September 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..

Vaccine claims filed in court

By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Newspapers

Jeffery Hossack was 9 weeks old and as innocent as an angel when doctors shot him with a government-ordered vaccine. That was Halloween.

By the next day, Jeffery was dead. That was All Saints Day.

Jeffery was the victim, not of bad medicine, but of bad luck. The California boy was one of the children who die or who are catastrophically injured each year following treatment with vaccines.

For the cold comfort of financial compensation, Jeremy's parents turned to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. So have more than 1,100 others since Congress established a special vaccine compensation program a dozen years ago.

The court can provide death payments of $250,000, and lifetime care payments that can amount to several million dollars.

Enter you, the regional reporter.

You may have seen the recent Washington Post Magazine article (Aug. 30, 1998) exploring this little-known program. More recently, Gannett News Service unleashed a monster project, ìVaccination Nation,î reporting comprehensively on vaccinations and their consequences. In both cases, the coverage illustrated what I discovered some time ago: There are superb and moving regional stories waiting to be discovered within the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Here's how to find them.

In order to relieve pharmaceutical companies from unending litigation, Congress has directed nearly all vaccine compensation cases to the Claims Court.

This court on Lafayette Park is where individuals and corporations come when they believe the federal government owes them money for contractual or other damages. Its docket is worth reviewing on a regular basis, in case a local claim is filed or settled. I discovered my first vaccination story in the course of one of my regular Claims Court checks.

But that's pretty slow and low-tech.

All vaccination claims are listed regularly in the Federal Register. The best first step is to search the Register, which identifies the names of claimants and their hometowns. The most efficient way I've found is to access the Register through the Internet; for instance, through the Government Printing Office ( Then, set the search for ìNational Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.î You should get a list of hits for the quarterly listings of claims.

You must then scroll through the listings to find the ones of individual interest. For instance, I found out about Jeffery Hossack through the listing that said ìCharlene Hossack, on behalf of Jeffery Hossack, Sacramento, California, Court of Federal Claims Number XX-XX.î In about 45 minutes, I found about 20 claims filed from people in the region I cover, although some-times the town listed in the Federal Register is that of the attorney.

Using the claims number and/or the petitioner's name, you can then go to the Claims Court to review the available court file. More than 5,000 petitions have been filed, so the odds are you can find someone of local interest. And, because the petitions take a long time to resolve, the odds are decent that your local person is still waiting for justice.

Unfortunately, the court seems to have imposed new confidentiality limits that restrict how much of the case files may be reviewed. At the least, however, you can get the name and location of the attorney who handled the case. I also used an Internet Yellow Pages search engine to locate home phone numbers for the parents. This can get dicey, of course, because you may not really be sure that you've found the right family. (ìHello, Mrs. Hossack? My name is Michael Doyle and I'm a reporter. Are you the same Mrs. Hossack who tragically lost her child last year?î)

To set the local individuals in context, you'll want information from the compensation program itself. Many common questions are answered at the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Programís Web page. ( Aggrieved parents, who have had many complaints about how the program runs, have organized themselves into the National Vaccine Information Center. You might reach them on the Internet at ( The center itself is located in northern Virginia.

The political angle to this story comes, in part, from congressional efforts to revise corporate fees used to replenish the compensation fund. Sens. John Chafee and John Breaux are trying to reduce the fees paid by pharmaceutical companies because a huge surplus has accumulated in the compensation trust fund. Senators from a dozen states have co-sponsored this bill, which was introduced May 22.

Additional local angles may also be found in the membership of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines, whose members come from Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and other states.

You'll want to learn more about the vaccine program's background, because then you can compare congressional expectations with performance. You'll find that the legislative hopes for a quick, non-adversarial system of compensation have not been met. Quick-hit background is available in the 1986 Congressional Quarterly Almanac.

Better yet, take a field trip to the law library of the Library of Congress, located on the second floor of the Madison Building (the new one, across the street from Cannon House Office Building).

There, you can pull the 1986 version of the always valuable United States Code and Administrative News. This includes the full congressional background and reports for H.R. 5546 and S. 827, the measures that became Public Law 99-660.

Covering the uncontested elections

By Jennifer Maddox
Scripps Howard News Service

In Brief

Restive Regions

Terry Lemons, bureau chief with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is leaving the bureau to take a job in the public affairs office at the IRS. The bureau has an opening for a reporter.

Mark Wigfield has landed on his feet after the closing of the Ottaway Washington bureau. Wigfield has taken a job with Dow Jones News Service, covering antitrust issues.

