Monday, October 27, 2008
PROJECTS: Wrongful convictions, "Wasted in Wisconsin," Pro Publica, "Forensics Under the Microscope"
ETHICS: Covering Crime and Justice, At the Virginia Pilot; SPJ case studies
Montana law gives you access to:
Daily incident reports – They’re often skimpy and filled with code. But they’re a start.
Daily arrest reports – Name, DOB, charge.
Jail logs – Who’s in jail, arresting agency.
Other Local and State Web resources
Missoula Police Department
Missoula County Sheriff’s Department
Missoula County Detention Facility.
Montana’s court system. Find links to various branches and resources of Montana’s judicial system, from the state Supreme Court down to Municipal and Justice of the Peace courts.
Montana’s laws. It’s all here, but Title 45 is the state criminal code. You’ll find descriptions of different crimes and any sentencing guidelines.
Montana Supreme Court decisions. You can read them yourself.
Montana State Law Library. Look up old court decisions. Contacts here can help you research a case.
Montana Department of Justice. We elected a state attorney general, who acts as Montana’s top prosecutor. He also represents the state in lawsuits. His department covers everything from law enforcement and forensics (State Crime Lab) to gambling regulation. It also keeps state crime stats.
Montana Department of Corrections. Officials here track everyone convicted of felonies. They have databases of violent and sexual offenders and everyone currently in the state prison system.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Here's a guide to Montana courts and answers to questions about the state's legal system. Here's a guide to legal words phrases. Here are some you need to know from the start:
-Actual malice, Affadavit, Answer, Appeal, Arraignment
-Bail/Bond, Bankruptcy, Beyond a reasonable doubt
-Circumstantial evidence, Class action suit, Complaint, Compensatory damages, Concurrent sentences, Consecutive sentences, Cross examination
-Damages, Defamation, Double jeopardy
-Habeas corpus, Hung jury
-Parole, Plaintiff, Probation, Preliminary hearing, Preponderance of the evidence, Probable cause, Punitive damages
-Settlement, Statute of Limitations, Subpoena
Friday, October 17, 2008
We'll report on a story for a midnight deadline, so bring your notebooks, recorders and pens. We'll also make a quick visit to the Clerk of District Court's office, the honorable Chris Arneson guiding.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Also, I’m changing the assignments for the week. Besides Monday’s council story, I’ll ask you to polish your candidate interview story, based on my comments. Be working on the story from your beat about the election, but we’ll make that due early next week.
See you in class.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
1. Are we covering the "horse race" (stories about polls, campaign tactics, personnel) at the expense of issues?
2. Are we asking questions voters care about?
3. Who is going uncovered?
4. What issues are going undebated?
5. Are we trying to get to the truth of campaign allegations?
6. Are we giving voters and candidates an opportunity to respond?
Factcheck.org -- Probably the best all-around election fact-checking site. It succeds in being a nonpartisan resource that moves quickly to sift the truth from fiction from national campaigns.
Some pointers for doing your own 'Truth Check' story:
1. Insist that candidates provide sources to back up their advertising allegations. Most will. In fact, check the sponsor's Web site first. If they refuse to offer proof, you've got a story they're really going to hate.
2. Most often, candidates will point to their opponents' voting records. Look up the bills and votes yourself. Don't rely on their opponents' "spin." If we're talking about state legislation, go to the Montana's Legislature's site. Click on "bills" for the right session. You can search by bill number, sponsor or general topic. It's easy to verify a vote or see what a bill would do, but often the bill's costs are the issue, so be sure to look at the "fiscal note," which is the state's best guess at costs for taxpapers. If we're talking about federal legislation, go to the Library of Congress' Web site.
3. After you've seen the facts, bounce your finding off of both candidates or their people. You can include their reaction in your story. They may offer you more context or sources, too.
A. Make sure you're reporting a candidate's final vote on the issue at hand. Legislators may vote many times on a single bill: at the committee stage, on amendments to a bill and finally on the bill as amended. Here's an example: In 1997, state Sen. Mike Taylor initially voted to deregulate the wholesale price of electricity, a highly controversial idea in Montana. But he changed his mind on the third and final vote, making him one of the few Republicans to ultimately reject the idea. He's running this year for the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
B. The questions legislators face are not always black and white. For example, a legislator could support a sale tax as an additional tax or as a substitue for eliminating or cutting other taxes. The effect on taxpayers could vary enormously.
C. Beware of singling out a lawmaker's vote as his or her only vote on some controversial issue. Often Democrats and Republicans will offer similar solutions to some problem. A Republican legislator who votes against a Democratic version may vote for his party's solution instead.