Friday, November 20, 2009

Study Tips for Monday's Quiz, and a Few Good Links

I'll split the quiz between justice and eduction topics. Those of you who took notes on Wednesday's short discussion on justice terms and procedures should be in good shape. Here's a link to legal terms you might encounter.

For the education questions, I'd like you to be able to tell me how Montana's higher ed and K-12 systems are governed and funded. You will also need a sense of their histories and the challenges ahead.

Actually, you'll find everything you should need on the education powerpoint in Swibold's professor's folder on the journalism sever.

By the way, here's a good story on a civil case from today's Missoulian.

One more thing, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a good series this week on journalism education. Click on the graphic above for a link to the stories.

Higher Ed in the News

New York Times
Momentous decisions are being made that could affect the cost and quality of a college education. Here are two tales about the problems of two states: California and Montana. (Kaimin reporter Jayme Fraser's story is a great example of smart news writing on the fly.)

Here's a NY Times slide show of student protests in California.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Plea bargain in murder case has a long history

The Missoulian's Tristan Scott did a good story last month previewing the Lincoln C. Benavides plea deal in the Florence murders case. It goes down Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Covering Wildfires: Resources for Reporters

InciWeb (Incident Information System): Details from various federal and state agencies on latest fire activity and contact information for those fighting the fire.

National Interagency Fire Center (Boise): Lots of information, stats, procedures for fighting fires on public lands.

Firewise: A national program designed to inform people who live ear wildlands.

Federal agencies that fight or monitor fire: National Forest Service (search by forest, i.e., Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot National Forest, Helena National Forests; also the service's northern regional headquarters are in Missoula), Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After a disaster, FEMA may arrive on the scene.

Montana Department of Natural Resources: Responsible for wild fires on state land (and there's more of it out there than you think.)

Society of Environmental Journalists: Here's a tipsheet on wildland fire coverage.

Know the lingo: Here's an online glossary of firefighting terms. Be careful in your translations.

Stories: Impacts on humans, wildlife, ecosystems, economy; fire management policy, prevention, disaster aftermath (emergency housing and necessities, rebuilding loans), investigations.

Ethics: Here's a guide produced by journalists on how to provide more effective coverage of tragedies and disasters.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This Week in Public Affairs Reporting

This week's assignments:
  • A story from your beat.
  • In-class assignment (Wednesday)


  • Esquire's Chris Jones, this year's Pollner prof (that's him in the picture), delivers the annual Pollner Lecture at 7 p.m. Monday in the University Center Theater. Should be good.
  • is offering student journalists a free pass to sessions of its annual real estate and development conference, which kicks off Monday afternoon. Lots of story possibilities for those of you with local economy, environment and government beats. Clicke here for details.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Last Deadline Council Story Monday Night

We're covering Monday night's City Council meeting, and there's no doubt about the big news. After two years of work and no small controversy, the council is likely to approve a new zoning ordinance. (So what? What might that mean to your readers? What's the reaction?)

You could easily put together a few background grafs before the meeting, based on information from the city's special zoning Web site, which offers answers detailing why the city pursued this and what major changes Missoula residents can expect. Do do a good job of translating this.

For good background on the legal controversy, see the Missoulian's Friday story. The paper's city reporter also posted a pdf of the judge's decision.

Of course, zoning isn't the only newsworthy matter on Monday's agenda.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We're Covering the City Council Tonight

I expect you to produce a story from tonight's Missoula City Council meeting for a midnight deadline. We'll discuss some possibilities in class, but you can prepare for that by digging through the agenda.

Your other assignment this week is to produce a short bio on your City Council candidate. Those are due to me by e-mail by classtime Wednesday. You can find a lot online, but I want you to verify everything with your candidate (who's likely to be at tonight's meeting).

You'll also want to arrange an interview with him or her for the candidate feature, which is due a week from Friday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Best Ledes Pop and Sizzle

Think public affairs writing has to be dull? Here's what the Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney wrote after covering a recent meeting of aviation officials:

Listen up, airlines: You need to fix the problem of leaving people stranded on miserable, smelly airplanes with little food, water or patience—and you can. Lots of your peers say so. (Summary lede) ...

On Tuesday, a diverse group of aviation professionals gathered in Washington to debate solutions, including urging Congress to force airlines to give passengers the option of leaving a plane after three hours of runway jail. In conversations outside the staged event, these engineers, former airline executives, airport managers and pilots' union leaders offered common-sense solutions. (Support for the lede.) ...

Click for the rest of the story.

