May 2000

Miller fellowship finds a home

By Brett Lieberman
Harrisburg Patriot-News

A greatly scaled-back Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship program will continue to help regional reporters learn the ropes of covering the nations capital under the new stewardship of the National Press Foundation.

But the program -- with a new location, two-thirds fewer sessions and a different focus -- will be far different from the one that educated scores of regionals.

The planned changes upset many former Paul Miller Fellows and the board of the National Press Club, which sought unsuccessfully to be an equal partner with the press foundation in an effort to preserve the program.

Beginning in September, the National Press Foundation program will meet one day a month at the NPFs Connecticut Avenue offices. Coordinators say the condensed program will be more focussed on the needs of regionals rather than the broader focus the Freedom Forum took over the past few years.

"The program had become more of a general benefit program with a lot of time spent on independent research on the Internet," said Nolan Walters, program director at the press foundation and a former regional at Knight-Ridder. "We thought the program should be returned to its roots and focussed on new reporters in Washington."

"This is a great opportunity to rethink things," he said.

In addition to scaling back the 12-year-old program, the number of fellows each year will be limited to 15.

The press foundation agreed to take over the fellowship in late April after being approached by the Freedom Forum. The Arlington-based Freedom Forum wanted to drop the Miller program to focus more of its attention on the Newseum and other programs considered more central to its mission.

The Miller program was created in honor of the late Paul Miller,former chairman of the Gannett Co., Inc. and the Associated Press. More than 200 reporters have participated since it began in 1987.

The Freedom Forum agreed to provide a $65,000 grant to help with the transition and an additional $60,000 in support over the next three years. The press foundation plans to invest the money in its endowment fund and draw off the interest to finance the program. Additional costs will be absorbed by the NPF budget.

"The National Press Foundation board is proud to be entrusted with the future of the Paul Miller Fellowship program, and the board thanks The Freedom Forum for this opportunity," National Press Foundation Board of Directors chairman and Washington bureau chief for ABC News Robin Sproul said in a statement. "Nothing is more important to the foundation than helping already-skilled journalists gain a deep understanding of constantly changing issues."

Walters met last month with the incoming class of fellows to explain the changes and solicit input about their interests. He also talked with 10 bureau chiefs and 13 former fellows.

"The idea is to more intensely focus it on things that will actually benefit regional reporters," Walters said. The new program will be similar to the short seminars the NPF has run for years. Each day will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. rather than 9 to 4 at the Freedom Forum.

Sessions will be devoted to a single issue or issue idea. The day will begin with a general discussion about the issue and the responsible agencies followed by discussion of resources and a visit to an agency.

The decision to make the program a single day is perhaps the most controversial change. Walters said there was a higher rate of absenteeism in programs second day and the NPF felt the program had become too general.

But many regionals expressed concerns that the Paul Miller program is being cut to the bone and that reducing it to nine sessions amounts to gutting the only program geared specifically to Washington-based regionals.

Among those disappointed were members of the press club's board of governors. The board offered to provide space, food, computers and other resources to keep the program from being cut. A third of the board are former Paul Miller fellows and three voting members are former RRA presidents.

The Paul Miller program would be a perfect fit for the press club, NPC officials said.

"The Paul Miller folks are exactly the type of journalists we need to attract to the press club. They are young and energetic," said Jonathan Salant, vice chairman of the press club board of governors and a former regional at Newhouse News Service.

"To keep it at current levels we could make the difference," said Salant, one of RRAs first presidents.

But club officials' entreaties were rebuffed. The press foundation, which was originally part of the press club, said it does not need a partner. The NPF did suggest that the press club offer free memberships to the fellows and visiting speakers, and also host a final banquet.

Before the press foundation signed a contract with the Freedom Forum, Salant said he told NPF officials that the press club was interested in being a full and equal partner.

"We just thought it would be a great thing to keep the program together," said Salant.

Walters, who was not part of the discussions with the press club, said the NPF's decision was based on a "matter of what we think is the correct formula."

