June/July 2000

Weiser new RRA president

By Jessica Wehrman
Scripps Howard News Service

Carl Weiser, a Washington correspondent for Gannett News Service and a former Vice President of the Regional Reporters Association, was elected RRA president June 26. At Gannett, Weiser writes primarily for the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal and two Pennsylvania papers.

Lolita Baldor of the New Haven Register was reelected vice president for the second year. Marc Heller of the Watertown Daily Times was elected secretary for the second year, and Maureen Groppe of Thomson Newspapers returns as treasurer.

Nine at-large directors were elected to the RRA board. They are Brett Lieberman of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Rachel Smolkin of Block News Alliance, Jessica Wehrman of Scripps Howard News Service, Jeff Miller of the Allentown Morning Call, Susan Roth of Gannett News Service, Lisa Friedman of the Oakland Tribune, Angela Greiling of the Small Newspaper Group and Jake Thompson of the Omaha World-Herald.

Outgoing RRA president Jennifer Sergent of Scripps Howard News Service will also hold an at-large position. All terms are one year.

Weiser is a Buffalo native and a 1986 graduate of the University of Michigan. He started working for the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times covering agriculture and hospitals, which he calls the "cows and colds" beat. He then worked for the News Journal in Wilmington before moving to Washington to cover the Hill for Gannett's upstate New York papers in 1994.

Weiser, 35, and his wife Janice have a son, Sam, who was born two days after the impeachment trial ended.

Water bill full of local projects

By Jennifer Sergent
Scripps Howard News Service

The giant transportation bill a couple years ago provided regional reporters with ample grist for local road and bridge stories. This year's Water Resources Development Act is another transportation bill on water.

The bill, known as WRDA ("worda"), holds at stake hundreds of local projects, from a harbor dredging to river navigation to flood protection. It's supposed to be renewed every two years, but it stalls in years when a controversial project holds the whole thing up.

There was no WRDA 1998, for example, so Congress passed a catch-up bill last year, and lawmakers are back at the table this year to stay on schedule.

There's sure to be much drama in this bill, because at its center is the spending authorization for the $7.8 billion, 20- to 30-year restoration plan for the Florida Everglades.

Although some members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have expressed reservations about the project and its costs, most members support the initiative.

That huge spending commitment could have implications for the smaller projects contained in the WRDA. A small Kentucky flood protection project, for example, could be derailed at the last minute, overshadowed by the Everglades' 800-pound Gorilla.

At the start of the hearing process earlier this year, Committee Chairman Bob Smith, R-N.H., noted he was the only member who hadn't sent in a long list of project requests for the bill.

Also complicating the deliberations are several publicized management problems at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the principle overseer of water resource projects. According to reports in the Washington Post, the Corps schemed to double its budget, concocting justifications for projects which studies now show are unnecessary.

In addition, Corps officials have told Environment and Public Works Committee members that there is a $70 billion construction backlog of projects. Without any new authorizations, the backlog alone would take 25 years to complete, and even then the projects would require $2 billion in new spending due to cost increases. The Corps is requesting at least $4 billion in new and continuing project authorizations for 2001.

Check with your congressman to determine which local projects are in - or out - of the bill. Or check with the Corps, which has a list of requested projects itemized by state in its 2001 budget request book. Also ask for the detailed descriptions for the projects you want. The Corps keeps those descriptions in a big notebook in the public affairs office. You can ask to have them faxed to you.

There will be local contacts in your region who oversee these projects and can comment about them. It's a great way to bring a federal policy story into your back yard.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was expected to mark up the bill on or around June 28. Smith is calling this bill a top priority for this year, mainly because of the Everglades plan. The House is waiting for the Senate to pass the bill before it takes up consideration.

Key contacts
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Stephen Bentfield, press secretary. 202-224-6168.

House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment. Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y. Scott Brenner, press secretary. 202-225-9446.

Army Corps of Engineers. Homer Perkins, public affairs. 202-761-1807.

President's Report

Our next step: Raising our presence in D.C.

By Carl Weiser

I'm writing this column 24 hours after being elected president of the Regional Reporters Association.

First, I'd like to thank the members for electing me.

Second, I would like to look back over the accomplishments of my first day: I successfully took control of the key to the RRA's mailbox.

Third, I would like to talk about my goals for the year ahead.

Luckily, previous RRA leaders have left the organization financially healthy and active. I intend to build on that.

We need to increase the RRA's presence in Washington. In business jargon, we need to "build our brand:" Make ourselves indispensable to regional reporters, build our membership, and get better known to newsmakers around town.

