By Warren Watson, SABEW Executive Director
PHOENIX, May 10, 2011 — Journalists representing 15 states and the District of Columbia have been chosen as fellows for a special reporting institute on “Covering Public Pensions” to be conducted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and sponsored by the McCormick Foundation.
Thirteen of the fellows chosen for the June 1-3 seminar are men, while nine are women.
The program, to be held at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is funded through a $40,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation and partner Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
The seminar, which opens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, will feature a number of nationally known experts in public pensions, including Mary Williams Walsh, a New York Times reporter whose national work has focused attention on the broadening issue.
Also speaking are Craig Harris, The Arizona Republic; and Jason Grotto, Chicago Tribune. Harris’ November 2010 eight-part series on the problem of underfunded pensions in Arizona was recently honored by the Newhouse School at Syracuse University for excellence in investigative journalism. Grotto has focused on the acute nature of the issue in Chicago and Illinois.
“Even if all retirement benefits were cut off today,” Grotto reported late last year, “every man, woman and child would owe more than $7,000 to cover obligations already incurred – an amount that doesn’t include state pension debt of about $60 billion.”
Others on the program are:
• David Milstead, formerly of The Rocky Mountain News, who has developed training programs on the issue. He is helping to shape the Phoenix program.
• Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission who is now managing director of research at Glass, Lewis & Company, a proxy advisory firm.
• Ron Snell, public pensions expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
• Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.
• John Christie, publisher of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, whose seminal work at a Maine non-profit startup, has set the agenda in his state.
• Kirk Adams, outgoing speaker of the House at the Arizona Legislature, who spearheaded reform legislation at the recently concluded session.
• Paul Matson, director of the Arizona State Retirement System.
• Steve Doig, journalist, professor and data expert at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University.
“The peer-to-peer learning will be a key part of this seminar,” says Warren Watson. “There will be sharing of ideas and story topics. This is a high-caliber seminar.”
FELLOWS CHOICES –
• Yamil Berard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
• Chuck Bennett, New York Post
• Laura Bischoff, Dayton Daily News
• Lynh Bui, The Arizona Republic
• John Christie, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
• Randy Diamond. Pensions and Investments magazine
• Sean Driscoll, Register Star, Rockford, Ill.
• Steve Elliott, Arizona State University
• Patti Epler, Alaska Dispatch
• Timothy Gibbons, Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla.
• Ryan Holeywell, Governing magazine
• Jen Kuhney, San Diego Union-Tribune
• Lisa Lambert, Thomson Reuters
• Michael Lawson, Investigative Reporting Workshop, American University
• Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times
• Shauntel Lowe, AOL Patch, San Diego
• Catherine Lucey, Philadelphia Daily News
• Tom Mooney, Providence Journal
• Darrell Preston, Bloomberg News
• Ronda Robinson, WRBC-TV, Channel 6, Birmingham, Ala.
• Dennis Thompson, Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.
• Mike Wickline, Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
(Warren Watson, who conceived the idea of the special seminar, is a lifelong journalist and SABEW’s executive director.)
* About the McCormick Foundation
The McCormick Foundation is committed to strengthening our free, democratic society by investing in children, communities and country. Through its grantmaking programs, Cantigny Park and Golf, museums, and civic outreach programs, the Foundation helps build a more active and engaged citizenry. It was established as a charitable trust in 1955, upon the death of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The McCormick Foundation is one of the nation’s largest charities, with more than $1 billion in assets. For more information visit McCormickFoundation.org.
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