NEWSLETTER

December 1997

Time to start thinking about 1998

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

Congress is in recess. The holidays will be here and gone in no time. What's a Washington reporter to do with all this free time?

Why not take the opportunity to plan your 1998 calendar? Literally dozens of opportunities abound for reporters wishing to brush up on their writing skills, learn how to surf the Internet or master an issue bound to come up soon.

One nice thing about being a Washington correspondent is the abundance of local opportunities for professional development. For example, several members of the Regional Reporters Association took advantage of a December writing seminar in Arlington, co-sponsored with the Freedom Forum.

Washington Post Ombudsman Geneva Overholser, along with other writing coaches, were on hand to help local reporters make news from the nation's capital more interesting for readers outside the Beltway.

Check out the RRA web site http://www.rra.org for upcoming 1998 events.

If you're a member of the National Press Club, you can sign up for some relatively inexpensive Internet courses at the NPC library. Library director Tom Glad teaches several classes on everything from using e-mail to obtaining data from federal government and other web sites. Press club members get a discount on classes. Call the library at 202-662-7523, or check the web http://www.npc.press.org for a detailed list of 1998 classes.

In keeping with future trends in journalism, the National Press Club and the Freedom Forum are hosting a seminar and trade show called Cyberjournalism98 on Jan. 8-9, complete with speakers, seminars and product demonstrations. For information about attending, call Euraine Brooks at 703-284-2809 or e-mail ebrooks@freedomforum.org.

If you're new to Washington reporting, the Freedom Forum also offers the Paul Miller fellowships. On the web, go to http://www.freedomforum.org.

Of course, there also are the professional groups that often host conferences in town or nearby. If you're not a member, now might be a good time to consider joining.

Investigative Reporters and Editors, for instance, is holding a regional conference here Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Call 573-882-2042, or check the IRE web page at http://www.ire.org for more information.

Its sister organization, the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, holds boot camps in Missouri twice a year, and NICAR trainers also travel the country. Check NICAR's home page, http://www.ire.org/resources/nicar, for an updated schedule of 1998 classes.

We'd like to think that everything happens in town, but believe it or not, sometimes we must leave the Beltway for the best in professional development.

Make a pitch to your bureau chief or editor to send you to a conference or two next year. Or if you must, consider scholarships that many journalism organizations offer to members who can't charge the cost to their newspaper or bureau.

Here are just a few of the organizations that may interest regional reporters. Most are still planning the content of their 1998 conferences. Call or check their web sites for the most up-to-date information:




Learn all about computers at boot camp

Reporters can be swallowed up easily by data: reports from the General Accounting Office, census statistics, faxes, e-mail and, increasingly, electronic files of information. Not only are databases and spreadsheets becoming more common vehicles for disseminating federal information, they also are becoming more accessible with the advent of the World Wide Web.

But just how does one turn those billions of bytes into meaningful regional stories?

Last year, I decided it was high time to figure that out. I began with a course at the National Press Club library, where I got an introduction to the spreadsheet program Excel and the database program FoxPro. I persuaded my bureau to purchase the programs and became a computer geek, spending my spare time learning how to use them. I soon realized, however, I would need more than ìspare timeî to become proficient.

Enter NICAR -- the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting. I made a successful pitch to my bureau chief to send me to NICAR headquarters at the University of Missouri for training last May. There, I spent a week in computer ìboot camp,î which was everything you would envision boot camp to be.

The week was intense, and for those in the class who were new to heavy-duty computer work, it was difficult. But because I had introduced myself to the programs ahead of time, I found the class well worth the time and expense. Without the class, I'd likely still be pulling my hair out trying to open a file.

Maybe I'm biased. I'm a firm believer in computer-assisted reporting and believe every journalist ought to be proficient in using simple spreadsheet and database programs.

NICAR isn't the only route. Other private companies and individuals here in Washington would be happy to teach you the latest programs and techniques. The key is to commit some real time to learning. Unless you can quickly turn data into copy, computer-assisted reporting will seem like a waste of time. But if you become adept at using spreadsheets and databases, they will most certainly open doors to better stories.

For more information about NICAR boot camps and a schedule of 1998 classes, call 573-882-0684.

-- Christine Dorsey,
Donrey Media Group




Lawyers to collect from tobacco case

By James V. Grimaldi
The Seattle Times

As Congress considers the proposed tobacco settlement, regional reporters can find out how the deal will affect their local communities.

Aside from stories about how your members plan to vote, there are stories about how much money your state could get and how much your local attorneys stand to make.

Forty states have filed lawsuits and nearly every state has hired outside counsel to help with the case. Calculating how much these firms will make is generally easy, depending on the terms of the contract.

Start by calling your attorney general's office and asking for a copy of contracts your state has made with outside attorneys for work on the stateís lawsuit against the industry. Under Freedom of Information and public-record laws, these are public documents in most states.

