Follow the Money...With Care

"Just follow the money."

That line from "All the President's Men" lives on.  Over 45 years later, it is still applied to many stories covered by investigative journalists.

 Hal Holbrook portrays "Deep Throat" in "All the President's Men.  "Follow the money" was his advice to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward as he reported on the Watergate scandal.

Hal Holbrook portrays "Deep Throat" in "All the President's Men.  "Follow the money" was his advice to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward as he reported on the Watergate scandal.

For scholastic journalists who want to sink their teeth into a "real story," this can lead them to ask questions about how their school, or their district, is using its funds.  I say kudos to the young people who put in the time, do the research, locate sources, and make an effort to cover school-related financial issues.  There is one problem...it is the fastest way to get in trouble with your administrators.

Do not go into it lightly.  There are some things you need to consider.

*Can you get access to the information you must have to be fair and accurate?  Reporting one side, or just a small part of the story, will invite trouble.

*Is your adviser supportive?  Or is this going to put your teacher in a very bad situation?  It might.  This does not mean you can't cover the story, but do not be naive.  Teachers work for the district, and can only go so far before their jobs can be threatened.  It happens.

*Are your sources legit--do they know what they are talking about?  Or are they trying to manipulate you to get a story "out there" that they can not get the professional press to cover?

*Who are the stakeholders, and have you given them all a chance to talk about the issue?  Remember to cover all sides.  

*Are you prepared to report that nothing illegal, or shady was actually done?  Are you willing to say this was just a misunderstanding, or an isolated incident or mistake?  You may be fired up to "get the goods" on someone, but you have to be willing to report the truth, even if it turns out to be less than dramatic.

*Is your information current?  This can be a huge issue for high school programs that publish once a week, or once a month.  Think about this, because stories change fast.

*Are you the best person to do this story?  Are your motives pure?  For example, if you are on the soccer team, and the story is about some of the funding for soccer being diverted to another sport, are you the best person to report this?  It might be better to kick it (sorry) to another reporter.  Even if you can be totally objective, the perception will be that you have an ax to grind if you are involved in the story.

There is always a need for journalists at any level to ask questions, and keep an eye on those in charge of public funds.  I encourage you to keep on top of these stories.  Just go into it with your eyes wide open.  Following the money is not always as fun, or as rewarding, as it may seem.