What do you typically cover?

My beat at the Statesman was education. In Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley, that typically meant covering PreK-12 schools in Marion and Polk counties, with an emphasis on Salem-Keizer Public Schools, the second-largest district in the state.

I also covered some higher-ed institutions — including Western Oregon University, Chemeketa Community College, Willamette University and Corban University — and education-related policy at the Capitol.

As a freelancer, I still write about education, but I can also cover everything from the environment to housing to state politics.

What guides your coverage?

I am a watchdog and investigative reporter, so my goal is to hold education leaders accountable for the things they are required to do, as well as the promises they make to help students, educators and families succeed. As a wise peer of mine once put it, speaking truth to power is equally about including the voices of those who have the least.

I work to ensure my stories are timely and pertinent to as many readers as possible, with an emphasis on issues of inequity. With every subject, I ask, “Who is being left out? Who benefits from this? Who is hurt by it?”

Who are your sources? 

Many of my sources are experts in their respective fields or have lived experience with the topic. I work with state officials, lawmakers, communication directors, teachers, parents or guardians, students, counselors and more. Through public records requests and other reporting, I frequently use data and research to bolster my work.

Sources change for every story, but I work to consistently meet with people I have working relationships with so those lines of communication and trust stay strong.

It’s important to include as many new voices and perspectives as possible as well, focusing on those with the most intimate knowledge of the topic in question.

Photo by Connor Radnovich

I rarely use anonymous sources. When I do, the story typically involves an extreme situation for the source/subject, and I will state why we are not including the person’s name (i.e., a survivor of domestic violence). It’s also common to leave out the last names of minors or young adults in juvenile facilities who will be released.

I make sure to fact-check all claims by my sources, regardless of if they are on or off the record. I will explain in the story if someone’s name has been left out for a particular reason.

How do you vet sources?

We as journalists need to ensure our sources are credible. There are a number of ways we do this, and the process can differ depending on the story. Vetting typically includes conducting background checks via public records, court documents and social media.

If someone is making a particular claim, I look for other sources and experts who can confirm or correct that information.

Does your newspaper use wire content?

When I worked at the Statesman, the newspaper had partnerships with different wire services and publications that allowed them to share content from outside their newsroom. This includes articles from other USA TODAY properties, the Associated Press and more. Many but not all news outlets operate similarly.

Editors and producers typically decide what content is appropriate for their site. Reporters sometimes contribute additional, localized information to those stories before they are shared with area readers.

How do you interview and write about minors?

This is very important and something I deal with regularly as an education reporter. Crime/court reporters deal with it frequently too.

gun violence walkout
Photo by David Davis

I make sure to communicate with the parents and/or guardians as much as possible, check photo/media release permissions with schools, etc., to ensure minors are safe and not put in harm’s way (physically, emotionally or professionally in the future) because of my coverage.

This is one instance where I may only use the child’s first name or omit their name entirely for their protection, depending on the topic of the story.

I work to ensure all people I interview, especially youth, feel comfortable and heard. I explain the process to them in advance, follow up with them often, and frequently add extra time to our interviews so they can take their time and ask questions as needed.

How do you balance stories?

Following the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and the policies of the outlets I work with, I make sure my stories are as thorough, accurate and balanced as possible. This means recognizing my own biases, bringing in multiple perspectives on each subject, conducting a thorough fact-checking process and more.

I work with my colleagues and editors to make sure individual words, phrases and the framing of my stories do not skew the meaning or interpretation in favor of any side.

When doing watchdog and investigative stories, there is a sense of blame being explored in the coverage. Still, it is my responsibility to give all sides a chance to speak on their behalf, ensure they are not blindsided and fact-check all information included.

Photo by Connor Radnovich

If there is a factual error in one of my stories, I am responsible for updating the story online with the correct information and including a statement at the top of the story stating a correction was made. I also am responsible for filing a print correction for print publications, which should be printed in the same place in the paper every time, or whatever the correction policy may be for a freelance publication. 

Why do you need help from readers?

I am lucky to be able to spend time in the communities I cover on a regular basis. However, I’m not an educator or activist, and I can’t be everywhere at once.

I also recognize I do not have personal experience with all inequities and disproportionate harms seen in our society.

I need community members to help keep me in the loop about things going on and to hold me accountable for being fair, accurate and representative of our community’s diversity. If there’s something happening in the area I should cover, let me know.

This could be a special recognition you think should be written about, a possible human interest piece, a cause for an investigation — you name it. Send it my way, and I’ll see what I can do.

I always tell my sources, I would rather know about something and have to say, “No,” than not know it is happening.

Reach out via the contact page on my website with news tips or additional questions regarding my reporting or work as a storytelling coach and author.

%d bloggers like this: