Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
In next month's issue, for the fourth time in my five years at Governing, I'll be writing our annual preview of state legislative issues to watch.
Issues to watch is a different sort of Governing story because it's really 8-10 little stories (depending on the number of issues we decide to watch). The hard part isn't the reporting, though. It's picking the issues.
Each year, state legislatures talk about just about every public policy topic under the sun. How do we pick which ones will be most important and interesting?
The process is neither as pretty as art nor as exact as science. Basically, I try to do three things:
1) Pay attention all year to the topics legislatures are discussing, since they'll probably discuss the same things the following year.
2) Look for major events (new federal laws, Supreme Court rulings, etc.) that might require a state response.
3) Read lots of articles from newspapers all over the country that explicitly or implicitly forecast what a state legislature will be talking about.
From that, I come up with lots of ideas -- some specific, some amorphous -- then discuss them with my editor or editors. They help focus my topics and suggest subjects I hadn't considered. If you doubt that this process is messy, just look at my notes from that meeting:
Yikes! We have numbers, check marks, stars, words crossed out, random colons and handwriting so homely that its mother couldn't even love it (if handwriting had mothers). Also, I don't have the faintest clue why the word "insurance" appears next to "texting while driving."
What's more, these didn't even end up being the final issues. Of the ten issues that have numbers or check marks on my notes, only eight of them ended up as part of the issues-to-watch article. One will be used elsewhere in the magazine and another was replaced entirely by something that wasn't even on this list (giving us nine issues total).
Which ones made the cut? I won't spoil the surprise.
Story Behind the Story appears every Tuesday.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.