Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

The 11-ish Rules For Covering State Government

Last week, during my podcast with Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel investigative reporter Dan Bice, he mentioned a letter he put together for a friend that listed the “11 Rules for Covering State Government.”  I thought it might be helpful for bloggers or anyone looking to do some original reporting. Here’s the list:

1. Avoid doing puffy profiles. Nobody inside respects them, and nobody outside reads them.

2. Get to know campaign consultants, political aides and the other wizards who really run the show.

3. Yes, most lobbyists are hacks, but talk to them off the record. Nobody knows better what is really happening.

4. Do lots of off-the-record lunches and dinners.

5. Let both sides know, through your stories, that you’re not partisan.

6. Behind many, many Capitol stories are slights from years ago. Know who hates whom and why.

7. Don’t worry about writing a gotcha/negative story on a source. These guys are pros; they’ll be back.

8. Keep your nose clean. They’re watching you as closely as you’re watching them. (And there are more of them.)

9. Don’t give up on a good story quickly. Some of the best government stories are follows.

10. Do lots of open records requests, especially for e-mails, cell phone records and office expenditures.

11. Find something that interests you – and you think will interest readers – and go for it. State government is bigger than you ever imagined; if you can’t find something interesting and new to write about, you’re in the wrong business.

Upon further reflection, he then added these four:

1. Covering government is a two-way street. If you give information, you are more likely to get information in return.

2. Understand that the best people in government equal the best investigative reporters (often they once were). They too are trying to gather facts and put together a complete story. The only difference is that theirs doesn’t go to print.

3. If a flak calls and yells at you about coverage, it’s rarely personal. Their boss is yelling at them.

4. Assholes get called back. Assholes don’t get tips or exclusives.

1 Comment

  1. “I could pick up the phone to order a Russian mail-order bride and accidentally end up on a Paul Ryan conference call.”

    This may be one of the funnier things I’ve read all day. Thanks for that!

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