Randy Covington team teaches workshops in the Baltics for Newsplex
In the Baltics
Investigative Reporting is one of the classes being taught by Newsplex Director Randy
From the Dean . . .
On the road in the Baltics
Tallinn, Estonia — It’s a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Vilnius to Riga. About
the same from Riga to Tallinn. The road linking the three Baltic capitals is one
I probably could not have taken when I was a correspondent in Moscow in the 1970s
and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were Soviet Socialist Republics.
The road from Vilnius is flanked by broad, flat fields plowed and seeded with crops
too early in the season to identify and copses of birch trees just greening at this
latitude. From Riga north, the forests are more often conifers opening frequently
onto water. The bright blue roof and gold onion dome of a Russian orthodox church
splash color into a small village we are just passing. (I’m writing this on the bus.)
The towns and villages are a pastiche of Soviet necessity — still drab apartments
and cottages — and post-Soviet commercialization.
Even though they joined NATO, the western military alliance, after the collapse of
communism, the tiny Baltic states remain fixated on neighboring Russia. The Russian
annexation and occupation of parts of Ukraine heightened anxiety in Lithuania. It
is the largest of the three with a population of about 3 million in some 25,000 square
miles. As a comparison, South Carolina has 4.9 million people in 32,000 square miles.
About six percent of Lithuania’s population are ethnic Russians. In Latvia (population
1.9 million) and Estonia (1.3 million) one in four residents are ethnic Russians.
The languages, though unrelated, intermingle. The ethnic divides remain.
Newsplex director Randy Covington, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism’s director
Joe Bergantino and Brooke Williams, and I are here conducting workshops in investigative
journalism. We’re creating reporting collaboratives in each of the Baltics. Under
a grant we received through the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, the journalists will spend
two weeks in the U.S. this summer honing their investigative skills. They do not
lack for enthusiasm, and we have no intention of telling them what to investigate
and report. When we complete our Tallinn workshop — about the time you receive this eNews — we will have worked with more than 100 journalists from the Baltic countries.
Soviet-style journalism had no appetite for nosy journalists. Americans tend to prize
it. The Pulitzer prizes for journalism awarded in April honored multiple investigative
efforts. The recently exposed Panama Papers are likely contenders for next year’s
Randy is guiding the workshops here. Joe has nearly two decades of investigative
work to his credit. Brooke is master of “rows and columns” that she transforms from
data digs into visualizations of what’s buried where. I’m adding perspective on political
and financial reporting. Deep Throat may not have actually told Woodward and Bernstein
to “follow the money” to unravel the Watergate cover up. But the root cause of what
investigative reporters often reveal is money or power or both.