"We have our own facilities here and we can bring in sandwiches," he said. "The issue for us isn't so much resources for this, it's best sizing the thing."

Salant and other press club board members said they were extremely disappointed by the press foundations decision, but that they would still like to do something to help the fellows. While the NPC might be interested in holding a reception, Salant said the press club still wants to do some professional development.

The first class

The members of the new Paul Miller class will be:

Frank S. Baker, The Associated Press (Editor, Regional Staff)

Steve DiMeglio, Gannett News Service (Texas, California and Arizona)

Lisa Friedman, Media News Bureau (Northern California)

Benjamin Grove, Las Vegas Sun

Jena Heath, Austin American-Statesman

John Hendren, The Seattle Times

Bart Jansen, The Associated Press (California and Nevada)

Matt Kelley, The Associated Press (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah)

Lori Lessner, The Wichita Eagle

Mark Libbon, Newhouse News Service (Syracuse Newspapers)

Shannon McCaffrey, The Associated Press (New York)

Kirsten B. Mitchell, The Winston-Salem Journal

Katherine M. Skiba, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

John Wagner, The Raleigh News & Observer

Samantha Young, Donrey Media Group (Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma)

NPF's vision for the fellowship program

The design of the new Paul Miller Fellowship program, according to the National Press Foundation, will maintain its tradition of excellence, while increasing its attractiveness to applicants and their editors. The NPF will:

  • Build the program around nine full-day seminars and field trips (9-to-5, rather than 9-to-4), one Monday a month, from September through May. This schedule would avoid the torpor of Washington summers, while retaining the network-building model of regular meetings over several months.

  • Limit the number of attending journalists to a maximum of 15 people, so that all can benefit from the intense nature of the programming provided for them, and none will get lost in the crowd.

  • Dedicate each day to a specific issue area, e.g., the military, Congress, health care, etc.

    Structure each dedicated day's events around an "inverted triangle" model that progresses from gation to specific >=hands-on<= techniques for regional reporters. This "inverted triangle" would have three segments:

    • 1. The mornings would start with a discussion of current news in that days issue area by experts including think tank scholars, academics, interest groups, etc.

    • 2. Mid-morning would be filled with a discussion, often employing senior regional reporters, on how to carve out a piece of the overall debate into a regional news story.

    • 3. The afternoon would be spent at the agency or organization most involved with the issue under discussion, helping regional reporters understand the culture of that agency and how best to access useful information and sources. Fellows would also meet top officials not normally available to individual reporters.

  • Retain the computer training and writing workshops now a part of the program, but with more specific goals of using the Internet to access Washington data useful to regional reporters and of improving the quality of news that sells at home.
  • Attempt to combat the fluctuating application numbers by advertising the existence of the program in The Washington Post, which is almost certainly read by more Washington-based journalists than are any journalism publications.

    And, since one of the hallmarks of the Paul Miller program has been its connection to senior journalists in Washington, there will be an effort to involve Washington editors more. Consequently:

  • Throughout the course of the year, but particularly before the series of seminars begins in September, the NPF will conduct interviews with the Washington bureau chiefs of journalists accepted into the Paul Miller program, with former fellows and with the Regional Reporters Association, to develop subject areas to be covered.

  • The NPF will host a graduation dinner for all fellows, inviting as well their bureau editors and their editors at the home papers. The dinner may be underwritten by the National Press Club.

    For more information, contact the National Press Foundation 202-721-9100.

    President's Report

    Were making a name for regional reporters

    By Jennifer Sergent

    In the last column of my presidency, I feel a need to report my activities over the past year the triumphs and the losses.

    The biggest triumph: securing space for regional reporters at this summer's conventions.

    A small group of regionals, who are tired of using the throwaway free space in the back corner, will now have a space and office equipment to call their own.

    This represents a big step for us. To the organizers of the conventions, we are now a known quantity.

    Many thanks to USA Today reporter Kathy Kiely, who originally patched together some space off the cuff when she was a regional reporter. She gave us the idea to start a tradition of the RRA having an identifiable area for reporters who don't work at big bureaus.

