By Lolita C. Baldor
New Haven Register
Worried about covering your first federal budget release? Or just looking
for some fresh angles on the 1998 proposal?
Join the Regional Reporters Association for its annual budget seminar on
Wed., Jan. 21, at the National Press Club, from 9 to 11 a.m.
Meanwhile, you may be looking for tips on how to cover one of Washington's
most hectic days. Good sources of information include the states'
Washington offices and the Northeast-Midwest Institute. Previous federal budget
documents can be found online: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/
On budget day, the actual document books are available free to reporters
at the Government Printing Office. One book that is hard to get, but worth it,
is the state-by-state book, ìBudget Information for States.î
Meanwhile, many regional reporters start their coverage of the budget at
the Pentagon. The Department of Defense has an embargoed briefing, usually on
the Saturday prior to Budget Day, which is Feb. 2 this year.
For reporters covering states with defense contractors, this is the first
look at funding for weapon systems and aircraft built across the country.
In addition, there are details on troop strengths, possible cuts or shifts in
the National Guard and Reserves and proposed military construction in each
The main briefing is followed by separate briefings by each military
services. Usually those are small enough for all reporters to ask questions
about specific local projects. Bring along a briefcase or bag to hold all
the budget and briefing books handed out.
Along with the four main branches, remember to check in with the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers. They will have information on new or ongoing flood
control, river dredging or other projects in your area.
The day the budget is released, federal agencies across the city will hold
their own briefings. It is best to pick one or two and concentrate on the
issues most important to your region. Lawmakers are briefed in the days
before the release and often have details about funding or problems specific to
Other obvious stories will be: how the budget shapes up in terms of the new balanced budget effort; transportation funding, in light of the problems last year passing a multiyear highway bill; and funding for low-income energy assistance, which always seems to be under fire.
By James V. Grimaldi
The Seattle Times
Investigative Reporters and Editors is offering a discount to Regional
Reporters Association members who attend an intensive two-day training
conference Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at American University.
If at least 20 RRA members attend the conference, they will receive a
discount of $50 for the first day -- the same price offered to journalists
working for smaller newspapers and media markets.
The discount is for the first day only. Attendees will be charged full
price for the second day. To attend the conference, you must be an IRE member,
which costs $40 annually for non-students.
The conference will offer panels and hands-on seminars in the latest and
best reporting techniques and a special set of sessions to prepare reporters for
IRE, based at the University of Missouri, is the nation's top journalism
training organization. The weekend regional conference is not only an
opportunity to pick up valuable journalism tips but also to make contacts
Beginning at 9 a.m., Saturday's sessions will be divided into tracks of
panels in three subject areas:
Political campaigns. Sessions will discuss covering members of Congress,
television advertisements and statewide campaigns.
At the end of the first day, IRE will offer two early-evening "showcase"
panels on moving up in today's journalism job market and how to make a
difference with investigative reporting.
On Sunday morning, IRE offers a four-hour, hands-on session on how to use
computers to analyze campaign-finance and other federal data. Another
session offers lessons on the basics of the Internet, spreadsheets and database
The conference also will provide display rooms for groups such as the
Center for Responsive Politics and for broadcast reporters to show samples of
their investigative work.
A flier and registration form describing the conference is included with
this newsletter. You can register for the conference using either that flier or
the registration form on the IRE web page at http://www.ire.org
A special box for RRA members is included both on the flier and the online
For more information IRE in Columbia, Mo., at (573) 882-2042 or James Grimaldi, regional representative of IRE, at The Seattle Times' Washington bureau at (202) 662-7455.
RRA membership dues are due by Feb. 2, 1998. Your fellow regional reporters
who serve on the RRA board appreciate your timely payment.
Also, please fill out and return your RRA survey. We'll be using it to improve events and workshops in the coming months!
As more and more newspapers reevaluate the need for Washington bureaus,
there is no riper time for regional reporters to take a step back and analyze how
they cover the nation's capital for the folks back home. By definition,
regional reporters cover Washington from decidedly different angles. Here
are two approaches to regional reporting from a couple of veterans. Neither is
"better" than the other. But both methods illustrate how we can spruce up
our coverage -- and keep the pink slips at bay.
