and where to look for infor­ma­tion avail­able to the public.

[One thing] that con­stantly amazes me is how really smart these kids are and how quick they are,” Robinson said. “Most of them love the chase. They love doing what is essen­tially detec­tive work, and they are really com­mitted to finding out the truth on some really impor­tant stories.”