NEWSLETTER

June 1998

RRA elects new president, other officers

Christine Dorsey, a Washington correspondent for Donrey Media Group, was elected president of the Regional Reporters Association at its annual membership meeting June 8.

Donrey covers the Hill for about 54 newspapers in 15 states. Dorsey writes for the chains Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas papers. She has been in Donrey's Washington bureau for three years after stints as a reporter and assistant city editor at the Sherman Democrat, a Donrey newspaper in Texas.

Carl Weiser of Gannett News Service was named vice president, Brett Lieberman of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., was named secretary and Maureen Groppe of Thomson Newspapers returns as treasurer.

On a voice vote, the group also selected Pat Howe of Small Newspaper Group to be Midwest regional director and re-elected Lolita Baldor of the New Haven Register as the Northeast director; Jim Rosen of the Raleigh News & Observer as Southeast director and Jim Specht of Gannett News Service as Western director.

Joining the board as at-large directors are Dina ElBoghdady of The Detroit News, Susan Roth of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jennifer Maddox of Scripps-Howard News Service, Deborah Kalb of Gannett, Onell Soto of the Riverside(Calif.) Press Enterprise and Marc Heller of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times.

Outgoing president Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News will fill an at-large seat.

Other directors re-elected for another year are Jim Grimaldi of the Seattle Times, Anick Jesdanun of The Associated Press and Pete Leffler of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

All terms are for one year.

I'm looking forward to continuing the good work that Jerry did this last year, Dorsey said. The new board has a good combination of veterans and newcomers to the beat, which should bring about some new and interesting ideas.

With about 200 members, the Regional Reporters Association sponsors regular newsmaker events and professional development sessions. Recent newsmakers have included Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner.

The group also has sponsored how-to sessions on covering the Supreme Court and the federal budget and prompted the dissemination of Census data through the National Press Club's library.

The RRA, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, informs members about upcoming events and other issues of interest through a monthly newsletter, e-mail and fax notices and a Web site at http://www.rra.org

With the Web site and e-mail list up and running, we're in better touch with the membership than ever before, Dorsey said. Now it's up to all the regionals out there to let us know what they want.

Zremski said he expected the RRA to continue building its clout under the new leadership.

What weve done in the past year getting more Cabinet secretaries to meet with us will build our credibility to the point where more will meet with us, he said. Maybe Al Gore will meet with us. Maybe President Clinton.

Dorsey and Jesdanun will continue producing the RRA's newsletter, while Lieberman will continue developing the group's Web site. Other tasks will be determined at the first meeting of the new board in July.

Dorsey, a native of Albany, N.Y., began her journalism career in 1992 as an intern with Ottoway Newspapers. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Television/Radio in 1991. This will be her third term on the board.

At Gannett, Weiser writes primarily for the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal and two Pennsylvania papers. A Buffalo native and 1986 graduate of the University of Michigan, Weiser has worked for the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times and the Wilmington News Journal.

Weiser, serving his second term on the board, arrived in Washington in 1994 and began covering the Hill for Gannett's upstate New York papers before switching to Delaware.

Lieberman was a writer for States News Service before joining the Patriot's Washington bureau. A native of Long Island, he graduated from Boston University in 1992 and began his journalism career at the Pottsville (Pa.)Republican.

Groppe's newspapers at Thomson include the Tribune Newspapers in suburban Phoenix. She has been in Washington since 1992, when she participated in the American Political Science Association's Congressional Fellowship program for journalists.

She also worked at Congressional Quarterly and wrote for Thomson Newspapers in the Midwest. A native Hoosier, Groppe worked for newspapers for four years in Indiana before coming to Washington.




Profiling and rating your lawmaker

By Lolita Baldor
New Haven Register

Everyone has to do this story eventually. Rate your House or Senate member. How effective are they? What have they done? Why should they be re-elected?

As the campaign season approaches, editors will no doubt ask for profiles on local lawmakers and ask you to analyze how good they are at their jobs.

