March 1998

Analyze election data in new ways

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

Most of us have written a gazillion stories about Federal Election Commission reports -- how much Rep. Puddlebutt has raised, how little his challenger has raised, how big Puddlebutt's warchest is, how puny his challenger's is.

Here are some different ways to cover this year's campaign finances:

Some helpful Web sites:

Slater speaks with RRA on transportation

Calling legislation to renew federal transportation programs the No. 1 domestic priority this session, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater praised the Senate for moving to meet the nation's infrastructure needs.

During an exclusive, 45-minute session with 20 members of the Regional Reporters Association, Slater said he was disappointed that the Senate transportation bill did not do more to promote mass transit programs.

But Slater said senators were well on their way to reaching a compromise that he expected would ultimately address the transit spending requirements. (A Senate committee agreed to boost transit money two days later).

Slater addressed the group March 3 just as Senate leaders agreed on how much to spend overall on the nation's roads and bridges.

Funding authority expires May 1 unless Congress renews the programs. Lawmakers have been fighting over the spending levels.

Senate leaders agreed earlier this month to raise transportation spending over the next six years to $173 billion, up from the $147 billion envisioned last fall.

The bill would shift a greater share of dollars to Southern states, which long have complained that current federal allocations do not meet their growing needs.

Each state would get at least 91 percent of the money its motorists contribute in gasoline taxes; Some states currently get as little as 70 cents back on the dollar.

"Clearly we make a step in the right direction as we bring greater equity to the process," Slater said. "Everyone recognizes all of these states in the Southern tier are exploding with population."

Slater also expressed support for legislation to require states to lower the blood-alcohol concentration at which a motorist is considered drunk.

Some lawmakers are pushing for states to adopt a 0.08 percent standard as a condition for receiving federal highway funds. Most states currently use 0.1 percent as their limit.

"Through research it was determined that this will reduce the likelihood of deaths resulting from drinking," Slater said.

He also took questions on air fares and competition in the airline industry and support for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Slater said he was pleased to meet with RRA members.

"We've been discussing doing this for some time, and I hope it could become a natural and common experience where we discuss transportation needs and issues with regional reporters," Slater said.

He concluded the session by remarking, "We want to do this more."

RRA President Jerry Zremski said he, too, was really pleased with how the event went and credited RRA Vice President Christine Dorsey with arranging it.

"This is exactly what RRA is supposed to do -- provide regionals with access they wouldn't have on their own," Zremski said. "I know a lot of stories came out of this session. Whether you were concerned with high air fares or ISTEA or the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Slater had something important to say."

Census discusses county data

U.S. Census Bureau officials will meet with regional reporters at 9:30 a.m. on MONDAY, MARCH 16, to release and discuss 1997 county population estimates. The event will take place at the National Press Club's Lisagor Room.

These estimates will be available that day on the Census Bureau's new media access server on the Internet.

Censu s spokeswoman LaVerne Vines Collins said the site will include embargoed census data in an easily downloadable form, and that it will be there more quickly than on other Census Bureau servers.

Reporters must preregister with Census, however, before using the new site. To obtain a user name and password, contact Eileen Marra of the Census Public Information Office at (301) 457-2796.

The address for the new server is:

Get the scoop on animal poop

If your state has hog farms, poultry farms or other farms that produce a significant amount of animal waste, you'll probably soon be writing about the environmental concerns that go along with it, if you haven't already.

To help regionals tackle the issue, RRA is hosting a panel discussion Monday, March 23 in room SC-4 in the Capitol on animal waste.

Reporters will have an opportunity to quiz the experts and learn more about clean water concerns and other issues currently facing several states.

Speakers will include Deb Atwood, a spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Association, Joe Rudek, animal waste specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Jeff Armstrong, an animal science expert from Purdue University.

Board minutes

The Regional Reporters Association board at its March meeting pledged to come up with suggestions to help RRA's sister organization, the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, with program ideas for Washington-based regional journalists.

The RREF board, at its last meeting, solicited advice from RRA on programs to fund. RRA President Jerry Zremski also reported on other events at the RREF meeting.

The board discussed another Census Bureau event, this time on county populations, on March 16, and went over plans for two consecutive newsmaker events this month with Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Zremski also said the board would soon begin tabulating the recent membership survey.

President's Report

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Well, I won't have Bill Paxon to kick around anymore, and vice versa.

The five-term congressman announced his retirement late last month, and I must say I saw the move as more than a milestone in Paxon's career. I saw it as a milestone in mine.

In the words of a colleague who saw me the day Paxon made his announcement, "Well, Jerry, your problems are all over!"

You see, Bill Paxon hasn't spoken to me since 1993. And I've covered him anyway.

Of course, everyone gets "frozen out" from time to time, but I wonder if Paxon set a world record by freezing me out since President Clinton's health care speech in September 1993.

I wonder, too, if I've handled the situation well.

You be the judge of that. Here's the story.

Paxon and I met in 1989, the year both of us came to Washington, and the similarities between us seemed striking back then. We were both young and single and ambitious, and we both worked the Hill with the same bespeckled, boyish enthusiasm.

Naturally, he couldn't stand me. And, because I'm a reporter, I am not supposed to have opinions. Needless to say, though, there was a boatload of tension between the two of us right from the start. No matter what question I asked, Paxon responded with a tired quote from the Republican playbook.

I figured there had to be more there, that this guy couldn't really be the cardboard-cutout figure he made himself out to be. And sure enough, there was more.

Behind the scenes, Paxon ingratiated himself with the new generation of House GOP leadership, one that was personified by Newt Gingrich. Great story.

In his franked mail, Paxon boasted about a "Paxon law" that cracked down on polluters -- even though that "law" was merely a bill that hadn't even made it through committee. Great story.

