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Don't be a stenographer and other tips from a Pulitzer Prize winner

By Mark Horvit, IRE Executive Director

Nigel Jaquiss has  a strong but simple message for those who cover local government: "Do not be a stenographer." Jaquiss, a Pultizer Prize and IRE Award winning reporter for the Willamette Week in Portland, offered a series of recommendations to help those who cover local government do more than simply record the business of government. He spoke to more than 80 journalists and journalism students gathered for a recent Watchdog Workshop in Eugene, Ore. Jaquiss noted that government involves allocating three things: money, power and permission. Key things to track include:

  • Who are the players, what do they want and what are they trying to get?
  • Who is lobbying elected officials? To get that, review officials' calendars and correspondence.
  • Make sure you have copies of the most important documents maintained by any agency you cover. No. 1 on that list: The budget.
  • At meetings, pay attention to your surroundings. Who else is there, and why?
  • Get to know some key sources who might not be at the top of the power chart, including chiefs of staff, lawyers, lobbyists and union bosses.
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