There are many ways to go about this, and many are obvious. Start with the Congressional Quarterly or National Journal almanacs, which summarize voting records and basic information much of which you may already know from your own coverage.

Public interest groups also are an easy source, but each one has its own agenda. Use a broad range of these interest groups to get a general picture of a lawmaker's voting profile.

Professional lobbying groups, such as the American Trial Lawyers Association, American Medical Association or banking groups, may have weighed in on legislation the member offered. The groups also may have a stance for or against the lawmaker. This can be especially true if the lawmaker is a committee chair or ranking member.

Individual lobbyists, particularly those who represent an industry or business that's big in your state or region, can talk about how effective the politician is. Do they go to him or her when they want something done?

Obviously, campaign finance reports, specifically the donations from political action committees, give a good indication of who the lawmaker has helped or hurt. And the financial disclosure statements filed by incumbents on May 15 and made public this month provide a snapshot of their personal finances and their political junkets.

Then there's always the list of friends and enemies. Often these people are in the state and are former opponents from either primary or general elections. Sometimes they are former staff members; you can find their names in the federal staff directories or in the expense reports issued by the House and the Senate.

For other hints, search the Congressional Record online for floor statements. And search the http://www.thomas.loc.gov or Legi-Slate (a paid service, if you have it) for the status of any bills they've introduced.

VoteSmart (http://www.vote-smart.org) has biogra phies, performance evaluations and surveys online. The surveys are the ones filled out by the members in previous elections.

You also can check the House and the Senate for mass mailings that the lawmakers have sent out using their congressional franking privileges.

The Senate Library is yet another good place to go if you're looking for interesting background. A file cabinet tucked away in the back of the Senate Library reading room holds oddball files on every topic imaginable, as well as interesting "Reliable Source" type files on every senator. Other topics include member divorces, Catholics in Congress, etc.

Of course, you'll still need anecdotes to go with all the facts and figures, and that's where you'll need to spend some time with the candidate or lawmaker, either here or back home.




Profiling the Thomson way

By Maureen Groppe
Thomson Newspapers

At Thomson Newspapers, we always struggled with the small news holes of our papers. Yet, most of them gave full-page treatment to the "Freshmen Report Cards" we sent them at the end of their representative's first year or their senator's third.

The package combined a short story about eight inches long with lots of separate boxes containing various information and set-apart quotes from officials from both parties and a neutral commentator.

The boxes included:




HEADS UP:




Urban Institute Databook for Sale

The Urban Institute has just published an updated version (1997) of its "State-Level Databook on Health Care Access and Financing." The third edition includes state-level data on insurance coverage of different groups, Medicaid enrollees and expenditures, health care costs and state-specific demographics and economic profiles.

Price: $42.50

The Urban Institute also has published its "State Nonprofit Almanac 1997," which provides the most recent, detailed information available on charitable organizations in each state, including the number of 501(c)(3) public charities and their levels of public support, expenses and assets, as reported to the IRS (Form 990). Price: $24.95 for paperback.

For more information, check out the Urban Institutes Web site at: http://www.urban.org.




Slater speaks with RRA a second time on highway issues

About 25 regional reporters quizzed Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater in May on the latest developments in the federal highway bill.

Slater, who also met with the Regional Reporters Association in March, was asked about how states would fare under the final highway package, specific language on high-priority corridors and Amtrak.

The briefing came as House and Senate negotiators were wrapping up work on the six-year, multi-billion dollar highway package.

Although Slater balked at giving away details of the agreement, which was literally still being worked out as he spoke, he gave the group the administration's perspective on some of the major battles that made the highway bill one of the biggest regional stories of the 105th Congress.

The battles included a debate over whether to require states to lower their blood-alcohol concentration threshold to 0.08, down from the 0.1 that most states now use for drunken-driving convictions.




BLM talk focuses on Western lands

Western land issues dominated a talk in May with Patrick Shea, the new director of the Bureau of Land Management.

