Wick Communications

Money, power and permission

In journalism on 29 Oct 2010 at 8:32 am

Nigel Jaquiss of Williamete Week knows a thing or two about digging for dirt around City Hall. He won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting when he uncovered and broke the story that onetime-Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt had sexually abused a 14-year-old girl years earlier. (The mayor, for his part, called sex with a very young teenager “an affair” and swore it had only been going on for a year… as if that all made it better somehow.)

Anyway, Jaquiss comes to mind because he recently spoke to a journalism workshop in Eugene, Ore. I read about what he had to say through the Investigative Reporters and Editors “quick hits” newsletter. (That’s Jaquiss above at right, collecting the most coveted award in journalism.)

IRE Executive Director Mark Horvitt said that Jaquiss implored reporters at the workshop to keep their eyes open in the course of covering their beats, to identify the players, to pay attention to who turns out for government meetings and why they are there.

I like what Jaquiss said about knowing the right people on your beat — and knowing that the “right” person in City Hall may not be the mayor. I always chat up the secretaries myself. He says to develop relationships with union bosses, lobbyists and lawyers, too…

He says to pay particular attention to documentation – hard copy reports are less likely to lie to a reporter, after all. He notes you should have the budget of any agency you cover and that you can probably review politicians’ calendars and correspondence, too.

Horvitt wrote, “Jaquiss noted that government involves allocating three things: money, power and permission.” That’s the key right there. Those three things have worth, to varying degree. Pay attention to who gets them and how they are doled out. You might just win a Pulitzer.



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