Reporting on politics can be tricky business. You need to keep your audience well informed without injecting your own personal bias into your reporting. Milan Kordestani of The Doe, shares ten important pieces of advice for journalists covering politics.
Everyone knows politicians don’t like to give a clear answer to anything. They don’t want to be boxed in and always try and leave themselves some wiggle room. This means, as a journalist, you have to listen carefully to not only what they are saying but the specific words they are using and how they are saying it. They aren’t going to make it easy for you. This is especially true when talking about another politician, such as the Prime Minister. whom they may need to work with later, and can’t afford to alienate them.
Don’t Trust Your Memory
You never know when something that seems insignificant at the time may be important to a story. Don’t trust your memory to being able to recall everything at a later point in time. If anything seems interesting, write it down or record your notes so that you’ll have it for later without having to trust yourself to remember it accurately later.
Know The Language Of Politics
Politics has its own language, from “whip” to “second reading” or even the job of a “select committee.” It’s important that you know and understand these words. It will make reporting on politics a lot easier for you to understand and you’ll worry a lot less about making an embarrassing mistake because you didn’t understand the meaning of something.
Remember That Statistics Lie
Always questions numbers. People can use and manipulate statistics to support almost any position on anything. For example, politicians might scream about how the funding for some important pet project is being cut. When the reality is, they are getting an increase in funding, just not as high as what had been originally projected in a budget. Or that they are putting a billion dollars into something but it turns out it’s being spent over a 20 year period. Ask questions about numbers so you can get specifics and narrow in on what the statistics really mean.
You Don’t Need To Be An Expert
Your job isn’t to be an expert in everything political. Your job is to ask a lot of questions in order to get the information for your audience. Sure, it helps to be informed but you don’t have to know everything. The Doe is an anonymous blog to voice opinions without bias and judgement.
Make Your Questions Specific
Politicians love to sound like they are answering a question without actually answering it. They talk and talk but they never say anything important. It’s okay to repeat a question if they avoid answering it the first time. Try and be specific as possible so they can’t avoid an answer. It can take a lot of persistence to get a politician to answer a question.
Journalists need to ask tough questions. That’s your job. Otherwise, you’ll never get the answers your audience deserves. But know that there is a difference between being persistent and asking tough questions, and just being rude.
Hold People Accountable
Politician’s love to answer questions differently depending on the audience. They just assume no one will go back and look at what they said last year or five years ago. Do your research and know where the politician stood on the issue on the past. If it’s different now and they don’t acknowledge that fact, you have a story!
Watch The News
As a journalist this may be the last thing you want to do but it’s important. This goes well with number eight above. You need to know what politicians are saying other places.
Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter
At least, your opinion doesn’t matter when you are reporting on the news. It’s your job to inform your audience, not try and get them to think the way you think.
Follow these ten pieces of advice and you’ll be well on your way to being a top-notch reporter.