NEWSLETTER

January 1998

Prepare yourself for Budget '99

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/ budget/index.html

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 state.

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 their districts.

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.




IRE discount offered to members

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 Campaign '98.

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 with colleagues.

Beginning at 9 a.m., Saturday's sessions will be divided into tracks of panels in three subject areas:


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 managers.

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 registration form.

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.




Reminder!

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!




Point / Counterpoint

Two approaches to covering Washington

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.


The big picture: aiming for page one

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 Par 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 scientists did.

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.


The daily grind: churning out the copy

By Maureen Groppe
Thomson Newspapers

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 meaningful pieces.

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.




Regionals join NPC board

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 Tammy Lytle of the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel has returned as membership secretary.
  • Former RRA president Jonathan Salant, a former regional and now with The Associated Press's national staff, was elected to a three-year board term.

Former RRA president Sylvia Smith of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette narrowly lost a bid for a one-year term.




Board minutes

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.




President's Report

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 happening.

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 Washington regional.

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 every year.

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 project.

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 the wires.

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, inside-the-Beltway hack.

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.




Add perspective with Census disks

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 http://www.census.gov (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.

  • USA counties: This CD-ROM provides reams of background information that could come in handy. If you want to know how many births and deaths there were in Tioga County, Pa., in 1993, you'll find it here. You can also get FBI crime reports dating all the way back to 1977, along with all sorts of county-level information on health, education, building permits, housing and government, among other subjects.
  • Income and Poverty, 1995. This disk lives up to its name with historical income and poverty tables and detailed personal income figures. It's also designed in an easy-to-use, Internet-like, point-and-click format.
  • Population and Housing Summary. This is the big one -- the basic document from the 1990 Census. Use it to find all sorts of details on the areas you cover.
  • Exports. This is a Census study of, you guessed it, exports from the United States to other nations. It includes historical and up-to-date data on practically every export imaginable, so if you want to see how your main industry back home is doing, you will find it here. For example, if your area's economy is based on the breeding of "asses, mules and hinnies," this disk will tell you how many asses, mules and hinnies are being shipped overseas.




Find quotables using Profnet

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?

Profnet!

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 described.

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.




Restive Regions

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:jillymill@aol.com.




New office mate anyone?

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.




Fellowship, contest applications due

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 drath@umich.edu.

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.

Call 1-800-888-3000.

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 carvidson@freedomforum.org. Applications are due Jan. 31. The program begins in May.




DATES TO REMEMBER

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.




WWWeblink

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




December 1997 Regional Reporter

November 1997 Regional Reporter

October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

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