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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Shadid Curriculum: Private Schools, Painful Secrets

Head shots for Boston Globe reporters Jenn Abelson, Bella English, Jonathan Saltzman and Todd Wallack.
Boston Globe reporters and 2017 finalists for the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, (top left) Jenn Abelson, Bella English, (bottom left), Jonathan Saltzman and Todd Wallack.

We’re finding allegations against more than 110 schools and an even greater number of employees. Do we report all those and have to potentially name all those people … or do we selectively name them in the stories?

Todd Wallack, Boston Globe

Selective Reporting

The Spotlight team at The Boston Globe investigated a handful of elite private schools in the New England area, uncovering rampant sexual abuse and misconduct between faculty and students. Given the number and diversity of cases, many of the instances had to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Globe struggled with the decision to name a high school Spanish teacher caught having sex with their 17-year-old student. The pair denied having a relationship, but the child’s parents found explicit photos of the instructor on a cellphone alongside other concrete evidence of the affair. The teacher continued pursuing the student even after being fired, eventually moving in with them after the student turned 18.

In a similarly difficult case, an alleged sexual assault victim who died by suicide posed a challenge to The Globe’s reporting guidelines. The publication normally does not name victims of sex abuse without permission and wrestled with what to do when victims are dead and can’t speak for themselves.

Spotlight Team on Their Reporting


Q1: Many publications have guidelines for transparency in reporting. Are these useful? Are reporters beholden to these guidelines or can they be ignored when contentious issues arise?

Q2: Is it deceitful to the reader to not publish every aspect of a story? Is a journalist’s obligation to the reader similar to their obligation to a victim?

Q3:  In the two scenarios outlined above, how would you handle reporting the case?