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    In the Baltics

    Randy Covington team teaches workshops in the Baltics for Newsplex

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    In the Baltics

    Investigative Reporting is one of the classes being taught by Newsplex Director Randy Covington.

May 2016

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 workshopabout the time you receive this eNewswe 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 Pulitzers.

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. 


Charles Bierbauer

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