May 1998

Tackling the mega-project during recess

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Everyone knows that things slow down in Washington every once in a while. But that doesn't mean that we regionals have to sit idle.

One great way to fill up the slow times is to work on a project that details how the federal government helped or hurt your region's economy -- or how your region compares with the rest of the nation.

I've spent the past two winter recesses working on such projects, and to be frank, those projects have been met with more response than any traditional Washington story I've ever done.

The first, which looked at the state and federal roles in creating suburban sprawl, won the New York State Publisher's Award for political reporting and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee. The second, which showed upstate New York to have the most moribund economy in the continental United States, generated more than 170 e-mails from readers, along with countless letters to the editor.

Such projects are mammoth undertakings, so it's best to team up with a local reporter back home if you want to do one. But then again, this doesn't have to be a project. You can cherry-pick from the ideas I turned into projects and come up with a handful of good Sunday stories.

For example, last yearís project on sprawl looked at the federal role in encouraging the move from Buffalo city to its suburbs. It could have been done in one long story. Begin by looking at the Census Bureau home page for data that shows the move from city to suburb in your area through the 1990s. Go to the ėSubjects A-Zî section and click on population estimates to get going. If you have problems, contact David Rain or Marc Perry at the Census Bureau, (301) 457-2419, for help.

Once you do that, call your state Department of Transportation and regional U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office for data that shows how the feds might have helped create that suburban sprawl. Get highway construction data dating back to the 1950s -- yes, to the start of the Interstate era -- and compute how much money was spent building highways from city to suburb. Then look at public housing construction and show how much of that was in the city versus the suburbs. What you'll find, no doubt, is that the feds financed the move to the suburbs -- and the concentration of the poor in inner cities -- to a greater degree than you might have suspected.

Another good one-shot story examines job creation in your region compared with similar regions elsewhere. This is easy to do once you learn how to navigate the Bureau of Labor Statistics' rather clunky Web site.

Begin by deciding on your own basis of comparison. I compared upstate New York's largest metro areas with others in the so-called ėRust Belt.î You can compare your region to the nation, or to the Sunbelt, or to whatever you choose.

Once you make that decision, go to the BLS Web site located at

Save the data as a text file, then use your favorite spreadsheet program to enter it and convert it to that spreadsheet format.

This sounds arduous, but it should take no more than an hour. Now call your local economists and politicians to ask why your area is doing so well, or so poorly.

If you do want to do a more extensive project, use the same areas you compared in terms of job growth and look for the following stats:

One last word of advice: especially if you tackle a big project such as the one outlined above. If you want to do it alone, plan on spending at least two weeks back in the home office.

I spent four, and could have spent more -- which is a good argument for teaming up with a reporter back home.

A bout the series

ėUpstate: Downboundî explains the scope and the causes of upstate New York's economic malaise -- and how the region can engineer its own rebound.

The stories appeared in The Buffalo News as follows:

ėUpstate: Downboundî is based on a computer analysis of reams of federal data. Job statistics, which come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are annualized averages of total monthly employment for each metro area. Business growth, population, tax and government spending statistics come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Washington bureau correspondent Jerry Zremski interviewed more than 150 New Yorkers -- from those on the unemployment line to New York Gov. George Pataki. Zremski and photographer James P. McCoy traveled across the state and to Florida and Wisconsin.

Jerry Zremski spent much of the winter recess combing federal documents and traveling through upstate New York for his seven-part series on the state's economic troubles.

If you wish to get a reprint of the series, call Jerry Zremski, (202) 737-3188,or e-mail him at

And the RRA survey says ...

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

In January, the Regional Re-porters Association sent out surveys to gauge interest in RRA events. The responses are a valuable tool that will be used by this and future boards to shape the direction of RRA and make it an indispensable resource for regional reporters in Washington.

Of the 128 paid members of RRA in 1998, we received 37 responses -- about a 29 percent return. The percentage is probably a bit low because the survey was distributed several months ago, before we got several new members.

As a group, reporters who responded are relatively experienced, with a cumulative 6,175 years of reporting experience, 332 years of it in Washington.

Levels of reporting experience, both in general and in Washington, varied. Watertown Daily Times reporter Alan Emory has 50.5 total years of experience -- 46 of them in Washington. The average general reporting experience was 16.7 years, while the average Washington reporting experience was 9 years. The median for general reporting was 16, and the median for Washington reporting was 8.

The results of the survey show that overwhelmingly (68 percent), members want Monday morning newsmaker events. They say that environment, transportation and defense are the most important regional issues they cover. Although most either did not respond or said professional development was not as important, computer-assisted reporting was their highest priority.

Most respondents said their expertise is in covering politics/campaigns, the environment and transportation. They also said they want newsmaker events with officials at DOT, the White House, HHS, USDA, Commerce and Defense. Several did not respond to the question.

ėNo responseî answers are significant because they indicate the level of interest. While most people respond better to questions that give specific choices (i.e. ėcircle oneî), when asked about professional development, three answered ėNoneî rather than leave the question blank.

