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:
The International Trade Administration, which tracks exports to
foreign countries by state, region and even some metro areas. The
quickest way to get the numbers is on the Internet. Check out these trade links or call the ITA at 202-482-3809.
There are a number of ways to track down local companies looking to
export products. ITA also can put you in touch with U.S. Export
Assistance Centers in many states, which in turn will help you track
down companies. For info on the centers and state trade stats, call Curt
Cultice at 202-482-3809.
The Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration handles
requests for worker aid and can provide state-by-state listings of
companies for which aid was rejected or approved. Call Tom Edwards at
202-219-6871, ext. 152. The company names are listed, and the workers
most affected generally are represented by unions. The union locals,
eager to tell their story, can help track people down.
For independent data, there are a several possibilities.
Trade-opponent Economic Policy Institute, where Robert Scott at
202-331-5510 can provide a wealth of ammunition on how NAFTA has been
bad for states and specific industries. At the trade-supporting
International Institute for Economics, Jeffrey Schott leads a crew of
experts on trade. He's at 202-328-9000.
Advocates such as Public Citizen (202-546-4996), the AFL-CIO
(202-637-3907) and the Teamsters Union (202-624-8969) have put together
extensive files of stories from across the country. On the other side,
try the National Association of Manufacturers at 202-637-3182 or the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 202-463-5682.
If none of these can help you, try the state or local chamber of commerce or the state economic development department to help find exporters. Reporters may have more information than they know. A list of top industries from your home town, compared with the top exports from your state (broken out by the ITA) can sometimes yield surprising results. Wal-Mart has 40 stores in Mexico now; Fender electric guitar bodies are now made in Mexico.
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
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
Read their own papers closely. That way you will know when a local
court case is headed to the high court, or when local issues parallel
cases that the Supreme Court is considering.
Get to know prominent lawyers and law professors back home. They can
steer you to the high court cases that are most relevant to your readers.
Make sure that your state attorney general notifies you whenever the state takes a case to the Supreme Court or when it files an "amicus" (or friend of the court) brief in another case. An amicus filing is a sure sign that the case matters to people in your state.
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:
Once you know that a petition has been filed at the court, check the
"conference list" of cases that the justices will be considering on the
Fridays before they begin a court session. Very often, if a case is
considered in conference on Friday, it will appear on an orders list the
Look for local angles behind the big national cases. Try to find out
how cases will affect people back home.
Team up with reporters in the home office to get more in-depth
reaction from people who have a stake in Supreme Court cases.
Look beyond who won and lost. Find out about the larger issues at
play and pay attention to how the justices came to their conclusions
because that can have an important bearing on future cases.
Be careful not to make court actions sound too sweeping. For example, if the court denies a cert petition, don't say: "The court upheld a lower-court ruling." Say it more accurately: "The court let stand..." or "The court refused to consider..."
By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service
Pushing President Clinton's national testing agenda, Education
Secretary Richard Riley was September's featured Regional Reporters
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
"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
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
The board approved a series of four "happy hours" to serve as informal
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.