Welcome to Watchdog New England

By Walter V. Robinson-

Watchdog New England fits no mold.

First off, it is not our website, as much as it is yours - to use as you see fit. For any journalist who wants to dig deep on a local or statewide story, we offer tools to facilitate that excavation.

And we’ve just begun. In the weeks and months ahead, we intend to add scores of additional reporting tools to Watchdog New England.

How? We’re dedicated to doing what few journalists have the time to do – pushing state and local governments to make records public. And when we get them, we won’t hoard them. We’ll post them for all to use.

Second, we believe this century’s New Journalism must be, whenever possible, collaborative rather than competitive. The old newsroom imperative of Us against Them – to beat the competition to every important story – is more memory than reality nowadays: Resources have vanished. Competition has withered. And the public’s window into government has become more and more opaque.

There’s a new model taking hold: All of us, journalists and public-spirited citizens, working on behalf of all of Them – the public whose access to government can only be enhanced by collaborative journalism.

But how do we work together? We share information. That’s our credo. Please, make it yours too. Send us your databases. We’ll make them available, in searchable form, for others. And if your generosity makes for good journalism elsewhere, we expect you will be credited.

In addition to this website, the Initiative for Investigative Reporting, with funding from public-spirited foundations, has forged partnerships with two community news organizations, the Dorchester Reporter and Cambridge Day. Our reporters, led by Senior Investigative Fellow Stephen Kurkjian, are doing important investigative reporting in those communities.

With the Initiative’s website, we also want to become a resource for journalists across New England. We want to help you – with our reporting tools and the government data we post and link to. By offering to help journalists surmount roadblocks in their reporting. By giving prominence on our website to the best investigative and watchdog stories in New England. By posting interviews with the journalists who did that work, in the hope their insights can help all of us improve our skills. By enlisting journalists and engaged citizens to contribute to this Blog. By hosting regular “Deep Reporting’’ workshops open to all.

But to reach our goal, we also need support from other quarters. Watchdog New England is encouraging public-spirited officials at all levels of government to lend a hand. In government agencies everywhere, there are documents and databases that will help enhance public understanding of important issues, that will help right wrongs, that will help improve accountability among government agencies and officials. The public is legally entitled to much or most of this information, and we are making it possible for public employees who believe in government transparency to discreetly provide it.

To be clear, we have no desire to become a regional Wikileaks. We respect the legally-supportable concerns of state and local officials that certain information should remain confidential. But too much of what government agencies keep locked away is information the public is entitled to. Indeed, most New England states lag well behind the rest of the nation in providing ready access to government. In many states, government agencies post documents online that government agencies in New England too often refuse to make public, even when asked. With the help of conscientious public officials, we hope to change that.

Like any such venture, ours depends on the help of others. We’re off to a good start. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation have provided us with initial funding, and along with that a challenge: Facilitate good reporting and game-changing journalism, and sustain those efforts with the help of locally-based philanthropists. We hope to measure up to their standards, and those of other public-spirited organizations and individuals whose financial support we’d like to have.

We invite you to use this site, to look over the databases for their potential to add depth and breadth to your coverage and to spark reporting projects that will enrich public understanding. We are eager to listen to your comments and suggestions, and welcome your contributions to this site. If we can help with a reporting project, please contact us. And if you like what we’re doing, we’d be grateful for your financial support.