Roll Call is dedicated to the proposition that more emerges from Capitol Hill than legislation.
For example, there are the working conditions for those who fold newsletters for members of Congress. Since Congress is not subject to labor laws, these employes work 12-hour days, sign out to go to the restroom and endure conditions that are "prison-like," as one person described it in today's issue of the weekly newspaper.
"It's like a sweatshop," said James K. Glassman, publisher, editor-in-chief and part owner of the newspaper. "It's unbelievable."
It is also a good story, especially for a publication that calls itself the community newspaper for Congress.
Started as a flier in 1955 by former congressional aide Sidney Yudain, Roll Call originally was designed as the village weekly for people who worked, and therefore spent much of their time, on Capitol Hill.
In 1986, Yudain decided that he had enjoyed as much of the publication as he could stand and sold it for a reported $500,000 to Arthur Levitt Jr., chairman of the American Stock Exchange, and his partner, Glassman.
Glassman, who had been an editor and administrator at The New Republic and U.S. News & World Report magazines, and Levitt wanted to expand Yudain's idea enough to make a little money but not so much as to destroy it.
"The more we stray from Sid Yudain's good idea, the more problems we have," Glassman said last week in his modernized Capitol Hill offices on Massachusetts Avenue NE.
In the two years since the partners took over, the number of employees has quintupled from four to 20. Circulation, once free at 5,000, is now 9,000 free and 2,300 paid.
The number of advertising pages is up from 100 in 1986 to 700 last year. The number of pages in a single issue is up from eight to about 40 and, barring an unforeseen depression or unexpected journalistic disaster, Roll Call should make a profit this year, Glassman said.
The paper has had its tough times. Since the purchase by Levitt, two editors have departed, both apparently irritated by the Levitt-Glassman operation.
First to leave was Robert Merry, who had departed The Wall Street Journal bureau here to edit Roll Call. He reportedly was angered when Glassman appointed himself publisher, a job that Merry believed he had been promised as part of his leaving a comfortable niche at The Journal.
Merry has become managing editor of the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report.
Second to leave was Ken DeCell, who had been wooed from Washingtonian magazine by Glassman, according to those familiar with the workings of Roll Call.
Glassman said he did not want to talk about that situation, although friends of both men suggest that he wanted more control and that DeCell made decisions slowly and cautiously, like a magazine editor instead of a weekly newspaper editor. DeCell is now writing a book on presidential elections, Glassman said.
There is plenty of interest in the paper when it appears each Monday in Capitol Hill offices. The Jan. 17 issue drew a lot of comment: It featured an item about how Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) had attended a Christmas party while dressed as Fawn Hall.
"We got calls all the way from Paris on that one," said consulting editor Bill Thomas, who added that no complaints were logged from Kennedy's office.
One issue that several Hill people said they felt crossed the line was a political weather map, a la USA Today, that talked about "Flurries of neo-Nazism in Idaho, mellowing to general conservatism in the rest of the region."
Although it was supposed to be a joke, some readers complained. Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho) wrote to Glassman: "Your knee-jerk fallback on the popular misconception of Idaho as a haven for neo-Nazis is not funny to Idahoans and justice-loving Americans everywhere."
When Ann Dore McLaughlin had to file a financial-disclosure report after being nominated as secretary of labor, Roll Call reported that her husband, John, a former Jesuit priest and thus once self-impoverished, had assets totaling more than $500,000.
John McLaughlin owns as much as $250,000 worth of stock in General Electric Co., sponsor of "The McLaughlin Group" television show, and more than $50,000 worth of Pepsico, the paper said.
Roll Call is full of mini-polls. House Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) were voted by 317 senior staffers as "most respected" on the Hill.
The same issue quoted former Democratic National Committee chairman Robert S. Strauss as telling the Seattle Times that "there is no one in America, Republican or Democrat, man or woman, more qualified for the presidency than Tom Foley."
Then there are charts, such as the one that shows when every member of the Kennedy family will be eligible to run for president. John Jr., son of President John F. Kennedy, will be 35 in six years and could, if he wanted, run for the White House in 1996, Roll Call noted.
Political coverage of the 535 lawmakers who inhabit the Hill is the mainstay of the paper. Roll Call's perspective on the recent Iowa presidential caucuses was not so much that Pat Robertson surprised Vice President Bush as that the Hill performed admirably. The caucus winners were Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Dole.
As Glassman explained: "Other people cover politics up here, of course, but nobody does it with the rabid, crazy intensity that we do."