By David Fink
Connecticut has scores of talented reporters who, each year, sniff out fascinating stories. Connecticut also has thousands of educated, interested readers with voracious appetites not only for those stories but also for an understanding of how that news is gathered.
The two came together at The Lyceum in Hartford Jan. 16 when CFOG sponsored its 2nd annual “The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2017.”
For 90 minutes, six reporters — Josh Kovner and Vinny Vella of The Courant, Mark Pazniokas of The Mirror, Dan Haar of Hearst Newspapers, Christine Stuart of CTNewsJunkie and Vanessa de la Torre of WNPR — kept more than 100 attendees enthralled with the descriptions of the barriers they overcame, the judgments they made and the techniques they used to root out facts while protecting sources.
De la Torre explained the care she took in explaining the controversial decisions and raw emotions of educators and parents involved in the Sheff vs O’Neill magnet school student assignment process. Kovner made clear that his disclosure of patient abuse at the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital required a sensitive understanding of his sources’ motives and legitimacy and an ironclad resolve to preserve their anonymity and protect them from reprisal.
Prompted by questions from former Courant columnist and author Susan Campbell — now teaching at the University of New Haven — Pazniokas and Stuart talked about the long hours and difficult personalities they encountered in the prolonged state budget standoff. And Haar and Vella explained what it was like to make sense of stories as diverse as the Aetna and GE decisions to leave Connecticut, and the mission of mercy undertaken by several Connecticut men to bring supplies and hope to the suffering residents of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“When reporters undertake stories like these, officials don’t hand them the information on a silver platter with a smile,” said CFOG Vice President David Fink. “They need to be resourceful, thoughtful, careful and strategic. This type of event shows the public just how hard reporters work, and how talented and committed they are.”
The “Stories” event was a success in raising funds for CFOG. “A lot of our board members worked hard to make it a success — Bernard, Mitch, Michele, Paul Marks, Marie Shanahan and Catie Talarski,” Fink said.
CFOG plans to reprise the 3rd annual installment next January, with an even more probing look at the best stories of 2018.
“We should never underestimate the public’s interest in how news is gathered, nor how important it is for us to explain and underscore the value of that news gathering effort,” Fink said. “The First Amendment only matters if we take advantage of the freedom and expression it offers. Reporters, and the stories they produce, are vital factors in the equation of democracy.”