August 1998

Editor's note: In conjunction with The Regional Reporters Association's membership drive, the RRA board decided to cut non-dues paying members from its mailing list and programs in order to provide an incentive for continued membership. Toward this end, the board decided to test limiting free access to the online monthly newsletter. The Web version of the newsletter will only include the main story, headlines, Restive Regions and a few other offerings. Full coverage is still available in the mailed version. If you feel strongly about the issue, please let us know by e-mailing RRA..

Sorting through the E-Rate dispute

By Jennifer Maddox
Scripps-Howard News Service

Everyone knows what pork-barrel politics is ó when members of Congress fight to get federal money for local projects. Constituents are supposed to be grateful that their representative is trying to pry money out of the government for their hometown.

The E-Rate program is pork-barrel politics turned on its head. It's a case of the federal government approaching schools, libraries and rural health care centers all over the country and promising them money for phone service and wiring to hook up to the Internet, only to have the congressmen step forward and try to take it away.

It's the ideal regional story.

E-Rate, which stands for Education Rate, was conceived out of Vice President Al Gore's techno-campaign to get the country wired.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would dole out $2.25 billion each year among schools, libraries and rural health care facilities in the form of discounts on phone and Internet access charges.

Local officials said the FCC basically told them, ìyou'll definitely get these discounts. Just fill out the application.î Relying on that message, school districts and other entities crafted 1998-99 budgets assuming they would get the additional phone service and Internet access at the discounted rates.

Problems started when conservatives realized that long-distance phone carriers, which were to bear the burden of the E-Rate cost through their "Universal Service" fees to the FCC, announced increases in long-distance rates in May.

Critics immediately began to refer to the increased charges as the Gore Tax. Meanwhile, the non-political locals were left confused. They thought they would be getting these discounts. And what to do about their already-approved budgets?

That remains unclear. Responding to political pressure, the FCC announced in June that it would cut the E-Rate budget to $1.275 billion per year -- slightly more than half of what it originally advertised.

But one lawmaker has introduced a bill this summer to kill the E-Rate entirely. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., threatened to tack his bill as an amendment on to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, but pulled back at the last minute.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., have introduced bills that are slightly more moderate. They propose to cut the federal communications excise tax by two-thirds and leave the remaining third ($1.7 billion) for E-Rate. That money would be distributed to the states in the form of block grants.

To make this a regional story, the Schools and Libraries Corp. (set up by the FCC to administer the E-Rate) has a list of applicants on its Web site, accessible through the FCC site ( The applications will have a contact name and number from the local districts. They will give you an earful on the subject.

Also, a coalition has organized to save the E-Rate. You might also find that local school officials have created a vast e-mail network, trading information on how to lobby to retain the E-Rate program.

I am told by the House Subcommittee on Telecommu-nications, Trade and Consumer Protection that hearings on Tauzin's bill are likely in September.

Some E-Rate Contacts

The coalition to save E-Rate consists of:

CLUCK: Check chicken checks

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

In Brief

Whatís your e-mail?

If you are a paid member of RRA and have not been receiving e-mail correspondence from Board President Christine Dorsey, please send her your e-mail at

E-mail is fast becoming RRA's best way to get in touch with members.

Please also remember to alert us of address changes.

Restive Regions

Two States News Service reporters have moved on.

John Biers, who wrote for papers in Massachusetts and Maryland, has left for New Orleans, where he'll work as a business reporter for the Times-Picayune.

Also, Ethan Wallison, who covered Illinois, has taken a job at Roll Call.

-- Pat Howe,
Small Newspapers Group

Got news? Call Pat Howe at (202) 662-7123

Board minutes - August 3, 1998

The RRA board voted unanimously to donate $100 to the U.S. Capitol Police Memorial Fund to show appreciation and sympathy for the loss of two officers killed at the U.S. Capitol in July. President Christine Dorsey sent an e-mail to the membership soliciting individual contributions that she would add to the RRA donation, so the group may give a larger gift to the memorial fund.

