An all-star panel of Connecticut journalists provided an in-depth look at how they reported on some of the most compelling news stories in the state in 2023 and explained the persistence, creativity and empathy that was required to report those topics.

The five panelists, which included print and broadcast reporters, discussed their work in front of an overflow crowd at the Elmwood Community Center in West Hartford on Feb. 8. as part of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s 8th annual Stories Behind the Stories event.

The event was moderated by veteran Connecticut television journalist Leslie Mayes, who is a CFOG board member.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, an investigative reporter with Hearst Connecticut Media Group, explained how her team uncovered Bridgeport’s failure to properly respond to Freedom of Information Act requests from citizens and journalists, and how her “spidey sense” went off when they realized how long it was taking the city to fulfill requests compared to other municipalities.

“They were the worst, by far,” Rabe Thomas said.

Caitlin Burchill, a reporter with NBC Connecticut, described how her team undertook an undercover reporting operation to test the security systems in the parking garage at Bradley International Airport and how the undercover footage allowed her to challenge what the Connecticut Airport Authority previously told her about airport security.

Ginny Monk, a reporter with the Connecticut Mirror, discussed her unique approach to covering Tabitha Frank, a Hartford woman who was criminally charged after her toddler fell from an apartment window and died. Monk said it was important for her to interview Frank about her own childhood to understand the generational problems that affected her life.

Allison Cross, a reporter with the Hartford Courant, told the audience about the pushback she received while covering the resignation of the library director in the small town of Suffield and the subsequent allegations that the library board was pushing anti-LBGTQ policies.

Cross said the town’s first selectman questioned why she was so focused on what he viewed as a minor dispute in the small town, and she explained how she responded to those questions by emphasizing her role as a journalist, someone who is supposed to disseminate information about government officials to the general public.

Camila Vallejo, a former reporter with Connecticut Public, provided attendees with insight into how she spent months building up trust with a woman who was the victim of a retaliatory eviction in New Haven. Vallejo also explained why it was so important that she was able to communicate with the woman in Spanish for the radio piece she produced.

“It was important for her to hear herself represented,” Vallejo said.



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2023 CFOG Annual Essay Contest for High School Students

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government is pleased to announce its 2023 Forrest Palmer High School Essay Contest with a first prize of $1,000, a second prize of $500, a third prize of $300 and honorable mention prizes of $50.

CFOG is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the open accountable government essential in a democratic society. Our foundation sponsors this contest to encourage debate among students on First Amendment issues. The contest is named in honor of the late Forrest Palmer, who began the contest in 2000 when he was president of CFOG’s board of directors.

The essay topics for the 2023 contest are:

  1. During the last academic year, 138 school districts in 32 states banned more than 1,600 book titles, according to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans. Among books removed or restricted from school libraries and curricula, the most common themes were works involving LGBTQ+ characters, or characters of color. Proponents say they are protecting young people from harmful content. Critics see censorship aimed at promoting a distorted and exclusionary world view. Who should decide which books are available for students to read, and how should those decisions be made?
  1. There’s an old expression (misattributed to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill) that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” With the advent of social media, lies travel even faster, leading to a great deal of misinformation and disinformation amplified online. What responsibility, if any, do private social-media companies have to police the accuracy of their users’ content, and what role, if any, do governments have in regulating social sites? Does the importance of free expression outweigh the dangers of misinformation? Nearly a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that as a general rule, the solution for false speech was “more speech, not enforced silence.” Is that the right remedy? 
  1. During Trans Awareness Week in November, the student chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative group that says its mission is to train and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government, aired a watch party at Central Connecticut State University of “What Is A Woman,” a film by conservative commentator Matt Walsh. About 100 students and faculty members protested the airing of the film, which they said is transphobic, at a university-sanctioned event. While calling the premise of the film, “odious,’’ CCSU President Zulma Toro wrote that under the First Amendment, a public university can’t suppress speech because of an anticipated audience reaction. She added, “we must remind ourselves that silencing a few will only serve, ultimately, to silence us all.” In your essay, explore whether you agree with the president or disagree, and explain why.

