Mommy, Where Do Governing's Stories Come From?

The classic childhood question is "Where do babies come from?" Well, that's the classic question other than "Are we there yet?&...
by | October 6, 2009

The classic childhood question is "Where do babies come from?" Well, that's the classic question other than "Are we there yet?"

Since we're all so curious about origins from such an early age, perhaps you've wondered where Governing story ideas come from. Unlike babies, which only come from one source (storks), the answer is all over the place. A good example of the varied origins of Governing stories is a short piece I wrote for the October issue on fire-safe cigarettes.

Unless a smoker keeps puffing, fire-safe cigarettes extinguish on their own. I'd seen several press releases from the Coalition for Fire Safe Cigarettes about their efforts to persuade states to pass laws mandating the technology, but I'd never really thought about writing about them (the pithy answer to where Governing story ideas come from: anywhere but press releases).

That changed a couple of months ago, though, when I read a blog post (warning: foul language) from Andrew Sullivan on the topic. True to his libertarian inclinations, Sullivan was passing along a reader's e-mail that fire-safe cigarettes tasted terrible and that the State of Missouri, by mandating that only fire-safe cigarettes be sold, had given in to its worst nanny-state impulses.

Were states really mandating horrible-tasting cigarettes? I was intrigued, especially when I found out that 49 states had laws mandating fire-safe cigarettes and that most of those laws had passed in the last few years.

So, reading a blog post prompted me to write a print edition story. Now, I'm writing a blog post about reading a blog post and then writing a print edition story about it. Score one for new media.

But, if Governing story ideas come from all over the place, including from blog posts, Governing stories come from only one place: reporting. When I actually started digging into the story, I discovered other angles.

Supporters had been trying for decades to pass congressional legislation mandating fire-safe cigarettes, with no luck. States acted when the feds didn't. In other words, my story ended up being a case study in federalism.

What's more, one reason states were able to act is that the tobacco industry dropped its opposition to the concept. They decided that they could live with a fire-safe mandate, as long as states all did the same thing. So, my story was about the tobacco industry's regulatory strategy and its more cautious posture in a post-Tobacco Settlement world.

In fact, I didn't even end up mentioning the taste issue in my article because it seemed tangential to these other angles. Plus, many people dispute that fire-safe cigarettes taste bad -- and I wasn't about to take up smoking to find out.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman | Former Staff Writer |