NEWSLETTER

September 2000

Thinking outside the Beltway

Award will honor 'regional's regional'

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

David Lynch dedicated his life to translating Washington for folks outside the Beltway. Now, even after his death two years ago, he continues to serve regional reporters andhometown readers.

The Washington Press Club Foundation has created a new David Lynch Regional Reporting Award for regional coverage of Congress, worth $1,000.

Lynch covered Washington for hometown readers for more than 25 years. He created the Lynch News Service in 1982; his clients included The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette and the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal.

"He was truly a regional's regional, resisting the temptation to follow the pack and cover the 'inside baseball' story because he knew his responsibility was to the readers and listeners back home," said his friend Cheryl Arvidson, a long-time Washington correspondent for Cox Newspapers and Dallas Times Herald and now a senior writer at the Freedom Forum.

Added Jane Norman, who competed against Lynch for the Des Moines Register, "He was the kind of reporter who would ask questions at press conferences that left you shaking your head and muttering, 'Why didn't I see that?' He also regarded being a regional reporter as an important calling, not a way station while angling for that bigger job. David knew it was his responsibility to hold the local pols up to the light, and write news out of Washington that makes this place make sense for Midwestern readers way, way outside the Beltway."

Lynch was born in 1942, in Milford Mass, and graduated with a journalism degree from Boston's Northeastern University. His first job was with the Worcester, Mass., Telegraph and Gazette.

He came to Washington in the early 1970s to work for Griffin-Larrabee News Bureau as a regional reporter, writing for the Buffalo, N.Y. Courier and Express in both Washington and Buffalo, before beginning his own news operation, Lynch News Service, in 1982. He also provided agriculture coverage for DTN, an agriculture news service, according to Arvidson.

Friends and former colleagues said Lynch, a fixture in the Senate Press Gallery for more than a quarter century, ferreted out the local angle in major policy pronouncements, made the often-complicated Washington bureaucracy a little more understandable, and managed to keep his sense of humor and his perspective so his work was not tarnished by cynicism.

Some of the highest praise of his work has come from his competitors and those he covered on a daily basis. After his death from cancer on Dec. 31, 1998, the Des Moines Register's Jane Norman, wrote in a column "Washington journalism lost some of its spunk." "David was delightfully irreverent, unfailingly cheerful and had the healthy skepticism characteristic of good reporters," she wrote. "He never flinched from asking just the right, tough question - or a surprising question that forced a politician to suddenly shed light on a situation. He was also fair, a quality sorely lacking in many instances here."

Lynch left a wife, Deborah Strauss Lynch, and a daughter, Samantha.

The Lynch award is funded by contributions from David's many friends and colleagues who gave generously to create this lasting memorial to the high journalistic standards and professionalism that David embodied.

The Washington Press Club Foundation has agreed to take responsibility for the Lynch memorial fund and administer the award, and the winner will be honored each year at the WPC Foundation Congressional Dinner. The first award will be given out at next dinner on Feb. 6, 2001.

The David Lynch Regional Reporting award

The David Lynch Regional Reporting Award will be given annually to the Washington-based daily newspaper reporter whose work best exemplifies the thorough and incisive regional coverage of Congress that was the hallmark of Lynch's work.

This year's award is $1,000, and the winner will be recognized at the Washington Press Club Foundation's annual Congressional Dinner in February 2001.

Award entries should consist of no more than four examples of work published during the previous year.

"Regional reporting" for purpose of this award means work that provides insight into how actions on Capitol Hill impact the local community and coverage that provides a better understanding of the inner-workings of Congress, with emphasis on the local delegation.

The judges also will take into consideration the clear, engaging nature of the writing, and the reporter's ability to explain difficult and complex subjects to a hometown audience.

Eligible entries will be stories published between Nov. 1, 1999, and Nov. 10, 2000. Entries must be received by Dec. 12, 2000, and be mounted on 8-by-11-inch sheets of paper. A letter from the reporter explaining special circumstances involved in the submissions is allowed but not required.

Please submit entries, including the name, address and telephone number of the reporter, to: The Standing Committee of Correspondents
Attention: David Lynch Regional Reporting Award
Senate Press Gallery, S-316 U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510
Contact: Joan McKinney, 202-224-0241




Bringing home control of Congress

Tips to help readers understand potency of their votes

By Bill Hillburg
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Who will control the House? It's a topic near and dear to the hearts of the electeds, aides and spinners who draw partisan paychecks. They would have you believe that the stakes are nothing less than the future of this great land.

