Andrew W. Lehren, an award-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times and the 2012 James H. Ottaway Sr. Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz, was introduced to the campus community at an event on Wednesday, Feb. 8 in the Honors Center.
Lehren was interviewed about his life and career by SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian, and then answered questions from an enthusiastic audience. Lehren began reporting as a high school student, covering the sports section for his town newspaper. After college, while working at a small paper, he began attending professional conferences, including one hosted by the Investigative Reporters and Editors at the University of Missouri. “Until that point, I relied on sources and tips coming in somewhat haphazardly,” he said. “Attending those panels, I realized that the kind of work that I was beginning to aspire to do can be done regularly and systematically, if you learn the tools of the craft. That started me on my way to investigative reporting.”
Lehren was one of the lead reporters on The New York Times’ groundbreaking coverage of the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, and Guantanamo detainee dossiers. He contributed articles to the Pulitzer Prize-winning series that examined unregulated chemicals from China in U.S. pharmaceuticals.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said when asked about reporting on the Wikileaks cables. “It was very intense. There was a high level of secrecy. It was clear to us as we went through the material that it was valuable to the American public. Our job was to figure out what people needed to know.”
When asked about facing ethical dilemmas in his line of work, Lehren responded, “Legal and ethical issues come up all the time. ’What’s the public importance of doing the story?’ and ‘Will we be shedding light on something that the public would have no other way of fully understanding if we didn’t use this particular tactic for reporting?’ are a few of the questions I ask myself at those times.”
Lehren teaches investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He joined the New Paltz faculty for the spring 2012 semester to teach a seminar on enterprise and investigative reporting. The class focuses on in-depth, advanced reporting skills, including finding story ideas, examining public records, and using freedom of information laws and databases.