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Investigating Public Pensions: Self-guided training

Pew Center on the States pension underfunding

In fiscal 2009, 31 states (shown in blue) were below the 80 percent funded level that indicates a well-funded state pension system, according to the Pew Center on the States.

The free webinar, “Investigating Public Pensions,” originally took place Dec. 4, 2012.

Craig Harris, 2011 Barlett & Steele Gold Award winner, breaks down essential tips and tools that led to his investigative project on public pensions at The Arizona Republic.

What You Will Learn:

  • How to uncover abuses in public pension systems.
  • How to spot red flags in an unhealthy public pension system.
  • Why unhealthy pension systems are a drain to taxpayers and should concern public employees.
  • How to win battles filing public records requests on pension records.
  • How to deal with a guaranteed backlash from public employee unions, their members (and their spouses).
  • How “to do the math” so readers understand how public pensions work.
  • How to organize a pension series with impact and do quick-hit daily stories.
  • And more, including how to translate pension jargon into understandable terms.

craig harris

Craig Harris, winner of the gold 2011 Barlett & Steele Award, offers investigative tips. Photo by Michel Duarte.


Craig Harris is a senior reporter for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, where he has had two stints since 2000. His series, “Public Pensions, A Soaring Burden,” won the Gold Award in the 2011 Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism, as well as the first Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.

Along with winning the Barlett and Steele Award, Craig was named the Journalist of the Year in Arizona in 2012. Since graduating from the University of Oregon in 1989, Craig has worked at The Olympian, The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal, The Louisville Courier-Journal, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Arizona Republic (twice).

Check out Harris’ behind-the-scenes essay on how he got the story that led to the series for The Arizona Republic. Harris also offers investigative tips for other journalists.

For more information on public pensions, you can also review these materials on Poynter.org from SABEW’s public pensions seminar last year.


Review the resources below at your own pace for best practices for tackling public pensions.

Session recordings

PowerPoint presentations

Additional resources (PDFs)


In Barlett & Steele Awards, Self-guided and archives.

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