This question, in particular, was left blank more often than any other. Perhaps if we had given specific choices, we may have gotten a different response.

In all, the message seemed clear -- get regional reporters access to top-level officials and newsmakers. While perhaps not a surprising discovery, it will no doubt help RRA refocus its efforts on the kind of events that help regionals make their jobs easier.

If you would like a copy of the survey results, contact RRA Vice President Christine Dorsey, (202) 783-1760 or e-mail:


Miller fellows selected for 1998-99

Sixteen reporters who cover Washington and the federal government for news organizations across the nation have been selected for The Freedom Forum's 1998-99 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowships.

The program, in its 12th year, is designed to help Washington-based print and broadcast reporters do a better job covering the local angles of national news.

The group met for the first time Monday, May 11, at the Freedom Forum.

Miller fellows spend two days a month between May and March meeting with experienced Washington journalists, newsmakers and news sources. They also visit government agencies to learn better ways to obtain information.

Cheryl Arvidson, program director at The Freedom Forum, announced the following 1998-99 fellows:

Fellows in past years have visited Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and Tax Court, participated in hands-on Internet and other computer training and discussed such timely topics as environmental protection, welfare and campaign finance overhaul.

Region in Rhyme

By James R. Carroll
Louisville Courier-Journal

Editor's note: Any regional reporter who has been through the Paul Miller Fellowship Program will appreciate '98 graduate Jim Carroll's farewell speech, given at the annual graduation luncheon in April.

The first thing you get when you come in this door is this Paul Miller bag with pockets galore.

A good thing, too, as we all quickly found We got so much paper it dragged on the ground.

This is no criticism ... merely a fact That the info we have here can be impressively stacked

What have we learned from this bottomless mine - Other than to be here when Cheryl says nine?

Whether you're a veteran or novice or somewhere in between, Washington's stories are varied and keen.

We've heard about politics, its polling and money, One rich pollster in kid's shirt claimed not to have any.

Tracey skewered him soundly, the rest of us helped. And we didn't much flinch when other guests yelped.

We've heard big tobacco draw its line in the sand. We've marveled at tax court's spokesman so bland.

We've heard about irradiating meat in terms so glowing. We've considered the debate over what global warming is sewing.

We've delved into government's little-seen riches. At the Pentagon we got all the service's pitches.

CIA, SEC, FEC, Supreme Court. We know the difference between a tart and a tort. (Though, apparently, Bill Clinton is having trouble.)

To the top of the Capitol dome we have gone. And downstairs pondered LBJ's secret john.

Neat stuff with computers is part of the fare And tips from reporters on the secrets they've bared.

Day-to-day, month-to-month, from guests weird and nice We kept hearing one thing, one bit of advice.

For the story incredible, unbeatable, unique Check this place and that place - say, an hour a week.

An hour a week - oh, what a sensible guide. I've given it a shot. No - I've really tried.

The results of my test are really informal. An hour a week? If you can do it, you're not normal.

An hour a week - but the Post must come first. Then the Times and the Journal - even good at their worst.

An hour a week - my reading's not through. I've got USA Today, the Courier-Journal and my competition to do.

An hour a week - I need one for CQ. CQ's Daily Monitor and the researcher, too.

An hour a week - The National Journal can't go. Its Congress A.M. Daily is part of the flow.

And you can't do the Hill without the dugout chatter Or scanning policy updates to see what will matter.

An hour a week - no, not quite yet. I get dozens of faxes a day - you do, too, I will bet.

An hour a week - I've got voice mail blinking. And half are false tries: faxes up- and down-linking.

E-mail steals silently into my bin. Get rid of that - more comes - you can't win.

An hour a week - mail hits daily times three. Does this happen to you? It sure happens to me.

Check the wires, make your beat calls, maybe jump on the net. Your editor calls with a deadline to set.

Get a memo, send a memo, it's part of the work. As are credentials, and forms and surveys from jerks.

Oh, an hour a week - what heaven, what glory. Only thing is: I'm writing a story.

An hour a week - let's say you have time. The Hill's 193 committees and subcommittees are really a find.

Plus GAO, caucuses, and special panels untold. But go on beyond zebra and really be bold.

The executive branch's major agencies: 24. Count in all the sub-branches and it's 30-fold the score.

Consider the embassies, museums, think tanks There won't be the day when you're coming up blank.

Independent agencies, give them a flier. But in 2016, I have to retire.

An hour a week, Dorothy Thompson would say in due course, Is advice not to be tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force.

So I offer alternative counsel today: Reporting's so fun it's almost like play.

Get used to the notion that the capital's always hazy. If you try to keep up with everything, it'll drive you quite crazy.

Not even the president with all his resources Can keep tabs on this city's myriad forces.

Think what your readers most probably need Tell them a tale with a good snappy lead.

In this town, as on the Titanic, your choice is no whim. Just climb over the rail, get in and swim.

Board minutes

Board Meeting Minutes The Regional Reporters Association board met on May 4 and discussed plans for the group's 10th anniversary celebration, which will take the form of a half-day seminar on ėthe best of regional reporting.î The event is being planned for December and will include high-profile speakers at both breakfast and lunch.

