Dan McKay, a city council beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal, shared some of his advice to a class of journalism students at the University of New Mexico this past week.
“If you’re covering city council, there’s council agendas that are published before each meeting that will tell you what will be talked about, and from there pick one topic that you want to write about, and make sure you have a backup item picked out too,” he said. McKay, a 1999 graduate of UNM, has been covering city council for the Albuquerque Journal since 2000.
“Make sure you get to the meeting early to know where everyone is sitting, to make sure you spell everyone’s name correctly. Double check with them to make sure that you have written down exactly what the person said and come prepared for the unexpected too,” McKay said.
McKay covers city council once a week. “I hear a wide range of stories from boring to exciting and everything between. When things may not seem of interest to the journalist just remember that someone else might think that it is interesting. People care that there is a road project in their neighborhood, or that a new Wal-Mart is going up nearby,” McKay said.
McKay has covered city council for nearly two decades, “almost 1,000 meetings during those years,” he said. All that experience helps him prepare for the unexpected. “People that you write about will read what you said, and they may, or may not like it, and they will either call you to tell you as such or bring it up in the next meeting. You have to be ready for anything as a journalist, even if it’s just City Hall,” McKay told the crowd.
“Look on news sites about what has been written on your topic beforehand. Make sure you double spellings of names, numbers on timelines, and use staff reports to help you do most of your writing beforehand.” McKay said as he finished up.