The board also discussed the possibility of getting a table to promote regional reporting at next year's American Society of Newspaper Editors convention.

Dorsey updated the board on the 10th anniversary event, which has been scheduled for Monday, Dec. 14 at the Freedom Forum. She also informed the board on the status of efforts to invite President Clinton for a briefing with regional reporters.

Vice President Carl Weiser briefed the board on newsmaker ideas. Several invitations have gone out to agency heads. The board continued discussing a ìhow-toî event on using FEC documents from the Web and the FEC's dial-up Direct Access Program. Board member James Grimaldi and RRA member Sylvia Smith are working on an event.

The board discussed the possibility of highlighting a regional story on the RRA Web Page each month, but no one volunteered to take charge of the project. The board also discussed putting together a calendar of regional events such as FEC filings and other agency activities. RRA secretary Brett Lieberman, who also is president of the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, said he would discuss with RREF board member Chris Callahan the possibility of having Callahan's journalism interns work on the project.

President's Report

A new attitude toward the police

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

I was in my downtown office a few Fridays ago wrapping up my week when I heard the infamous CNN ìBreaking Newsî theme song. But it took me a few minutes to fully comprehend what was happening on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Two Capitol Police officers and a female tourist had been shot by a gunman inside the U.S. Capitol. All four were being rushed to area hospitals. So I began doing what no doubt all of us did: I started making cold calls to my congressional offices looking for a story.

Only after I'd put my story to bed that night did I stop and think about what really happened. I stepped out of my role as a reporter for a moment and considered the horrible crime that had occurred.

I didn't know officers J.J. Chestnut or John Gibson. I didn't even recognize them when their mugs started appearing on the networks and in the papers. But then, I probably wouldn't recognize anyone on the Capitol Police force.

I walk by them weekly, if not daily, and usually ignore their presence. Or sometimes, I curse them for preventing me from getting to press briefings a few seconds faster. I roll my eyes when they hassle me if I forget to wear my press badge. I impatiently tap my foot when they insist on rifling through my lunch bag.

But since July 24, my attitude has changed. I'm sad to say, it took the murders of two officers to make me realize just what the Capitol police do for me every time I walk into that historic building.

It took one deranged man's deadly actions to remind me that it could just as easily have been me at whom his gun was pointed. He is a sick man, and he probably had no real reason for choosing the Crypt entrance as opposed to the House or Senate entrances. He blew his way through the checkpoint, so a "Staff Only" sign would not have deterred him.

He was angry and wanted to vent. How many others do you suppose are tempted to do the same on any given day?

Because I work inside the Capitol so often, I forget what a symbol it is to so many. And I forget it is also a target. I take for granted the hundreds of men and women whose job it is to take the bullets for me. And you. And everyone who visits or works there.

This wonít be last time a deranged killer visits the U.S. Capitol. I'll remember that the next time an officer holds me up at the door.

RRA president Christine Dorsey can be reached at (202) 783-1760 or by e-mail,


Despite spending lots of time on the Internet, it's hard to shake off that feeling that there's a lot more out there than you get to see.

Don't worry, everyone has that feeling. But to get an idea what's out there, a good place to start is The New York Timesí Cybernavigator ( designed as the paper's home page for its own reporters.

Basically a subjective list of links to the rest of the Web, edited by the paper's electronic media top dog, the site is chock-full of places to look for story ideas. In addition to links to search engines, phone lookups and news sites, the site also has more esoteric links, such as one for the FAA's database of airline safety reports and another on state statistics called StateSearch ( (How far along is your state on the Y2K problem?)

A sister site, Political Points, ( will lead you to top political sites, from The White House to All Politics.

One link ( will take to you to the Census Bureau's projections of voting-age population by state in November. Another Web link ( gets you to something called the Skeleton Closet, which promises to dish dirt on politicians.

-- Onell Soto,
Riverside Press-Enterprise

July 1998 Regional Reporter

June 1998 Regional Reporter

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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