Thursday, April 24, 2014

Workshop for local government reporters raises good questions

Two dozen reporters from around the state spent the day at the Municipal Association talking budgets, forms of government, the Freedom of Information Act and records retention with a variety of Association staff and other topic experts. The seminar was co-sponsored with the SC Press Association and the SC Broadcasters Association.

The reporters posed many interesting questions during the budget session presented by Jeff Shacker, the Association's field services manager. One topic of discussion was about fund balances - especially what is a good benchmark for a city's fund balance. Jeff explained it boils down to the city's tolerance for debt and the city's possible uses of the fund balance. These uses could include anything from one-time purchases of major equipment such as a fire truck to holding funds for use in case of an emergency. More details about fund balance can be found here.

Jeff Shacker answered many reporter questions about how municipal budgets are built and implemented.

The Association's Scott Slatton led a good discussion about best practices and state law regarding council agendas, making amendments to the agenda (Lambries case) and public comment. 

While the goal of the day was to educate reporters on local government topics, a panel of three reporters gave some great insight into how they view their local government beats. A few observations made by the reporters:
  • People don't buy a paper for government coverage because often it's just not that interesting.
  • People want to read about people. Readers are engaged with people, not millage rates or reassessment. People must have a reason to pick up a newspaper.
  • Local officials have to earn reporters' trust and reporters have to earn officials' trust.
  • Print will never die because of its tangible nature.
  • Stories being pushed out in increments online throughout the day is one of the biggest challenges in today's media world.
  • Reporters should be skeptical of everything - it's just the nature of the type of job. Journalism attracts curious people.
  • Committee meetings are a great place to learn details of an issue.
  • Reporters need to have plan around how they want to cover a big story because all the details can't be communicated in a single story.  
Thanks to our friends at the Press Association for their work in pulling together the sessions.

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