January 1999

How to tackle the pesky budget

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

Sometime in early February, President Clinton will submit his proposed budget to Congress.

Your papers, of course, will want to know what's in it for their states, counties, military bases, schools and overburdened highways, as well as whether Clinton funded some program that only your editor has heard of.

You will have to do this story in three hours. Yikes.

So what do you do?

Here's a little glossary, courtesy of OMB:

RRA marks 10th anniversary

By Deborah Kalb
Gannett News Service

On a week when impeachment was the overwhelming story, speakers at the Regional Reporters Association's 10th anniversary forum tackled subjects ranging from Watergate to public cynicism about government.

The event, held Dec. 14 at the Freedom Forum, featured The Washington Post's David Broder, as well as several past and present regional reporters, scholars and sources who discussed the good and the bad of the regional beat.

Kicking off the morning, James Rosen of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., (and an RRA board member) discussed his approach to regional reporting. Rosen, who won the 1998 Robin Goldstein Washington Reporting Award for his work, called regional reporting in Washington "about the best job I've ever had."

A former editor in Raleigh, Rosen discussed the different perspectives often experienced by reporters (who complain that their story wasn't on the front page) and editors (who complain that they have nothing to put on the front page). Rosen described two of his major assignments: Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and tobacco.

The first panel, focusing on the evolution of the regional beat, was moderated by Sean Griffin, the first RRA president and now a senior public relations officer with Boeing.

Griffin described some of the changes in a reporter's life since his early days in Washington, the advent of voice mail, C-SPAN and quick-and-easy fax machines among them.

Panelist Alan Emory, bureau chief of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, said that regional reporting has no limits and that a story that seems regional easily can become national. He described how he made contact with various political figures, such as Bobby Kennedy, who had local connections but also national stature.

Panelist Tom Brazaitis, senior Washington editor of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and co-founder of RRA, described his first assignment in Washington: the Watergate impeachment hearings. He said coming to Washington made him feel like a smaller fish in a bigger pond, and he suggested that the best stories for regional reporters are those featuring a local person with national importance.

The third panel member, Norm Lockman, associate editor of The (Wilmington) News Journal, described being locked in the White House during Nixon's resignation in 1974, unable to contact his office and tell them his whereabouts.

Lockman told the audience that becoming an expert in a specific issue would be helpful and suggested becoming familiar with document reading rooms at various government agencies.

The second panel dealt with the future of regional reporting. Moderator Gene Roberts, who teachers journalism at the University of Maryland and was managing editor at The New York Times for three years, said the role of national correspondents in Washington has changed, thereby affecting what regionals do.

He said national correspondents used to cover federal agencies in detail, but now just parachute in without knowing the specific players. Regional reporters, with their local connections, are more likely to develop sources in those agencies, Roberts said.

Perry Flippin, news director for Donrey Media Group, discussed the importance of finding people from the local area during a national story; for example, searching for local people at the Capitol during last summer's shootings. He warned that it was dangerous for reporters to get too close to people in power.

Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who has been studying the Washington press corps for 20 years, discussed changes in regional TV bureaus. He said over the years the bureaus became dominated by large media organizations and therefore were less likely to provide unique coverage for one station at a time.

TV bureaus' abdication of that particular regional role could be important for print regional reporters, Hess said.

Rep. Paul McHale, D-Pa., speaking weeks before he retired from Congress, said that overall he has been treated more than fairly by regional reporters. But he questioned what he called a shift from education to entertainment, as print reporters attempt to compete with TV.

McHale said it is harder to persuade reporters to cover public policy these days, because they are focused on covering inflammatory remarks.

Cheryl Arvidson, director of the Paul Miller Regional Reporting Fellowship Program, said reporters need to show people that government is relevant. National reporters, she said, are not doing that because they are following the "pack" story of the day. She said she would not advise reporters to ignore scandals, but said they should not feel ashamed to write about the times when government does something right.

The Post's Broder delivered the keynote address. Broder made the point that many decisions these days are being made at the state or local level, so Washington reporters should work with their colleagues at statehouses and city halls to explore stories.

He also said reporters should pay attention to voters when doing political stories, not just candidates and consultants.

