Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Write what you know, or find good experts

The old adage 'write what you know' is very true. There's nothing like trying to write something fact-based without the facts. Worse, writing a fact-based piece without understanding the facts enough to explain them to someone.

Take the California state budget - please! (That's a variation of an old vaudeville line, uttered by countless numbers of stage comedians 'Take my wife - please.')

I have written hundreds of budget stories in my journalistic life, so it seemed like doing a piece on one small corner of the California budget would be more of the same.


The state budget is as complex as that of a small country. No, make that a large country. I think I would have been as comfortable writing about the budget of Bolivia or Venezuela. So after drafting the piece, I did what all writers should do when the article is technical like this - I asked a knowledgeable colleague to take look at it before I sent it to the editors. It's a strategy I pound into the heads of my students at the university: Have someone read your work before you turn it in. The whole idea is producing good work, publishable work.

And the experts? I find that there are plenty of people to talk with you about things like budgets and policies and schools and, and, and... The people (or programs) about whom you are writing want you to be accurate.

But it is painful to get there sometimes.

OP-ED IDEA FOR THE DAY - The California Nurses Association has been traveling around the nation talking about how it was able to get the staffing level changed at California hospitals - something nurses around the country are very interested in. Many states have unionized nurses but it seems like the CNA is trying to make a national union - which would have a LOT more clout. The reaction has been negative from hospitals (no duh!) but an op-ed could look at other national models, AFL-CIO, etc. from the past and how they were formed to solve specific problems (regardless of what you think about unions today).