    Another triumph: getting RRA member Jake Thompson of the Omaha World Herald elected on to the Hill's Standing Committee of Correspondents. He won by only a handful of votes, and I'm certain it's because of the support he received from his fellow RRA members that put him over the top.

    It's essential that we have our interests represented on the committee, because our needs and concerns are considerably different than those of a huge organization such as the AP or The New York Times.

    Anything that we can do to elevate the status of regional reporters in Washington makes me happy. My predecessor, Christine Dorsey of Donrey Media, did this in a big way with the RRA's 10th Anniversary event, and with the many newsmakers we had with cabinet secretaries during her term.

    One thing I promised everyone early in my term was a newsmaker with White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart. This meeting, unfortunately, fell through. The interests all of you expressed as topics for discussion weretoo varied and numerous, we were told. Could we focus on just one issue, we were asked, and maybe a cabinet secretary could talk to that issue. Negotiations did not go far. The Clinton Administration has not been generous with regional reporters. In one case, my colleague and fellow board member, Mike Romano of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, whose focus has been on gun control since last year's Columbine massacre, has tried repeatedly -- and unsuccessfully -- to get interviews with President Clinton.

    He never got any response, yes or no. A request for responses to a handful of written questions on the anniversary of the shooting was ignored. Meanwhile, President Clinton has waxed poetic on the issue to numerous national reporters print, television, and radio. Mike could not even get a spot on Air Force One when the president was going to Denver, which theoretically would have been a natural for the White House to get good local publicity for the trip.

    Perhaps the next administration will see things differently. It will be our job to make our presence known to the new officials when they arrive in January.

    An ongoing project that will not be complete by the time I step down is the updating of our regional reporter guides. We have been editing different chapters this year, and we are nearing the point when we can print the updated guides. Every RRA member new or old will get a copy when they are done.

    One thing we will have to keep a close watch on in the coming year is the fate of the Paul Miller fellowship for regional reporters, which the National Press Foundation is taking over from the Freedom Forum.

    We want to make sure regional reporters always know how to get around town and be able to reporter good, local, and original stories to their papers at home.

    I will remain on the RRA board in the coming year. I look forward to building on the successes of this year. Thank you all for all your kind support during my tenure.

    FECInfo launches subscription service

    By Lolita Baldor
    New Haven Register

    One of the most reporter-friendly independent campaign Web sites has gone for the money. Or at least partially.

    FECInfo, one of the first and most exhaustive sites for campaign financing information, has launched a subscription service and moved some of its previously free information to the fee-based FECInfo Pro.

    The bulk of the site offerings are still free, including a wide range of Federal Election Commission data going back about a decade, along with popular fundraising info like Clinton library donors; White House sleepovers, White House coffees, and fundraisingprofiles for everyone from members of Congress to the Clintons and Al Gore.

    What reporters no longer have free access to are vast databases of Washington lobbyists and soft money donations. Previously, reporters could log on to FECInfo and type in a company name and find out who their lobbyists are; or you could type in a lobbyists name and find out all the companies/organizations they work for and how much they are being paid. Now you need a subscription to access that information.

    Certainly both types of information are still available free from their original sources. Reporters can get lobbying information from the Clerks offices and soft money data from the FEC. But FECInfos searchable databases were easy to operate and handy to have on deadline when you might not be able to squeeze in a trip to the House Clerk.

    A full description of the new subscription service is available on the FECInfo Web site ( The site also offers a sophisticated relational database for fundraising information that reporters might not have access e built your own database for your members of Congress.

    A 12-month subscription is $2,500, although there are special rates for news organizations who want more than one user to have access.

    Find political devils by digging through the details

    By Jennifer Sergent
    Scripps Howard News Service

    It's amazing what candidates will lie about, Adrianne Flynn said last month at the Society of Professional Journalists regional conference on campaign coverage at the University of Maryland.

    The former Washington correspondent for the Arizona Republic and current director of the university's Capitol News Service in Annapolis said the lies can be as basic as where someone went to college.