In a Seattle Times story, based on the contracts we collected for all the states, we determined the fees would be well over $14.7 billion.

Here's how to do it:


Others are more complicated, based on how long the legal battles continue; some specify caps of as little as $250,000. If your state has a straight contingency fee arrangement, multiply your state's take of the national settlement by the contingency percentage specified in the contract.

Figuring out the fees for four states is more difficult. Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico have provided absolutely no way to calculate a fee other than promising to pay "reasonable fees" customarily charged for complex litigation. Traditionally, that means a quarter to one-third of the recovery.

Under those fees that can be calculated, attorneys representing Florida would receive the biggest compensation, $2.4 billion, followed by $1.8 billion for Massachusetts' attorneys, $1.6 billion for New Jersey's counsel, $1.5 billion for Texas's lawyers and $1 billion each in Minnesota and Maryland.

Attorneys representing those states would reap the highest fees because their states filed the first lawsuits, at a time when the risk in taking on such a speculative legal fight was considered enormous.

Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and Utah have agreed to pay attorneys 25 percent of the settlement amount, while Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Hawaii and Illinois have agreed to pay between 10 percent and 20 percent.

Most states selected home-state attorneys and one of four firms coordinating a national strategy. The firms have a fee-sharing agreement that they have not made public.

The Seattle Times article can be found on our web site at http://www.seattletimes.com. Search the archives under Todayís News. Check ìcî for archive since Feb. 1, 1996. Enter ìtobaccoî and ìlegalî and hit the search button.




Economic bureau offers data tips

The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis gave regional reporters a guided tour of the agency's reams of regional data.

John Kort, the bureau's chief of regional economic analysis, and Robert L. Brown, chief of regional economic measurement, explained ìBEARFACTS,î the BEA's regional economic fact sheets.

These data sheets, which are published for each of the nationís counties, summarize per-capita personal income, total personal income, the components of personal income and earnings by industry.

On their own, the statistics can appear dry and meaningless. But Kort said the agency has data going back to the late 1960s, making it the only source for tracking long-term changes in personal income in various metropolitan areas and for making comparisons to nationwide trends.

The presentation was made at a Nov. 17 seminar sponsored by the Regional Reporters Association.

The county data for each year is released about 17 months after the end of a calendar year. For example, the 1996 data will be available late next spring.

Statewide data is much more timely; getting released on a quarterly basis. The agency also releases statewide data on foreign investment in the United States.

Contact RRAís Jerry Zremski at 202-737-3188 or e-mail him at jzremski@pop.erols.com if you want to be added to BEAís fax or e-mail notification list for new statewide or county data. If you have already e-mailed him, your request has been forwarded to BEA.

For additional information about the agency, call senior economist Larry Moran, who handles BEA's public affairs, at 202-606-9691.

For a schedule of what will be released in 1998, check the link: http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/newsrel/1998rd.htm1.




National Press Club now offers online access to RRA site

You now can link to it through the National Press Clubís web site at http://www.npc.org. Look in the Reporters Resources section under Media Organizations. Or get to our site directly: http://www.rra.org.




NPC elections

Remember, the National Press Club election is Dec. 12. If you're a member of the club, don't forget to vote.

The candidates include:




Board minutes

Because RRA has been living somewhat outside its income -- with higher costs for regular newsletters, more frequent mailings and the creation of a home page -- the Regional Reporters Association board adopted a slimmed-down 1998 budget at the Dec. 1 board meeting.

The $2,935 budget will require dues from 147 members, above the 1997 paid-membership level but not exceeding the number on RRAís mailing list, which includes people delinquent on their dues. An aggressive membership drive is planned for early next year.

The board agreed to suspend the traditional annual January RRA party because attendance often has been light and the funds can be better spent elsewhere.

Several other belt-tightening steps were discussed.

Lolita Baldor volunteered to organize the 1998 budget seminar; Ellyn Ferguson reported on the status of the Dec. 8 writing seminar; and James Grimaldi briefed the board on RRA's role in next month's Investigative Reporters and Editors seminar.

-- Sylvia Smith,
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette




President's Report

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Show me the money!

All right, thatís a crass way to begin a column, but I figured it would get your attention.

Truth be told, here at the Regional Reporters Association, we do need you to show us the money -- the $20 in dues that each of you will owe for 1998. And we'll be asking for it in a letter that you will be receiving, along with a member survey, in early January.

Some of you have recently paid your 1997 dues and must be wondering why RRA would have to be colle cting 1998 dues so soon.

Actually, we're just doing what is necessary to keep the organization active and vibrant. I hope you've noticed that RRA has been very busy lately.

We've been publishing a monthly newsletter filled with tips to help us all improve at our jobs. We've started a home page on the Internet with links useful to regional reporters. And we've bought a computer program that allows us to fax bulletins regarding the many events we're organizing.