By James Rosen
News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.
I have a great luxury as the Washington reporter for The News & Observer:
my editors are not interested in incremental coverage.
How does that play out for me? No process stories. No stories that duplicate the wires. No spot stories that aren't important enough to make the front
page. I'm expected to spend most of my time researching and writing enterprise
stories that explain complex issues and tie together separate events.
There is a dislike at the paper for what are inevitably dismissed as
ìtalking headî stories. It's hard for me to sell most committee hearings, news
conferences and speeches in the House or Senate.
The threshold for covering such events is high. They have to make major
news, produce a huge impact on North Carolina or bring together an unusual
combination of Tar Heel players -- especially from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel
Hill area that folks down there call the Triangle (as in Research Triangle
k, the high-tech business center between Raleigh and Durham).
When Jesse Helms confronts former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, as he
did at a bizarre and dramatic hearing a few months ago, I cover it. When state
attorneys general announce an historic tobacco settlement, I'm there. When
Clinton appoints John Hope Franklin, a Duke University historian, as head
of his race panel, I'm all over it.
But I skip nearly all White House awards ceremonies, spelling bees, state
legislators' meetings, county commissioners' conferences and mayors'
gatherings. Many of those stories get covered by local reporters who
contact the players just before or after their Washington journeys.
In 40 months, I've covered just one of Gov. Jim Hunt's trips up here --
when he and Helms testified together in support of building giant jetties off
the North Carolina coast to prevent an important inlet from closing. What sold
that story was the novelty of two former adversaries testifying together;
Hunt and Helms staged a bitter Senate race in 1984.
My mission is clear: I should be writing front-page stories the paper
can't get from anyone else. Such a broad brief gives me great freedom to put my
stamp on the beat.
I'm also helped by how close North Carolina is to Washington. I like to
gather string here, then jump in my car and drive down there for a few days
of intensive reporting with the real people at the center of the story.
For an 80-inch Sunday package I just did, I spent two days with black
farmers who had sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging racial
discrimination in the distribution of loans. A lot of my information came
from Washington, but the guts of the story was in southeastern North Carolina.
In July, I wrote a long Sunday article on the Environmental Protection
Agency scientists in the Triangle who crafted the controversial clean-air
regulations tightening standards for smog and microscopic soot. The theme of the piece
was the collision of science and politics, and I had to spend a few days inside
EPA's air-quality lab to get a feel for that collision the way the
Back in the days when I worked for UPI, I used to long for the time when I wouldn't have to pound out two or three stories a day. Although I sometimes miss the rush of constant deadlines, my current job gives me the deeper satisfaction of coaxing larger meaning from fleeting events.
By Maureen Groppe
When I'm running from a congressional hearing to the Math Counts
competition, I'm cursing the fact that I don't have time to work on longer, more
When Congress is on vacation and the daybook of scheduled events is light,
I'm convinced my editors are wondering how I'm spending my time out here.
But if I could ever get over the anxiety that I'm doing the exact opposite
of what I should be doing, I would say Washington is a great town to combine
both daily stories and long-term projects. During the weeks of heavy activity
you can show your bosses that you can produce lots quickly. During the down
times, you dazzle them with the projects for which you've been gathering string.
Besides, my editors have always required both. During my first two years
in Thomson's Washington Bureau, I wrote for 10 papers spread across four
states. My Washington editors expected that I write two stories a day, as well as
churn out "enterprise" stories.
Now that I primarily write for one of Thomson's largest papers, I have
fewer editors I need to keep happy. But I'm still writing both kinds of stories.
With a local competitor, I try to make sure I'm not beat on daily stories.
And I also strive for the weekend packages that my editors like and that give
me good clips.
I'm sure my daily reporting routine is the same as everyone else's. Still,
for the sake of this point-counterpoint, I'll go over it and then you can
all call me and tell me what I've left out.
