By David Cuillier | May 20th, 2010
So far: 15 states, 7,123 miles, 33 sessions, 536 people (see schedule)
Valdosta, Ga. — Today as I drove the backroads of southern Georgia I often came across turkey vultures munching gleefully on the splattered remains of various mammals. It made me think of the relationship today between journalists and government. Unfortunately, journalists aren’t the ones with the feathers.
As I go from newsroom to newsroom I see empty desks everywhere. Staffs are half the level they were five years ago. Journalists are stretched thin, often making phone calls for record checks instead of personal visits. A lot of people are stressed out and demoralized. Many government officials know it, and are taking advantage of it.
Don’t become journalistic roadkill. Stay strong and don’t let officials wear you down. Your community is relying on you!
Tip No. 27: Stay charged up by teaming up with journalists from other organizations. If you’re an education reporter, find an education reporter at a similar-sized organization in your state and work together on a project. Get statewide data and divide up the work. Come out with a nice beefy piece, localized to each of your communities. Make an impact. You’ll also make a friend – a colleague who understands your beat. Support each other. Keep charged.
Tip No. 28: Similarly, stay charged up by looking at inspirational reporting online while you’re at home watching bad TV (I do this while watching reality television). Check out the Extra Extra stories posted and archived by subject at www.ire.org. Even better, join IRE and have access to a 25,000-story online morgue of investigative stories, keyword searchable. Not to mention their tipsheets from conferences, also online for members, keyword searchable. Check out the SPJ Open Doors publication, or Joe Adams’ “hit records”. Charles Davis and I have started posting document ideas on our Art of Access website as well. Look at award-winning work, such as the Pulitzer winners or the SDX awards. See previous post on appointing a doc cheerleader, a post on inspirational videos and one on spreading FOI fervor in your community. Get inspired so government doesn’t take advantage of you.
Pep talks can keep you at your best. Following Tuesday night’s session in Montgomery, David Joyner from Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. wrote some inspirational words, including thoughts he got from the Valdosta Daily Times Editor Kay Harris, who attended a session I gave today.
While I was chatting with the folks at the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times, they talked about a great tip for getting officials to provide records that are sensitive. Here’s what Dean Poling, assistant managing editor, said:
Tip No. 29: When you hear rumors of something up, go to officials and tell them the rumors, which are often worse than reality. For example, “I heard the principal ran off with a woman and stole thousands of dollars. We’re looking into it. Any comments?” The agency will say, “No, no, no, you can’t print that! It was the secretary who stole $500 from the student-body account. It wasn’t anything like you describe. Here’s the information…”
Thursday: I’ll drive from Tampa to Boca Raton for a session with the South Florida SPJ pro chapter.