Friday, July 27, 2007

Odds and Ends on this Friday

Thousands of dead fish found floating in Portage County. That's the headline that's "reeling" in the viewers for tonight's newscast, but unfortunately, we can only show video of a few of the fish. Nearly all of the affected fish are in a part of the stream that is on private property, and the owner isn't around. So even though the ODNR investigators tell us there are "thousands of dead fish over there," we can't get video of them or we'd be trespassing. You'll just have to take our word for it.

Sounds like the Stow teachers union is making strides to avoid a strike. A union spokesperson told me that the group met for 12 hours yesterday with district leaders and that the discussions were going very, very well. Both sides will meet again Tuesday, but it looks like we're headed down a path that will keep the teachers in the classrooms and off the picket lines.

Not quite sure what to make of the idea to charge inmates for their stay at the Summit County jail. It seems to me that a great many of those in jail have little or no money to begin with. Taking their commissary cash and/or forcing them to pay additional funds seems like a tough sell. I fear we'd end up spending a lot on administrative costs trying to run down folks who haven't paid for their 24-hour stint. I understand that if you're acquitted in court, you get your money back. Still, I realize that corrections is an expensive business, so there needs to be creative ways to collect funds.

One of our stories tonight focused on a Wayne County man who is making cardboard cutouts of kids to place on your lawn (or Devilstrip as we call it in Akron) to slow down speeders. I think it's a great idea. Years ago, I tried pitching the idea of cardboard police cars. I thought that the state could line I-71 with them; just put them in the middle grassy sections on hinges and pop them up and down with remote controlled timers. Most folks slow down when they see a silhouette of a car in the distance. The fake police cruisers could be popping up and down for 24 hours at a time without paying an officer. Anyone wanna start a business? Hey, the military used cardboard tanks in WWII to fool the Germans into thinking we had a much bigger arsenal. Why not some fake police cars?

So Kenny Loften is back with the Tribe. I think that's pretty cool. When the tribe first traded Lofton during spring training of the 1997 season, my phone rang early in the morning. I was assigned to cover the big news in Florida and had to catch the next flight out of Hopkins. At 5 a.m., the producers told me I had to be live at noon at Winterhaven. Because of flight delays, I arrived at the Tribe's practice facility in Florida about three minutes before I was to go on air. I didn't even get a chance to talk to a single person from the Indians. I literally ran to the waiting sattelite truck, stood in front of the camera, and had to quote what I'd read about the trade in early morning newspaper articles I found in the airport. It was disheartening not to have anything new to add, but later in the day, David Justice showed up and gave me a great interview on being traded to the Tribe. I also remember Omar Visquel not wanting to talk with me yelling "they traded my buddy" across the parking lot.

I had to go live at 6 that night and then put together a taped segment for the 11 p.m. news. The satellite truck had problems, so I had to leave Winterhaven and drive to Tampa (about 90 minutes away) and feed my video from there. I arrived at the Tampa NBC station around 10:50 p.m. and the security guard wouldn't let me in. I pounded and pounded. Eventually a nice young man from the newsroom asked me why I was there. I spoke to him through an intercom and he let me in just in time to feed the story back to Cleveland. I found out later that he was an intern and got in big trouble for letting a stranger into the building. Oh well. I spent about two hours in a hotel before driving back across the state to catch a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando back to Cleveland. I remember returning from my 24-hour whirlwind trip thinking, "Kenny Loften better never come back to the Indians because he almost killed me this time."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"If you build it, THEY will come"

A conversation in our newsroom today brought up a story from 8 or 9 years ago that's worth telling. Here's the short version:

A report came in to the newsroom that a small plane had crashed in an adjacent county, and senior videographer Larry Baker and I were told to get there as quick as we could. We traced the plane's path to a country road and eventually saw the plane about a quarter mile away in the middle of a cornfield. I could see the pilot talking to the state troopers so it looked like the pilot made a pretty good emergency landing in a field of maze and was fine to fly another day.

Larry -- God Bless his heart -- didn't really feel like dragging all of his heavy gear all the way out across the field to get 20 seconds of video for the evening news. He opted instead to turn right and drive across the cornfield. Up and Down and Up and Down we went over the mounds of young corn stalks. I couldn't believe what Larry was doing. Larry eventually came to stop about 15 feet from the plane. He popped the hatch on the back of our WKYC vehicle and got his camera out to start shooting.

At this point, a pickup truck driving at a high rate of speed came cruising up the tracks that Larry's vehicle had just created. The driver slid in behind our vehicle, and a couple of "good ol' boys" in overalls jumped out. I won't say that these guys were big, but even at 6'3" I was still looking up at these trees.

The shorter of the two Einsteins looked at me and said, "Boss says you gotta pay for the damage you did to our corn."

After digesting the words that just came out of his mouth (for a moment, I thought we were in an episode of Dukes of Hazzard) I tried to play peacemaker and tell him that we had attempted to avoid the larger corn stalks and really only followed the same trail as that of the state trooper.

The man got a bit louder and told me, "Boss says YOU gotta PAY."

Larry -- God Bless his heart -- looked up from his camera and told the guy, "Why don't you bill Katie Couric and call me when the corn don't come up." Larry always has a way of taking a wild fire and adding gasoline. At this point, I was wondering if the plane still worked so we could fly out of there quickly ... or maybe Kevin Costner would show up and start talking to the corn. Anything to help us out of a jam.

The two geniuses looked at each other, and then one began talking gibberish into a walkie-talkie, presumably to the "boss." When he was done chatting, he walked up to me slowly, leaned down to my face, and whispered "Boss says, if you don't PAY, you AIN'T leaving."

Seeing that his pickup truck was blocking us in between his vehicle and the plane, I realized that we were boxed in and wouldn't be able to get out without help.

I started to wonder what the headline would be. "TV News crew disappears following emergency plane landing." "News vehicle found abandoned near crash scene." "Only Shoeless Joe Jackson knows what happened to Eric Mansfield in the cornfield."

Fortunately, a local police officer saw the tensions rising and came out from the road to keep Larry and me from ending up permanently sleeping in a hay barn somewhere. The officer ordered the farm hands to move the truck, and Larry and I made a run for it.

The officer gave Larry a lashing before we left about driving across the corn. Larry -- God Bless his heart -- told the officer, "You know ... I wanted to stop, but Eric made me drive out here."

Yeah, it's funny ... now!

Jeff Doland: Bizarre news day

Our newsroom has been tracking the background of Jeff Doland of Uniontown for about 24 hours now, and this guy is a maze of nothingness.

His arrest last night for attempting to pay an undercover officer in Florida $550 to bind her two children (12 and 9) and have them held underwater til they passed out defies words. Doland, admitted it was a sexual fantasy. He is married with two kids living in his house near a school in Green and that's about as good as it gets.

As I leaf through his personnel file and other documents that shed light on his background, I'm stunned that there's nothing -- at least nothing obvious -- that jumps out and shows this guy to be a sicko. Nadda. Nothing. Just document after document of his computer skills and job career. He sounds more like an IT geek than a perv-in-waiting.

When someone who works with kids is busted, reporters often find a trail of missteps leading up to the crime. I like to say, "bad guys don't start off robbing banks; they start off shoplifting." So where the heck did this guy start?