City Election Assignments and Deadlines

Photo by Tiffany Wilson

Here's the list of who is responsible for what:

Candidate Bios and Features:
Mayor John Engen (Lily)
Ward 1: Dave Strohmaier (Danielle), Ryan Morton (Kate)
Ward 2: John Hendrickson (Emerald), Roy Houseman (Hannah)
Ward 3: Bob Jaffe (Roman), John Quandt (Josh)
Ward 4: John Wilkins (Justyn)
Ward 5: Dick Haines (Layla), Mike O'Herron (Joe)
Ward 6: Marilyn Marler (Hollis), Kathy Greathouse (Kyle)

Growth (Evan)
Traffic problems (Piper)
Recreation (Jed)
Job/business development (Jessica)

Candidate bios (Wednesday, Sept. 30), candidate and issue features (Friday, Oct.9

Friday, September 18, 2009

Meet Eli Saslow of the Washington Post

We're having a special guest in Monday’s class. Eli Saslow from the Washington Post is in the area , and he's agreed to stop by for a chat. He’s a truly big deal, and in preparation for his visit, here are a couple of clips that show what an amazing writer and reporter he is. Please give them a read.

Here is a story he wrote a few days after a deadly Metro crash in Washington, D.C.

Here is his story about the speech that launched Barack Obama's climb to the White House.

Monday, September 14, 2009

News ledes: A refresher course

LEDES FOR BREAKING NEWS of obvious importance should get to the point quickly. You don't have to stuff everything in there, just the crucial information. Check out these samples:

* (AP) A new audiotape, reportedly from
Osama bin Laden, denounced President Obama on Monday as no different from his predecessor and warned that anti-American attacks would not stop unless the United States ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* The Flathead County attorney said Friday that felony charges will not be filed in the case of a fatal boat crash on Flathead Lake that killed a Whitefish man. (Kalispell Daily Interlake)

* Kent
teachers have approved a new contract and are heading back to their classrooms. (Seattle Times)

* The Missoula City Council on Monday adopted the 2010 budget proposed by Mayor John Engen - a plan that isn't expected raise taxes this fiscal year. (Missoulian)

* Kalispell state Sen. Greg Barkus is back in Kalispell, and said he remembers little of the circumstances of an Aug. 27 boat crash near Bigfork that injured him and four others, including U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. (Flathead Beacon)

* Missoula County health officers expect a wave of so-called swine flu cases as the school year moves deeper into September. (Missoulian)

what's interesting about stories that aren't obviously important. Check this out:

The tiny male bat didn't expect to wind up in a biologist's hand when he set out in search of a nighttime snack along Box Canyon Creek.

After being snagged in a net, weighed and measured, the unhappy creature gnashed its teeth and squirmed as Pat Ormsbee stretched its wing for inspection.

The light from a headlamp shone through the translucent tissue, revealing bones tinier than toothpicks.

"This is one of the key things we need to be looking for," Ormsbee said, scanning for rips or scars that could signal infection with white-nose syndrome, the mysterious blight that has devastated bat colonies in the northeastern United States. ...


1. A Topic Lede: President Barack Obama gave a speech today on the importance of education (or any other vague topic. No news here.) A variation: The School Board argued for hours last night over financial matters. (So what? What did they say that was newsworthy?)

2. The Question Lede: Should nonresident UM students get a break on the cost of big game hunting licenses? (That's lazy.)

3. The Quotation Lede: "You can't compete with free," says Fred Dowling, owner of a local music store for nearly 30 years. (What's the context here?)


Don't assume every reader is up to speed with ongoing stories. You'll make more sense to more people if you bring them up to date. This crucial background graf is from a story on the work Montana law professors are doing on a controversy over physician-assisted suicide.

Montana is awaiting a decision from its Supreme Court on whether physicians can help terminally ill patients who choose to die. A state district judge says they can because Montana's constitution specifially guarantees every citizen's dignity. But Montana's attorney general argues that the practice could lead to unwarranted deaths.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

First you read: What's up with Missoula?

Here's the agenda for Monday night's City Council meeting. Click on the background links. Educate yourself as best you can, but bring your questions and two potential story ideas to Monday's class.

You might also check out the latest postings to

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Resources on the City Beat

The City of Missoula's Web site has links to:

Who's who on the City Council.
A map of city wards.
Council agendas.

Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller's local government site,, is a good place to look for background.

Some style issues for your city coverage:
  • Let's identify the council as the Missoula City Council on first reference and the council on subsequent ones.

  • Let's identify council members this way: Councilman Bob Jaffe, Councilwoman Stacy Rye.

  • You don't have to identify council members by ward, unless that's pertinent to the story

Deadlines and how to meet them

BREAKING NEWS: If you have breaking news of obvious immediate importance (spot news, scoops), file the story no later than midnight of the day it breaks. Talk to me, too. No promises, but you may have something the Kaimin would want to publish.

: The earlier the better, but the hard deadline each week is noon Friday.

