Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Another Triumph for a Crimson Alum

An alumna of The Harvard Crimson,  that is. "Former Gov. McDonnell and wife charged in gifts case," reads the headline in the Washington Post. The lead writer is Rosalind Helderman, who has been the bulldog pursuing this story for most of a year. The first story in the series, "Va. Gov. McDonnell on two-way street with chief executive of struggling company," is dated March 30, 2013. The Post has carried dozens of Helderman articles about McDonnell, and more about VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had his own ethics issues. It's good old-fashioned investigative reporting, the kind a democracy needs to keep its politicians honest. It's slow, detailed, grinding work of a kind that it's hard to see being done by any form of journalism but newspapers.

Helderman should get a Pulitzer for this series.

Roz was class of 2001 at Harvard and was a Crimson editor. Among the beats on which she cut her teeth was … me. It was fun looking back at our early exchanges. The first story she did for which I was interviewed was on the potentially explosive subject of Harvard's compliance with Title IX in its athletic programs. She emailed me thirteen questions and wanted answers … that night. I did my best, from home and without a copy in hand of the self-study that precipitated the story. I dodged her last question, though: "What is the history of women's sports at Harvard?"

The next story was about the role of Radcliffe. In the no-harm-in-asking vein, Roz asked, "What is your general feeling about what students feel about Radcliffe?" I was too smart to bite on that one. "No useful purpose would be served by turning your story into one about what Dean Lewis *thinks* students think," I responded. That began a series of exchanges about Radcliffe College, from which I tended to learn more than she did. They culminated in Roz breaking the story that Radcliffe would merge into Harvard (April 20, 1999). She beat the official announcement by only a few hours, but she did get the story first.

A resourceful, fair, hardworking, careful journalist from the very beginning. The country needs more of them.

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