I will consult with the board on the best way to do this. Some ideas:

  • An e-mail discussion group. This would allow regional reporters to communicate directly with a group of experts: us. Maybe you want to know where to find certain documents, or who the best person to talk to on a particular subject is.

  • More e-mail alerts. If there are state-by-state or county-by-county reports or grants coming out, e-mail alerts can give you a head start.

  • Pressing leaders. We need to not only alert government leaders to our existence, but press them to pay attention to us and give regionals more respect. Several regionals have already mentioned how difficult it is for them to get White House hard passed. This is certainly an issue worth tackling.

    Thank you.

    I am reachable at or (703) 276-5829.

    Closing comments

    By Jennifer Sergent
    Scripps Howard News Service

    Editor's note: The following is outgoing RRA president Jennifer Sergent's speech delivered at the annual meeting.

    Thank you all for coming here today. I don't want to dwell on the achievements of the RRA over the past year, but emphasize the things that we still need to do, which unfortunately eluded me over the past year.

    I think the RRA should focus on holding more newsmakers in the coming year - I see that as a shortfall of my own during this past year. I see newsmakers as a great opportunity for the RRA, especially when a new administration comes into town in January. If we can hold newsmakers with outgoing officials and the incoming ones, we can make our presence in town better known.

    We are already on the right track. Next month, thanks to RRA member Rachel Smolkin, we will be hosting an excellent panel discussion on covering conventions - the logistics as well as the story ideas. I am also working with USDA Secretary Dan Glickman's office to hold an RRA event with him sometime in July.

    Another goal I would like to see us pursue is membership building, and newsmakers are a good tool for that. In addition, and this is building off a suggestion our former president, Christine Dorsey, had, if we could produce a brochure, and send it to bureaus with regional reporters, I think we could attract members who may not know about us.

    One project that is going along quite well is our update of the regional reporters guide. I'm in the process of entering corrections and updates that have already been made so we can produce a new guide in a three-ring binder for regionals to rely upon, especially those who are new to Washington.

    Another thing I'd like to see us do this year is monitor how the new Paul Miller fellowship is going among regional reporters. Perhaps we could survey the members of this new class at the end of the fellowship next year to see how well they think it helped them, or not. I know there are concerns among past Paul Miller fellows that the program is being cut back too much, and it might be helpful to see if that turns out being true.

    Finally, if anyone here has any comments or concerns about the RRA that he or she wants to voice - anything that we can do that we're not already doing to help you, please let us know. It's been a privilege to serve as RRA president. Thank you.

    Report from the Nieman Fellowship

    By Jerry Zremski
    The Buffalo News

    Editor's note: Jerry Zremski, a former RRA president, is one of only a handful of regional reporters ever to be chosen for Harvard's prestigious mid-career journalism fellowship. This is his final dispatch.

    SOMERVILLE, Mass. - The quintessential moment of my Nieman fellowship didn't come in some super-serious Harvard classroom or in a bout of journalistic naval-gazing with my fellow fellows.

    No, it came beneath a rare starlit sky in a festively decorated courtyard, as I watched two lovers dancing.

    Dennis Cruywagen, a Black South African newspaper editor, met and fell in love with Lianda de Necker, an Afrikaaner, thousands of miles from Cambridge, in Pretoria. But it was here, in the courtyard of Lippman House - our home away from home - that they got married.

    For their wedding song, they picked Van Morrison's "These Are the Days." They picked it, they said, not just for themselves but also for us.

    "These are the days now that we must savor, and we must enjoy as we can," Van sang as the two lovers danced in a slow embrace and as assorted Nieman fellows melted in tears.

    "These are the days that will last forever/You've got to hold them in your heart." Indeed we do. And as if to prove it, we all sprung to the dance floor a little while later and danced like possessed beings to the strains of "We Are Family."

    As much as anything else, that's what I gained from my year at Harvard: a new family of friends, scattered from New York to New Delhi. It's a precious gift that, as Van the Man says, will last forever.

    They're not just friends, but teachers, too. Call me an idiot, but I never knew that Turkey was something of a gulag for journalists until Ragip Duran told us how he was locked up for seven months because of one phrase in one story. Months before the world knew, Mark Chavunduka taught me that Zimbabwe was crumbling - a fact he learned the hard way, via several sharp blows to the head, after being arrested for a story he edited. And never did I know that humor was universal before I saw Lee Kwangschool, the South Korean Peter Jennings, do dead-on impressions of each of his fellow fellows.

