Resources for Covering Public Pensions

Americans are retiring in record numbers, and private companies aren't the only ones scrambling to find the funds needed to keep up with pension payments. Local governments are struggling to find the money for underfunded pensions. This page will help you get the resources you need to tell those stories.
The information was provided by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers as part of a Specialized Reporting Institute on June 1-3, 2011, at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Policy Experts

Keith Brainard, research director, National Association of State Retirement Administrators
Brainard collects, prepares and distributes to NASRA members information pertinent to public pension design, administration and policy.

Kil Huh, research director, Pew Center on the States
Huh leads the center's project on states’ fiscal health and has done research and analysis on a wide range of issues, including state tax systems and retirement benefits.

Paul Matson, director, Arizona State Retirement System
Matson supervises an investment portfolio of about $24 billion, the state’s largest pension plan. He is also an adjunct professor at Western International University.

Ron Snell, senior fellow, National Conference of State Legislatures, focusing on pensions and retirement issues.
He has written numerous articles and papers on state pensions and retirement policy.

Lynn Turner, former chief accountant, Securities and Exchange Commission
Turner was the principal adviser to the SEC chairman and commission on auditing and financial reporting and disclosure by public companies. He is now a consultant with LitiNomics, and is one of three governor-appointed members of the Colorado Public Pension Plan board of trustees.

Coverage Experts

Yamil Berard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram investigative reporter.
In her coverage of complex financial topics -- including public pensions -- Berard has uncovered millions in misspent dollars, prompting changes in policies and removal of public officials.

Chuck Bennett, New York Post reporter.
He has worked on New York City and New York state public pension issues for three years and has written dozens of articles in the paper’s “Pension Explosion” series.

Laura Bischoff, Dayton Daily News statehouse reporter who blogs on Ohio politics.

Sean Driscoll, Rockford (Ill.) Register Star reporter.
Covers pensions, unions and unemployment, focusing on state and local issues, including Illinois’ long history of underfunding its pension plans, the effects of pension reform on employees and local public safety pension boards. See some of his recent public pension articles here.

Timothy Gibbons, covers municipal government for Florida Times-Union.

Jason Grotto, investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago's pension crisis is among the stories he has tackled.

Craig Harris, senior reporter for The Arizona Republic.
His award-winning eight-part series, Public Pensions: A Soaring Burden, details Arizona's attempt to keep its six state pension systems solvent and the impact it has had on taxpayers.

Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times business writer.

Catherine Lucey, covers politics and government for the Philadelphia Daily News and is the co-author of the paper’s popular City Hall blog..

David Milstead, Denver-based freelance writer
Author of "Vox," a markets and investing column for The Globe and Mail, Milstead is a member of the SABEW Board of Governors and chairman of its finance committee.

Tom Mooney, Providence (R.I.) Journal reporter.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist for team coverage of The Station nightclub fire in Warwick, R.I., in 2006, Mooney is part of a team looking into the public pensions issue in Rhode Island.

Dennis Thompson, state workers reporter for the Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal.
State government is the area’s major employer so the public pension system, Oregon PERS, is a key part of his beat.

Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times' business/financial reporter.
Former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, Walsh writes extensively on public pensions. See some of her public pension articles here.

Mike Wickline, Arkansas Democrat Gazette political reporter.
Having covered public retirement systems for more than 10 years, Wickline is always on the hunt for stories about Arkansas’ pension systems and ways to explain their complexities to readers.

Key Resources

National Association of State Retirement Administrators

NASRA is a nonprofit organization whose members oversee retirement systems that hold more than $2 trillion in assets and provide pension and other benefits to more than two-thirds of all state and local government employees.

Pension Dialogue

This blog is a collaborative effort between the National Association of State Retirement Administrators and the National Council on Teacher Retirement. Posts share facts, critique reports and studies, examine proposed policies and legislative actions, and report what's going on in the media.