In other business, the board reviewed the results of a membership survey and determined that newsmaker events should be the organization's top priority. Noting that a large number of members expressed interest in Pentagon news, the RRA plans to work with the Pentagon public affairs staff on enhancing regional coverage of defense issues. The member survey showed limited interest in a member directory, so the board decided against publishing one.

Treasurer Maureen Groppe reported that 128 members had paid their 1998 dues and that the organization was running well in the black for the year to date. The board set up a phone tree to call unpaid members. Those who do not pay up by the June 8 annual meeting will be removed from the mailing list.

The board also discussed possibly conducting a professional development event on how to best use the Internet for regional stories. RRA President Jerry Zremski noted that the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation also had discussed computer training and that RRA members will be surveyed by e-mail about the kinds of training they want.

President's Report

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

The end and beginning of an era ...

All right. It's been 11 months now that I've been writing this column, 11 months that my phone number and e-mail have been appearing monthly in this newsletter, and do any of you ever call me or e-mail me? Nooo!!!!

Well, I hope that's about to change, because the Regional Reporters Association needs your help.

June is transition time at RRA. We elect a new president, new officers and a new board of directors. In other words, June is the time for our annual infusion of fresh blood -- and yes, we want some of yours.

Our annual membership meeting will take place at noon on June 8. I'm hoping that before then, a decent number of you will call me and talk to me about how you can help RRA.

There are many ways to help. The board meets once a month to plan the newsmaker and professional development events that make RRA the great resource that it is. And we're always looking for new directors who have a fresh take on what it is RRA should and should not be doing.

Or, if you want to start slowly, you can act as an assistant to one of our regional directors.

The newsletter ALWAYS needs good ėhow-toî stories, reporting tips and other information to keep regionals in the loop. All members are encouraged to contribute in any way they wish.

My hope is that we will have a good slate of eager volunteers set to run for the various board positions long before June 8. That way, I can publicize the candidat es in an e-mail to members prior to the annual meeting.

At the very least, please mark that noon meeting on June 8 on your calendar and at least come to our annual meeting to vote and to give us your thoughts on how RRA has been doing and what we can do better.

Also, you should know that our sister organization, the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, will be having its election a week after the RRA election.

The RREF plans to seek foundation grants to do elaborate hands-on computer training and other programs that have been beyond RRA's scope in the past. If this interests you, perhaps you should get involved with RREF. If you're interested, please contact RREF President Alice Lipowicz at (301)588-0088 or

And again, if you're interested in getting more involved with RRA, please give me a call or drop me an e-mail. You'll be doing something good for yourself and your colleagues and something good for me, too.

You see, I'm a lame duck. I'm term-limited. And I just want to make sure that RRA has all its fresh ducklings in a row before I waddle off into the sunset.

For more information about participating, or for answers to general questions about RRA, contact Jerry Zremski at (202) 737-3188 or e-mail

Restive Regions

Adriel Bettelheim has left the Denver Post's Washington bureau for Congressional Quarterly, where he's writing about science, technology and medicine. Adriel, the Regional Reporter Association's former secretary, worked for the Denver Post for nine years, the past five as the newspaper's Washington correspondent.

Charles Pope, formerly of Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, also has joined CQ. In his new reporting job, Pope tracks environmental issues in Congress and the effects of policy on businesses and communities outside Washington. Pope came to the Knight Ridder bureau in 1994 as Washington correspondent for The State of Columbia, S.C.

AP's John Hughes is returning to Washington from the Detroit bureau. He has been named Washington-Oregon regional reporter. Hughes succeeds Scott Sonner, the new correspondent in charge of AP's Reno bureau. Sonner had covered Northwest issues from Washington since 1990. Before joining the AP, Hughes was a Washington correspondent for Small Newspapers, a group of dailies in the Midwest.

Dina Elboghdady is a new Washington correspondent for the Detroit News, covering the Michigan delegation. She was the Washington correspondent for the Orange County Register for the past three years, after working at States News Service for two.

-- Jill Miller,
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal

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


For those creative journalists among us who like to make their stories sing, there's a Web site that will help you get the words right.

Every now and then a song will play a role in a story (remember the incessant ėDon't Stop Thinking About Tomorrowî during the first Clinton convention?). Sometimes, a song will capture the essence of what you want to say. But, you don't have time to run home and play the CD (or don't want to run out and buy it).

The International Lyrics Server is here to help. The site includes lyrics for more than 70,000 songs and allows you to search by artist, song, album/CD name. And, if you can only remember a phrase or group of words in the song, there is a full text search option.

You also can find out the top 10 song lyrics for the week (the Theme from the Titanic; Barbie Girl by Aqua; Gettin' Jiggy Wit It by Will Smith are among the hot songs this week).

And you can even help out the site owners by providing lyrics to the songs they need (Life is a Flower by Ace of Base, for example.)

The site is located at:

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register

April 1998 Regional Reporter

March 1998 Regional Reporter

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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