Shea, a Utah attorney, spent about an hour fielding questions about Air Force training flights in Idaho, land exchanges in Utah and Nevada, endangered species and an outbreak of Swamp Fever among wild horses.

Reporters not only came away from the meeting with good stories but also were treated to some of the latest BLM promotional material.

Those who attended got a T-shirt, mouse pad and slick recreational guide to public lands in the West items Shea said were for educational purposes. The T-shirt, for example, is being used to kick off a public awareness campaign about the vandalism that destroyed Montana's Eye of the Needle, Shea said.

But it could also be added to the wardrobe of any reporter who makes a Western trip to one of the hot spots highlighted in the handy dandy park guide.




Board minutes

RRA President Jerry Zremski, chairing his last board meeting June 2, reported that the membership drive is in full swing. About 200 regionals who are not RRA members will receive a letter and a complementary newsletter.

Zremski also detailed the State Department's upcoming event for regional reporters. Although this is not an RRA event, Zremski said many members appeared interested. Newsmaker Committee chairman Carl Weiser announced the indefinite postponement of a June 15 event with the head of the Health Care Financing Administration.

Zremski said that the e-mail survey on computer training had generated about 20 responses. The Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, RRA's sister organization, will discuss the survey at its June 15 board meeting.

Looking ahead, Zremski suggested a session with Defense Department officials. The board also agreed to begin making plans for newsmaker events in the fall with the heads of the congressional campaign committees.

Finally, board member Ellyn Ferguson gave a status report on RRA's 10th anniversary celebration, tentatively set for December. The half-day seminar will feature a panel discussion on regional reporting's past, another on its future and the use of technology in reporting, and a big-name keynote speaker.




President's Report

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

You know what I'm really looking forward to this year as I take over as president of RRA?

Getting a gavel a nice wooden gavel I can bang on my desk. I think it could really come in handy, as long as I learn to respect the art of gavel-banging.

I'll use it when I call Christina Martin, House Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary, to ask her if RRA can schedule a briefing with her boss. If she starts giving me the run-around, "Bang!" She'll know we mean business.

I'll bring it to newsmaker events so that if a Cabinet member tries to wiggle his way out of answering a question from a regional reporter, "Bang!" He'll be forced to give a quote we can use.

Outgoing president Jerry Zremski never used a gavel at our monthly board meetings. Neither did past-president Ellyn Ferguson. But then, they didn't edit the RRA newsletter.

Now that I'm president, I can ask for volunteers to write pieces for the monthly publication. If I get no takers, "Bang!" No more begging and pleading.

But my guess is, with the new slate of officers and directors we have this year, I won't be needing my gavel. We've got a great combination of veteran RRA board members and newcomers who should be able to offer the membership a balance of ideas for events that will please all.

Carl Weiser of Gannett will be my right-hand man. He has chaired the RRA newsmaker committee, bringing us Education Secretary Richard Riley, BLM Director Patrick Shea and others who have given regionals great stories. Brett Lieberman takes over as secretary, a fine fit for the guy who single-handedly produced the RRA Web Page. Maureen Groppe returns as treasurer, a courageous job that entails keeping track of our small organization's bottom line.

I'm looking forward to working with newcomer Pat Howe, who will be director for the Midwest, and veteran regional directors Lolita Baldor (Northeast), Jim Rosen (Southeast) and Jim Specht (West) on ideas for events that focus on particular regional issues.

And we've got a strong slate of at-large directors from a variety of news outlets. Returning to the board are Jerry Zremski, Jim Grimaldi, Nick Jesdanun and Pete Leffler. Newcomers include Dina ElBoghdady, Susan Roth, Jennifer Maddox, Deborah Kalb, Onell Soto and Marc Heller.

I truly am excited to continue the terrific work Jerry did this past year strengthening RRA's presence in Washington.

I want RRA to be an interactive organization. Never hesitate to call me or e-mail me with comments, criticisms or suggestions. That's how we make sure you're getting your money's worth out of your membership dues.

Speaking of dues, I just thought of a great way to use that gavel!