If there's nothing obvious in the guy's background that throws a red "danger" flag, then how was he able to hide this sick side of his character? My most immediate questions relate to whether Doland had any real child victims here in the area. Police say he sent photos of child torture to the undercover officer, but we don't know if those are pictures Doland took himself or downloaded.

The whole thing is scary as hell, but right now I think it's equally terrifying that we don't know what Doland's been doing with his free time up until now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Clean up in aisle 4!

I'm receiving more and more email from West Akron folks who are just mad as heck over the lack of a grocery store in Highland Square. I haven't been able to respond to all of them, but I can tell you that the common thread is one of betrayal.

Among the web traffic you'll find on the topic is this site from Michael Roetzel. It's pretty clear about getting a reaction. Check it out:

Where's Our Grocery Store?

Many in the area tell me they feel that they were sold on the idea of new development centered around a new grocery store -- specifically an Acme. So far, they've received a Chipotle chain and a bunch of empty storefronts, but no place to find groceries.

City leaders are quite aware of the frustrations and are still hopeful to meet the area's needs. Remember, Mayor Plusquellic now lives in that area, and months ago he spent some of his off hours listening to residents' fears about the Civic Theater. Hopefully a reporter will ask him about the grocery store delay at his next press conference.

Identity Theft hits TV folks too ..

I got mine! Did you get yours?

The state of Ohio sent me a letter (always nice to hear from the boys down south, eh?) to tell me that my personal information was on the laptop that was stolen in Columbus a few weeks back. The notice tells me that I need to take immediate steps to protect my identity.

Greattttttttttttttttttttttttt! I've heard of "reporter involvement" in covering a story, but did I have to get this involved?

Actually, I'm not surprised. As a member of the Ohio National Guard and a part-time instructor at the University of Akron, my name had to be in the state system somewhere. The letter tells me that my ID should be safe, but just in case, I get one free year of protection. One free year! I logged on to the website and signed up. (Momma always told me that you shouldn't ever give up free stuff!)

One free year eh? Is that supposed to make me feel better? Reminds me of the day TV3 videographer Larry Baker got a notice that he'd received one free month of dismemberment insurance. That's right, dismemberment! He called his wife and said, "quick honey! cut off my arm!" She figured he'd snapped, but his point was clear: what good is this free insurance really?

I'm not going to lose any sleep over the stolen laptop. I've done enough stories to know that there are a great many ways for bad guys to steal your identity, and our stores lack the safeguards to really keep thieves from opening credit in my or your good names.

Still, if an intern had a laptop with thousands of Ohioans' personal information laying around in his car, what else is floating around in the hands of low-level state employees? Next thing ya know, someone will tell me my tax dollars have been invested in gold coins!

How we almost had the Fed-EX building

I would like to have been a fly on the wall in the conversations that must have taken place over the recently-killed plan for a downtown parking deck and office building next to the Federal building. I'm sure the dialogue between city leaders and our judges was interesting to say the least.

I get the impression that city leaders moved forward cautiously over the last three months after the judges threatened their trump card of taking their jobs and leaving town if the city put up a deck that was too close for comfort.

One source at the Fed bldg told me that a preliminary plan was actually inked at the Cleveland Federal Courthouse to place each of the Akron judges and staff in a new home. The "plan B" was set to kick off the moment city hall broke ground, which would have been this summer. I'm not sure if the men in black actually brought extra boxes to their courtrooms -- just in case -- but they definitely were ready to take their balls and go home.

When you add up each of the Federal entities that do business in that building, we're talking several hundred jobs and the income tax dollars those jobs generate. It would have been a tough sell to see those employees and $$ leave town.

Akron can be grateful that Anthony Manna, the developer whose business was to be part of the parking deck project, is so committed to staying in the city limits.

As we speak, Mayor Plusquellic just started his weekly 10:30 a.m. press conference to discuss the week's issues. Between the parking deck, the police auditor, and Joe Finley .. I'd be surprised if it ends before noon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Akron Police Auditor brings credentials

I would expect that city hall is finally ready to name Phil Young as police auditor. The announcement could come tomorrow. Young is a former state trooper and is African-American. Those who know him tell me he's a quality, stand-up guy.

As I hinted a week ago, Young recently accepted the appointment which places him in a role to review cases involving APD and the public. Other big cities have police auditors, and there are some who have been calling for one in Akron for many years.

Obviously, the timing of Young's appointment coincides with last Thursday's release of the findings in an independent investigation of the Demetrus Vinson shooting. Those are the kind of reviews Young will now inherit.

I'm still not sure what Young's official job description will look like or how the cases will be selected for review. Much of that will probably come from Mayor Plusquellic when the announcement is made official. Still, I'm hopeful that he can be given time to find a comfort zone for his role and that the community will give him the support he needs to make sound judgements.

Sweet 16 not so sweet in 2010

It appears Ohio will lose not one but two seats in Congress when redistricting arrives in 2010, at least according to the National Journal. Our population slide is to blame and will knock Buckeye state representation from 18 to 16.

The debate is only beginning.

Which districts should be consolidated? Which incumbents should be protected? Which party will have power in Ohio to make those choices?

Political thoughts aside, my first reaction is "here we go again!"

When last we visited "As the Congress Turns" in 2000, Akronville's long-time House Hunk, Tom Sawyer, was bumped off as his Summit County estate was divided up among three adjacent players. The evil bosses targeted Akronville as Ohio was sliced from 19 leading men to just 18.

Sawyer's comfy bachelor pad was diced up like an hor d'oeurve at Akronville's annual costume party. Sherrod Brown, Steve Latourette, and eventually Tim Ryan (none of whom even lived in Summit County) became a political love triangle as Akronville's new leading men on the DC stage.

But alas, a fresh face returned last November to add a little sizzle to Akronville's romance de jour when Betty Sutton dusted off her purple robes to seize upon Brown's departure to a higher political calling.

Will Betty have what it takes to survive? Will Ryan finally learn the secret that's haunted his past? Will a new shadow emerge to strike down all that Akronville holds true???? TUNE IN NEXT TIME ...

Humor and satire may be the best medicine for the lashing we're sure to receive in 2010. How can we lose two more seats? In a state that's already in the upper echelon of those giving of its troops in war, how can we suddenly be reduced in voting power to make war decisions?

Akron has paid a stiff price from the political redistricting of 2000. And while those outside Summit County may have had the luxury not to care or notice, all of Ohio will feel the loss if the soap opera of "sweet 16" arrives at the end of the decade.

Yockey still creating outrage

Here's what others had to say about the death of this child molestor.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Pedophile's painful death not painful to most

Obviously, the state of Ohio made major mistakes in the death of Joel Yockey. Earlier today, autopsy results found that the convicted killer should have received better health care before he died in prison of stomach complications and bowel problems.

Yep, he should have been treated better and the problem needs to be fixed. However, don't expect too many local folks to shed a tear for this guy.

I hate writing this entry this way, and I know we're called to forgive others, so I'm not trying to be spiteful here. Still, my first thought when I hear his name is the phone call I received from the relatives of Kristen Jackson. They called us out of the blue five years ago begging for a news story on Kristen. She hadn't come home from the county fair and "that just isn't like her." I remember asking the woman on the other end if Kristen had ever run away before, and she swore to me that she hadn't. Unfortunately, we have to ask because as a rule, we don't usually show runaways on the evening news unless police ask for our help.

