After 23 years of reporting from such far-flung spots as Rochester, San Francisco and Hong Kong, Amy Wu now covers politics and government at The Californian, a Gannett paper in Salinas, Calif. Wu, who earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, finds that while the media landscape has changed profoundly in the last two decades, new challenges lead to new rewards. This roundup of her tips for navigating a shrinking newsroom is the fourth of a five-part series.
Learn the business basics
Business reporting at all levels requires some basic knowledge of everything from the markets to personal finance. There is free training at businessjournalism.org; organizations such as SABEW and IRE offer their members a wealth of online training. If you have a friend who is an accountant, head of investor relations or a CFO, ask them to break down their business role for you.
Don’t forget to load up your source list with chambers of commerce and associations for Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African-American, LGBT, religious and other communities. Not only will you get scoops and great feature ideas, but you’ll develop sources that offer diverse viewpoints on business development in the community.
Weekend where you work
San Francisco may be sexier than Salinas, the community that I cover. But spending weekends here helps me develop stories and sources. Depending on your interests, join a choir, a softball team, explore the food scene or jump into a local meet up. I’ve gotten some of my best tips from the senior citizens in the aqua aerobics class at the city’s municipal pool. If you’re a regular in the community, readers, business owners and officials know you’re not just helicoptering in and are likely to share more. Word gets around that you’re there.
Collaborate with other media
Competition keeps us sharp. I would love to see at least two news organizations in every city. But the reality is the cohort of journalists in local and regional markets is shrinking. Rather than work against each other, find ways to collaborate and give all of your local brands a boost. Our paper’s crime reporter has partnered with the local TV station to share coverage, while I co-host a show on the week’s big events with a regional radio personality.
When I ask officials about the cost breakdown for a municipal program, I’m often handed information in the form of a budget. The budget looks comprehensive and there is a breakdown of allocations, including how much is going to personnel or parks and recreation. But allocation isn’t the same as expenditure. To allocate is to set apart or earmark; expenditure is the act of spending money. Meet with the city’s finance director or your municipality’s department heads to review what is being spent on key projects.