Tips for open contract and budget reporting

Digital rights, budget, contract

By Patrick Egwu

It’s easy to overlook something like a budget, which is dense and difficult to read. But journalists around the world should learn the basics budget reporting, as there are more stories in a budget than one might expect.

Here are some tips to get started:

(1) Study the budget

The first step to do any story on the budget is to take your time to study it. This can be boring, especially when you are dealing with huge, confusing numbers, complex data and infographics. However, the outcome is usually productive, and many government agencies offer budget resources to help.

(2) Be patient and and thorough

If you are not patient or detail-oriented when examining the budget, it will be almost impossible to do a story. Don’t give up. In 2018, I studied more than 500 pages of budget documents for a story on the embezzlement of funds for a library project. It was a painstaking effort, but the outcome was worth it.

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(3) Ask your superiors or other experts

Since budget documents deal with big numbers, you might want to reach out to a senior colleague, financial expert, economist or statistician to help make sense of them, especially if you are not a business journalist who frequently deals with a lot of numbers in their reporting.

(4) Tell the story

When you are done searching through the bulky budget document, work towards telling the story you find. Sometimes, when you’re bogged down with large numbers and data, you may struggle determining how to start. Take a look at what your colleagues have done, and read a well-reported budget story to understand how to make the numbers more meaningful to your readers, without making the reading process difficult for them.

Culled from IJNet.