NEWSLETTER

October 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..

Regionals offer three approaches to coverage of Lewinsky scandal

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

Sex. Lies. Videotape.

It's the only story in town, and regional reporters are all over it.

Ever since Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr submitted his report to Congress in early September, regional reporters have been working fast and furious both on the possible impeachment of President Clinton and on the annual autumn avalanche of routine news coming out of Congress.

The question faced by every bureau chief and every regional is the same: How do regionals, with few of the resources that the wires and the national papers have, cover a story that's absolutely huge in terms of both its content and its importance?

Interviews with regionals and e-mail comments from RRA members suggest there are three main approaches.

Some bureaus are showing the flag and doing the main national stories on the Monica Lewinsky scandal as often as possible.

Others are doing as little as possible, figuring they don't want to duplicate the wires.

And still others follow a middle road, offering local congressional reaction along with a regular smattering of off-the-beaten-path stories the wires wouldn't do.

This can't be a cookie-cutter decision, said Sylvia Smith of the one-person Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette bureau. How you cover it depends on the particularities of every paper.

Showing the flag

Papers such as the Hartford Courant and the Buffalo News are trying to write the national story on the Lewinsky saga so long as it's possible to do with one or two people.

This is the biggest story to hit Washington in years, said David Lightman, bureau chief of the three-person Courant bureau. You can't ignore it.

The Courant tries to look for enterprise stories on the Lewinsky affair, along with local angles. And it tries to do the main national story when it can.

We try not to do stories that have the potential to spin out of control, Lightman said.

The Courant didn't write about the story during its early, leak-intensive phase. But once the Starr report was released and the story broke wide open, it got involved.

We look to explain things, Lightman said. We have a veteran bureau. We covered Iran-Contra. We've got perspective on these things that other people wouldn't have.

The Buffalo News adheres to a similar philosophy, combining enterprise and local reaction with frequent national stories primarily written by bureau chief Douglas Turner. For example, the bureau did the main national story on deadline, for afternoon editions on the Starr report and the Clinton testimony videotape.

We do a better job on the stories that have a narrow focus, said Stan Evans, assistant managing editor at the News. We've looked at the wires and we've looked at our stories, and ours are better. The writing is better. I just think that we have better skills than the wires do.

Then again, the News tends to back off the Lewinsky saga when it retreats into an incremental phase dominated by leaks and source-meistering. We don't do the wider stories that the Post or the L.A. Times does, Evans said.

Keeping the local focus

The News philosophy is just about the opposite of that taken by the Seattle Times, which has steered clear of writing the national story on the Lewinsky matter.

Why should we do the national story when we have all the wires doing it? asked James Grimaldi of the Times bureau. We have other, bigger things to do.

Grimaldi has been spending most of his time covering the Microsoft antitrust case, a huge regional story if ever there was one. Meanwhile, his colleague Danny Westenat was busy completing a project on land trading between the government and private corporations.

Of course, the Times has gotten involved in the Lewinsky saga to some degree. For example, the Washington bureau has handled congressional reaction, while the staff in Seattle did a series of reaction pieces based on what ethicists, college presidents and other respected community leaders had to say.

Similarly, Smith, of the Fort Wayne paper, hasn't done a great deal on the presidential crisis. She's done local congressional reaction whenever big news happened and did a story on the opening statements of the two Indiana members of the Judiciary Committee when the panel began considering whether to open an impeachment inquiry.

But she's kept her main focus on matters such as local appropriations and Sen. Richard Lugar's involvement in the Kosovo controversy.

As a one-person bureau, my modus operandi is value-added, she said. None of my primary people are on the Judiciary Committee. So there's nothing I can do that's better than what the 25 Washington Post people will do on that. Besides, how do I do that and still do the work my paper isn't going to get any other way? Am I going to ignore that?

Taking the middle road

Other bureaus take the middle way on the Lewinsky scandal, occasionally doing major pieces while leaving the bulk of the national stories to the wires.

We're doing niche reporting, said Roger Lowe, bureau chief at thetwo-person Columbus Dispatch bureau. We're trying to find places where we ought to weigh in.

For example, the bureau was working on a takeout on the impeachment process before the Starr report was released and quickly turned it into a front-page story when the news broke.

The bureau also has interviewed Rep. Steve Chabot, the only Ohioan on the House Judiciary Committee and did a mood-of-the-Hill piece after the Starr report rocked Capitol Hill.

This niche-reporting approach appears to be the most popular among smaller bureaus in particular. Here are a few examples of the sorts of stories regionals have gotten out of the controversy in the past month:

Campbell also found a good local angle in the Starr report. Bob Tyrer, chief of staff to Defense Secretary William Cohen and a longtime Maine politico, found himself in the report, featured in a picture taken at a White House Christmas party. The photo shows Tyrer with Clinton and Lewinsky.

