Tips for Covering the Capitol
Scott Bauer, Jessica Arp, and Steve Walters
The first program of 2011 for the Madison Pro Chapter found 35 journalists and student journalists at Frida’s Mexican Grill on State Street on February 3rd for the inside scoop on capitol coverage and reporting on the state’s biennial budget battles.
“You have to start in bite sizes,” said Steve Walters, senior producer for WisconsinEye, formerly the longtime Capitol Bureau Chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He cautioned newly assigned capitol reporters against trying to understand and report the entire state budget document on the first go-round. Instead, he suggested, “isolate three important state programs and go in-depth.”
Scott Bauer, the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Associated Press also suggested that rookie reporters remember that even though one party is in control, both sides have a story to tell. “Go to the minority party,” he said. “They’ll be more than happy to tell you the shortcomings of any major legislation.”
Bauer said that so far relations are good between journalists and the new Republican leaders, as opposed to the previous session and dealing with the Doyle administration. “It’s a clear difference,” he said. “They have new and younger staff members and they are very open.”
Another dimension of capitol coverage is use of social media. Brian Moon, of Wisconsin Radio Network wanted to know, “How do you deal with being plugged in all of the time?”
Jessica Arp, WISC-TV channel 3 political reporter, was the third panelist and admitted to having 1200 followers on Twitter. She follows about the same number. “It’s a really interesting way to see what people are talking about,” she said, adding that programs like Tweetdeck are very helpful for keeping on top of the Twitter world.
All three panelists agreed that the journalists’ job is to make important state business and budgets understandable to “the average Joe Six-Pack.” Arp said, “Find someone who can personalize the story that you want to tell.”
FINAL NOTES: SPJ’s plans are falling into place to arrange a meeting between Governor Walker and local media, tentatively set for February 28th. At the business meeting preceding the Capitol Coverage session, chapter president Mark Pitsch reported that 10 new members have joined SPJ in the last couple of months, for a total of 31 current members. It’s also been reported that journalism students at the University of Wisconsin are at work reviving the UW-Madison student chapter.