Boston fire­fighters cover work shifts for their com­rades as a matter of rou­tine, with the expec­ta­tion they’ll be cov­ered in rec­i­p­ro­ca­tion. But a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Jour­nalism School inves­ti­ga­tion dis­cov­ered that some 70 fire­fighters owe their col­leagues between three months and three years of accu­mu­lated shifts, with appar­ently little admin­is­tra­tive oversight.

The faculty/​student probe resulted in a story for The Boston Globe, “Trading the call of duty for a call of con­ve­nience,” on Jan. 30. It’s just the latest in a long series of inves­tiga­tive sto­ries written under the aus­pices of pro­fessor Walter Robinson’s inves­tiga­tive jour­nalism seminar.

Robinson, a long­time reporter and Pulitzer Prize-​​winning editor for the Globe before joining North­eastern, said his aim is for “good jour­nalism stu­dents to learn to become better reporters by doing actual sto­ries that, hope­fully, per­form a public service.”

The latest story was pro­duced by two grad­uate stu­dents, Callum Borchers and Cecilia Akuffo and two under­grad­u­ates, Gal Tziperman Lotan and Ste­faine Geisler, in Robinson’s fall class. The same class, under Robinson’s over­sight, pro­duced two page-​​one sto­ries for the Globe last fall about Suzanne Bump, then a can­di­date for state auditor, and her apparent vio­la­tion of prop­erty tax law in claiming pri­mary res­i­dence in two Mass­a­chu­setts communities.

Since spring 2007, when I started, the sem­inar has pro­duced 19 page-​​one inves­tiga­tive sto­ries, so we’ve aver­aged two or three per semester,” Robinson said. “The spring 2011 sem­inar, which has seven stu­dents is doing prospecting on three pos­sible stories.”

The work pro­fessor Robinson and his stu­dents are doing puts the School of Jour­nalism in the van­guard of a new trend in jour­nalism, where uni­ver­si­ties and non­profits sup­ple­ment the work of the so-​​called ‘legacy media,’” said Stephen Bur­gard, director of the School of Jour­nalism. “This is a won­derful oppor­tu­nity for our leading stu­dents, and it makes a con­tri­bu­tion to the future of high-​​quality jour­nalism at a time when the field itself is in tran­si­tion because of eco­nomic and dig­ital changes. ”

Robinson, him­self a 1974 North­eastern grad­uate, said the class is “a good example of the expe­ri­en­tial approach to learning that, I believe, dis­tin­guishes North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and makes its grad­u­ates much more attrac­tive to employers.”