Not surprisingly, Campbell turned that into a funny item for his weekly column.

O f course, in many cases, getting the good local angle often depends on sheer luck.

For example, no one found a more, um, engrossing local angle than did Jennifer Maddox of Scripps-Howard's Florida papers.

This huge Florida sugar baron was on the phone with Clinton when Monica was..., Maddox said.




Defense fund is ripe for regional stories

By Paul Kane
States News Service




In Brief




Board minutes - October 5, 1998

President Christine Dorsey gave an update on a Census Bureau focus group in which RRA board members have agreed to participate next month. Census plans to pay $100 for each participant, but everyone has agreed to have Census donate the funds to RRA instead. The board plans to apply the money toward the 10th anniversary celebration on Dec. 14.

Dorsey also provided an update on planning and the tentative schedule for the 10th anniversary event. Confirmed participants include David Broder of The Washington Post, RRA founding members Tom Brazaitis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Sean Griffin, and retiring U.S. Rep. Paul McHale, D-Pa., a critic of Washington reporters.

The next meeting was set for Nov. 9 at noon.




President's Report

A voice for the ignored regionals

By Christine Dorsey
Donrey Media Group

When House Press Gallery Superintendent Jerry Gallegos contacted me recently regarding a potential problem about getting access to supplemental Starr materials, RRA took an active (and activist) role in the dilemma.

The House Clerk had not given the gallery enough copies of the first round of Starr report material, and Gallegos wanted to impress upon the House Judiciary Committee the necessity that reporters have ready access to hard copies of the documents.

He asked me (and, I'm sure, other reporters) to write to the committee and anyone else who might influence the procedures. I must say, I'm not used to being a flack, but in this case, I felt it was necessary for regional reporters to have a voice in what could have set a devastating precedent.

I faxed a letter to every member of the Judiciary Committee, as well as House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and e-mailed a copy to all of you. Some of you, I've heard, wrote or had your bureau chief write to lobby against limiting the numbers of complimentary copies of the material made available to reporters.

I have no idea if it made a difference, but the next day, I got a fax from the committee outlining release plans for the next document dump, of 4,000 or so pages. It mentioned the fact that the House Press Gallery would receive enough copies to accommodate the press.

I'm not quitting my day job, but I'm glad to know that RRA took part in insuring that every reporter had timely access to the material needed to cover this breaking story.

The experience has made me more aware of RRA's role as an advocacy group. Regionals, as we all have likely experienced from time to time, sometimes get overlooked. We rarely get acknowledged for our work, and often the networks or the national press make the waves on behalf of the working press.

Fortunately, we're making progress. Several regional writers now serve on the National Press Club Board of Governors. And the Standing Committee for the press galleries includes a couple of regionals.

In fact, elections to the standing committee will take place in the next few months and I think regionals ought to run for any openings. Particularly with the 2000 political conventions coming up, we need to make sure the regional press is represented on the committee.

So get involved. Help make sure regional reporters have a voice in any press-related issue that comes our way. Remember, our strength is our members.

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




Double WWWeblink

It's election season and a whole host of new election sites are cropping up every day.

Finding them hard to keep track of? Or did you forget to bookmark a good one?

A new site up this month is aimed at making election Web-cruising as easy as one-stop shopping. The site is called Web White & Blue, and it is billed as a nonpartisan public service campaign that is designed to promote fast, easy access to information on the 1998 elections.

It is co-sponsored by Harvard University's Shorenstein Center and the nonprofit Markle Foundation.

The site will have loads of election information, and other sites will be linked to it, including major networks, CQ, AP, universities, newspapers and dozens of other organizations.

For a look go to: http://webwhiteblue.org/participating.html

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register


Ever wonder what happened to Honeymooners actress Audrey (To the moon, Alice) Meadows? She died of cancer in 1996 Feb. 3, to be exact.

And what about those nasty rumors about Bob Hope? He's still kicking.

October is a popular month to wonder about dead people, and of course, the Internet has just the site to look them up.

Go to http://www.city-net.com/~lmann/dps to find out about more than 1,700celebrities and their present status. Mt. Lebanon, Pa. technical writer Laurie Mann maintains the site started by a friend. The site includes a search engine that looks up famous dead (and alive) people.

The site is handy if you need quick confirmation on when John Denver died or where George Burns is buried. Sometimes, the entries include links to related pages (fan clubs, etc.)

But mostly, it's just plain interesting to scan the alphabetical listings and think, Awe, I didn't realize Miles Davis was dead.

Mann has been featured several articles and on television lately. The links are included on her site. It appears pretty legitimate and accurate. Roddy McDowell's death, just a week or so ago, was already up.

-- Christine Dorsey,
Donrey Media Group

Have a link to share? E-mail it to Lolita Baldor lbaldor@aol.com




September 1998 Regional Reporter

August 1998 Regional Reporter

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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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