I remember hanging up and then talking to out producers about adding a story with her picture. I just remember the sinking feeling that I had that night that this story wasn't going to end well. That as much as I hoped this girl whom I'd never met would be found at a relative or boyfriend's house, I knew in the pit of my gut that this was foul play.

Days later, police hit us hard with news that Yockey had been charged with rape and murder and that they were still looking for her remains, which he scattered among swamps. We also learned that Yockey had done hard time -- 15 years -- for another rape but was released to strike again. After Jackson's death, legislators came up with ideas to better inform people of the convicted sex offenders living near them.

So tonight, I'm upset that our state screwed up its medical care responsibilities. I am. There's no call for that. I just hate that I feel this way. I hate that Joel Yockey died at the state's hands, yet all I can think about is Yockey's own hands .. and the violent pain they caused to two local families.

Hobos? in Akron? Surely you can't be serious!

According to this article, Akron recently celebrated a hobo festival. Hobos. As in the bums that ride trains to fame and fortune but probably not showers. Oddly enough, the article appeared in a South African newspaper but not locally. Read on:

Hobos Gather at Akron Quarry

First, I no idea that we had a "hobo history" to our town. I guess that we do have our fair share of rail lines, so I suppose plenty of would-be travelers could have visited when we were once the Rubber Capital. Who knows, maybe a few of them liked it so much that they decided to stay and open a restaurant or two?

Second, how is it that the press 7 time zones and one equator away know about this and we don't? I don't claim to be Dr. George Knepper when it comes to my Akron history, but hobos of all creatures? I remember learning a lot about the Indian tribes, John Brown, the Seiberlings, and a blimp or two during 4th grade history. No one ever mentioned our hobo lore.

Third, anyone know at what quarry these folks gathered? The article says they even had a campout here in town over the weekend. Even with all the soap box derby families and hamburger fest folks trotting around, wouldn't you have noticed a few hobos?

Funny that they came and went without any of us knowing they were here. Of course, that's the hobo life, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jessie Davis' son not only local orphan to violence

I'm thrilled for Blake Davis. The young boy has been through so much in the last few weeks that words really don't capture what he's endured. It was so great to see the community come together yesterday with an auction that raised 20K for his college and also brought a new home for the grandmother and extended family who will now raise him.

Blake will now grow up as a boy whose lost his mother, Jessie Davis, to the violent hands of his father (assuming he's guilty). Unfortunately, Blake has peers in Summit County.

Two little girls in Hudson -- 4-year-old Allison Gorospe and 2-year-old Caitlin -- lost their mother in much the same way. Just like Blake, both girls were in the home when their father killed their mother, Marissa Gorospe, a popular teacher from Brush High School.

The major difference of course is that Joseph Gorospe immediately called authorities and turned himself in whereas Bobby Cutts created a national drama that played out for eight days and involved thousands of volunteers and millions of prayers for a miracle.

The end result for both families is the same: Two Hudson girls are orphaned by a father who murdered their mother in the next room; One North Canton boy is orphaned by a father who murdered his mother in the next room.

Just like Blake, Allison and Caitlin are now being raised by their maternal relatives. They have long-term needs too. Yet, because of the way the mother's death played out publicly (or didn't), there weren't giant auctions scheduled for their college funds and other needs.

Again, I'm so happy for Blake. He is such a special young lad. However, if any of us consider what additional $$ we might send Blake's way, maybe we should consider helping the "other" orphans from marital violence in the area. Unfortunately, it's not as uncommon as it should be.

Local Soap Box Derby champs highlight need

Guess there really is home field advantage, even in soap box derby racing. Yesterday, 13-year-old Tyler Shoff of Akron and 14-year-old Dennis VanFossen Jr. of Barberton each took first place in the All-American Soap Box Derby. They're both just great kids.

I've gotten to know both of their families as we crossed paths at Derby Downs over the last few years. Dennis' father sits on the Akron Local's Board of Directors and volunteers a lot of hours at the track. He also is quick to help others overcome challenges with their cars. In fact when I was first putting together a car for my oldest son, Josh, Dennis Sr. came over to my home and helped me get the right bolts and nuts in the right places.

I have a great picture of Tyler and my middle son, Jacob. Tyler beat Jacob in the finals of the Akron Local in June. The two actually split their races in the final, each beating the other once, but Tyler won by a larger margin (one-tenth of a second) and advanced to the All-American as the Akron Local champ. Jake is sooooooo thrilled for Tyler today. She has a number of relatives who also race, so her family members are regulars at the track.

Even with yesterday's big wins for our local kids, I'm still pained that we don't have more boys and girls taking part in soap box derby racing in this town. Consider this. We have 25,000 students in the Akron Public Schools alone and yet only 34 kids entered the Akron Metro races this year.

Decades ago, more than 500 Akron kids would turn out and thousands would come to watch. Those were the days when kids built their cars from any scrap metal and tires they could find. Today's cars come in kits, and you don't have to be a grease monkey or NASCAR expert to put them together. There are even used cars available to defray the initial cost, so why can't we get more kids and their parents involved?

Trust me, you'll never meet a kid in this town who wouldn't want to go down the hill. We just have to find a way to get more of them to the top of it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Akron's Dumbledore has magical plans

I met Professor Dumbledore last night. Not the Dumbledore from the Harry Potter movies (I'm told the actor in the first two movies is still more popular than the one in the third, fourth, and fifth by the way) but Akron's Dumbledore, better known as P.R. Miller.

For years, Miller has generated a buzz wherever he's gone. His artwork -- at times mammoth -- created from recycled goods baits the public hook, and it's his personality that reels you in to shore. At that point, he's gotcha!

Miller spent his Friday night playing Dumbledore for kids celebrating HP7 in Peninsula. With the grey beard and creative spectacles, Miller already looks the part. His purple robe that he surely rescued from ruins just seeled the deal. He can also bellow with thunder and charisma that echoes the strengths of the mythical character to a fault. So let's just call him Akron's Dumbledore. So in a way, P.R. is now A.D.

Miller tells me he's aiming his magic wand at the new library for West Hill. His next spell is a 10-foot-tall, all-metal frog for the front of new building. It should really be something to see (not like you can miss it anyway) when it's put together. You HP fans can just use the Floo Network to get there quicker.

Miller also told me that he's been searching for a home for the giant" Lawsons" sign he rescued a few years back. The historic emblem has outgrown its current location; P.R. joked that he would set it ablaze as some sort of sacrifice if it didn't have a new place to lean soon.

Seemed not even the real Dumbledore could make a space magically appear; that's when Professor Lieberth solved the riddle. In the muggle world, he's known as Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth. For our purposes, think of him as the "Minister of Deputy Mayoral Affairs and Magical Contracts for the Don-bledore."

Lieberth found space in the basement of one of the downtown buildings so that the Lawsons sign wouldn't end up a charred piece of magical metal. I'm not sure which one, but let's just say the sign is now protected by enchantments not even HP could conquer.

By the way, the Akron Life and Leisure cover of Lieberth and Miller is still my all-time favorite.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Time Warner Cable says problem is fixed!

Steve Fry, President of Time Warner Akron, emailed today to say the problem with constant repeats of commercials within the AkronCanton News broadcasts should be fixed as of tonight.

