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Accountability reporting is the foundation of great newspapers, Globe editor says

By Zack Sampson, student, Northeastern University School of Journalism

McGrory-BrianDEDHAM, Mass. – Though readers turn to newspapers for disparate reasons – arts, sports, politics, and more – it is investigative reporting that unites them, Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory told a select group of New England journalists Sunday.

“The one area of journalism that crosses these divides and brings people together is our investigative reporting,” he said.

McGrory kicked off the New England First Amendment Coalition’sthird annual Institute with a keynote address that both hailed watchdog reporting and bluntly acknowledged the financial disarray of the news industry.

The New England Firsts Amendment Institute furthers NEFAC’s mission of defending and promoting the right to know. The program, which is under way at the New England Newspaper and Press Association, for the 27 selected fellows will conclude Tuesday.

McGrory noted that journalism is “an industry under siege these days,” but he said there is nevertheless a healthy appetite for accountability reporting.

“We have more readers of Globe journalism today than we have had in the history of the Globe,” McGrory said. “It is not the journalism itself that’s broken, it’s the business model.”

Even as the Globe has shrunk in recent decades – shuttering foreign bureaus, hemorrhaging classified advertising revenue, and laying off staffers – McGrory said investigative reporting has remained a critical investment. The payoff, he said, is credibility.

“It is the way that newspapers, the media in general, get the most respect,” he said. “It’s being tough. We need more of that, we need it regularly.”

Such reporting, he said, comes not only from major industry players, but also from small news organizations where reporters closely watch the communities they cover.

“You don’t need to be at The New York Times covering the NSA or The Washington Post covering Snowden or have The Boston Globe Spotlight Team to be a good investigative reporter,” McGrory said.

Most impactful newspaper investigations are born off beat reporting, McGrory said. When asked how reporters can balance daily workloads with deeper projects, he advised that one should not necessarily come at the expense of the other.

“One nourishes the other and as you cover your beat every day, you should be coming across very good opportunities to hold people accountable,” McGrory said.

He took the helm of the Globe last December, months before The New York Times sold the paper to businessman John Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox. As he continues to steer the Globe, McGrory said he hopes investigative reporting will remain integral in the newspaper’s daily offerings.

“The foundation of any great paper — your paper, my paper — is its ability to do accountability reporting,” McGrory said. “And I can’t have stories about Bobby Orr on the front page or stories about the end of ‘Breaking Bad’ on the front page unless I know we are going to have, do have, a steady stream of stories holding people accountable, stories that don’t just cover things but uncover things.”