RRA president Christine Dorsey can be reached at (202) 783-1760 or by e-mail, cdorsey@mediasoft.com.




State of the RRA

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

This speech was prepared for delivery at the June 8 general meeting of RRA.

Well, here it is: my last opportunity to fulfill my mission as RRA president, my last chance to drive home the central message of my term. So I'll say it, again, for just about the last time, Have all of you paid your dues?

But seriously, folks, I think and I hope you think RRA's mission and message have been bigger than that in the past year. I'm happy to report that by any measure I can find, RRA is as strong and vibrant as it's ever been.

Our board set out a year ago with a series of goals, and I'm pleased to saythat we've accomplished every single one.

We said we would sponsor plenty of newsmakers with Cabinet-level officials. Thanks to board members such as Carl Weiser of the Newsmaker Committee, we've done just that.

We said we would set up an Internet home page that would link regionals with all the best sites on the Web. Thanks to the hard work of Brett Lieberman, you can now visit us anytime at http://www.rra.org.

We said we'd offer professional training to make regional reporters better reporters. And thanks to Ellyn Ferguson, we sponsored a writing seminar with the Freedom Forum that helped everyone who attended.

We said we'd survey our members and design our programs based on what members wanted, and we're doing that. And yes, we said we'd try hard to collect dues money from all our members, and Lord knows we've done that.

So what's left? A round of thank-yous, and some words of encouragement. If RRA has been a success this year, it's because we had a board whose members never said no to the work I piled on them.

It's because the previous RRA presidents, Ellyn Ferguson and Sylvia Smith and many others, set the groundwork for me to follow and offered me wise counsel throughout the year.

And above all, it's because Christine Dorsey served as my vice president. Christine teamed with Nick Jesdanun to make the RRA newsletter something regionals use and talk about. Beyond that, I could always count on Christine to be there time and again when no one else was at our RRA happy hours, for example.

Yes, I suppose you could say that our offer of free beer was the one spectacular failure of my term. Which makes me ask, What's the matter with you guys?

For me, though, this is a pretty happy hour. I'm happy that this has been a pretty good year for RRA and happy that RRA's future is in such good hands.

Now for those words of encouragement.

All of you know how difficult regional reporting is. We struggle every day to get access to sources who couldn't care less about us and to explain why what happens here in Washington matters in every home town in America.

It's a tough job but a great one. It's never boring, except maybe during Spelling Bee week.

But regional reporting can always get better and that's why RRA exists. For 10 years now, we've worked to help solve that access problem. And the measure of our success, I think, came when media affairs people for two different cabinet-level departments called RRA this year to ask to meet with regionals. But that was last year, and this is now. Which is why I'm asking all of you to never take RRA for granted.

All of us are very busy, except maybe during Bee week. And yet it takes a huge amount of time to put together events and a newsletter and a home page.

That means we need your help. So, if you ever have an idea for an event or a story for the newsletter, get in touch with Christine. Who knows? She might like your idea so much that she makes you follow through on it.

You won't be disappointed if you do. Your colleagues will appreciate it and appreciate you.

I know, because I've gotten all sorts of nice compliments from my colleagues in the past year. To which I always say, Thanks. And have you paid your dues?




WWWeblink

The U.S. Courts have a revamped Web site containing a whole slew of information. Located at http://www.uscourts.gov, the site can be a source of ideas for long-term stories or data on deadline.

There are detailed graphs and charts on court business for 1996 and 1997 and other tables that go back even further. For example, there are tables showing the number of criminal, civil, bankruptcy and appeals cases started, finished and pending during the past two years. In many cases the dockets are broken out by state particularly the bankruptcy cases.

There also are charts on probation, passports, and clients dependent on drugs or alcohol. And, if you've got a judicial nomination pending, the site has stats on all the vacancies in the judicial system. There's even a news release on the inauguration of the new Web site!

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register




Commentary

By Douglas Turner
The Buffalo News

In the wake of President Clinton's most recent press conference, newspapers and newscasts were loaded with thinly sliced moral judgments about his character, his dignity and his credibility.

