VCU students reveal gifts to legislators
By Jeff C. South
The URL for the package of stories on legislative gifts is:
In computer-assisted reporting, there’s a tendency to think that bigger is better: that the
more records you crunch, the more impact your story will have.
But my Legislative Reporting students at Virginia Commonwealth University dispelled that notion this
spring when they created and analyzed a relatively small database: a list of all gifts received last
year by state legislators, the governor and other top officials.
The data set contained fewer than 1,000 records, totaling about $185,000 in gifts, taken from the
conflict-of-interest forms officials filed in January. However, the resulting stories created quite
a buzz at the Capitol and, thanks to AP, resonated across the state.
Campaign Finance Reporting in Non-Election Year
By Karyn Dest
There is one major problem with writing an article about campaign finance reporting in non-election
years: non-election years do not exist anymore.
The frequency of elections is not the only reason campaign finance stories are perpetually viable.
The fight for reelection is a thought that never really leaves the politician's mind in this era of
fundraising and campaign spending.
"As soon as members take office they have to start planning for their reelection, so donors cannot
be ignored," says Sheila Krumholz, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics.
Campaign finance goes local
By David Raynor
Since 1988, The N&O has maintained some sort of campaign finance database, tracking contributions
to Congressional candidates from NC, statewide candidates such as Governor and Lt. Gov. and, since
1997, General Assembly candidates. It's a Visual Foxpro database. We hire temps to key the data.
In 1999, we began discussing ways to incorporate local campaign races into the "Money Machine", our
campaign finance database. The reason was that developers were beginning to spend a lot more money
locally because of efforts to slow growth. We wanted to find out just how much they were spending
and why. [more]
Great TV: Campaign Finance Stories
By Karyn Dest
The assignment editor turns to you at your morning meeting. You pitch stories about that
night’s city council meeting and a local canned food drive. You have one more story idea scribbled
on the back page of your notebook, but you are hesitant to pitch it. It is a campaign finance story.
The story is complicated and heavy on numbers, a combination you suspect will elicit the death blow
response from the assignment editor: “That’s a newspaper story.”
Campaign finance stories are not automatically newspaper stories. In fact, campaign finance data
are a great source of visual and engaging stories. And, sometimes, they are even better television
stories than newspaper stories because you can show the donors, and the public can see the flaws in
As any reporter, regardless of medium, learns, the key is storytelling. This concept is just as
true in campaign finance stories as it is in feature stories.