Fall conference draws crowd, offers sessions from public record requests to covering the courts

By Audrey Dutton

More than 40 members of the Idaho Press Club gathered Oct. 8 in Downtown Boise for the annual fall conference, hosted by the Southwest chapter. News broke during the conference, when Sen. Mike Crapo pulled his endorsement of Donald Trump for president. But in true multitasking fashion, reporters and editors handled the breaking news while also managing to get in some training on a Saturday morning.

Randy Schrader of IdahoEdNews.org and Bill Dentzer of the Idaho Statesman kicked off the conference by walking us through their process for filing public record requests. Some highlights: Request data as a public record, and fact-check it, because inaccurate data/record-keeping is a story; break down records into bites, such as political campaign contributions by industry; and try to negotiate if you get a giant bill for a record request.

Jaclyn Kettler, who teaches at Boise State University and focuses her research on American politics, showed how certain campaign-finance websites are making it easier to find stories, such as opensecrets.org‘s new database of political ad buys. She also offered to be a resource for journalists working on money-in-politics stories.

Press Club President Betsy Russell led a panel on covering the judicial system. Don Burnett, emeritus professor of law at University of Idaho, stressed the importance of explaining nuances of the law, as part of the journalist’s duty to educate. Don’t call a court ruling based on the Constitution a ruling on “technicality,” he said. Fourth District Judge Samuel Hoagland said reporters can ask judges for clarification. While judges cannot offer opinions or commentary, he said, they may be willing to explain something you don’t understand. Katie Terhune of KTVB said newsrooms reap rewards when reporters cover lengthy court cases, such as the 20-day Kurbanov terrorism trial she covered. Showing up builds credibility with sources and shows a commitment to an important story. Finally, new Idaho Supreme Court administrative director Sara Thomas explained that the court is working hard to roll out the new repository platform but still wrestling with how to make records accessible like they are on PACER.

Last up was a roundtable of local media leaders — Kate Morris of KTVB, Debra Leithauser of Idaho Statesman and Jennifer Swindell of IdahoEdNews.org — on changes in local media. BSU associate professor and Arbiter advisor Seth Ashley moderated. Morris said it’s best to focus on reporters’ strengths and passions, making them an authority on certain stories (such as the Kurbanov trial) instead of chasing the pack. Leithauser said the Statesman isn’t a “newspaper” anymore but has branched into other media, including video and a podcast with Boise State Public Radio. Swindell talked about building a startup into a go-to education news source. The nonprofit has added more staff and a data specialist and made website changes based on audience data analytics.

Audrey Dutton is a reporter for the Idaho Statesman, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club’s Southwest Chapter.