How to format and file your stories:

1. Send them to me as e-mail attachments in Word. My e-mail:

2. Double-space all copy. Indent paragraphs. Put your name, the date and a short description of the story ("Mayor resigns") at the top left of the copy. Then leave three inches of blank space before you begin the story.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Beat assignments and first deadline

Local economy: Kara O'Connell, Emerald Gilleran

Health: Justyn Field, Piper Haugan

Higher education: Roman Stubbs, Josh Potter

Missoula K-12 schools: Lily Rabil

Justice: Hanna Stiff, Layla Turman

State government: Joe Pavlish

Natural resources & environment: Jessica Cosgrove, Kate Whittle, Evan Phillippe

The following need to see me: Danielle Lellek, Jed Nussbaum, Kyle Spurr, Hollis Kenney

You'll get your first beat assignments in class today. I'll be asking each of you to do some research on specific stories or issues on your beat. By 5 p.m. Friday, each of you is to submit a written written pitch (via e-mail) for a story that you will do the following week.

The pitch will include:

  • A sentence describing what the story is about.
  • A sentence or two describing why the story is newsworthy now and some background.
  • A list of sources you need to contact to do this story (names and phone numbers).

The deadline for your first beat stories is noon, Friday, Sept. 11. You may, however, submit them earlier.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Choose a beat and let's get rolling

By 8 a.m. Tuesday, send me an e-mail with your first and second choice for a beat to cover. I’ll let you know your assignment by the day’s end.

The choices are:

The local economy – Lots of stories here. How are people in your community faring in this recession? What’s the market for jobs? Housing? Energy? Retail trends? A good way to start is update an ongoing story or localize a national one. What challenges to business owners face? What challenges to their workers face?

Missoula K-12 schools – Everyone knows somebody with a kid in local public and private schools. Education is about preparing people for change. So how’s that going? It’s also a big cost to taxpayers. How’s that money being spent?

Higher education – You’re a consumer as well as a student, so start asking questions. How well is this place preparing you for change? What works and what doesn’t? What’s new? What big projects and changes are leaders working on? Who’s running the place?

The justice system – Again, lots of stories. This beat is big and newsy. You’ve got city police, a county sheriff’s department, the highway patrol, campus security and an array of federal cops (FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, ATF, etc.) You’ve got city, county and federal courts too.

City government – These folks are responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone in Missoula. You name it, the city deals with it. It provides police and fire protection, plans for growth, and maintains clean air, clean water, parks, streets and sidewalks. That’s just the short list. This is a big beat with lots of news potential.

County government – Take the previous beat and apply those responsibilities over an area of roughly 2,600 square miles. Counties also act as an agent for state government. County courts prosecute crimes against the state. Counties collect property taxes and run elections. County officials maintain rural roads and plan for growth. They also share responsibilities with city officials for things such as transportation, libraries, public health, etc.

Health – Here’s another huge beat, especially today. From the latest on swine flu to the quality and availability of health care, this beat has lots of interest – and lots controversy. Think about breakthroughs in research and new treatments and care. Who’s providing what health care in your community? How good is that care? What does it cost? Who isn’t being served?

Natural resources and the environment – There’s no better place to cover this stuff than right here. The issues include climate change, wilderness policy, timber and mining policy, wildlife management, water and air pollution, environmental health, recreation on public lands, recycling, sustainable agriculture and industry. This beat is global with lots of local players.

Other – No list can cover everything, so if you have an idea of something with significant public policy angle, let me know. Here are a few I would consider: agriculture, sports/athletics business and regulation, transportation, media/communications business, etc.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New to the beat? Try updating an ongoing story

Getting up to speed with an ongoing story is a good way to start on the beat. The first thing you should do is read everything you can about the issue. Let's use Missoula's ongoing debate over panhandling to get started.

1. Has this been covered in the press? It's useful to see what's been reported before, but remember that you need to verify or credit anything that you didn't witness. Look particularly for what IS NOT in the story. Are there unanswered questions? (If so, answering them could make for a story.) How could this be updated?

New West's story
The Missoulian's story
The Wall Street Journal (Really? No kidding?)
A Wall Street Journal video (Wow.)

2. Can I find original documents on this? Chances are good. Laws and policies don't come out of thin air. In this case, everything springs from Missoula's city government, and the City Council, in particular. It all started as somebody's idea and then went through a, gasp, process.

Writing about process is boring, but knowing the process can help you find sources and records. In this case, it helped me find the following:

>Minutes of a debate, in which elected City Council members argued the pros and cons of a new panhandling law (cities and counties call laws ordinances.)
>A draft of the ordinance itself.
>One council member's e-mail discussion of the issue.

So what new angle are you going to take?

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