For the most part, catching daily stories requires a lot of checking:
checking the wires and daybook when I get in; reading the morning ìCQ
Monitorî for hearings, witnesses and upcoming votes of local interest; looking
through The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The
Washington Times, The Hill and Roll Call; searching the ìFederal Registerî;
and checking on local Supreme Court cases. I also try to keep track of when
reports (campaign finance, financial disclosure, Census, interest group,
etc.) are coming out.
For legislative coverage, I try to get my lawmakers on the record on votes
of interest before the vote so that their constituents have a chance to weigh
in. I'll leave the story on the actual vote to the wires unless the lawmaker
had been undecided or switched. Some hearings I cover as a daily story (if
there's a local witness, for example). For others, I'll preview them or write a
weekender after the hearing if the issue lends itself well to a more
featury piece, as had occurred with a hearing on banning Internet gambling.
My former bureau chief believed that each day's budget should reflect the
news of the day in Washington with a local twist. In addition to showing
readers the stake they have in daily actions, I think it's my job to find
the stories they wouldn't get otherwise -- such as a local hunter requesting
permission to bring a polar bear skin into the country or land in a public
forest being set aside for amateur gem collectors.
And although I don't write about every move that the local congressmen
make, I need to keep tabs on them. That way, they know they'll be held
accountable, and I know Iíll be able to better assess their actions when I do write.
And all that helps my editors keep a better tab on what I'm doing.
Regional reporters are making their way onto the National Press Clubís
Board of Governors. With their help, RRA should maintain its good relationship
with the National Press Club.
Former RRA president Larry Lipman of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post was elected vice president.
Former RRA president Sylvia Smith of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette narrowly lost a bid for a one-year term.
The RRA board at its Jan. 5 meeting discussed relations with its sister
organization, the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation. RRA President
Jerry Zremski reported he met with Alan Schlein, a director of RREF, about
the future of the organization and whether it should be dismantled. The
organization provided education grants to regionals but has been largely
dormant the last several years. Some RRA officers serve on the RREF board.
Carl Weiser of the RRAís Newsmaker Committee outlined plans to circulate
invitations to Cabinet secretaries and agency heads to be newsmakers in the
coming year. Among those targeted: Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater
to discuss ISTEA.
RRA directors agreed by a vote of 10-1 to circulate a flyer for the upcoming Investigative Reporters and Editors Washington conference with the current newsletter.
By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News
Just how should you cover Washington?
So which is better use of a local newspaper's Washington bureau -- to
churn out daily news, or to produce
great features and projects?
That's the subject of a "point-counterpoint" elsewhere in this newsletter to which I'd like to offer a counter-counterpoint.
Sometimes, I think, it's better to churn out daily hard news. Other times,
it's better to tackle the bigger picture. It all depends on what's
We -- the regionals who cover Washington -- know what is best and when.
The trick is convincing our editors that we're right.
I've been a regional for more than eight years now, and I've gone from
clueless to competent, so I think I'm now qualified to say that a good
relationship with the editors back home is the key to success for a
But you can't just do what your editors want, lest they see you as an
automaton. We have to let them see the pace of Washington at work and
persuade them to accept more hard news in the peak months and fewer-- but longer and
stronger -- stories during congressional recesses.
It took me a while to realize this, but now I spell out the congressional
calendar -- which is our calendar, really -- for my editor as it develops
During the slow congressional months early in the year, I tell my editor
to expect a major Sunday piece from me most weeks and a couple other news
stories. But as the pace picks up, with Supreme Court stories in June and
heavy congressional action over the summer, the Sunday stories stop, and I
can write upwards of eight or nine shorter stories a week. The same goes for
the fall, but for the recess months of October, November and (this year)
January, I sometimes go a week or two without writing. Instead I focus on a major
I think this works as a basic pattern for covering Washington. After
explaining it all to my editors year after year, they seem to agree. The
underlying philosophy at all times: aim for page one, and don't duplicate
How did I get my editors to see my way? Time and experience help, but
communication helps more. I talk to my main editor at 8:30 a.m. every day
to spell out the possibilities. It seems to be working. After eight years, I
consider him not only my editor, but also my friend.
