Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Investigating the Business of Government

January 22, 2014

Share this article:

Kentucky State Capitol by Flickr user taberandrew

This free workshop was originally held on Jan. 23, 2014, in Lexington, Ky., preceding the Kentucky Press Association’s Winter Convention. You can access all the materials from the workshop in this self-guided training.

Governments award millions of dollars in contracts and are often some of the largest employers in town. Yet journalists sometimes overlook the business stories in the workings of local and state government. The Watergate admonition to “follow the money” applies to investigations of government at all levels, down to the economic-development agency and library board.

If you dread analyzing the annual municipal budget for news and wonder how to tie government contracts to campaign-donor lists, hone your skills with this self-guided training, taught by investigative reporter John Cheves.


  • How to find good stories in the business of government, including budgets, taxes and contracts,
  • How to cover economic-development agencies at the state and local levels,
  • How to probe the budget and operations of the rarely investigated “special taxing districts” and “quasi-governmental agencies” that operate in every Kentucky county and spend an estimated $2.7 billion annually statewide. These include library boards, airport authorities, health districts and mental health agencies. Using open records and open meetings laws, nonprofit tax filings and a new database created by the state auditor, any Kentucky news outlet can now report what these entities do with public money.


John Cheves is an investigative reporter at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, with a focus on government watchdog stories that track how taxpayer money is spent. He previously worked in the Herald-Leader’s Washington bureau and its statehouse bureau in Frankfort.

Review the materials below to discover new ways to explore and develop local government stories.

Session recordings

PowerPoint presentations

More Like This...

Ways to approach SNAP locally

Income inequality and food insecurity have been a long-standing issue not only for the campaign trail, but for many Americans. In 2018, 11.1% of households were determined as “food insecure,”

Understand the new NAFTA goals, then localize them for your readers. ("Ships on the Galveston Harbour" by "Marcus" via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Localizing the new NAFTA goals

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative released a 17-page document in July outlining the Trump administration’s goals for renegotiations of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. During election season, candidate

Get Two Minute Tips For Business Journalism Delivered To Your Email Every Tuesday

Two Minute Tips

Every Tuesday we send out a quick-read email with tips for business journalism. Sign up now and get one Tuesday.