Northeastern University Launches First Amendment Center

September 22, 2008

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://northeastern.edu/firstamendment.

"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.northeastern.edu.

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

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