For readers, who get to elect only one member and usually do so based on local issues and perceptions, the battle for Congress often sounds like just one more reverberation from within the Beltway echo chamber.

To turn this story line into a saga of local interest, you first have to give readers some basic training in seniority and the power inherent in committee assignments. Most readers are unaware that a committee chair, especially in such key areas as appropriations, can muscle an inordinate number of earmarked money for the home folks. Citizens Against Government Waste and other anti-porkers notwithstanding, many readers still measure the effectiveness of their House member by the amount of bacon he or she brings home.

Once the rules of the money game are set down, you can offer a basic breakdown of what will be won or lost if the GOP continues in power or the Democrats achieve a majority.

An analysis of current power sources and ranking minority members within Southern California's 24-member house delegation found seven GOP congressmen holding committee and subcommittee chairs. The roster included such key players as Rep. David Dreier, R-Covina, chairman of the House Rules Committee; Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; and Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon, chairman of the Post Secondary Education Subcommittee. All three chairmen have had a major impact, drawing dollars and programs to the region and their districts. Lewis has been particularly effective in corralling defense contracts for Southern California.

The analysis also found that should the Democrats take over and incumbents' committee assignments remain the same, Southern Californians would control only four chairs. Once the serious stuff is aside, and sprinkled with the necessary reverberating quotes from electeds, aides and spinners on both sides of the aisle, you ca n get down to battle lines that almost every voter can identify with.

We're talking office space, with the top of the heap a suite within the Capitol, replete with a fireplace. At the low end of the seniority totem pole is the four floor of Cannon, a gloomy, elevator inaccessible realm known as ``the Gulag.''

Our graphics department whipped up an aerial photo and list showing who resides where among our 24 members.

And let's not forget control over a committee or subcommittee budget, and closer parking slots and other perks that also are also prized by readers in the private sector.

Your readers will still only get to vote for one House seat and most of them will probably never be asked to be active in a party, short of writing a check to a campaign or a high-sounding PAC. But at least they'll have an insight into what went down when they watch either Dennis Hastert or Richard Gephardt whooping it up on the night of Nov. 7.




How to beat election apathy

By Angela Greiling
Small Newspaper Group

Conventional wisdom has it that the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore is boring. The same apathy often extends to contests lower on the ticket as well.

We hear Sunday morning pundits talk about the low excitement factor, and man-on-the-street interviews often show the same. But as regional reporters, part of our job descriptions includes making topics such as this appealing to our readers.

So, what do our peers do to rev up the enthusiasm in a duller-than-average political season?

First of all, writes the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Eric Black, there are a plethora of reasons why the upcoming election is, in fact, not boring. He even ticked five of them off in a recent column. They include: the impact the presidential race will have on the Supreme Court and the slim line that will divide the majority and the minority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Black points out that four of the court's justices are likely to retire soon, and the political party of the next President will therefore have a long-term impact on legal opinions in the country.

As for control of the House, many states have races that will be integral parts of deciding which party controls the chamber come January.

Reporters would be wise to put their local House races into a broader context, particularly if the seat has been targeted by one or both parties.

Bill Cahir, of Newhouse News Service/MediaNews Group, is following a hot Senate race. But he also gets to dip into presidential coverage. Cahir has written on how much money presidential candidates are raising from the regions he covers (parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey), what local party leaders think about top-tier races and about how the presidential race is affecting other match-ups on the ticket.

Emily Goodin, an associate editor at The Hotline, a daily online publication that summarizes the day's political news, said it is important that regional reporters invest time covering the nation's big races.

"It's the only way people in that area of the country will learn how presidential policies will affect them directly," Goodin said. "Because everything else is pure politics."

Goodin, who reads regional stories every day from across the country, said the most successful presidential policy stories she reads incorporate what the local effect would be. "Most people would rather read a piece about how a family of four in their neighborhood would be affected by the Bush or Gore tax plan than a generic policy piece," she said.

Rafael Lorente, Washington correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, said it is up to the regional reporter to digest the issues and deliver the local angle. For their south Florida readers, Lorente and his colleagues have been writing about Social Security, gun control, education and Cuba policy. "I do not believe people are uninterested in the presidential race," Lorente said. "They may not be very interested in either candidate, but they care a lot about certain issues and respond well when you write stories that tell them what the candidates are saying about those issues."




President's Report

By Carl Weiser

New discussion group

The Regional Reporters Association has launched a new e-mail discussion group. I urge everyone to join it.

