Monday, September 11, 2006

Writing a Council Story

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know what might be newsworthy before you ever get to City Hall. Be alert, and take lots of notes. Get the best quotes. Get correct spellings. Be thinking of leads as the meeting rolls along.

Generally, two kinds of stories come out of a local government meeting:

1. The council takes action on some controversial proposal.

Missoula dog owners, be warned. The city has raised the penalties for letting Fido roam without a leash.

The City Council voted Monday to ….

2. The council debates some controversial idea or listens to arguments from residents. Action will come later.

Dog owners by the dozens told the City Council Monday that the fines in its proposed new leash law – some as high as $5,000 – are way too harsh.

“I try hard to keep Fido under control, but dogs being dogs, they just get away sometimes,” resident Larry Labradoodle told council members at last night’s hearing on the proposed ordinance. “Cut us some slack, will you?”

The writing gets straight to the point. It doesn’t mess around. It’s conversational and easy to understand. It doesn’t wallow in “governmentese” or bog down in “procedure,'' as in this poor lead:

After listening to canine owners’ complaints for more than three hours, the City Council voted 7-5 Monday night in favor of substitute amendments to the proposed animal control ordinance that emerged earlier in the week from the council’s Public Safety and Health Committee. (That’s nice. So what did they do?)

Or in this awful concoction:

The City Council listened patiently as residents argued for hours Monday about the topic of leash laws.

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