For the most part, these sobering post mortems, essays and homilies were written by my colleagues in the White House Correspondents Association. This is the White House press corps at work.

Five days earlier, one could see the White House press corps, corporately, at play. The occasion was the association's annual dinner in the darkened, cavernous ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel.

The mountain vulgarity of this affair had guests around me groping for a word. "Fellini" was their favorite. After Frederico Fellini, famed for his film, "La Dolce Vita," or The Sweet Life.

It was about an amiable but amoral gossip reporter and the life he led among the Roman paparazzi, cozying up to news sources, gradually being drawn into their decadent lifestyle. Fellini had been a newspaper reporter himself.

After I noticed the goings-on at the next table, I was reminded of the riotous scene in "Dolce" where reporters, cameramen and light-riggers gathered in a field to record a little girl's vision of the Virgin Mary.

At this dinner, sitting just 10 feet away from me was First Litigant Paula Corbin Jones.

With her was her host, the editor of a magazine owned by the Moonies -- a fellow who recently urged on the radio that the president be shot.

Others at the table included Tony Blankley, former press secretary to House Speaker New Gingrich, R-Ga., and G. Gordon Liddy, the Nixon plumber, criminal and talk-show host.

Liddy was investigated two decades ago for plotting against the life of columnist Jack Anderson. It is undeniable that Liddy said a few years ago that agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could be used for target practice.

The dinner is in honor of the president, the commander in chief, the head magistrate of the land.

Now, if Jones were simply sitting there enjoying herself, like most of the 2,400 other guests, it would be one thing. But she was taken there for the specific purpose of embarrassing the guest of honor and his wife. And she succeeded.

Jones she of the sponsored lawsuit and distinguishing characteristics was a sensation from the moment she set foot in the Hilton. Autograph seekers and press photographers watched for her at every entrance.

She created a mob-scene inside as she moved from party to party. When the glitterati of my trade learned where her table was, they couldn't resist.

With their help, Jones held court. ABC's Sam Donaldson brought over a photographer and posed with Jones.

CNN's congressional correspondent Bob Franken came by soon afterward, followed by CNN's daytime anchor Lisa Kagan. A number of print reporters came by to pay their respects to the woman and to wish her luck.

A crush of women trying to follow Jones into the bathroom created a kind of hall rage.

This thing doesn't compute for me.

Here was a dinner that wouldn't exist without the cooperation of the president. There would be no U.S. Marine Corps Band playing for the guests. No interservice military honor guard. No cabinet members, no administration officials.

And the Correspondents Association allowed the show to be stolen by a woman who the White House claims has lied about the president, who is accused of being party of a great right-wing conspiracy, who has grievously distracted the president from the nation's business and who has cost the first couple millions of dollars.

Part of her performance was to sit with her back to the dais and fail to rise when the association president gave the traditional toast "to the president of the United States." Liddy, the great patriot, also remained in his chair during the toast.

I tried getting an explanation from a Correspondents Association officer on why the organization would treat its guests so shabbily, why they would trash the president whose patronage is crucial to the success of the program.

The officer, a press room regular and ordinarily a fine fellow, did not welcome my questions on the record. He muttered something about a "merging of the entertainment and news businesses."

Others made it clear the Correspondents Association has no rules, no guidelines and no tradition of decorum that could prevent such a mob scene from happening again.

They should get some.

One question I posed to the officer seemed to hit a nerve. What do the people back home think of this conduct and of us?

We ought to worry. A lot. Every poll taken shows a loss of credibility on the part of both electronic and print reporters. We now have a standing in some polls lower than that of members of Congress.

There is an ever greater danger. Conventional wisdom holds that President Clinton survives because people already have low expectations of his character. The press corps could follow Clinton into that black hole, just as if we were Marcello Rubini, Fellini's world-weary journalist in "Dolce.

This op-ed appeared in the Buffalo News on May 4. Views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the RRA or its members.




May 1998 Regional Reporter

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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