Many of you have been sharing your frustration with seeing some of the same spots running over and over again (six times for one commercial in just one newscast according to some viewers) and telling me you're ready to gouge your eyes out with the remote if you see that guy on the couch one more time.

So I hope you'll give it a try (the newscast, not eye gouging) and we'll see how it goes. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No Starbucks? No Problem!

Am I the only one whose been watching and waiting .. and waiting .. and waiting .. and wondering when a business will open up shop in that new storefront at Market and High Streets? You know the one that's part of the city parking deck and is directly across from Crave?

For more than three years, I've watched that retail space sit empty. I kept hearing, "they're just waiting for the Art Museum to open and then they'll have something in there." Guess what? The Art Museum is open for business but the retail space certainly isn't.

I'm not saying that we should throw a McDonald's in there just to fill the space, but shouldn't we have had a tenant or two by now? I realize that Starbucks is a four-letter word to some downtown folks (I guess there is actually one SB open off High Street in one of the downtown U of A buildings) and I wouldn't want a SB there anyway with Maiden Lane across the street, but isn't there somebody out there who wants to move in next door to our TV offices?

I just keep imagining Artsy munchkins arriving in town by the flying houseful to view the Emerald City in all its splendor ... yet Dorothy and the Tin Man have to see the storefront-with-no-store on their way to see the wizard.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's supposed to be "negative space" and the empty store front is "bridging the old with the new" by showing what once happened when stores went out of business before Don Drumm made the sun came up one morning for an economic renaissance for the entire town.

At this point I just keep wondering that if "three years and a giant new Art Museum can't get any takers for that spot, what will?"

As a total aside .. just thought I'd mention this article. It's written by a reporter from Missouri whose spending an entire week in Akron to cover a brother and sister from the paper's hometown who are both racing in the Soap Box Derby. Nice to see media from other states making the commitment to this awesome event. Who knows! If the paper likes Akron enough, I know just the empty space they could use to open a bureau!?!?!

Mason review names names

The independent review of the Demetrus "Rayshawn" Vinson case by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason was finally released today, about two months after investigators initially thought they'd need. The end result confirms the findings of the Summit County Medical Examiner that the 19-year-old died from a bullet fired from his own gun and not at the hand of police officers who pulled him over in March. It's a suicide, according to the report.

You can read all 15 pages online at but one point that stands out to me is this is the first time we've seen the names of the two officers involved released to the public. Only one officer fired that night, striking Vinson three times. The other drew his gun as both ducked for cover.

It's protocol for the names of officers involved in shootings to be withheld for a period of time as the investigation continues. A senior police officer tells me that's done in part to protect the officers and their families from any community retaliation. Still, the officers' names are typically made public before now (four months after the shooting).

I'm just hoping the officers themselves were made aware of their names going public today. Certainly, Mason's ruling is what most expected, so it's not that anyone is expecting a backlash from the community. Yet, with the officers' actions still under review by the Summit County Prosecutor (as is protocol), seeing their names up in lights makes things a bit awkward at this point.

By the way, according to the Mayor's office, Mason's office did the review for free.

I'll write more as I digest the report itself and hear reaction ..

Why some stories don't make the evening news

Our newsroom received a release Tuesday about a local political rally set for that night. Here's an excerpt:

"Members of the Northeast Ohio community and MoveOn will hold a Tuesday evening 'counter-filibuster' in front of Ohio's Senator Voinovich's Columbus Office, as Voinovich joins a Republican 'filibuster' to block a vote on ending the Iraq war. They will call on him to end his participation in the filibuster, which is blocking the Senate from passing a timetable for the safe and secure exit of U.S. troops from Iraq."

Our newsroom sent reporter Kristen Anderson and a videographer to the rally but no one showed. Kristen eventually moved on to another story, but not before wasting part of her valuable news gathering time at an event that never got going.

It's wild goose chases like this that keep today's smaller-but-faster news departments from getting to all of the stories we'd like to cover. Last night, we got word that a vehicle was underwater in Portage County and that dive teams were in route for a possible rescue or recovery. We can't "not" go to an event like that for fear of it being a major news story, but when we commit to an event that ends up being an abandoned vehicle, it limits the time we have to cover other news stories of interest. That's what frustrates viewers and event organizers alike.

POINT OF ORDER: Please don't anyone misinterpret or twist my words here that I somehow wish we had dead bodies in a submerged vehicle. Obviously, we're not wishing for tragedy to make headlines. My point here is that every day is a crap shoot when it comes to assigning the few news crews a TV station has, and sometimes we end up chasing our tails in an effort to get what we hope is something with some teeth in it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Odds and Ends

A number of issues to share.

So Akron City Hall has finally appointed a Police Auditor. Three sources confirm it's the same person and all seemed thrilled with the person chosen. He's a retired State Trooper, African-American, with ties to the area. I shouldn't name him yet until his name is officially tossed out to the lions, but his credentials seem solid for such a pressure cooker of a job. It's apparent that his appointment will be made public at the same time that city leaders discuss the Vinson investigation. Stay tuned.

Joe Finley wants a perfect 10. He wants to debate Mayor Plusquellic in all 10 city wards. The Mayor isn't even considering the possibility but will probably agree to one or more get-togethers to talk about the issues. Politically, Plusquellic has nothing to gain by giving attention to a longshot challenger, but Finley has plenty to gain by every chance he can get the Don into the ring. I'm not sure what a debate would really gain us here. I fear the two could really get nasty in a hurry, and that doesn't help. I'm hoping to get each on NewsNight Akron in August for a long-format interview; we'll see what we can work out with their campaigns.

Among the emails I've received lately (my computer is still a mess at work so I'm only seeing a fraction of the emails I should be) are a great many complaints about repetitive Time Warner spots during the Akron-Canton News. Just know that I agree with the frustration and I'm forwarding some of those complaints to the TWC folks to see what can be done. I also received a nice email from a young lady in Cleveland asking me if I could help her pay for college and another note from a man in Avon Lake asking if I knew whether a rumor involving Jane Fonda and POW groups in SE Asia were true. Anyone want to tackle those responses?

That local CBS station set up a liveshot in their 4 p.m. news today right outside our window. They were going live to talk about the Moonda verdict and wanted to show the Federal Courthouse in the background. While the reporter was talking, a van got stuck in traffic right behind the reporter. Two women inside looked at each other and gestured whether they should lift their shirts and flash the reporter on live TV. Luckily they didn't. The reporter got a bit flustered once her story was finally playing and the group in the truck took off. Still, considering the reporter was Catherine Bosley, someone flashing her would have been on-air irony to the Nth degree.

Moonda -- I was wrong.

Donna Moonda got life in prison today and avoided the death penalty. So go ahead, tell me I was wrong. (See my post below from Monday) Getting "life" instead of "death" in these cases doesn't happen often, but maybe I should have thought better with this being a Federal jury. As one of my reporter brethren called to tell me, "if they didn't give Gotti the death penalty, Moonda wasn't going to get it."

Still, my experience has been that a quick initial verdict is usually followed by a death penalty decision. Although in this case, many would have claimed it was "overkill" to give the mastermind death while the shooter gets out in 17 years.

I think the best followup question is: "Why did prosecutors fight so hard (and spend taxpayer $$ in the process) to push for a capital case when they knew it was a long shot at best to get a conviction?"