But there are other approaches. A friend of mine makes it a practice to go
back to the home office for a week every year to do nothing but meet with
community leaders. Doing so not only alerts her to what they care about in
Washington, but also shows her editors that she's no isolated,
Another regional I know does it all on paper, writing a detailed budget
for the week ahead every Friday. Not only does he explain the stories that
should be done and why, but also those that should not be done and why. That, of
course, often saves him from hearing that dreaded phrase, "Why didn't you
have that story?"
Of course, there is a downside to letting your editors know too much about
how Washington works, and when. They might notice that the dead of winter
can be a slow time in D.C. -- and a good time for the Washington correspondent
to come back home to localize some major project started in the capital.
In other words, I'll see you next month. Thanks to my fine relationship with my editor, and my own bad timing, I'm shivering off to Buffalo for a few weeks. RRA Vice President Christine Dorsey will be handling day-to-day RRA matters in my absence.
By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News
There's a new treasure trove of information at the National Press Club
library that can help regional reporters get background for all sorts of
stories -- and maybe even generate stories themselves.
At the request of the Regional Reporters Association, the U.S. Census
Bureau recently donated nearly $1,000 worth of CD-ROMs to the Press Club Library.
Here are a few suggestions for how they can be used:
County Business Patterns, 1993 and 1994: Here you can find amazingly
detailed and precise information about businesses that are growing and
shrinking in the counties you cover. You can find out how many workers
worked in manufacturing every year, how many new businesses were started, or how
many bars you have to choose from on your trips back home.
One suggestion: save the 1993 data for your counties from the CD-ROM, and
compare it to the 1995 data from the Internet at
(the latest in the series, the 1995 County Business Patterns disk, is not in the
library, at least not yet). That could turn into a good quick story on which were the fastest-growing, and fastest-shrinking, industries in your county
in the mid-1990s.
By Clyde Weiss
Donrey Media Group
Need an expert quickly? Got a fascinating feature idea and want to quote
someone who REALLY knows what he or she is talking about?
Who you gonna call?
If you're Internet savvy, you may have heard of it, thought of using it,
but either thought you never had a reason to or were intimidated by the idea.
I was. I won't be again.
I recently wanted to do a story about White House chiefs of staff, but as
a regional reporter, my Rolodex was somewhat limited in this area. So I
turned my Web browser to http://www.profnet.com for the first time and clicked on its database, which claims to offer access to 2,000 individuals identified as
leading experts in their fields by Profnet's members.
Somewhat skeptical, I forged ahead and put in a few search terms such as
''American presidency'' and ''White House chiefs of staff.''
Viola! A list appeared, giving me brief descriptions of the experts' areas
of expertise. I clicked on a few possibilities and got even more background,
phone numbers, press contacts and -- more importantly -- links to some of
the experts' e-mail boxes.
Figuring I didn't need to deal with the press contacts, I wrote e-mail
queries to some of the experts, explaining my story idea and suggesting an
interview if their expertise lent itself to the topic.
I couldn't believe my luck. One of the sources was writing a book on the
subject and gladly agreed to an interview, which greatly improved my story.
I did it again soon after for a story about women who entered Congress
after their husbands died in office. After getting no response to several
e-mailed queries, I de
cided to phone one at his office. The professor happened to be
on sabbatical, but had left a forwarding number. I called him at home and --
bulls eye -- he had written a book on women in Congress that covered the
very topic, and he was eager to be interviewed.
There are two ways to use Profnet. The quick way is the one I just
The other is to click on ''Profnet Search'' and submit a query. The Profnet
folks in Setauket, N.Y., then will research your query and evaluate a much
larger universe of experts in order to find ones that best meet your needs.
This search ''generates leads within a couple of hours, but works best when
you can give our members a day or two,'' its Web site says.
I haven't used this approach, but it sounds good. You can even make a
''cloaked query'' if you're trying to keep a low profile. See the advice
under ''Making the Most of Profnet Search.''
Profnet says it typically receives 60 to 80 queries a day. It's still too
new to me to swear by, but as I was reviewing the site to research this piece,
a reporter for an oil and gas newsletter walked by. He hadn't used Profnet
before, so for fun we queried ''oil and gas.''
He was impressed as experts he knew and used popped up on the screen.