    Of course, I did plenty of learning in the rest of Harvard, too. A quirky landscape historian named John Stilgoe left me with a new appreciation for the world around me, along with several killer story ideas. The Rev. Peter Gomes taught me that you can't understand Christianity without forcing yourself through the turgid tomes of St. Augustine. And a jovial ex-Marine named George did something that I thought was impossible: he taught me how to swim.

    Above all, though, these nine months taught me how to live. Now I know that that sounds like a rash generalization, but it's absolutely true not just for me but for several of my colleagues.

    A year ago, we were burnt out. After so many years of the intense grind of daily journalism, we couldn't see or live beyond it. We worked long hours on stories that, a month later, we had forgotten we had written. And we returned home late at night anxious and unable to focus on anything that mattered, be it lovers or friends or good books. Now, for me at least, something seems to have changed. I know for a fact that I can't let my job make me frantic. Too much is at stake. By focusing too much on work, everything suffers - family, friends, and yes, even work.

    I'm sure that Washington will put that realization to the test, but I'm confident that I can come back to work and not revert to being the drone I was a year ago.

    I say that for two reasons. For one thing, I can't stop thinking about all the Washington friends I want to see and all the trips I want to take and all the books that Harvard has taught me that I want to read. And for another, I'm coming back to D.C. armed with a bevy of story ideas that are so good that I won't be forgetting them once they're finished.

    Looking ahead, I can't help but think back to one more moment from Dennis and Lianda's wedding - a wedding that, of course, could not have even happened in South Africa until recent years. Lianda's parents were white members of the Apartheid generation, but now, here they were, beaming with pride and wonder as they saw their daughter embracing a black man.

    Speaking to her parents a little while later, Lianda said, through tears, "You've come so far."

    Indeed they did. And so have we all.


    Paul Kane has left the Bergen (NJ) Record to work for Roll Call.

    Pat Howe of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is leaving to go to California.

    Stacey Zolt of Roll Call has joined the staff of Scripps Howard News Service. She will write for the Albuquerque Tribune and the Birmingham Post-Herald. Jessica Wehrman of Scripps Howard will take on a new beat effective June 26. She'll be writing for the Evansville Courier-Press in Evansville, Indiana. She had been writing for four papers in Texas and for the Albuquerque Tribune.

    Tara Copp of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas, will come to Scripps Howard July 10 to write for Scripps' four Texas papers.

    Ryan Alessi, a recent graduate of Ohio University, has just become the new correspondent for the Ventura Star at Scripps Howard News Service.

    Kirsten Mitchell of the Winston-Salem Journal is leaving that post at Media General, which owns the Journal, to become a national reporter in that bureau.

    Deborah Kalb of Gannett News Service left at the end of June to freelance and move to New York.

    Got news? call Jessica Wehrman at (202)408-2 705 or send it to


    The Republican and Democratic convention sites have a lot in common. They feature links about the convention sites, the host cities, logistics for getting to and getting around the conventions, platform, candidate and delegate information and archives of press releases. The sites also have some whiz-bang features for your amusement using audio and video feeds. The multimedia features on this site include a streaming video welcome message from RNC Chair Jim Nicholson and a video travelogue of Philadelphia hosted by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (shot in "edgy," MTV-fashion). The " delegate" feature is intended to give Web users a taste of what being at the convention is like. The voice is unmistakably JFK: "With a deep sense of duty and high resolve, I accept your nomination." That audio clip is one of the goodies found on the Democrats' convention Web sites. Like the GOP site, the Democrats have an "interactive platform" feature, done in conjunction with, giving Web users a chance to sound off on issues. The Reform Party is many things. But a leader in convention Web sites isn't one of them. This site gives bare bones information about the party's gathering in Long Beach, Calif., and little else so far. But there is an application for media credentials.

    Board meeting minutes -- June 5, 2000

    Present: Jennifer Sergent, Christine Dorsey, Jessica Wehrman, Susan Roth, Carl Weiser, Jeff Miller, Marc Heller.

    Sergent opened with a discussion of improving the design and print quality of the newsletter, which Jim Sergent can do for a little over $200 (that's $180 for photoshop upgrade and about $30 for a new ink cartridge).

    There were no objections to allocating the money for this purpose, contingent upon his committing to the task for a year.

    Sergent also updated the board on the Guide to Regional Reporting. Updated sections are ready to be typed up, she said.

    The board turned to a discussion of newsmaker events. The next event is July 19, when three reporters-to-be-named-later will discuss covering national political conventions, at the National Press Club. The board also discussed FEMA Director James Lee Witt and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman as possible newsmakers.

    The board set the next meeting for July 10, then adjourned.

    May 2000 Regional Reporter

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