Reporting on council meetings

How to cover a council meeting

So you’re covering a meeting – maybe a city council or parish council -as a news story for the first time, and aren’t sure where to start as far as the reporting is concerned. Here are some tips to make the process easier.

Get the Agenda

  •  Get a copy of the meeting’s agenda ahead of time. You can usually do this by calling or visiting your local town hall or by checking their website. Knowing what they plan to discuss is always better than walking into the meeting cold.
  • Minutes -find out if this has been a long-running issue.

Pre-reporting

  •  Once you’ve got the agenda, do a little reporting even before the meeting. Find out about the issues they plan to discuss. You can check the website of your local paper to see if they’ve written about any of the issues coming up, or even call members of the council or board and interview them.

Find your focus

  • Pick a few key issues on the agenda that you will focus on. Look for the issues that are the most newsworthy, controversial or just plain interesting.
  • If you’re not sure what’s newsworthy, ask yourself: which of the issues on the agenda will affect the most people in my community? Chances are, the more people affected by an issue, the more newsworthy it is.
  • For example, is the council considering raising council tax by 3%, that’s an issue that will affect every homeowner in your Newsworthy? Absolutely. Similarly, is the local education authority debating whether to ban some books from school libraries after being pressured by religious groups, that’s bound to be controversial -and newsworthy.
  • On the other hand, if the town council is voting on whether to raise the town clerk’s salary by £2,000, is that newsworthy? Probably not, unless the town’s budget has been slashed so much that pay rises for town officials have become The only person really affected here is the town clerk, so your readership for that item would probably be an audience of one.

Planning Meetings

  • Many of the best stories appear in the weekly list of planning applications. Here, you can find first-class human interest stories.
  • Visit the planning department for further details if necessary.

Report, Report, Report

  • Once the meeting’s under way, be thorough in your Obviously, you need to take good notes or recordings during the meeting, but that’s not enough. When the meeting has ended, your reporting has just begun.
  • Interview members of the council after the meeting for any additional quotes or information you might need, and if the meeting involved soliciting comments from residents, interview some of them as well. If an issue of some controversy came up, be sure to interview people on both sides of the fence as far as that issue is concerned.
  • Seek permission or check your council’s stance if you plan to do any conspicuous film recording

Identifying Councilors

  • Make a seating  plan, put names to bums and keep it in  your contacts book.
  • Get pictures of them from the net and stick those pictures into your book, together with their party allegiance, phone numbers and email addresses
  • Get phone numbers and email addresses for everyone you interview. Virtually every reporter who’s ever covered a meeting has had the experience of getting back to the office to write, only to discover there’s another question they need to ask. Having those numbers on hand is invaluable.

Confidentiality

  • Confidential items -are ones that central government or a court has said should not be disclosed.
  • Exempt items are those which the council has decided to keep away from the media because they involve personal matters, such as employees’ contracts or material that is commercially sensitive.
  • Don’t ignore them -get legal advice!

Parish/Town Councils

  •  A constant source of stories for local papers
  • Usually meet monthly, are less formal and are often the starting point for issues which later become major stories

Understand what happened

  • The goal of your reporting is to understand what exactly happened at the meeting. Too often, beginning reporters will cover a town hall hearing or school board meeting, dutifully taking notes throughout. But at the end they leave the building without really understanding what they’ve just seen. When they try to write a story, they can’t. You can’t write about something you don’t understand.
  • So, remember this rule: Never leave a meeting without understanding exactly what Follow that rule, and you’ll produce solid meeting stories.

Get Rid of Jargon

  • Humanize your Keep the words council or committee out of your intro if you can.
  •  ‘Thousands of Midthorpe householders face bills for new wheelie-bins’ is much better than ‘Midthorpe District Council’s Environmental Health Committee decided at a meeting last night to introduce revised refuse collection procedures ‘
  • Banish jargon in council-speak, houses are dwellings, paths are footways and public seats are street furniture. Turn these words into easy, everyday language your readers can understand.
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Periscope

Periscope is Twitter’s live video product.

Viewers can interact with you by sending messages that appear instantly on the screen, as you broadcast, and which are visible to you and everyone watching.

They can also show their appreciation by clicking to send a like.

You get instant feedback on what you are broadcasting and, if you choose, you can alter what you do, or incorporate suggestions made in comments, in what you broadcast.

It brings great immediacy to your broadcasting. Your broadcast will stay live for 24 hours only, but you can save the footage and audio you have created to re-use later.

