By Chris Adams

Making readers – and editors – care about an arcane subject in which the impact is years away is always a challenge. But for reporters covering the nation’s crisis in private and public pensions, that’s  necessary.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, three veteran reporters shared their tips and strategies for covering an issue that has a major impact on both workers’ pocketbooks and government coffers.

Mary Williams Walsh of The New York Times (bio and stories, Twitter) detailed how she has covered the crisis in both public and private pensions. Walsh seeks to decipher the ways bad assumptions or poor management of public pensions can come back to haunt workers and taxpayers alike. Consider a story about the tiny Citrus Pest Control District No. 2 in California, which essentially carried two sets of books – one showing its pension was well funded, the second showing it was in a deep hole.

The problem in that one small public entity, she wrote, showed how “governments nationwide do not know the true condition of the pension funds they are responsible for.

“The public needs to be made aware of that,” she said. “If journalists don’t say that, nobody else will.”

From Pensions & Investments magazine, Hazel Bradford (bio and stories, Twitter) talked about problems with both public and private pensions. But she also urged reporters to put those problems in perspective: Most pensions are sound, with enough money in the bank to maintain their long-term obligations.

And Sandra Block of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (bio and stories, Twitter) took the broad policy issues down to the household level, sharing tips for stories about whether retirees should take their pensions in lump sums or the traditional monthly payout.