By Rachel Siegel
It has been five years since I attended NECIR’s summer workshop for high school students. In that time, I have been fortunate enough to write for my hometown newspaper, edit my high school newspaper, and serve as a reporter and editor on my college’s student daily.
But even despite the passage of time, I will never forget key lessons learned while a student of NECIR and its director, Joe Bergantino.
- Break longer paragraphs (or grafs) up into one or two sentences.
- Don’t put all of your statistics in one section — spread them out so readers have an easier time understanding.
- Ask questions no one else will think to ask.
- Hold people accountable, and keep them honest.
The two weeks I spent with Joe and other NECIR instructors, namely Maggie Mulvihill and Helen Smith, forever shaped my understanding of and respect for investigative journalism. Until then, most of my writing took the form of shorter pieces written for my high school newspaper, and having attended a high school of 120 students, even the most nuanced of articles didn’t require much digging. I had zero experience accessing court records or financial disclosure forms. My two-week long project — one which tracked campaign finance donations from health care lobbyists to Massachusetts state representatives and senators — was the first I had ever written that could potentially serve a statewide audience. It was also one of the first times my writing received concrete, one-on-one feedback from veteran journalists.
Most importantly, my time at NECIR instilled in me a desire to write stories with serious, and hopefully positive, social impact. It was a special feeling learning to use followthemoney.org — a nonpartisan archive of political campaign contributions nationwide — for example, or to sit in on a state congressional hearing regarding Massachusetts’ Omnibus Healthcare bill. Though I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, NECIR taught me how to reexamine that which I wanted to write about and dig a little deeper.
Fortunately for me, those lessons didn’t leave me when my two weeks at NECIR were up. Instead, Joe has continued to be an invaluable resource to me as a young reporter and writer. In one instance just last year, I reached out to Joe when I was struggling as a full-time reporter for my college newspaper. He quickly offered to talk by phone to discuss how I could focus and strengthen my reporting while still enjoying my time in college. By then I was a long-gone alumna from the NECIR program, but Joe’s passion for training young journalists continues to be such a gift. I cannot emphasize that enough.
Though I was only technically a student in NECIR’s summer workshop for two weeks, the Center remains such an important part of my life five years later. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Rachel Siegel is an alumna of the 2011 Summer Investigative Reporting Workshop. She is now in her junior year at Yale University.