This costs money -- so much money, in fact, that if we do not collect dues from all of our members in 1998, RRA will begin running in the red. That's no disaster for 1998, since we have some cash reserves. But if we allow the current fiscal deficit to continue over just a few years, that cash balance will be whittled away.

So we have to get serious about collecting dues now. We plan on doing our part by launching RRA's first real membership drive in years. We will be poring over the accreditation lists at the press galleries and contacting prospective new members to make sure everyone who can benefit from RRA membership at least knows about us.

We ask that you, as existing members, do your part by promptly filling out and returning your dues notice when it arrives in the mail around the first of the year. Doing so will guarantee that you won't miss out on all the great events RRA will put on in 1998.

In the past few months, we've sponsored exclusive meetings with Education Secretary Richard Riley and Environmental Protection Administrator Carol Browner, along with how-to sessions on covering the Supreme Court and federal economic data. In the coming months we'll be sponsoring our always-popular seminar on covering the budget and exclusive meetings with other top administration officials.

Along with your invoice, you'll get a member survey with questions about how RRA can serve you best. We'll also be asking our members whether they want to be included in a membership directory that will identify individualsí areas of expertise. The list will help regionals get some exposure on C-SPAN and other broadcast shows, as well as provide a forum through which regionals can help one another.

The RRA board will be using the surveys to shape events and services in the coming year, so weíre hoping you will take the time to fill it out and return it with your dues in the self-addressed, stamped envelope we will provide.

You see, we're not just asking you to show us the money.

We're asking you to tell us what you think, in the hope that, collectively, 1998 will be a great year for RRA and all regional reporters in Washington.




Census CD-ROMs donated at RRA request

A treasure trove of U.S. Census data is now available at the National Press Club's Eric Friedheim Library, thanks in part to the Regional Reporters Association.

Census officials last week donated several CD-ROMs filled with Census data to the library. The data available on CD-ROM include the 1990 Census population and housing summary, the 1996 Statistical Abstract, County Business Patterns for 1993 and 1994, USA Counties (1996), Income and Poverty (1995) and U.S. Imports and Exports history (1997).

In addition, Mark Tolbert of the Census Public Affairs staff donated two paper copies of the 1997 Statistical Abstract and will donate a CD-ROM version -- and other data updates -- as they become available.
ìThis is a wonderful donation,î said Amy Segal, research librarian at the library.

The donation resulted from a suggestion from the RRA. After reporters complained about the prohibitive cost of Census CD-ROMs during an October event, the RRA asked Census officials to donate the disks to the library, and they immediately agreed to do so.

Look for a complete story on how to use the CD-ROMs in the January edition of this newsletter.

-- Jerry Zremski,
The Buffalo News




Former States reporter dies of cancer

Former States News Service reporter Kelly Richmond died Tuesday, Dec. 2, in Santa Fe, N.M., after a six-month battle with lung cancer. He was 33.

Richmond covered Washington for The Record of Hackensack, N.J., in 1993 and 1994 and had most recently been covering the New Jersey statehouse in Trenton.

A native of Santa Fe, Richmond began his reporting career at the New Mexican, where he made a name for himself covering environmental problems at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

His series about the nuclear lab prompted congressional hearings and caused such controversy between his newspaper's publisher and editorial staff that 16 people quit or were fired over it.

Richmond quit the New Mexican and moved to Washington, where he covered Congress and the federal government until moving to Morrisville, Pa., in 1994.

During his short career, Richmond won several local, state and national journalism awards, including the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Reporting for a 1996 series on New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's administration.

That series also won the National Press Club's Robert L. Kozik Award for Environmental Reporting, as well as the Rutgers University/CIT Group award for New Jersey business reporting and a first place from the New Jersey Press Association's 1996 awards for economic and business reporting.

Richmond is survived by his mother, Crystal Kubas, and stepfather, Greg Kubas, both of Santa Fe; a sister and his father.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to a scholarship fund to be established in his memory.

Richmond's family has set up a scholarship fund in his name and asks that friends send donations to the following address in lieu of flowers:

The Kelly Richmond Memorial Fund, University of New Mexico Foundation, Hodgin Hall, 2nd Floor, UNM, Albuquerque, N.M. 87131

A detailed obituary can be found at The Record's web site: http://www.bergen.com/region/kelly199712046.htm.




Proud of your work? Submissions due

It's that time of year again.

Get out the clips. Curse yourself for not keeping them in better order. Curse your editors for not keeping extra copies. But be sure to get your entries in before the deadline for a variety of journalism awards.

Here are just a few awards whose application deadlines are approaching:



Restive Regions

And then there were two. Thomson Newspapers' Washington Bureau will be reduced to two reporters at the beginning of the year. Gini Barazia, who wrote for newspapers in Ohio, is leaving to cover Congress for Kiplinger Washington Letter. She will not be replaced. Thomson is also eliminating the southern correspondent position now filled by Mario Christaldi.