Public Fund Survey

The Public Fund Survey is intended to promote sound public retirement system policies and administration by increasing transparency and understanding of the public retirement system community. More than 85 percent of all state and local government pension assets and members in the U.S. are represented in the Public Fund Survey.


Wikipension is a knowledge management resource for and about the community that governs, sponsors and administers retirement benefits for employees of state and local governments in the U.S., and the firms that provide services to these entities.

National Council on Teacher Retirement

NCTR is an independent association dedicated to safeguarding the integrity of public retirement systems to which teachers belong. NCTR membership includes 68 state, territorial and local pension systems. These systems serve more than 18 million active and retired teachers, non-teaching personnel and other public employees, and have combined assets of more than $1.8 trillion in their trust funds.

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans is a nonprofit organization dedicated to being a leading objective and independent global source of employee benefits, compensation and financial literacy education and information.

Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association

PERA provides retirement and other benefits to employees of more than 400 government agencies and public entities in the state of Colorado. PERA is the 21st largest public pension plan in the United States.

PEW State Policy Center

Pew studies and promotes nonpartisan solutions for pressing and emerging problems such as the environment, early education and the public’s health and well-being. One area of Pew research focuses on pensions and retiree benefits.

Employee Benefit Research Institute

The mission of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) is to contribute to, encourage and enhance the development of sound employee benefit programs and public policy through objective research and education.

National Institute on Retirement Security

The National Institute on Retirement Security was established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy through national research and education programs.

Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Company

GRS serves more than 800 public sector agencies by bringing innovative, practical solutions to the challenges faced by benefit plans and plan sponsors.

Pension Research Council

The Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is committed to generating debate on key policy issues affecting pensions and other employee benefits. The Pension Research Council sponsors interdisciplinary research on the entire range of private pension and social security programs, as well as related benefit plans in the United States and around the world.

Pensions Institute

The mission of the Pensions Institute at the Cass Business School University of London is to research all fields related to pensions and then disseminate the results of that research. It has an international network of pension researchers from a variety of disciplines that provides expert advice to the pension industry and the government.

Boston College Center for Retirement Research

The Center for Retirement Research promotes research on retirement issues and transmits its findings to a broad audience. It helps train new scholars and expand access to valuable data resources.

Governmental Accounting Standards Board

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board is an independent organization that establishes and improves standards of accounting and financial reporting. GASB is recognized as the official source of generally accepted accounting principles for state and local governments.


PowerPoint Presentations from the Conference

Here are PDFs of presentations from the conference on Covering Public Pensions

The Public Pension Discount Rate and Other Issues
Keith Brainard, research director at the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, discusses the public pension discount rate with an in-depth look at the statistics.

Public Pensions
David Crane of Stanford University breaks down the numbers to provide a view of public pensions from a historical perspective.

Public Pensions: The Chicago Way
Jason Grotto, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, highlights Illinois’s public pension woes. Grotto also identifies key sources and reporting techniques for journalists looking to cover the story in their communities.

Public Pensions: A Soaring Burden
Arizona Republic reporter Craig Harris dissects the art of reporting about the complex world of public pensions. Harris details how to organize research, collect date and, ultimately, how to build an award-winning story. His award-winning eight-part series, Public Pensions: A Soaring Burden, details Arizona's attempt to keep its six state pension systems solvent and the impact it has had on taxpayers.

State Retirement Legislation in 2010 and 2011
Ron Snell, senior advisor of the National Conference of State Legislatures, breaks down the most recent legislation regarding public pensions.

What You Always Wanted to Know About Pensions But Were Afraid to Ask
Lynn Turner, former SEC chief accountant, Lynn Turner, identifies key questions regarding public pensions.

Covering Public Pensions
Mary Williams Walsh, reporter for The New York Times, breaks down the ongoing public pension story and provides tips for journalists covering the issue.

More About the Conference

Read all about the public pensions seminar -- topics, speakers and more. Find the links here.

What kinds of stories did participants in the public pensions seminar write? Read them here.

Studies on the state of public pensions can be found here.