    Her point: Do a resume check on every candidate who announces for office. One candidate she profiled said he went to a college in California that didnt exist.

    Other basic checks: criminal and civil court records on that person. For incumbents, check your newspaper archives have they delivered on promises they made during previous campaigns?

    Flynn's talk on April 15 was among many enlightening seminars given during the one-day conference. I was one of the few professional journalists there, however, most of the people were college students. Nevertheless, I am a relative novice at covering campaigns, and the $40 seminar helped me immeasurably.

    Another common fixture on the congressional campaign trail is the poll. Who's up? Whos down? Flynn cautioned us to be aware of who is doing the polls, where their political loyalties are, and how each question is asked. Few polls are truly objective, she said.

    Money is also paramount in campaigns. But dont just check the latest FEC filings, Flynn said. Go to the records for incumbent candidates that were filed immediately after the previous election. Which special interest groups started pumping money into members' coffers?

    Those kinds of checks helped the Arizona Republic uncover the "Keating Five" scandal, in which developer Charles Keating enriched five senators' campaigns with soft money at the same time he was seeking help from them to get federal regulators to back off an investigation into mismanagement at a savings and loan he owned.

    Another possible jackpot for stories are in members' office expenses. Those are listed in the thick brown books at the Legislative Resources office in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building. Flynn once got a great story on Rep. J.D. Hayworth -- he was using taxpayer money to finance a direct mail campaign to constituents.

    David Lightman, the Washington bureau chief of the Hartford Courant, also added some tips. Beyond voting records and politics, what are these people like? Give readers back home a sense of what they do in Washington, which could be completely different than what they are doing and saying back home.

    Dont ever take for granted a polling result quoted in a press release. You need to know the context, which in some cases can make the poll result turn out to be bogus, said David Morris, polling editor for Bloomberg News. Morris gave a seminar called "Dissecting Polls and Pollsters."

    "We reporters don't know how to interpret polls," Morris said. He offered two cardinal rules: never write about a poll conducted by partisan pollsters -- especially those hired directly by candidates. Also, polls should not be the topic of a story. You should build around them, and use the polling information to enhance a story about a broader topic.

    When confronted with a poll, consider a few things: What questions were asked? How were they asked? In what order? When were they asked? Who did the asking?

    For instance, you have a question that sounds pretty straightforward: "Should Elian Gonzalez return to his father in Cuba or stay with his great uncle in Miami?"

    It's not that straight if this questions is asked immediately before: "Do you believe a child should be raised in freedom in a democratic country, or under communist dictator rule?"

    Also, ask who the poll was directed at. "Likely voters" is not an acceptable answer. Who determines who is likely? Did they vote in the last election? Do they know where their polling place is?

    When were these people asked? If the survey was done during a weekday, then youre getting unemployed people, retirees, and stay-at-home moms

    If the survey was performed in the evening, youll get people who work, as well. The best polls are done on the weekend, when you get some of all of these groups.

    Also, were the questions asked at the same time a major news event happened?

    Morris said he once conducted a poll on gun control issues. After the survey but before the polling information was published, the Columbine shooting happened. The story had to be killed, because opinions obviously changed after that event.

    And finally, Morris shared a piece of advice he always keeps taped to his computer: GOYAKOD. Get off your ass, knock on doors. Thats where the real story is.

    Politics/Polling Web sites Christopher Callahan is the associate dean of Journalism at the University of Maryland. His site has countless helpful links. For political stories, click on "politics" for tons of good sites. Good for the major candidates, but not for local ones. "Twenty Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Polls." From the National Council on Public Polls, the Gallup Poll Archives. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Roper Center Archive of Polling Data.

    Tips for writing a campaign story
    These hints come from Carl Sessions Stepp, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and senior editor of the American Journalism Review. Translate. You cover people who speak in jargon. Translate it into English. Simplify. Government does simple things in complex ways. Our job is to cover the simple things, not the complex ways.

    Answer questions people ask you at parties. What is the mayor really like? What's really going on in the Senate race? People love behind-the-scene detail.

