How to become a top-notch civic reporter

There are very few reporting beats that can have an immediate and palpable impact; civic reporting is one of them. Dean Williams tells us how to create the ultimate civic report.

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What is Civic Reporting?

Civic reporting is the documentation of issues that affect the lives of citizens on a day-to-day level. From the condition of roads and parks, to traffic congestion and water shortages, the civic reporter covers all of these.

These are all hot-button topics, especially when they apply to the hyperlocal sphere. Action after a report may not be immediate, but the feedback certainly is.

Take for instance a road running through locality X. The road has a massive pothole that has been getting bigger with each passing month, yet the civic authorities have turned a blind eye to it.

A civic reporter would not only report on the fact that the pothole exists, but that it poses a danger to children and the elderly.

By speaking to residents of X the reporter can paint a story of life being brought to a grinding halt due to civic apathy on the part of the powers that be.

The report, if substantiated with strong visuals and infographics can have an immediate impact, something reporters crave for.

What skills do I need to become a good civic reporter?

  • A good civic reporter needs to understand the importance of going hyperlocal with their articles.
  • They also need to be able to empathize with residents and local businesses to paint a better picture of the issues that affect them.
  • A good civic reporter must maintain an excellent contact base with the civic authorities in charge of the areas he covers. There may be good reasons for the lack of facilities and utilities provided to residents of a locality, your sources will enlighten you.

 What components do I need to deliver a comprehensive civic report?

Here’s an example of a 360-degree civic report.

The News

A leaking sewage pipe is flooding a locality.

The Issues

  • The leaking sewage is causing a stink, leading to local businesses seeing a downturn in the number of customers.
  • There is a fear that the raw sewage may cause an outbreak of an infectious vector-borne disease.
  • The flooding has caused major traffic snarls in the area.
  • Civic authorities have been slow to respond.

How to address the issue and construct a comprehensive package

  • The Photography department needs to capture images that show resident discomfort. So scenes of children walking to school with heavy bags, dangerously side-stepping pools of foul-smelling sewage and such are a must.
  • The infographic team should create a quick map showing the area in question and the pinning the various educational and medical institutions in the vicinity. If they have time, a quick chart on the various illnesses that could arise from exposure to raw sewage could be made up. Also see of you can find out if this locality has had such problem in the past. If it has, compile the data into a chart.

The Civic reporter must…

  • Contact local business owners to show how customers are staying away due to the stench (a photograph of a local corner shop with a rather morose looking shopkeeper and his family always helps)
  • Speak to a couple of doctors and find out the health hazards involved in exposure to raw sewage, and what precautions residents must take until the issue is resolved (use a picture of the doctor, it adds credibility to the quote).
  • Speak to residents who have school-going children and find out how the spillage has thrown their life out of gear. Also find out if the traffic jams have made life unbearable for them (here too pictures of the families you speak to will add to the story).
  • Last, but not the least, speak to the civic authorities and find out the reasons behind the delay in rectifying the issue. It is a lack of funds and/or manpower, or is it a classic case of apathy. Has the person in charge been to the site to inspect the situation? Always try to get a direct quote from the person in charge, rather than a spokesperson.

Once you have all these elements in place lay the page out with a strong visual focal point, and make sure you focus on people and their stories.

Civic reporting must have a strong human component to bring out the strife and the eventual relief whn the issue is resolved.

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