One Journalist/Soldier's plan for Iraq

So I see Democrats in Congress pulled an all-nighter to talk about the war in Iraq while Republicans slept in their beds with dreams of blocking a vote dancing in their heads. Is this any way to run a country? The war is THE most important issue facing our country today -- if the 3,500+ dead U.S. Troops and 20,000+ wounded hadn't already convinced us already. Right now, there's no end in sight.

Trying not to get political, here's one journalist/soldier's way to move the war forward to a conclusion while also implementing it in a responsible way.

I'm calling it the "10K plan." The pentagon begins withdrawing 10,000 troops every month. It's that simple. With 150K on the ground now, a 10K monthly withdrawal is sizable enough to send a message to the Iraqi leadership that "we're not staying forever" while not just up and running away. It also sends a firm message to the Iraqi police and military forces that you've had four years to train yourselves to secure your country, and it's time to do that full-time.

Bringing 10K troops home every month would also give the American people regular homecomings to congratulate our heroes as they return and a feeling that we really our making progress.

On the first of every month, military commanders brief Congress on how Iraq is coping with the slow pullout of our troops. If Iraq falls into crisis mode, we pause the 10K plan and the UN would get involved as in any other civil war across the globe.

If we stayed on schedule, the last troops would turn the lights out in Iraq just as voters head to the polls in 2008. (I realize that even when the war ends -- whenever that is -- we'll always have at least a small footprint of troops there, but we need to end the appearance of occupation if we're ever to save our relationship with Arabs across the globe.)

Is it a perfect plan? Nope. Is it something that could give each side of the aisle a feeling that we're heading in the right direction? I think so. Would the American public get behind it? Yep.

Every day in this country we give harsh deadlines. We tell single moms that they have one year of welfare or only so much time of unemployment and then you're on your own. Those are families that will fall into crisis and still we give them a deadline. Why do we hesitate to do that with leaders in Iraq?

Then again, what do I know?

I'm just a military officer who spent 14 months in this war trying every second to get home in one piece and now living with the memories and depression of what I endured.

And I'm just a journalist whose interviewed family members of those killed in Iraq and troops who returned without body parts.

And I'm just a friend who returned home with fellow soldiers who lost their relationships and jobs .. and one even killed himself.

And I'm just a father of three sons wondering if my oldest will be drafted into the fighting in a few years if this war continues to drag on, so yeah, what do I know?

So there it is: The 10K plan.

It ain't perfect, but maybe it will at least get the Dems to put away their sleeping bags and the Republicans to keep a pot of coffee on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Courtroom Cameras

I just watched Donna Moonda's relatives run the media gauntlet for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks. Her trial continues in Federal Court across the street from our newsroom. Jurors have already convicted her in the death of her husband and are now in the death penalty phase. Her relatives are attending to support her and are forced to use the front entrance like everyone else.

Each time the Moonda folks come out of the courthouse, they're swamped by media as they try to head for their cars. They never say anything to the media, but that doesn't stop the cameras from being there -- just in case.

My point tonight is that it doesn't have to be that way. The Moonda gauntlet is just one of a series of byproducts to the ban on cameras in Federal Court. Reporters are permitted inside but cannot bring any recording equipment. Had the Moonda case been tried in Common Pleas Court, like most murders, there would likely be wall-to-wall video feeds to the Internet and maybe even nationally to Court TV. In Federal court, it's a virtual blackout.

If cameras were permitted in the Federal courthouse, the family members could tell reporters "no thanks" as they get in their elevators and be done with it. In fact, I doubt many TV crews would take the time to film them going in and out because of the short lobby run. Instead, those poor folks are stuck running for their lives from crews that wish they didn't appear like a mob.

I'm not sure why the Federal Courts continue their ban on cameras when the vast majority of county and municipal-level courtrooms do allow cameras and see very few problems. Judges often allow one camera as a "pool" feed to all stations and the videographer is often instructed which witnesses, court officials, etc .. that do not wish to be photographed. Jurors are never shown so their identities remain protected. The entire system is usually coordinated amongst the media before the trial even begins, and then we're provided some semblance of order and the viewers benefit from seeing how the case really unfolded.

For the most part, the process is no different in Federal Court, so why not let the public see the proceedings? I realize that it's probably a Federal rule or law or directive or whatever. But it's 2007. Are we ready for a change here? Would anyone else liked to have seen the proceedings against the one terror suspect from 9-11 or the Timothy McVeigh case?

I'm hoping some of you will post your comments on this topic; I'd like to hear the arguments for and against cameras in Federal court. Meanwhile, the Moondas will be back with their running shoes tomorrow.

Dead Poets Society

I wasn't at last night's Akron City Council meeting, but folks who were there tell me it was an interesting dynamic. Residents fighting to save their homes and neighborhoods in contrast to those who understand the challenges city leaders are facing in trying to keep Goodyear from moving to a warmer climate.

I have to empathize with some of the residents who claim they've done a good job keeping their properties clean and up-to-date. Some have even received notes from the Mayor's office telling them they've done a good job. Those same people then had to watch Monday night as elected leaders declared their neighborhood "blighted" as though it was so run down there was no way to resurrect it. Would it still be considered blighted if the area wasn't a future home for Goodyear? If it's blighted now, why was it blighted three or four years ago so the necessary eminent domain and investment dollars could have been leveraged to prop up the neighborhood sooner?

I think a great many others see the big picture of how important it is to save Goodyear and the jobs and $$ that follow. Isn't buying up a few dozen homes and businesses a small sacrifice to make if it means better economic development for the entire area? Guess that depends on whether you live on the Dead Poets Streets: Twain, Poe, etc .. who will be the ones facing eminent domain.

I sense that some of the council members themselves are uneasy about pushing some of the residents and businesses to eventually sell the places where they've made memories. Still, how could they look in the faces of the rest of the tax payers and admit that they hadn't done everything they could to save Goodyear?

There are those who believe Akron is fighting a battle it can't win. That in the end, Charlotte or some other Carolina calling card will be answered and the wingfoot warriors will be long gone. I'm hopeful that Goodyear will stay true to its legacy and realize its current hometown loves it so much that it's ready to buy out poor, inner-city folks and their homes just to make the tire people happy if that's what it takes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Good Effort

OK .. thanks to DVR technology I finally got to see Akron, Ohio: The City Where Commercial Television News Went Black. While we all have differing opinions of the content and production of the special, I think the one thing most of us can agree upon is that we learned something.

My first thought is just to applaud Cheri Russo for taking on such a large task. Chasing the history of TV News in Akron through the challenges of fighting with the Cleveland stations and the FCC is not an easy task. Explaining that saga to non-broadcast folks is an even greater challenge.

Pros: I thought the historic video and information about the rise and fall of the station was good. I've never seen any special try so hard to explain the insanity that is ratings when it comes to Akron News. Even working at the "Old 23" I didn't know that the original license had the station on Channel 49. I also liked the depth that Tim Ryan added by talking about how he had an advantage at election time by being followed by three Youngstown stations while Tom Sawyer didn't have a single Akron TV station to look to when Ryan defeated him in the Spring of 2000.