Points to remember

  • Make sure you have ‘Autosave the broadcast’ on, so that your video is saved.
  • You don’t want incoming notifications interrupting. Switch on ‘Do not disturb’.
  • You can switch to the front-facing camera at any point, by double-tapping the screen.
  • Try to stay steady
  • Keep the commentary going-repeat the who what when where why and how at regular intervals so joiners know what’s going on.
  • Movement is good-experience things as they happen.
  • Keep Up, be quick and versatile-you’re trying to get a good shot, keep people up to date, interview people and think about questions coming in from viewers.
  • Remember to save your stream.

 

“Periscope was founded on the belief that live video is a powerful source of truth and connects us in an authentic way with the world around us. We are fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes…

While there are many ways to discover events, movements and places, we realized there is no better way to experience something than through live video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video lets us explore the world together.”(https://www.periscope.tv/about)

http://www.andybull.co.uk/masterclasses/masterclass-3-the-journalism-of-now-using-snapchat-and-periscope-for-reporting/how-journalists-are-using-snapchat-and-periscope/

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/sep/13/periscope-app-syrian-refugees-bild

http://mediashift.org/2015/04/periscope-meerkat-and-the-journalism-of-now/

Live Tweeting

10 tips for live tweeting at events

Make sure you know the #hashtag of the event

Engage with people prior to the event

Get Twitter handles of speakers in advance

Capture the essence of the conversations

Keep the conversation going

Quote speakers correctly

Tweet compelling visual content

Connect with other fellow delegates

Tweet consistently but wisely

Continue tweeting after the event 

 

How to live-tweet: 5 things to keep in mind

  1. Prepare as much as possible

Events move fast in person but they move even faster on Twitter. This makes it a perfect fit for discussing and documenting events in real time, but it also means you need to keep up or risk getting left behind.

To ensure you can act quickly and stay as relevant as possible while live-tweeting, you need to be prepared.

  • Do your research. Make sure you know the names (and how to spell them properly) and the Twitter handles of everyone involved with the event. Think about any questions your audience may have about the event and prepare answers, if you have them.
  • Set up streams in Hootsuite. You’re going to set up two streams in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. One will be for the official hashtag of the event you’re live tweeting (more on that later) and the second one will be for a Twitter list you’ve created of all the relevant people involved in the event. Whether it’s the nominees and performers of an awards show or the speakers at a conference, setting up a stream for this list will ensure you don’t miss a single Tweet from the most important people at the event.
  1. Use the right hashtag(s)

Is it #Rio2016? Or #RioOlympics? Or just #Olympics? You may think it doesn’t matter which hashtag you use while tweeting about the Olympic Games this summer, but it does (and it’s #Rio2016, for the record).

Make sure you know what the official hashtag is, as well as any other hashtags that may come into play.

  1. Mix it up

Simply posting photos from an event using the hashtag doesn’t mean you’re successfully live-tweeting anything. Try to use different engagement methods and aim to post multiple types of content throughout the course of the event:

  • Tweet out quotes from speakers or presenters.
  • Search for questions being posed using the event hashtag and answer them.
  • Tweet questions or polls of your own using the hashtag to engage your followers.
  • Share photos from the event using your image templates.
  • Post videos of behind-the-scenes footage, or updates from the event.
  • Retweet event speakers, presenters, or performers.
  • Retweet humorous or insightful comments about the event from other Twitter users.
  1. Make every Tweet count

Just because live-tweeting an event happens fast and furiously doesn’t mean you should abandon your standards when it comes to content. Be selective about the quotes or insights you choose to tweet and only post high-quality photos and videos that your followers will find interesting.

Provide value for people who aren’t there

Live-tweeting an event is a great way to enrich the experience for those in attendance. But don’t forget that the majority of your followers will also be seeing your Tweets. If you’re going to be flooding their timelines with Tweets about an event they’re not at, you better make it worthwhile.

When you post a photo of a speaker, for example, make sure you include more than just a mention of their name and the hashtag in the Tweet. Adding context—whether it’s a quote or a link to more info—will ensure that all of your followers can find some value in your live-tweeting.

  1. Wrap it up and repurpose it

One of the great things about live-tweeting is the plethora of content it can provide you with once the event is finished. Compile your Tweets (and the best ones from other people on Twitter or those involved in the event) into a blog post and share it with your followers in the days and weeks to come.