The two remaining reporters, Bob Vitale (who covers Wisconsin) and Maureen Groppe (who writes for papers in Arizona and Utah) will be looking for new office space as they rattle around in an office that used to house nearly 20 reporters, editors, a photographer and support staff.

Tom Farragher, Washington correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News for the past three years, took a job with the Boston Globe, as a general assignment reporter in Boston. Tom, a Massachusetts native, worked for the Mercury News for 10 years.

Hank Stern, The Associated Press's New Jersey regional reporter in Washington for nearly four years, is moving back to Oregon this month. He doesn't have a job yet but he and his wife, Meg, want to raise daughter Maggie closer to their families.

James R. Carroll is leaving Knight-Ridder's Washington bureau for the Gannett-owned Louisville Courier-Journal. He says heís staying in the area to cover ìanything and everything that moves in Washington of interest to readers in Kentucky and southern Indiana.î James covered Washington for the Long Beach Press-Telegram for more than 14 years.

Desiree Hicks just arrived at Knight-Ridder's Washington bureau, as the correspondent for the Akron Beacon-Journal. She previously worked for Gannett News Service as the Washington correspondent for Wisconsin and South Dakota.

-- Jill Miller,
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, with Maureen Groppe, Thomson Newspapers

Got news? Call Jill Young Miller at (202) 824-8225, or e-mail:jillymill@aol.com.




Applicants sought for Miller program

So you've mastered the basics of covering Washington.

You know how to reach lawmakers in your delegation. You've discovered where to find campaign finance reports. Perhaps you've even tapped into the Thomas congressional home page via the Internet.

You wonder: What next?

Enter the Paul Miller program at the Freedom Forum, specifically designed with the regional reporter in mind. Applications for the programís 12th year are being accepted. Sessions begin in May.

ìThe mission of the program is to give Washington-based regional reporters, all of whom are incredibly busy and have little time to do a lot of exploration of the city, a better sense of the whole news machine in the nationís capital,î said Cheryl Arvidson, the programís director. ìWe try to help them open some doors and learn some shortcuts to maximize productivity in a minimum amount of time.î

Here are some of the highlights:


Arvidson said that in addition to learning about the reporting resources, participants also develop ties with fellow regional reporters. ìCamaraderie is important for newspeople in smaller organizations,î she said. ìItís helpful to see a familiar face.î

Participants meet twice a month for a full year with newsmakers and veteran Washington reporters. Print, wire service and broadcast reporters with bureaus in Washington are eligible to apply. Up to 15 reporters will be selected. There is no cost for participating in the program, and lunch is provided. Once selected, attendance is mandatory.

Applications are due Feb. 15.

-- Nick Jesdanun,
The Associated Press

For more details, contact Cheryl Arvidson at 703-284-3507 or by e-mail at carvidson@freedomforum.org. Requests for applications can also be sent to The Freedom Forum, 1101 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Va. 22209.Visit the Miller home page at: http://www.freedomforum.org/professional/paulmiller.asp.




RRA, Freedom Forum sponsor writing seminar

If you've read much Washington copy lately, you know that inflation always "spirals," Bill Archer is always known as "the powerful chairman" of Ways and Means, and anything having to do with the IRS, ISTEA or El Nino is always "massive."

These are just a few examples of cliches that mar good Washington reporting, USA Today senior writer J. Taylor Buckley told reporters at a writing seminar Dec. 8 sponsored by the Regional Reporters Association and the Freedom Forum.

"Washington is one of the hardest places to make news come to life," said Associated Press reporter Tom Raum, who chimed in with his own pet peeves, including the use of meaningless quote fragments in leads.

Buckley and Raum joined Washington Post Ombudsman Geneva Overholser and University of Maryland journalism professor Carl Sessions Stepp with suggestions on how to make dull writing sparkle.

Start by improving relations between your bureau and your newsroom back home so that news is relevant to the hometown reader, said Overholser. She noted the biggest complaint she hears from readers is that stories come across as unfair, incomplete or inaccurate.

Stepp, a former regional reporter, offered these pointers: Use graphics to illustrate a point, cast a broader net around town to find stories the competition isn't writing, and constantly ask yourself why the story would matter to anyone outside the Beltway.




WWWeblink

Seattle Times investigative reporter Duff Wilson maintains the ìReporter's Desktopî web site at http://www.seanet.com/~duff as a simple, one-stop source for reporters on deadline. The page has links to various sites to help calculate distances or to find corporate records or experts. There's also a reverse telephone directory and several ways to search for e-mail, telephone numbers and addresses.




November 1997 Regional Reporter

October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

< H4>August 1997 Regional Reporter

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