Cons: The special repeated some information and put others out of order. It also spent too much time up top on the Barberton parade when the point of the small-town folks who depend on Akron news was already established. I would liked to have seen more interviews with local folks complaining about what it was like from 1996-2001 when there was no local evening news broadcast. Later the documentary up and throws out a mention of the new Akron news operation without explaining how it came about. While the special did mention the Akron 2025 plan that called for the return of evening news, the effect of the emergence of Pax23 News and later ACN wasn't explained real well.

Observation: It's a good effort to explain a tough topic. It really is. Sure there are things that I might have written different and I would have liked to have seen better production techniques (some bells-and-whistles if you will), but who cares. This is the way she saw it and it's her project at Ohio University.

As fate would have it, Cheri actually called me earlier today to see what I thought. I told her just what I wrote above. She said she'd received quite a bit of criticism, but I told her that's actually a good thing because it shows how closely the audience watched what she put on the air. Most viewers weren't daydreaming, they were paying attention.

With that in mind, it's obvious that Akron News is a passionate topic for a lot of people. So later this week, I'm going to launch a website devoted to "the day news died" with info and links regarding all the folks who used to be part of the Akron TV news game. Give me time to finalize what I've started creating and get some real content from some of the former 23 folks, and we'll see how it goes.

Cheri -- nice effort. For your first documentary and with very, very limited resources, you should be proud.

Donna Moonda and the Deathly Hallows ..

I'd expect Donna Moonda will receive the death penalty when jurors meet again today for the death penalty phase. I'm not a lawyer (actually, I've twice been tossed off potential juries by defense lawyers who didn't want me judging their clients) but in the capital cases I covered as a reporter, a quick trial verdict usually precedes a death decision.

Two weeks ago, jurors spent barely 24 hours deciding whether Moonda orchestrated her drug rehab boyfriend to kill her husband along the Ohio Turnpike. If the jurors as a whole bought that story that quickly, I'd be surprised if they didn't follow through with a death sentence.

In fact, I can count on one hand the number of capital cases I've seen in 15+ years of covering cases in this town that a defendant was convicted of the entire heinous crime in a capital case and then spared the death penalty.

I realize that this case is unique in that it's in Federal Court and strangely has the woman behind the murder facing the death penalty while the person who actually pulled the trigger has cut a deal. Maybe that's a factor the defense will push hard when trying to spare her life. Still, jurors were polled and quizzed extensively about their feelings on the death penalty before they were selected to fill the jury box; they knew before the case case began that this was a position in which they could find themselves. I'm glad I'm not them today.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My First Time

The worst part is I can't remember her name. I can vaguely remember how nice and mature she was, and how she tried so hard to make me comfortable. She could sense how nervous I was. I mean, 1988 was a long time ago. I wonder if she even remembers me after all these years?

Most of my close college buddies had already done it. In fact, they'd bragged about it back in the dorms. I knew my time would come; make that I prayed my time would come.

Then finally it happened. Outside at the Good Park Golf Course of all places. I remember being nervous about what I was wearing, like that would really make a difference.

She had done it before and she was older, so I just had to trust her. I got some courage and whispered to her that it was my first time, and she told me, "don't worry you'll be great." She was so sweet. I was so glad it was with her. (It only lasted a few minutes, which was much different than the the way I'd been imagining it.)

I took a deep breath, looked her in the eyes, and I knew it was now or never. I had to just go for it. If I chickened out now, I'd never live it down and the guys would laugh at me.

She's right there! Just do it!

"Can you give me your name and title and please spell them?" I asked. "And can you tell me what makes this amateur golf tournament so special?"

She was marvelous, but then again it was her job as a public relations specialist to deliver positive soundbites to the media. Knowing that it was my first-ever interview (I was just an intern at the old Channel 23 at the time), she kind of walked me through the followup questions to make sure I'd have enough information to write a story for the evening news.

I kept replaying that moment in my head yesterday after reading a sports story about the annual Good Park golf tourney in the ABJ. I really was quite nervous that day in 1988. I was holding the microphone or a real TV station and asking a real person real questions for a real story on the real evening news. (You have no idea how big of a deal that is for a college kid still wondering if he'll ever be able to get a job in television.)

After all these years, I still get nervous sometimes when I do an interview for the news. I think that's a good thing. It makes me focus on the questions I'm asking and whether this story is really worth the audience's time. It keeps the personal aspect of the interview in the front of my mind and reminds me that the microphone I'm holding can be a weapon or a light to the person granting the interview.

And when the interview is done right, it's a beautiful thing ... and there are some who say it's even better than sex.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Am I crazy? Watch for yourself

Well ... say hello to the new addition. Those of you who are already parents .. tell me .. am I crazy? Watch below:

Jacob is about to turn 10, and he paid his half of the money for the set using his winnings from finishing second last month at the soap box derby (and you thought he would use it to treat his pit crew .. a.k.a. Dad .. didn't you?).

Could he have chosen a trumpet? or a guitar? or something portable that he could hook up headphones to use behind closed doors? noooooooo! He wanted drums!

Actually, I've told all three boys that I'll always invest in musical instruments because they often hold their value and can be passed around to others if one child opts not to use them. Jacob has been talking non-stop about drums for a while. I bought him a $1 set of drum sticks, just to see if he'd at least try to make some rhythms on other stuff around the house and he quickly turned tubs and buckets into a make-shift set.

Anyway, if it looks like I have a headache on the news Monday night, you'll know the cause of it :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Odds and Ends ...

Busy Friday. We had our most lively NewsNight Akron taping yet debating the new County Executive, Art Museum, and who might take over at CSB. Nothing like Ed Esposito and Jody Miller going at it. Good stuff today.

Had a nice chat with Police Chief Paul Callahan at the University of Akron this afternoon. While the students have been off on their summer jobs, Callahan's group has been ramping up for the "new era" in protecting campuses in the wake of VA Tech. He told me that a reverse 9-1-1 system is now in place and an instant alert system that sends text messages to cell phones will be on-line on August 1st. To me, that makes the most sense to get info out quickly as every student on campus is carrying a cell phone; only a handful would be at the web at one time to get an email alert. What Callahan needs is more $$ for training and staff. It's a campus that's surrounded by open, urban terrain. Tough to really secure the entire campus with only 34 officers.

I'm beginning to believe that we're going to see folks wearing "Somebody I know took part in 'Fugitive Safe Surrender' and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." I stopped by the operation today for the first time and was amazed at the feeling inside the House of the Lord. In the holding area where folks are waiting to be called forward to be fingerprinted and see a judge was a tremendous amount of positive. You can really feel the emotions of the folks who have come in to get their lives back. I interviewed a mother of four who has been living in fear for six months knowing she was wanted a parole violation. She prayed all morning and then surrounded herself with family so she could come in and clear her name. She was tearful but told me she really felt better being there. By weekend's end, we could end up seeing close to 1,000 folks surrender. That's amazing.

Well, day one on the job for new County Executive Russ Pry didn't score a high grade, but it wasn't his fault. Pry took the oath of office this afternoon, but you won't see or hear much about it because his Communications Director failed to notify the media. Hello??? Here's a guy who needs every bit of press he can get and an easy, golden photo op is dropped by folks too busy (or lazy) to pick up the phone and call the press? I ended up talking to Mr. Pry later in the evening and sharing with him the frustration that I felt about a media shutout. Let's just say he wasn't pleased either.