Students should choose one of these three topics to address. Essays should be 400-600 words, and emailed no later than March 31, 2023, to Essays should include the student’s full name, school, grade, and email contact for either the student or a teacher. Winners will be announced in mid-May.

This is a terrific opportunity to have students deeply ponder important and timely Constitutional issues. A well-written piece could also serve as a college-application essay, and being selected as one of the winners could certainly boost a student’s post-graduation plans.

Schools across Connecticut have been participating in the essay contest for more than twenty years. “The CFOG essay contest is outstanding,” said Mark Consorte, chair of the social studies department at West Haven High School. “My AP U.S. Government & Politics classes participate every year. The essay prompts are always intriguing and force students to examine hot button legal issues that raise constitutional questions.”

A flier describing the contest is available at and can be posted or distributed to students.

For questions, contact us at

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“The Stories Behind the Big Stories of 2022”

For the seventh year, the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government held a panel discussion of top Connecticut journalists telling how they landed the major news stories in the state in the past year.

The event, “The Stories Behind the Big Stories of 2022,” on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 5 p.m. was held at the Elmwood Community Center in West Hartford.

The discussion was moderated by Leslie Mayes, a reporter and anchor for NBC Connecticut. The panelists were:

  • David Collins, a columnist for The Day of New London
  • Shannon Miller, a reporter and anchor for NBC Connecticut
  • John Penney, a reporter for The Norwich Bulletin
  • Alex Putterman, a reporter for Hearst Connecticut Media and CT Insider
  • Walter Smith Randolph, the investigative editor and director of The Accountability Project at Connecticut Public

The journalists discussed the major stories they broke in 2022, including Collins’ use of the state Freedom of Information Act to uncover ethical breaches and cost overruns at the Connecticut Port Authority. Miller described her coverage of the Richard Dabate murder trial and the Alex Jones trial.

Penney described what it took to cover the controversy in Killingly about a school-based mental health clinic. Putterman talked about his story on the way schools in wealthy Connecticut towns dominate high school sports championships as well as Hearst’s project on the use of restraints in public schools.

Smith Randolph discussed an FOI controversy in Avon, where the town has refused to let the public see a document describing incidents involving a former police chief.

The event was sponsored by CFOG, which is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 by citizens of Connecticut interested in promoting open government and the public’s right-to-know. Its programs are carried out by a volunteer board of directors drawn from the news media, academia, the law, business and government.


Video Flashback:  

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2021

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2020

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2018

The Stories behind the Best Stories of 2017

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2016 

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First Amendment Project

Educators looking for imaginative approaches to enhance their mandated civics requirements might consider a program launched last year by the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG).

Under the free CFOG First Amendment Project, teams of lawyers and journalists visit participating high school classes to discuss the history and practical applications of First Amendment, Freedom of Information and Open Government policies.

These lively, knowledgeable and interactive sessions drew very positive results and CFOG plans to expand the program to even more high schools during the current academic year. Among the high schools participating in the inaugural year of the program were East Lyme High School and Lyman Hall in Wallingford. To increase awareness of the long-hallowed rights, presenters will not only examine the history of Free Speech in America but examine ways that citizens – including students – can utilize laws and regulations to protect their speech and get access to information being closely held by the government.

Since participation will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, contact Mitchell Pearlman at CFOG.

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The First Amendment Works for You

Unlike any other revolutionaries in history, America’s Founding Fathers didn’t keep the power to themselves; they enshrined our Liberties in the Bill of Rights. On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 veteran journalist Denis Horgan and lawyer Dan Klau from the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government conducted a discussion about how the First Amendment protects we the people from losing the right to speak out, to have a voice, and to know what the government is doing.

This liberty is always under attack at so many levels, possibly never more so than today.  Where did this precious right come from? How can you make it work? How can you defend it? The program’s two speakers are stalwart defenders of the First Amendment and led a wide-ranging and helpful discussion of the core values that distinguishes this nation from all others.

The free program at Connecticut’s Old State House was part of the “Conversations at Connecticut’s Old State House” series.