On the third floor of the State Capitol building
in Madison, hidden at the bend
of a hallway, believe it or not, there's a very
small radio studio wedged under
a flight of stairs. Duck as you enter.
From this vantage point, Wisconsin Public
Radio’'s capitol reporter can record
the goings-on in the legislature, edit interviews
with lawmakers, and feed
news pieces to our main studios on the UW campus
10 blocks away.
The studio space was home to veteran reporter
John Powell for years and
years. Now it is home to Shawn Johnson, who
became our capitol reporter
In the following question-and-answer session
between writer Donnie Forti and reporter Shawn Johnson, we learn what
it's like to cover the daily activities under the capitol dome.
D. F. What factors influenced you to enter
the media field?
S. J. I've always enjoyed writing, and
journalism just seemed like a natural fit. I probably veered
toward radio in the first place because I thought it would be fun to
host a sports talk-show some day. My interest in that faded in
college where I really discovered public radio. The in-depth
format and the range of stories that public radio covers drew me in.
D. F. Did you study journalism in college?
S. J. I received a B.S. degree in
broadcast journalism from the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign; and a M.A. degree in public affairs reporting from
the University of Illinois at Springfield (the PAR program focuses
specifically on state capitol reporting).
D. F. In general, what should media outlets
do differently to better-cover and report the news?
S. J. Probably break away from the pack.
Especially at the statehouse, it's easy to get caught up in what
other reporters are doing. If there's a swarm of people at a
press conference, it's sometimes tough to say, "Maybe this isn't
D. F. Is there an aspect of radio news
reporting that listeners may not be
S. J. Casual radio listeners are sometimes
surprised that a huge chunk of a radio reporter's time is tied up in
writing. I think of my job mostly as writing, editing, and
rewriting. Speaking into a microphone is only a small part of my
D. F. Shawn, describe a typical day as
state capitol reporter.
S.J. Every morning I try to skim
through the newspapers to make sure I'm up to speed on what's
happening. It's also nice to see how other reporters handled a
story that I also covered. On a busy day, there's a pile of press
releases to file through.
The rest of the day depends on what's happening at
the capitol. I may have to make lot of phone calls and do most of
my interviews over the phone.
During session, committee hearings and activities
on the Assembly and Senate floors dominate my time. During some
of these, I'll sit through hours of testimony for a one-and-a-half to
two-minute story. Session days sometimes feel busy from early in
the morning to late at night. Other days, it's hurry up and wait.
When lawmakers are around, my typical day revolves around their
D. F. Before coming to WPR, where did
S. J. I spent the last four
WUIS-FM, a public radio station in Springfield,
Illinois. That's where I got my first taste of covering a state
legislature. Before that I was an assistant producer for WBBM-AM
/ Chicago. I also spent a summer anchoring the morning sports for
WCMY-AM, a small commercial station in Ottawa, Illinois, near my