Thanks to those of you who've followed this blog from its original launch on the NEO site over to this home. Yesterday, nearly 400 of you took time to read what was here, and many of you left comments too. Thanks for reading and sharing. If you've got thoughts on what you'd like to hear more about .. or how to make this blog more efficient and/or interesting .. drop me an email.

Happy Friday the 13th everyone. By the way, Friday the 13th doesn't scare me. I graduated from high school, took my first flight, and left for basic training ALL on Friday the 13ths!!!

Ethics .... what would you have done?

Within the last month, I was put in quite an ethical dilemma. Certainly ethics come in to play just about every day, but on a scale of 1-10, this was a 15 for me. I'm wondering what some of you would have done. Unfortunately, I'll have to be a bit cryptic here, but I'll try to paint the picture for you.

I got a tip from a reliable source that a Northeast Ohio police department was assigning its officers to make routine stops at a private business. When I say "routine" I mean officers were required to go by there several times a shift, 24/7. The source told me that the required checks were keeping the officers from being able to cover their own beats the way they should and amounted to free security for the business itself. "If a private business wants extra security," the source told me, "why don't they hire their own rent-a-cops like everyone else."

I checked some basic patrol information and found no mention of these patrol checks anywhere. If it was mandatory that the officers spend time at that company then I suspected it was being forced under the radar. My first thought was that someone with political influence might be helping out a business friend who couldn't afford the added $$ for security. I really never entertained any thoughts that the business might be corrupt or that the officers were being used to protect the bad guys (think Al Capone) because there were just too many officers being used in the coverage.

I eventually started asking some police sources about it and found out that plenty of folks knew about the patrols and even acknowledged taking part in them, but no one would tell me why.

Finally, my phone rang from a high-ranking public official who said we needed to talk off-the-record immediately. OTR is not a place I usually like to go, but considering I had no idea at the time why he was even calling I agreed.

He asked me -- make that begged me -- to stop pursuing the story about the added patrols. I asked him how he'd heard about my inquiry at his level, and he said, "you're name is floating in every backroom in government right now and you have people terrified." I sat there for a second and wondered what the heck I'd stumbled on to this time.

"OK," I said, "but you've got to give me at least one good reason here because these are employees on tax payer $$ who are being used like private security guards around the clock."

He paused for a moment and added, "what's your military security clearance?"


"Then you should know that that business is one of the top Ohio targets for Al Qaida or other terrorists and no I'm not kidding."

I sat there to compose my thoughts. Shouldn't the public be made aware of this target? Shouldn't people have a right to know what's in their backyard? Shouldn't the federal government be involved here? Wouldn't Bob Woodward jump on this with both feet and never stop typing until it brought down the President?

"If it's this much of a target," I asked, "why don't they have their own super security or something?"

"Because the federal government doesn't have the dollars to protect it, so it's up to us," he told me. "I really need your help here Eric."

I did some additional research and checked the company by a secondary name which validated what he told me about the business and what goes on inside those walls.

I discussed the information with one confidant at the station and decided to walk away from exposing it on TV News. Ethically I couldn't bring myself to illuminate a target to bad guys watching at home and on the Internet. There's just too much at stake, especially when so many good people are involved in protecting the place. I guess it would have been a bigger story if the target existed and NE Ohio law enforcement knew about the threat and wasn't providing security.

I'm hanging on to my research in case something happens there in the future, but I'm not pursuing it as an on-air story. It's hard to put time into a story that you know viewers would be glued to watching and would generate a ton of conversation and follow-up stories. Still, in my heart, I know I've made the right call here.

Other reporters may have chosen a different path. I remember a competitor telling me once, "what you call 'ethics' Mansfield, I call 'exclusive.'" "You're right," I told her. "And I that's how I live with myself."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Voting, Violence, and Very Strong Thoughts

Busy news day .. but a few notes to pass along tonight.

Tonight's vote to launch Russ Pry into the role as County Executive was a landslide to say the least. 201-38. Tim Crawford remains on council. I couldn't attend the vote, but our staffers tell me that quite a few folks had "Pry" stickers on their bodies but nothing was visible as support for Crawford. Pry didn't say much after receiving the honor, but I'm told he has a number of ideas ready for the first few weeks in office to both "get his feet wet" and establish a sense of confidence in the change of command. The real test will be next fall's election ... so I guess Pry has a 16-month audition to make his case that he should be elected to the main stage.

Most folks don't think life as a TV journalist is dangerous, but yesterday it was nearly fatal. A crew from one of our competing stations was doing a live shot in a pretty rough part of Cleveland. The truck operator was outside of his vehicle setting up the shot. When he got back inside, there were a few teens in there. When the operator told the kids to get out, a 12-year-old -- yes TWELVE -- pulled a gun and put it to the truck operator's head. The reporter outside the truck called 9-1-1 and the kids eventually fled without firing a shot.

Fortunately, I haven't had to go through anything like that in my job (knock on wood), but there have certainly been times when I've knew we could be in a real violent mess. A year or so ago, videographer Carl Bachtel and I were on the scene of a police chase that ended with two teens in a stolen car flipping their car over in the middle of the afternoon. They crashed making a turn in their own neighborhood. One of the suspects mothers showed up at the scene and began screaming at the police claiming that her son was injured because they were chasing him over something small like a stolen car. She kept yelling that it was "the police officers' fault!" and "All this for an M1" (referring to the crime as a misdemeanor of the first degree). Pretty soon the crowd began to join in with her yelling at the cops. Police noticed the tension and called for extra officers. As soon as the suspects were loaded into ambulances, police abandoned the stolen vehicle scene to avoid a riot. Problem is, they didn't tell Carl and me the were heading out. Luckily, our own instincts kicked in and we got out of there soon after, but a more inexperienced news crew would have been thumped.

Thanks to all of you weighed in on the U of A "gun signs" post below. It's obviously a very passionate topic. Again, hopefully most of you see that I wasn't judging whether it's right or wrong to put the signs up .. but rather, I just was surprised that the U of A didn't use the signs when they went so overboard on smoking and with Virginia Tech being just a few months old. Many of you shared some great points. For example, I certainly want to learn more about the Ohio newspaper that printed all the names and addresses of its local concealed carry license holders. I think that's outrageous. Anyway, keep your thoughts coming. It doesn't matter if we always agree, but it does make a difference that we get the issues out in the open. Hopefully, my writing is worth your time.

Off to the set for the 10 p.m. news!! Eric

The "other" Akron News documentary

Much has been made on a few media blogs and elsewhere about the documentary that aired a few nights ago about the death and rebirth of TV News in Akron. It will re-air at 3 a.m. this Saturday morning on PBS 45/49. Some liked it while others didn't. I still need to see it before I can weigh in.

If the topic really interests you, there's another documentary out there that is exceptionally well done, and it's available for free on the Internet. Twentyfourhours was put together in 2001 and looked at how all of the Cleveland stations cover Akron-area news. The report also looks back at how Akron ended up without a newscast for a five-year period.

Here's a link:

While it's a few years old, this documentary really nails a lot of the big issues facing Akron news coverage and includes a broad group of interviews to tackle the subject. Let me know what you think. As fate would have it, the PBS crew was scheduled to visit our Akron newsroom on September 11th. So the video you see of our newsroom at the top of the documentary where folks are running all over the place and looking stressed on the phones was shot on the actual day of the attacks.

