APME Teams with 25 Dailies for ‘Earmarks’ Project

By: Joe Strupp

The Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) and some 25 daily papers have teamed up with AP’s Washington bureau for an unusual joint project that investigates congressional earmarks.

The project, set to be unveiled this weekend, includes a four-story package produced by the AP and a congressional earmarks database that will be available to all AP members.

The package, centered on a 2,200-word story, includes content supplied by 25 daily newspapers that have been reporting on the earmarks of their local congressional delegations since April. Earmarks are those federal budget items procured by local representatives specifically for local entities.

“It is something that politicians talk about, but there is not enough analysis of it,” said Mark Mittelstadt, APME’s executive director. “APME wanted to do a national reporting project that would bring together the local newspapers and AP.”

The project, launched by APME President David Ledford, editor of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., began in March when APME organized 10 training seminars at different newspaper locations that focused on database research of earmarks and that cross-reference reviews of campaign contributions.

Mittelstadt said some 220 journalists from 150 news organizations participated in the seminars. Many of those same staffers then began reporting on their local congressional delegations, with reporters from at least 25 newspapers contributing their findings to the AP package.

In addition, at least 50 newspapers plan to run the AP content along with their own local reporting in reports set to be published Sunday.

“It is good to be able to use the nation’s journalists to pull together information that is of a broad scope,” said Ben Marrison, editor of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, which provided reporting for the package. “It shows the quality of our journalism and we can use their story out front.”

One of the Dispatch findings involved Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, a member of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, who obtained a $2.4 million earmark last year for the Greentree Group of Beavercreek, Ohio, for a digital information sharing system. The Dispatch found that Greentree Group executives, their families, and consultants have donated $43,350 to Hobson since 2000.

E.J. Mitchell, executive editor of The Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., said his reporters provided content to the AP stories, while also creating their own. “It would be great to see us do a lot more of this,” he added. “It affects every community because every community has congressional members.”

Along with the AP package, the news cooperative is providing a national database of congressional earmark information that will be available for all AP members to use on their Web sites.

But those editors involved point out that the project does not paint all earmarks as bad, citing a need to distinguish between the earmarks that help communities and those that might help politicians by benefiting campaign contributors.

“It looks at the earmarks and the campaign contributions,” Mitchell noted.

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