I've got Profnet bookmarked now. Not bad for a 45-year-old reporter who went kickin' and screamin' into the computer age.
The Cox Washington Bureau has hired Eunice Moscoso, currently of the
Austin American-Statesman, as a regional reporter covering Washington for Cox
community newspapers in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio. She starts in
February. Eunice was an intern in the Cox bureau for two semesters in 1996.
Michael Romano is the new Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News, replacing John Brinkley, who remains with parent Scripps-Howard but moves on to cover California. Michael is a longtime reporter from the News' Denver newsroom and most recently covered higher education.
Larry Arnold, the chief political reporter for the Asbury Park Press, is the new New Jersey regional reporter for The Associated Press. He previously worked at the Courier-News in Bridgewater, N.J. Larry replaces Hank Stern, who moved to Oregon with his family.
-- Jill Miller,
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Got news? Call Jill Young Miller at (202) 824-8225, or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomson Newspaper reporters Maureen Groppe (Arizona) and Bob Vitale (Wisconsin) are looking to share office space. If you have an empty cubicle in your bureau or would like to move to a new office with other people, contact Maureen or Bob at (202) 628-2157.
For regionals interested in pursuing a fellowship, Ohio State School of
Journalism and Communications is taking applications for the Kiplinger
Reporting Program for the 1998-99 academic year.
The fellowship allows eight reporters to earn a master's degree in
journalism. Reporters must have a bachelor's degree and at least five years
of reporting experience. Deadline: Feb. 1. Classes begin Sept. 23.
For more information, call (614) 292-2607 or (614) 292-9087, or visit http://www.kip-program.org.
Another fellowship being offered this year is the Michigan Journalism Fellows program through the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Full-time journalists with at least five years of experience are eligible for this year-long research program. Deadline is Feb. 1. For more info, call (313) 998-7666 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Scripps Howard Foundation is accepting entries for its annual series
of contests until Jan. 31.
The foundation awards cash prizes for a variety of journalistic endeavors,
many of which are of interest to regional reporters. Categories include:
editorial writing, human interest writing, environmental reporting, public
service reporting, commentary, distinguished service to literacy,
distinguished service to the first amendment, and journalistic excellence
in electronic media.
Applications for the 1998-99 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowships
are available from The Freedom Forum.
The yearlong program gives Washington-based regional reporters who are new
to the beat a chance to meet some of Washington's biggest movers and shakers,
and learn the ropes from veteran reporters.
Reporters wishing to apply may request an application from Cheryl Arvidson, program director. Call (703) 284-3507. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Jan. 31. The program begins in May.
The budget will be released on FEBRUARY 2, time TBA. Reporters with credentials may obtain one copy of the documents that day at the Government Printing Office, 710 North Capitol Street. For additional info, call the OMB press office, (202) 395-7254.
JANUARY 27 -- State of the Union address, 9 p.m., House of Representatives.
JANUARY 31 -- Year-end campaign finance reports for 1997 are due.
JAN. 31-FEB. 1 -- The Investigative Reporters and Editors regional conference at American University. The conference will include several sessions of interest to regional reporters, including ones on covering the 1998 campaigns and localizing federal issues. See story above for details.
House, presidential, PACsí and political parties' filings with the Federal
Election Commission became available online this month in a format that is
identical to the paper filings.
(Senate candidates have to file first with the secretary of the Senate,
not the FEC. The commission gets a microfilm version that is not of good enough
quality for this digital imaging system.)
The 1997-98 cycle filings are available on the web site within 48 hours of
the reports' arrival in the FEC office. Previous years' reports will be
available within a few weeks, the FEC said.
To access: Go to http://www.fec.gov. Click on "view financial reports
filed." (Set your bookmark for that.) Then click on "search the report image
system." From there you can either plug in a simple request (one report) or
do an advanced search, which allows you to call up the list of all the filings
from one state, for instance.
The flaw -- which the FEC said it is trying to correct -- is that printing
one page actually takes two pages because the last line of each report ("go
to page #" and "next page" boxes) doesn't fit on an 8 1/2 x 11 page.
-- Sylvia Smith,
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette