FIRE helped freelancer Alison MacAdam secure protection to edit this 2023 podcast and the 2022 investigation it details.
Murrow award earned amid
tense reporting conditions
In late 2022 we reported that FIRE had facilitated last-minute indemnification for a freelance journalist who asked that we withhold details due to the story's sensitivity.
FIRE is now identifying freelancer Alison MacAdam and the outlet, New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR).
Their story, an account of alleged sexual misconduct by the founder of a major addiction treatment company, has just won the 2023 national Edward R. Murrow Award in investigative reporting.
MacAdam's request for anonymity reflected tense reporting conditions.
Based on nearly 50 interviews, the piece aired allegations that a prominent industry leader committed sexual misconduct and threatened retaliation against women associated with New Hampshire facilities that he founded. Two of the women were then-employees, one an ex-client.
Eric Spofford, founder of Granite Recovery Centers, threatened to sue as NHPR prepared to release the story in March 2022. With FIRE's help, the station was able to codify MacAdam's protection days before the story ran.
Six months later, Spofford indeed filed a defamation lawsuit against NHPR and three of the story’s sources.
In the interim, soon after the story aired, NHPR journalists who worked on the story found that vandals had smashed windows and scrawled threatening graffiti at their homes and struck at the lead reporter's parents' home twice. The attacks were covered in the Washington Post and New York Times.
MacAdam was the lead editor on the March 2022 story and a June 2023 podcast about it, "The 13th Step." She was not named in the lawsuit or subject to the vandalism.
Spofford denies any association with the acts of vandalism and has not been accused of any so far. He has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct.
In April 2023, a judge in NH’s Rockingham County Superior Court granted NHPR’s motion to dismiss Spofford’s lawsuit, finding that it lacked clear evidence. Spofford's legal team responded by demanding access to the station’s reporting documents, triggering further arguments in court.
In June 2023, federal law enforcement authorities arrested three men for allegedly carrying out the acts of vandalism. In September, they arrested an additional man for allegedly coordinating the acts. They described him as a “close, personal associate” of Spofford.
NHPR's coverage of the allegations against Spofford continues in The 13th Step podcast—a multipart exploration of sexual misconduct in the world of addiction treatment and recovery, the dangers of reporting on sexual misconduct, and the role of a free press.
MacAdam stayed on to edit the podcast more than a year after NHPR indemnified and insured her on the eve of releasing the original investigation.
"FIRE's access to excellent media lawyers and its doggedness in advocating for me were essential," MacAdam wrote at the time. "I'm fortunate that NHPR collaborated with FIRE on my contract [and] glad to see this story released."
The story received the Murrow award for Investigative Reporting, Small Market Radio, from the Radio Television Digital News Association on October 9 in New York City.
NHPR met a fundamental FIRE standard in the public interest when it promised to protect an investigative freelancer in advance.
For an assessment of the station’s liability practices alongside those of major national outlets, watch for FIRE’s upcoming Freelancer Protection Guide.
For major updates on the NHPR story and legal fight check this space.
For the full backstory and any latest developments, visit “The 13th Step."