And on the night of Clinton's health care speech, Paxon sat on the patio ofBullfeathers with his fiance, Rep. Susan Molinari, sipping a beer while the president spoke. Meanwhile, Paxon's aides faxed out his reaction to the speech before it ended. Great story.

Of course, Paxon didn't think those stories were so great. After the health care speech, he wrote a letter to my editor, saying he would never speak to me again. It's a promise he has kept.

Meanwhile, I've plugged along, writing the good and the bad. I gave him credit for being the workhorse behind the GOP takeover of Congress. I knocked him for having thousands of dollars in unitemized credit card expenses on his campaign disclosure statements.

And I always called his office for comment. For a while, a staffer took my calls, but that ended after the credit-card story. Now, I play a game of charades with the Paxon office, leaving messages for a press secretary who is always "out of the office" whenever I call.

In the meantime, I've written personal letters to Paxon and encouraged him to meet with my editor and me, but to no avail. Silence still reigns.

Thankfully, Paxon and my bureau chief, Doug Turner, have a good relationship, so I don't think the silence has damaged our coverage. In fact, Doug was the first reporter Paxon told of his impending retirement.

Still, I wonder if I could have done better. I wonder if I should have staked out Paxon's office and waited there until he would talk to me.

Or maybe I should have gone public and written a story about the silence, as Jodi Wilgoren of the Los Angeles Times did recently regarding the silent treatment she gets from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

And above all, I wonder if I should have approached Paxon differently from the start. I don't regret a single story I wrote. But I wonder: Was it the tone of my voice or the phrasing of my questions that quickly filled that boat with tension?

Since I'm still wondering, it's obvious that no matter what that colleague of mine says, my problems are not over. I'm sure there's a lesson I can learn in here somewhere, but I'm still not sure what it is.

Restive Regions

Sarah Pekkanen is leaving Gannett News Service to take a job writing medical- and health-related features for The Baltimore Sun. No word on a replacement yet.

Winston Wood, Polly Elliott and Robb Frederick, formerly of Ottaway News Service's Washington bureau, have landed on their feet after the bureau was downsized.

Winston, former deputy bureau chief, is assistant news editor at The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau. Polly, former Washington reporter for three papers in the Midwest, is political editor at Ottaway's Middletown Times Herald-Record in New York. And Robb, who covered news for Pennsylvania, is a feature writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Sabrina Eaton, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, gave birth to a healthy baby boy on March 3. Isaac Nicholas Rodgers Eaton was 7 pounds, 15 ounces, and 21 1/2 inches long when he entered the world at 3:25 p.m. Congratulations to Sabrina and her partner, Wendy Rodgers, on their foray into parenthood. Sabrina says she expects to be back in the bureau by June.

-- Jill Miller,
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal

Got news? Call Jill Young Miller at (202) 824-8225, or

McCain raps with regionals< /FONT>

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

From air fares in Des Moines to personal smoking habits, Sen. John McCain had an answer for every question thrown at him from regional reporters.

"I quit in 1980. It was the best thing I ever did," was the Arizona Republicanís response to the smoking question.

McCain met with members of the Regional Reporters Association in the Commerce Committee hearing room on March 4.

Among the topics McCain talked about:

  • Campaign finance reform. "The fight will continue," he said, adding that he will visit 30 states contemplating their own reforms.

  • Air fares. Fares are too high in some cities and getting higher, and pretty soon, McCain said, "every day is going to be like the day before Thanksgiving."

  • Indian gaming. "I enjoy going to Las Vegas," he said. But when Congress envisioned Indian gaming, they never thought gambling would be as prevalent and the facilities as large as today.

  • The National Right to Life Committee, which handed out anti-McCain packets outside the event. "I deal very well with the local Right to Life people," he said. But he said their Washington office mischaracterized McCain-Feingold, the campaign finance measure designed to tighten expenditures by outside groups and increase reporting requirements.

  • Tobacco legislation. "I lurch from one meeting to another on this issue. Everyone wants to get into the act." But the White House won't lead, McCain said.

  • Flights over national parks. He's disappointed that Congress hasn't done anything, and he's worried nobody will.

  • His presidential ambitions. He won't even consider it until after this fall's elections.

Applications due for Goldstein prize

The deadline for entries for the 9th Annual Robin Goldstein Award for Washington Reporting is coming up -- APRIL 20.

The $1,000 award, one of the few geared strictly for regionals, honors correspondents who "best exemplify the standards set by the late Robin Goldstein," who single-handedly set up bureaus for both the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press and the Orange County (Calif.) Register.

The prize is one of several offered this year by the National Press Club. It will go to the reporter who shows that he or she can "do it all" -- news, features, enterprise, analysis and columns -- and who "demonstrates excellence and versatility in covering Washington from a local angle for hometown newspapers."

For more information on the Goldstein and other NPC awards, pick up a brochure at the National Press Club library.


The growing use of the Internet, databases and other computer tools by journalists is making most of us more familiar with the techie lingo.

But if you sometimes download a file and don't know what the extension means, or youíre stumped trying to figure out the latest instructions from your computer experts at the paper's or station's home office -- there is help for you.

Just turn to the PC Webopaedia. This high-tech dictionary/encyclopedia has explanations and definitions for everything from the basics -- software, cookie and SCSI -- to the complex, including referential integrity and slack space.

The site also has links to many other sites, and it serves as a search engine for locating more information on computer technology issues. There are fact sheets on computer equipment and even a link to Microsoft's Year 2000 (Y2K) page.

The webopaedia can be found at:

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register

February 1998 Regional Reporter

January 1998 Regional Reporter

December 1997 Regional Reporter

November 1997 Regional Reporter

October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

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