Assignment: Government Meeting Story

Ryan Teague Beckwith
2 min readAug 30, 2021
Creative Commons-licensed image by Michael Kappel

Government meetings are boring, tedious, drawn-out affairs that are also the source of some of your most interesting and compelling stories.

The trick is knowing where to look.

If you are covering a branch of government as a beat, then you’ll need to attend every meeting, arriving early and leaving late, for a while until you get the hang of it. Over time, you’ll start to pick up the threads of some big-picture stories that are only mentioned in bits and pieces—like tension between two elected officials, an obviously incompetent staffer or a persistent debate over how to handle a spurt of new growth.

Or you may pick up on a big story that just happens to brush up against your beat. I used to regularly get scoops on big businesses coming to my area because they had to get county approval for the state economic development money as the last step before making an announcement.

But even if it’s not your beat, you can learn a lot at a government meeting by listening closely, reading everything and asking staff the right questions. There’s always some line item in the budget or some brief discussion about a pending decision that can be broken out into a compelling story.

The key is to focus. Nobody wants to read about everything that happened at the meeting. But if they talked about a new policy on police body cams for five minutes, you can make some calls afterward and flesh out a story about the ongoing debate about this technology.

For this story, you need to find a government meeting that will likely have something to write about (avoid work sessions unless they are on a compelling topic and do not write about an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting). Again, get a quick preapproval from me by emailing a short sentence or two on the meeting.

  • Minimum of three sources
  • Minimum of 550 words, maximum of 625
  • Google News headline: 60 characters maximum, lead with keywords
  • Google News summary: 160 characters maximum, include keywords
  • Social media headline: 95 characters maximum
  • Minimum of three links to relevant websites or previous news stories
  • Written in AP Style
  • Turned in by deadline
  • Ready to publish

Don’t forget to use the generic story template!

Due date: No later than Oct. 12. Rewrite due Oct. 19.

“News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.” — Lord Northcliff

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Ryan Teague Beckwith

National politics reporter. Part-time journalism teacher.