One of the primary roles of journalism in our society is to act as a “watchdog” for the public on governmental activities. The idea of the “watchdog” means that journalists, as independent observers without a vest interest in any side of a controversy, can tell the public what is going on, particularly if the government is incompetent or corrupt.
The press does not play this role flawlessly.
Much of what you read and hear in the news media does take a side in a controversy. Still, a great many journalists – many doing so without a lot of fanfare – are trying to fulfill their role as the watchdog on government.
They are political and public affairs journalists, and their importance and centrality to the profession has never been questioned.
They are important because politics is so important, and it dominates much of the public knowledge and common pool of information that individuals in our society share. Think about the following things:
— political activity and election campaigns
— government structure and actions
— public policy questions on economic, cultural, environmental and social questions
— the legal system including police and courts, both criminal and civil.
These and many other aspects of public affairs are the kinds of things that political and public affairs journalists cover.
In America, all public issues and questions eventually become political questions. (And, as Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French writer and famous observer of America, once wrote: “There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.”) Even religious and cultural questions often turn political with one side trying to impose their idea of morality and good behavior on another
The money involved in political and public affairs is beyond imagination. The U.S. government in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 – when George W. Bush was leaving the presidency and Barack Obama was being inaugurated – proposed a stimulus package for the economy that amounted to more than $700 billion. And this is only a fraction of what the federal, state and local governments and authorities collect and spend every year.
Beyond the money, the government has constant and important impact on our lives – what we do, where we are educated, how we travel and communication, when we make decisions, and on and on. Think about how many times you come in contact with the government – getting a driver’s license, enrolling in school, paying taxes. The government is intimately involved in your life whether you realize it or not. Legislators and government officials spent your money and make decisions about what you can do and what opportunities you have. As a citizen, you need political journalists to help keep watch on what they do. As a political journalist, you can be part of providing that valuable service.
Beyond its importance and the money involved, many people go into political journalism because it is exciting and because of the personalities involved in politics. Election campaigns are particularly exciting, and if you ever get the chance to attend a national convention of a major political party, you should do so. The enthusiasm, ardor and sometime quirky personalities of people active in politics are an endless source of interesting and instructive stories that journalists love to tell, both to themselves and to their readers.
How do you get started as a political reporter?
This may seem daunting to a high school student, but it really isn’t. Most governmental meetings are open to the public, and anyone can attend. (There’s no admission charge.) What you hear and see at these meetings will teach you a lot of government and the way it operates.
If you attend a meeting, prepare to be bored to some extent. A lot of the business that is conducted will be routine, and you may not fully understand what is happening. Because of that, it’s best to prepare. Find out as much as you can about the meeting and its agenda – the list of items that the governmental body will discuss – as possible.
These meetings get more interesting when citizens are allow to speak, and there is usually time set aside for people to say what they have to say. If you go to a zoning board or school board meeting, you are like to see a lot of people there who want to offer their opinions to the board about actions they are about to take
Remember that anything that is said at these meetings can be included in a news report. You don’t have ask anyone’s permission. You should ask the people involved in the meeting to explain things to you to help you understand what is happening.
Here are some other things that you can attend to help get your feet wet as a political reporter:
- Election rallies
- Trials and court hearings
- Press conferences
The public affairs reporter performs a valuable job for journalism, the public and democracy. The need for people who understand politics and public affairs and who can write about them so that others understand them will never diminish. To get the best attorneys to back up your political reports and represent your case visit AttorneyLehiUtah.com.
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