    Think Bananas. Use words like "banana," which create strong visual images for readers. Avoid words like "facility," which don't.

    Read aloud for a human voice. Listen to your writing, and you will almost always go back and simplify it.

    Speed it up. For stories on meetings, hearings, press conferences, speeches, move through the story fast with short sentences, punchy verbs. Breeze through the routine, highlight the action.

    Slow it down. You can also make the complex palatable by slowing it down. Present one idea at a time, offer clear, direct explanations, use analogies to help clarify.

    Highlight winners and losers. Not just the horse race money raising, spending, and political infighting. Use issues: who stands to benefit or lose from policies and programs.

    Use the elements of good writing. Strong quotes, vivid anecdotes, dramatic details. Fight to make every lead contain at least one interesting word and one memorable fact or scene.

    Keep your sense of humor. The tone should be of people sitting around the den, talking over the days events -- "hey, get a load of this."

    Read: "What It Takes," by Richard Ben Cramer, a classic example of political reporting an>


    The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville has established a new Washington bureau. Staff writer (and new RRA member) Bruce I. Friedland will be its lone correspondent, working out of a home office.

    Jackie Sotoropoulis has left the Tampa Tribunes Washington bureau for a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Its unclear whether or not the bureau will replace her.

    Michelle Mittelstadt has left her job as the Associated Press's Texas reporter for a job covering justice for the Dallas Morning News.

    Rachel Smolkin started work at Block News Alliances Washington bureau after covering Birmingham, and earlier Albuquerque and Birmingham, for Scripps Howard News Service.

    Carol Leonnig of the Charlotte Observer has been hired by The Washington Post.

    Bill Adair of the St. Petersburg Times recently got a job with the Wall Street Journal.

    Pat Armijo of the Albuquerque Journal is returning to Albuquerque to become the transportation reporter at that paper. The paper will be filling his Washington spot.

    Got news? call Jessica Wehrman at (202)408-2705 or send it to

    WWWeblink If 30 people in your region suddenly come down with some sickness related to a summer cookout, this is the place to turn to find what might be ailing them.

    The federal gateway site includes information on foodborne pathogens, product recalls and basic consumer information that readers might want to know before cracking open a plate full of oysters. Web sites about sprawl are spreading across the Net almost as fast as Wal-Marts in suburbia. This one, sponsored by several organizations working to stem sprawl, includes state-by-state resources, news, essays and a list of local growth initiatives. Tired of the same-old-same-old from Mssrs. Bush, Gore and Buchanan? Check out a Truly Different Presidential Candidate: Former Ambassador Duke.

    Duke Campaign slogan: Whatever It Takes (has the combination of government former ambassador to China) and private sector (charter boat operator, Washington Redskins coach, president of Baby Doc College of Medicine) experience and policy positions (favors mandatory gun ownership, taxing fat people and requiring the media to raise that little Cuban boy >=Emilio<=) you wont find anywhere else. Check out Dukes FBI background check and his Daily Opposition Report.

    Board meeting minutes -- May 9, 2000

    Present: Jennifer Sergent, Rachel Smolkin, Lolita Baldor, Susan Roth and Jessica Wehrman.

    Under New Business, there was much discussion of whether the RRA should weigh in on how the Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship should be handled in the future.

    The National Press Foundation has offered to take over the program from the Freedom Forum, but Jennifer Sergent said she had heard of interest from the National Press Club as well. She said press club officials said they were dismayed that the foundation planned to prune some parts of the program. The press club wants to provide space and food for the fellowship.

    Also under new business, the RRA will distribute a questionnaire to find out what kind of census data training would be useful for regional reporters. Rachel Smolkin said she would scan in the old RRA guide and put it on disk so we do not have to retype the whole thing and can just insert updates.

    There was additional discussion about getting together a newsmaker event on convention coverage. The next meeting was set for June 5 at 1 p.m. at the press club. The meeting was adjourned at 2 p.m.

    September 1999 Regional Reporter

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