Idaho’s legislature adjourned yesterday, giving Boise State Public Radio reporters Molly Messick and Emilie Ritter Saunders and news director Sadie Babits a chance to catch their breath. I’ve been really impressed with StateImpact Idaho’s legislative coverage this year. Here’s four reasons why:
- They started early. Molly and Emilie began sketching out a coverage plan not long after the November election. By early December, they were interviewing key legislative leaders, such as the new House Speaker. That gave them good Q&A content to run during the holidays. It also helped them to develop sources and plugged them into what issues would be coming up during the 2013 session. They rolled all of it and more into this really handy guide to the 2013 legislative session.
- They sought out data. Emilie also conducted a survey of all legislators to find out how the demographics of the legislature compares with the demographics of Idaho. The resulting posts on gender, age, education, religion and occupation were big hits, as was this infographic by StateImpact intern Yan Lu.
- They set priorities. Idaho legislators filed more than 1,600 bills and resolutions. Molly and Emilie set out to “own” just a few of them: Repeal of the “personal property tax” for business (40 blog posts), creating a health insurance exchange (73 posts) and Medicaid expansion (64 posts). When the bills began to fly, they knew exactly what they needed to cover and what to pass on or link out to other reporters’ work. “We prioritized which three or four main ideas we knew we’d follow through on,” Emilie says. “We started to do preview coverage before the bills were even written.”
- They didn’t just follow the debate — they informed it. Take the tax repeal debate. Molly had posted this explainer on the personal property tax well before the issue was being widely discussed in public. She had two excellent radio features laying out what the tax means for businesses who pay it and for counties who receive the revenue. With the NPR StateImpact team, she developed a clever online quiz to explain why the tax is so complicated to administer. And Molly and Emilie created a very popular map that showed which companies stood to gain the most from getting rid of the tax, as well as which counties had the most revenue at stake. At the statehouse, StateImpact Idaho’s numbers were cited by parties on both sides of the issue. “We found in that data that big businesses would gain a lot and small businesses would, on average, see less than $100 returned,” Molly says. “We were informing the debate through data.”