In addition, Broder discussed the cynicism afflicting the public and suggested reporters should not pass up opportunities to describe honorable performances in government.

In Brief

President's Report

On to the second decade of RRA

By Christine Dorsey

Now that RRA's 10th anniversary celebration is history, it's time to focus on the future. I've been at the helm of RRA for six months, and we've had a packed schedule of newsmakers and other events. 1999 looks as though it will be even better.

The board is working on several newsmaker events, its annual budget seminar and a meeting with White House regional press contacts to try to improve relations with Washington's premiere spin machine.

We're continuing to pass along tips and ideas that come our way via the "Net" and other sources and are trying to keep you up to date using the RRA Web site, (Notice how we plug that thing anywhere we can??)

All of this does not get done by itself. The 1998-99 RRA board has been working very hard to bring the membership these services at the low cost of $20 per year. That pays for the Web site, newsletter postage and some printing, special events (and the coffee that gets sopped up at them!), and a part-time intern who helps keep my administrative nightmares at bay, among other costs.

What I ask of you is that you keep supporting RRA by staying on our membership rolls in 1999. We're sending out our annual dues notice this month. Please don't let it get lost among the stack of dues notices that are beginning to pile up on your desk. We're even springing for the return postage to make your life as easy as possible.

I've said this many times over the last six months: RRA is only as good as its membership. We're volunteers here, and we can only serve our colleagues if they continue to support what we do.

So please take a moment to send in your dues when you receive your invoice. If you have colleagues you think would benefit from RRA, please pass along a membership application (located on the back of this newsletter), or have them contact me.

But most of all, don't be a stranger! If you have regional story tips you think other members could use, e-mail me and I'll pass them along.

If you have event ideas or newsletter submissions, send them in!

Thanks again for keeping RRA alive and active for the past 10 years. Here's to 10 more!


RESTIVE REGIONS Pat Howe, a reporter for Small Newspaper Group, has joined the Washington bureau of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His job at Small has been filled by Angela Grieling, a former intern with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Andy Sher has joined the Washington press corps for the Chattanooga Times and Free Press. The two Tennessee papers were merged recently, after being bought by owners of the Democrat-Gazette. Sher was a political reporter at the Chattanooga Times. Christi Harlan, correspondent for the Austin American Statesman, has left journalism to take over as press secretary for the Senate Banking Committee, now chaired by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Her position has not yet been filled.


If you're having a hard time keeping up with the latest polls on the president, Congress or even the Oscars, there's now a Web site that does it all.

The Polling Report provides a compilation of polls on a whole range of subjects, from Monica to the next millennium.

The Web site says it's a service of The Polling Report, an independent, nonpartisan resource on American public opinion, published in Washington, D.C.

The polls are divided into categories - politics, Hollywood, sports, computers, heath, etc. And within the categories are various polls by organizations ranging from Money Magazine to various news organizations and magazines.

Under the economy section, you can check surveys by Money Magazine or CBS News on consumer confidence.

Under politics, you can track the president's job approval ratings as they changed over the last month. The site offers a list of all the different polls, the date and the approval rating - sometimes showing more than one poll for a particular date. In addition to a quick snapshot of the most recent polls, there is a more detailed page showing ratings going back to 1997.

There are also polls on the best movies, the biggest problem that will face the 21st century, whether we are spending enough on space exploration and favorite television doctors.

And, for a quick dose of humility - check out the polling on news gatherers. Seems less than half of those surveyed think we get the facts straight.

The site is located at:

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register

Have a link to share? E-mail it to Lolita Baldor

December 1998 Regional Reporter

November 1998 Regional Reporter

October 1998 Regional Reporter

September 1998 Regional Reporter

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

December 1997 Regional Reporter

November 1997 Regional Reporter

October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

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Has your e-mail address changed? Please remember to let RRA know if you move, or if your e-mail address changes. We try to keep our database current, but we need your help. Let us know if you're not receiving e-mail bulletins from RRA president Christine Dorsey. Or, if you prefer not to receive e-mail, let us know that, too. E-mail is becoming RRA's fastest and easiest means of communication with the membership. Be sure to update us on any snail mail or fax number changes as well.