How to think like a journalist: Getting the Interview in Government Meetings

At government meetings, reporters assume they can get the story from the mayor, town supervisor, or other leader, but it is a mistake to think that. Let me explain.

President Richard Nixon got caught with his hands in a cookie jar, not because Nixon was interviewed, but because Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein interviewed Judy Hoback Miller, the bookkeeper for Nixon’s re-election campaign. She revealed to them information about the mishandling of funds and records being destroyed. This, plus the journalists’ anonymous informants (think Deep Throat, here), led to the Watergate scandal and the toppling of a popular presidency.

 When I was starting out as a journalist, I thought the one who led the monthly discussions, the one who ran the city, town or village government was the person I had to interview, namely the mayor or supervisor. Mistakenly, many new reporters will also place any credit or blame on the shoulders of the leader.

However, it takes a village to run a village; Councilmembers, those that lead fire and police departments, those that lead departments of public works, and even (especially) city, town, or village clerks are all integral parts of government that reporters must also speak to.

It’s hard to spot a story if all you are looking at is the horse’s mouth and not the jockey who rides the horse, the trainer who trains the horse, or the owner who pays the bills.

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