Adam Piore, Washington correspondent with The Record of Hackensack, N.J., is taking a six-month leave of absence to do freelance reporting in Asia. His travels begin after the elections, and he is currently accepting assignments.

-- Pat Howe,
Small Newspapers Group

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

Board minutes - September 14, 1998

Brett Lieberman updated the board about the status of the RRA Web site. The site was moved to a new Internet server last month, and there have been several technical problems relating to security and access. The newsletter has not been available online, but Lieberman anticipated the site would be fully functional within a week.

RRA and members donated $335 to the Capitol Police fund, President Christine Dorsey reported. The donation included $100 approved by the RRA board and $235 from 13 members.

The board decided not to pursue an event with President Clinton at this time due to the unlikelihood that the White House would cooperate under present circumstances.

Christine Dorsey update the board on planning for RRA's 10th anniversary event scheduled for Dec. 14. She is asking members to suggest stories written by regionals for inclusion in a package of the top regional stories of the past 10 years.

The board asked the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation to investigate the possibility of funding two or three computer seminars focusing on databases, spreadsheets and the Internet. RRA members are interested in such programs, according to a survey conducted last spring.

RRA is planning to hold pre-election newsmaker events in late September or early October with representatives of the House and Senate campaign committees. A session on FOIA was also discussed for the spring.

President's Report

Still searching for elusive Top 10

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

I recently sent out a request via e-mail to the RRA membership asking for examples of distinguished regional reporting over the past decade.

Imagine, if you will, the echoes I heard resounding through Cyberspace.

Don't everyone pipe up at once.

Come on. There must be someone who has written something he or she is particularly proud of. I know there are Goldstein winners out there, and I have received word about a Pulitzer or two among regionals.

But there's got to be more.

I've only been a Washington correspondent for about three and a half years, so I certainly don't know all of the work out there, or many of the prominent regional writers. So help me out, will you?

The RRA board is in the process of planning an event in December to mark RRA's 10th anniversary, and we would like to highlight the best in regional reporting.

But we're all working journalists, and few of us have time to research the past 10 yearsí worth of notable writing coming from the regional press corps.

We need our members to put on their thinking caps.

Dig out those clips. Put on a dust mask and go through your boxes of IRE conference collectibles.

Try to remember if you or anyone in your bureau wrote any award-winning (or simply exceptional) stories in the past 10 years.

One of the biggest benefits regional reporters can get out of their $20 annual RRA dues is the plethora of story ideas that come from colleagues. We all cover the Hill, the agencies, the White House. But we all do it a little differently.

Frankly, that's what makes us unique in this town. While some of us do get caught up in the play-by-play drudgery of the Lewinsky scandal, most of us continue to seek out new and different ways to inform the public about the ways of Washington.

So let's share, shall we? Please try to think of a few ideas for possible inclusion in our "Top 10 List" of regional reporting.

E-mail or call me with your ideas. Pretty please?

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


Everything you want to know about pioneer female journalists in Washington is at your fingertips in the Internet version of the Washington Press Club Foundation's Women in Journalism Oral History Project.

The link is through the National Press Club site:

Click on the Washington Press Club Foundation link on the left side of the NPC home page. Then click on Oral History Project and explore in-depth transcripts of interviews by oral history professionals. The project recently was named winner of the 1998 Forrest C. Pogue Award for excellence in oral history. The award honors an early president of the Oral History Association.

The site offers dozens of searchable interviews tracing the personal and professional life stories of some of the top women in journalism today, as well as many of their predecessors, including some who began their careers prior to 1942.

The women discuss topics ranging from how they overcame a pervasive atmosphere of sexual discrimination to the changing technology and ethics of the craft of journalism.

-- Tom Brazaitis,
The Plain Dealer of Cleveland
president, Washington Press Club Foundation

The following Web site wonít get you a good story for your newspa per, but it may hand you an insidersí scoop ABOUT your newspaper. Current and former employees post anonymous reviews of working conditions at various papers across the United States. Most, as you might imagine, are not complimentary.

"If Hell has a daily newspaper, no doubt it is a Boone property," one Boone employee wrote in the section about newspaper chains.

If, like me, you only occasionally visit the papers you write for, this site can give you some feel for daily life in the mothership. Sometimes employees even have good things to say ó although you may have to search hard for it as evident in this comment from a reporter at the Times-Standard in Eureka, Calif.

"Don't expect any good journalism or good pay. A terrible place to work, a terrible town to live in. Nice scenery, though."

The site is:

-- Maureen Groppe,
Thomson Newspapers

August 1998 Regional Reporter

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

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October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

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