The old adage goes, “numbers don’t lie, people do.” And we have seen how people can use numbers to shape stories in a particular way. That’s especially true when reporting on polls or surveys if we’re not thorough or asking the right questions. Read the CBS report on the explosion of teenagers “sexting” or posting nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. And then read Carl Bialik’s column in the Wall Street Journal about the story and the online poll on which it was based. Your assignment: In the comments section below, tell me what you would do as a reporter if presented with a press release about this nationwide survey. What questions would you ask? If you wrote a story, what key elements would you include? And what’s your reaction to the Bialik column? This is due by the beginning of class on Thursday, April 23.
Journalists have a responsibility to report on government spending. It’s part of our watchdog role. Readers want to know how their tax dollars are being spent. And government spending can have an impact on their everyday lives. Yet, too often, reporters simply cover the basic facts: The City Council approved an XXX budget Tuesday, an increase of XXX from last year. Too often, we don’t explain the impact of that budget. Where’s the additional money coming from?
Jack Hart, an editor at the Oregonian, suggests reporters consider the following in every budget story they write:
The dollar amount of this year’s budget.
The dollar amount of the proposed or new budget.
The percentage increase or decrease the new budget recommends.
Any significant shift in the way money is alloted among categories.
Ask these questions, too:
The impact of any changes on individual taxpayers. Are property taxes going up? By how much? What’s the cost for the average taxpayer?
Are park fees going up? By how much?
The winners and losers in the budget. Is the library budget being cut? What’s that mean for library patrons?
Watch out for loaded language in a budget document. Some terms – like shortfall – are meaningless. Does it mean the city is facing an actual budget cut? Or does it simply mean the current budget won’t cover everything agency officials want to spend next year?
What parts of the budget are increasing the fastest? Why?
Here’s a link to the city of Lincoln’s budget summary.
Traditional reporting and writing skills will always be important for journalists. But as Patrick Thornton demonstrates on beatblogging.org, journalists these days need to learn how to use other tools as well to succeed. He writes about three beat reporters who use social media tools like Twitter and MySpace to help them be stronger beat reporters. Your assignment: Read his post and look at the blogs of the three reporters (Amber Smith, Nina Simon, Stephanie DePasquale, he cites. In the comments section below, give me your thoughtful reaction to what you’ve read. How could you use these tools if you were actually assigned to the beat you have for class for a media outlet? What do you think of the reporters’ blogs? Did you see anything that might be helpful for you as you put together your online story? Your comments are due no later than the beginning of class Thursday, April 2.
Welcome to 302, Beat Reporting
Please copy this and then answer each question in the comment section. Make sure you (1) put your name at the top and (2) that you pay attention to spelling and grammar. After all, this is a journalism class. Don’t push the button until you flawlessly edit what you’ve written. You don’t want to embarrass yourself with sloppy writing.
Finally, if there’s something relevant about yourself that you want to add that I didn’t ask, please do so.
- Name. Year in school.
- Where are you from?
- Why did you come to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?
- What is your major?
- Career Goals?
- Why are you taking this course (besides the fact it is required)? What do you hope to get out of it?
- Outside interests, hobbies, avocations, things you are passionate about?
- As a reporter if you could cover any beat possible, what would it be?
- Tell me one interesting or surprising thing about you – something that makes you unique.
- Are you the first person in your family to attend a university?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being top-notch, how would you rate your writing skills?
- What books are you reading or have read in the past three months?
- What magazines, newspapers and news Web sites do you read regularly?
- What is your favorite Web site?
- Do you blog?
- Do you have any media/communication experience? If so, what?
- Are you pursuing a media related internship or job at this time?