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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