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.