Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sniffing for News on the City Beat

Stories are everywhere on the City Beat, once you know what to look for. The City Council’s weekly agenda is good place to start.

The first thing you see are minutes of the most recent council meeting, which can help you figure out the history of some recent controversy. Next, the council will schedule its committee meetings for the week. Makes some notes. Could be that the story you’re interested in is being discussed in one of the committees. At the very least, it tells you when and where you’ll find council members during the week.

The next stop is the consent agenda, containing items for council approval that received unanimous consent from various committees during the week. You might find news here. For example, take a look at Item No. 6 and follow the link.

Public hearings can sometimes be very newsy, especially if what the council is considering has the potential to affect a lot of people in some serious way. If you quote speakers during hearings, make sure you get their names. If you’re really into the beat, you’ll know which public hearings are likely to be controversial Monday. Chances are, council members argued about it earlier that week in a committee. If you can’t make it to the committee meeting, at least read committee minutes before Monday night. You’ll have a leg up on any discussion. If you read Sunday’s Missoulian, you’ll see that city beat reporter Bob Struckman has already written a backgrounder on the issue at stake in Monday night’s second public hearing.

Committee reports can be newsy too. They usually contain recommendations on various ordinances or resolutions. And because they’re not on the consent agenda, it means the committee couldn’t agree entirely on whatever it is they discussed.

Items to be referred are problems that council members or city staffers want the council to discuss. Think of it as “coming attractions.” You’ll get your first look at future controversies here. If you see something interesting here, make a note of which committee it was referred to. You’ll want to cover that meeting for sure.

The agenda also includes lot opportunities for council members, city staffers and the public to sound off on anything. Sometimes its news. Sometimes it might be news to more legwork. Sometimes is hot air.

The bottom line is that the more time you spend with the agenda, and following the links to background information, the better you’ll perform on Monday night.

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