Inching along in the market: The genesis of this story

Few stories start in a vacuum. At some point, quite often outside of work, a reporter or editor will come across information that is worth examining. That’s how I began this look at the endowment fund run by the University of Massachusetts Foundation.

I am on the board of a small, South Shore charity, the Julie Rodick Scholarship Foundation, which was started more than 20 years ago to fund grants for graduate students at UMass Boston. It is that involvement that troubled UMass officials when I first began asking questions about the school’s foundation.
Read the Feature, Inching along in the market
During the course of a meeting between several Rodick board members and a representative from UMass to present our annual check to the school and receive information about the performance of the fund, it struck me how little information was available even to donors. The school’s representative was fully aware of me being a reporter and I told him I intended to look into the matter more as a reporter.

I talked with CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl, explaining what I planned on looking into as well as how I first became interested. He knows, and I repeated to him, my involvement as a board member on the scholarship fund. We agreed, as long as all parties were aware of my background, we were on safe ground.

I called Robert Connolly, the school’s vice president for communications and former colleague from the Boston Herald, and explained my interest in looking into the endowment. He arranged interviews with Charles Pagnam, the vice president of advancement, and Judith Murphy, an associate vice president and controller.

After a brief introduction and after explaining the genesis of my interest, Pagnam asked me “which hat” I was wearing. “My reporter’s hat,” I told him.

After a second interview and requests for information, both Connolly and Ann Scales, a university spokeswoman, emailed CommonWealth with concerns that I had a conflict of interest, given my association with the Rodick foundation.

“I see nothing wrong with personal experiences driving a reporter to dig,” Scales, a former Boston Globe reporter wrote. “But I think journalists have to tread very carefully when their stories affect their financial self-interest. You have a dog in this race and that dog is and has been impacted by the foundation’s investment strategy, and that’s the part of your reporting on it that I find so unsettling.”

Connolly said he did not think I was intending to write a story despite his asking initially what the story would be and what my interest was.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

“You said you weren’t sure that this was for a story but that you just had this interest and would like to speak to senior people at UMass in order to get something of a primer on the subject,” Connolly wrote. “As a courtesy, I immediately set the wheels in motion of arranging a briefing for you. I say as a courtesy in the sense that maybe we don’t do this for John Q. Public, who you would have been if this ended up being just for the purpose of satisfying your personal interest.”

My story grew out of a personal interest that quickly morphed into a professional interest. Everyone who was interviewed and quoted for this story was well aware they were talking to a reporter.