October 1997

The quick guide to covering fast track

By Jim Specht
Gannett News Service

Regional reporters who have been quietly ducking the free trade issue, hoping Congress will ignore the matter this year, may have to become trade experts in a hurry if NAFTA is any indication.

Prospects for the North American Free Trade Agreement looked slim as well, until Congress decided to take it up at the last minute, and suddenly it was the biggest issue in town.

If your editor suddenly demands to know how free trade is going to affect residents of Anytown, U.S.A., there are places to go for information that can make the matter relevant.

Gannett News Service reporters Ellyn Ferguson, John Machacek and Brian Tumulty offer these tips:

Finding the local twist in the Supreme Court

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Covering the Supreme Court should be as integral a part of regional reporting as covering Congress, Roger Lowe of the Columbus Dispatch says.

Lowe, who has made covering the court a specialty that frequently lands his stories on Page One, joined another veteran reporter and court spokesmen at a Regional Reporters Association seminar designed to unravel some of the mystery behind the Supreme Court.

"If you cover a bill on Capitol Hill, then cover it when it comes to the court," Lowe said.

In doing so, regionals have "four bites of the apple"-- that is, four chances to jump in on stories.

The first comes when petitions are filed there. Richard Carelli of The Associated Press said that's the least newsworthy step because only about 80 of the thousands of petitions filed each year are accepted for argument by the court.

The next writing opportunity comes when the court either decides to hear the case (or "grants cert") or rejects the petition. That news is included on periodic "orders lists," which come out on most Mondays when the court is in session. The third bite of the apple is the oral argument, and the fourth is the actual court decision.

To decide which cases to cover, Lowe and Carelli suggested that regional reporters:

Once you know which cases to cover, the Supreme Court's Public Information Office (202-479-3211) can steer you to the briefs that have been filed in individual cases. That office can also provide you with a calendar of the court's schedule, which Carelli called the most important document a reporter can have because it sheds light on when the court is likely to make news.

Lowe and Carelli offered the following tips:

Riley discusses testing plan with regionals

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

Pushing President Clinton's national testing agenda, Education Secretary Richard Riley was September's featured Regional Reporters Association newsmaker.

Riley took questions from a dozen RRA members in his conference room a week after the House voted to block the planned standardized tests.

Using colorful charts, Riley argued that some state-run testing programs mislead parents into thinking their children are doing well when students actually are reading at a far lower level than their national counterparts.

"There's no way to compare these state tests,'' he said.

Riley also previewed the administration's attack on school vouchers, calling them a distraction.

"They are very divisive," he said. "They serve no purpose in improving schools."

He also answered questions on California immigration issues and complaints by African-American lawmakers that national tests will be biased and fruitless.


The RRA board focused on reaching out to members at its October 6 meeting.

The board approved a series of four "happy hours" to serve as informal get-togethers fo r reporters. The events will be held by region: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West. Officers will be on hand to ask for advice on upcoming events and gauge reporting specialties.

The board also approved spending up to $100 to buy computer software to enable RRA to send batch faxes to members. Also approved was the investment of $1,000 of RRA's money in a six-month CD. Board members believe the move can generate additional income.

The board also solidified plans for a major membership drive in 1998. A membership survey will be sent out with dues renewal notices in January, and the board will make follow-up calls to existing and prospective members as part of an effort to raise RRA's profile and make it more responsive.

President's Report

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Looking out at a recent gathering of Regional Reporters Association members, Education Secretary Richard Riley might have been thinking: If only every classroom in America could be this intimate ...

Twelve regionals attended RRA's Sept. 22 gathering with Riley. I suppose that was both good and bad. It was great for those who attended. They had direct access to a cabinet secretary. But it was bad in that there are dozens of other regionals who didn't take advantage of the opportunity.

The question I was left with after that and other recent RRA events is: Why don't more people attend? Only you, members, can answer that question, and we will be asking it again and again in the coming months.

The most formal way will be through our member survey, which we have postponed until January to coincide with a full-scale membership drive that we hope will boost our organization's size and scope.

But we won't have any answers to that survey until at least February, and we can't wait until then to get some feedback on why attendance at many of our events seems to top out at about 20. So I'm asking the question now. I can think of several possible answers.

Perhaps -- egads! -- some of our events are not appealing to a large number of our members, for whatever reason. Perhaps we at RRA are not doing a good enough job at getting the word out about coming events. If either's the case, please let me know.

Or perhaps regionals are so busy that a turnout of 20 or fewer is all we can reasonably expect whenever we meet with a newsmaker or schedule a how-to seminar. If that's what you think, please let me know so that I can stop worrying.

Of course, along with your answers, I'm also looking for suggestions about the events you would like to see RRA organize. So please write or call. I'm hoping to hear from far more than 12 of you.

You can call me at 202-737-3188 or e-mail me at

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

| About RRA | Newsletter | Meet the RRA Board |
| RRA's Guide to Covering Washington | Join RRA |
RRA Links | | Online Newspapers | Daybook |