I envision this as a great way to:

Get questions answered quickly ("Where do I get stats on Medicaid recipients in my state?" "Is there a flack at HUD who's competent?") Trade tips ("Data from HHS out today on teen pregnancies." "Free foodtonight at press club.") Gripe ("What's the deal with press secretaries who won't speak on the record?" "My editor wants 25 inches on a one-minute speech.") Discuss ("Does this group put out good data?" "If a senator invites you out for a beer, who should pay?"

The more who join, the better the discussions.

To join: go to www.egroups.com/group/regionalreporters

Click on subscribe. They ask for some perfunctory personal data. Fill it out,and you're in the gang!

And remember: If you reply to a posting, everyone sees it!

Letter about hard passes

I sent a letter to the White House lamenting the lack of "hard passes" for regional reporters and the difficulties we have in getting them.

The first draft of the letter reflected the rage of the e-mails I got from members, who complained about the cronyism and attitude of the press officein dispensing - or failing to dispense - the press passes.

Here are some samples from the e-mails I got:

  • "I've been in Washington 12 years. I have been assured at least three times (once by the Bush administration and twice by the Clinton) that I would be getting a hard pass. I filled out the forms requested, etc. I have never received such a pass, however. Press aides always say something was lost, so I need to fill out something else.

  • "Though I call early to say what time I'm coming, leave my name and Social Security number, they never are ready for me when I come and most often have no record that I even called. It's a struggle each time to get in the door and I always end up being late for whatever I'm trying to cover. The people in the press office have been completely unhelpful."

  • "We have three reporters in DC. One has a hard pass that he got years ago, and efforts to get others have failed miserably."

One thing that personally outraged me was that a few regionals responded that they had been able to get hard passes - because they knew the right person in the press office. That is not the way it should work.

Ultimately though, yelling at this lame duck White House about the problem won't solve it. So the version of the letter I eventually sent, after some editing by RRA board members, was much more, uhh, constructive. The letter reminded the White House that regional reporters often want to cover events the national press ignore, yet the hassle involved in getting in often deter us from attempting to cover them.

I hope in the next administration fewer regionals find themselves stuck at the guard booth in the rain while some local mayor meets with the President inside the White House. I sent copies to the Bush and Gore campaigns, since that's who this is really aimed at.

No response yet.

Supreme Court newsmaker

We had a decent newsmaker event at the Supreme Court, where regionals got some information on how to look up local cases.

The upshot: It's not easy, and the court doesn't really care.

Since the newsmaker, incidentally, the Supreme Court has put up a searchable docket page on their web site at www.supreme courtus. gov. Click on "docket."

Contact me!

As always, let me know of any concerns or ideas you have for the Regional Reporters Association. I can always be reached at cweiser@gns.gannett.com.

Or better yet, use the new e-group!




Supreme newsmaker on high court

Insights into keeping tabs on cases that affect your region

By Jennifer Sergent
Scripps Howard News Service

No sooner did I go to a RRA-sponsored session on how to cover the Supreme Court than I got an email from my editors in Vero Beach, Fla., on that topic.

"Do you ever cover the Supreme Court?" was all it said.

When I asked for more details, I was ready to give my editors all the information they needed.

They had seen a wire story about a case involving an investor and a local land deal that had made its way to the Supreme Court. The story said the court decided to hear the case.

Thanks to the information session, I knew exactly where to go.

I called the public affairs office, whose number I had at my finger tip, and asked the status of the case. A very nice voice on the other end of the phone told me the court had "granted cert.," which the wire story had referred to, and oral arguments on the case are expected to be scheduled between January and April. Call in December, I was told, when the schedule of oral arguments for next spring will have been prepared.

After I got this information, I wrote an authoritative email back to my editor, informing her of all the details of how the case would play out, and assuring her I would be there for the arguments.

"You're wonderful!" was the email I got back.

So if you want to get wild praise and kudos from your editors, there are just a few things to keep handy in your Supreme Court file. The public affairs office will go out of its way to help you.

You just need to know the case number and style (i.e. State of Florida vs. Smith). 202-479-3211, and then dial 1.

There are four opportunities to cover a case in the court:

    1. When a petition is filed

    The justices will decide if they will hear it (deny cert. or grant cert.) within 45 days. If it's denied, that's it. If it's granted, go on to the next step.

    2. Order

    The decision to grant or deny will be posted on "orders" which are posted every Monday at 10 a.m. If the case is granted before January (the official term begins the first Monday in October), arguments will be held between January and the end of that term in June. If it's granted after January, it will be heard in the next term.

