Why does covering Congress matter? Here's how Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for "The Takeaway" answers that question: "Lack of (civic) engagement is the corrupt politician's most powerful tool." In other words, if the media don't keep an eye on the people's business, it's good news for those who want to sneak through corrupt agendas.
Zwillich joined NPR Congressional reporter Ailsa Chang and Matt Laslo, who files stories about Congress for NPR and 40 of its member stations, for a lively PRNDI session on "Covering Congress."
The three of them routinely chase down lawmakers in the halls of Congress, but they say actually getting a lawmaker on the phone can be better - more focused attention, more one-on-one potential. So that's worth keeping in mind when you're reporting from a member station and you can't be on the ground in Washington D.C.
What's the best way to have a great phone interview with a lawmaker? Be prepared. Do your homework. If it's about a specific issue, say campaign finance, call up a specialty reporter who covers that issue and talk over your questions with them. Zwillich says don't be shy about this. He does it all the time and specialty reporters love to talk about what they're covering.
And here are some of the online resources that the esteemed panel suggested for doing homework leading up to those oh-so-important interviews with our elected representatives: Open Secrets, Open Congress, Vote Smart, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.