BenitoLink attends journalism symposium

Journalists gather at UC Berkeley to participate in panels on whistleblowers, prison reporting and access to information. 

Representing BenitoLink, I joined over 100 journalists from across the U.S. for the 15th Annual Reva & David Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting at UC Berkeley on April 28 to discuss issues including the challenges of obtaining and verifying information, crime and police coverage, Chinese surveillance and concerns about the Amazon rainforest.

What spurred the most reaction from attendees was the panel on prosecuting whistleblowers that included Daniel Ellsberg, an American military analyst and researcher who in 1971 leaked portions of a classified report known as the Pentagon Papers, which undercut the government’s justification of the Vietnam War.

Speaking with journalists in a video call, Ellsberg said there is an assumption by journalists that a crime has been committed by a whistleblower when they reveal facts about government affairs.

“That’s not true,” Ellsberg said, adding that the Supreme Court has not taken cases regarding criminalizing speech on government dealings. 

Ellsberg was joined by Reality Winner, a former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor who served more than four years in prison for leaking a classified report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a video call, she said journalists inadvertently give up the source in the process of verifying the information and said the challenge is to help whistleblowers during the reporting process and after the story breaks. 

She also said the significance of leaked information takes a backseat when journalists focus their reporting on the whistleblower’s identity.

Ellsberg and Winner also questioned the fairness of Espionage Act trials as they said defendants are told they cannot say the information they leaked did not hurt national security and they cannot state their reasons for leaking such information. 

Following the panel, UC Berkeley said it is creating a lecture series in honor of Ellsberg.

Rahsaan Thomas (left) and Jesse Vasquez tackled issues journalists face when covering prisons. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Rahsaan Thomas (left) and Jesse Vasquez tackled issues journalists face when covering prisons. Photo by Noe Magaña.

Another panel that got a lot of response from journalists was about investigating prisons from the inside. The panel included Jesse Vasquez and Rahsaan Thomas, who were incarcerated and became journalists through prison programs and began to report on prison issues. Christopher Blackwell, who also became a journalist while incarcerated, called in from a Washington prison. 

They discussed the credibility of those incarcerated versus police officials.

“Why do we hold people with the least power the most accountable?” Thomas said. “Let’s hold people with the most power accountable.”

The event’s second day included panels on violence against trans and non-binary people, artificial intelligence, holding courts accountable and the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.


 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.

Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.