    3. Arguments

    When you know the date the case will be heard, call the public affairs office and make a seat reservation. They are first-come, first-served, and if you call late on a high-profile case, chances are that you will be stuck in a section behind huge pillars with no view of the lawyers or the justices.

    4. Decision.

    After the arguments, the public affairs office will usually give you a rough idea about when the decision is due. You just need to keep in touch with them, and keep a calendar of days in which the justices issue the decisions. Just keep checking the decision in the month it's expected to be published.

The two public information officers who can help you are Ed Turner, the assistant PIO, or Kathy Arberg, the head PIO. They handed out bulging press packets on covering the court with samples of orders and dockets in them, which you can probably still request.

The packets are tremendously helpful, so you don't feel so unfamiliar with the whole process when you're thrown into a situation where you have to cover a case there and you're not one of the "regulars."

The most helpful item is a booklet on how to track a case through the federal judicial system, and it translates legal verbiage into laymen's terms for us dummies.

Web link

Cameras and tape recorders still aren't allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court. But thanks to the Internet, information about the court's work - including its docket, schedule, orders and other basics - is easier to access than ever before. Below are some helpful sites, many of which offer the same information in different formats:




When Mother Nature strikes

Where to go before, after a disaster

By Jessica Wehrman
Scripps Howard News Service

When Mother Nature strikes the area you're covering, it's easy to think it's a job for the folks back home. They're the ones, after all, who see the damage firsthand, who walk through the devastation, talk to the victims, watch help arrive.

But during those times more than ever, the Washington D.C. correspondent plays an essential supporting role.

The regional, after all, can step back and look at the big picture. And the regional can provide vital checks and balances on what the feds say they'll do and what they're actually doing.

Lee Bowman, health and science reporter with Scripps Howard News Service and a former regional for the Pittsburgh Press, said there are a couple of angles a reporter can follow outside of the obvious "what is the government doing to help" stories.

The first is to tap the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) both for on-the-spot disaster reporting as well as features.

When Bowman first came to Washington, FEMA was the forgotten stepchild of politics. "They were not considered a disaster response agency so much as a disaster recovery agency," he said.

That has changed under the leadership of FEMA director James Lee Witt, who knows the importance of being on the ground early. Now, FEMA is one of the top agencies to keep in touch with in case of a disaster.

Jennifer Sergent, Scripps Howard's Florida regional, once found a great story by hanging out at FEMA offices during a hurricane. She'd been there for a briefing the night before, and asked the press people if she could stay around the clock the next day.

"I talked to various people monitoring various computer terminals on various aspects of the storm and got a really great feature on that," Sergent said.

Routine trut h-squading of disaster relief agencies - simply checking to see if they are delivering what they promise - often turn up meaty stories.

Bowman once wrote an acclaimed series when he discovered the Red Cross was falling short on its promises. To do this kind of work, keeping up with your co-workers at the local paper is essential.

"If FEMA says they sent 50 mobile feeding units, ask the reporters down there, 'Do you see them?'" Bowman said.

For reporters whose regions are prone to massive natural disasters, a report called "After Action Service Report" is a must-have. Produced by the National Weather Service, the study examines how well the agency forecast the event. It usually comes out about six months after the calamity. Bowman advised finding out who is in charge of the report and keeping up with them throughout the investigation.

For hurricane state reporters: how smooth is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration process? Did a specific federal program exist in the event of this emergency? Did it work?

Some agencies are re-evaluating their evacuation procedures to determine what intensity of storm requires that all of a region's residents must be cleared out. Sophisticated predictions can determine how high the storm surge will be and what areas are safe, Bowman said.

As for other major catastrophes, it helps to know ahead of time what your primary contact agency will be: for floods, the U.S. Geological Survey is often key; the U.S. Corps of Engineers should be contacted for disasters involving dams and levees; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a storm prediction center.




RESTIVE REGIONS

Gannett News Service
Fredreka Schouten will leave the Idaho/Nevada beat to cover education for Gannett.

Greg Wright will switch from the Muskogee/Fort Collins/Great Falls beat to covering technology.

Mike Madden is the new Washington and Oregon correspondent. He left the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as a former Gannett internship, to take his new gig.

States News Service
Laura Winter recently left to work for the Associated Press in Hong Kong. She's a general assignment reporter there.

Got news? call Jessica Wehrman at (202)408-2705 or send it to wehrmanj@shns.com




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