By the way, I think I'll go run a few miles after seeing how chubby my face was in 2001. Kind of the "fat Eric" versus the "Eric" I am today. Maybe that gives me something in common with Elvis.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More dangerous than bullets???

I noticed something at the U of Akron today that made me stop and think. Is nicotine somehow more dangerous than bullets?

If you haven't noticed, there are "no smoking" signs on every single door to every single campus building. (FYI: the U of A website says there are 81 buildings in all .. just in case anyone ever asks you in a trivia contest.) A professor friend of mine tells me the placards went up as soon as Ohio began enforcing its no smoking law. OK, I got it. I understand that.

What I'm curious about is the absence of the "no guns" signs that we're so accustomed to seeing at just about every other public place we visit. I looked at the doors of six or seven campus buildings and couldn't find even one "no guns" sign. I find it hard to fathom that a public university wouldn't take advantage of a way -- even a passive one like signs -- of limiting firearms on campus, especially in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Maybe it's written in the student codes somewhere. Maybe incoming freshman take an oath not to lie, cheat, or scare their instructors to death with a firearm. Maybe students like the option of arming themselves so they can be their own last line of defense if need be.

I called campus police tonight and asked about the legality of carrying weapons on campus with a license under the concealed carry laws (again, there's not one "no gun" sign on campus). The officer on the other end went to ask his supervisor and then told me "my supervisor says generally that's not the case." I asked what he meant by "generally" and he told me that "generally" people don't carry concealed firearms on campus.

Well, how the heck do they only generally know? Does anyone pat down folks as they enter and leave campus? Is there a random metal detector we haven't seen?

The list of those with gun licenses issued in Summit County is no longer a public record, so there's no way to check it against student lists. Besides that would be too much like Big Brother, so I'm not really in favor of that anyway.

Still, it just strikes me as odd that there are nine thousand placards giving me the toll free number to report a student toting a Winston but not one for those toting a Smith & Wesson.

Cutts update .. and some other stuff

Had a chance to muddle around today on the Bobby Cutts case. Seems prosecutors are still waiting on some medical tests to come back and for final autopsy rulings too before they can proceed to a grand jury. End result: we may not know for a few more weeks yet how Jessica actually died and/or if Cutts will face the death penalty.

Beware of a potential scam involving the Ohio Department of Taxation. I spoke to a 65-year-old North Akron woman who received an authentic-looking letter from ODT claiming that she was the victim of identity fraud and that she needed to mail copies of her birth certificate and social security card to a certain address right away. The letter also provided a phone number where she could pay for ID theft protection. I told her it definitely meets the criteria of an ID Theft scam. First, there's no reason for the ODT to need your birth certificate and/or SS card. Second, in Ohio, it's the Attorney General's office and not the ODT that provides relief from ID Theft. I'm guessing she was targeted because she's over 60+ years old, but just be aware if you or someone you know gets the same letter.

Thanks to Ohio Media Watch, I've set my DVR for 3 a.m. on Saturday. That's when PBS 45/49 is replaying a one-hour special on Akron's loss and rebirth of TV news. I guess it aired last night but I didn't know it was on. I was interviewed for the show more than a year ago, but I never saw the finished product. A great number of folks did and weighed in on the OMW blog .. My Executive Producer, Chris Hyser, said he heard that he was shown in the piece and was none too happy. He likes being behind the scenes (he worked at the old 23 news at WAKC too) and wants to stay that way. I 'll weigh in with some thoughts after I see the special, but I'm certainly looking forward to seeing some of the WAKC news clips.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday grab bag

My email is completely shut down at WKYC, so I'm afraid I'm missing some stories out there .. but here's what I know.

A major victory for Akron's Fraternal Order of Police this afternoon. A conciliator has awarded the officers three percent raises each year from 2007-09 while seeing no raise to their medical benefits. It's a decision that should boost morale among the force, while creating some emergency finance meetings downtown. City Hall has said it couldn't afford to award raises at those levels without it affecting health care (right now police officers get free coverage). Considering the FOP beat the idea of part-time officers earlier this year, they're now two for two. Now both sides wait to see how the courts rule on whether Akron officers must live in the city limits. Mayor Plusquellic is holding firm to "home rule" on this one, so we'll see how it plays out in the courts.

The Akron Art Museum folks held a sneak peak for the media today. I've already been inside a few times, but we had one of our college interns go over in my place this morning to cover the press conference and ask questions. Seems she was stopped at the door by a security guard who didn't want to let her enter even though she was in-step with our Channel 3 photographer. Eventually she was allowed inside. Still, I'm wondering why an organization that needs all the publicity it can get right now would even consider halting anyone with a notepad and pen from entering? I'll be interested to see how the public views the new building, which provides mega space the museum folks had always wanted.

The Aeros celebrated their 5 millionth fan last night! Not bad in just 10+ seasons. There's not a bad seat in the house and it's a much easier trip than Jacobs Field. Anyone else surprised that we haven't seen a significant hike in ticket prices over the years? By the way, we're still paying back the $$ we borrowed to build Canal Park -- not that it wasn't a great investment and anchor for other businesses -- but I find it interesting to see what the actual cost ends up being on community projects like stadiums.

I received not one but two letters today from the same company. The first one is addressed to "Eric Mansfield, Akron-Canton News at 6:30" and the second is addressed to "Eric Mansfield, Akron-Canton News at 10." Guess they think there's two of me: one who works during the day and the other who handles the night shift. To be honest, sometimes I switch ties between shows, but scouts honor folks, there's only one of me. Maybe one of these days I'll switch ties and coats during every commercial break just to see if anyone thinks I've been cloned :)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Fugitives among us

I don't know which is more interesting. That Akron's Fugitive Safe Surrender program is setting up to be a big success, or that we have a ton of fugitives living right under our noses.

The olly-olly-oxen-free program kicks of Wednesday morning and offers anyone with a non-violent warrant (felony or misdemeanor) a chance to surrender at a local church versus being hunted down by police. The House of the Lord in West Akron has volunteered to host the program, which has been a big success in other major cities.

Dozens of Akron-area offenders have already called in trying to give themselves up. Guess they're tired of living life looking over their shoulders. Still, why are so many on the run? Why is it so tough to fess up and deal with the allegations?

If you check with the Akron Clerk of Courts, you'll find that the top categories of warrants are drugs, thefts, and domestic violence. Now, contrast that with the population at the Summit County jail and you'll find that a great many of the non-violent offenders wouldn't be spending very long -- in many cases not even one night -- in jail if they'd just come to court days, weeks, and months ago.

A few years back, I got the idea to request the complete database of ALL active warrants at the Akron Clerk of Courts. Got the records for free (don't you just love Ohio's public records laws??). Anyway, we put the entire database on TV3's website and told folks they could search for their friends, neighbors, and even themselves, just to see if they or someone they know is wanted for anything. As I recall, that database got more web "hits" than a program we were paying big money to have on the web -- a reality show in the Flats with six people living together. What's that tell you about the number of people on the run in Akron and the number of people checking up on them?

I always thought that police should use the on-line court records like a reverse warrant trap. Wait until someone checks the warrant status of "John Smith", then immediately trace the computer that made the check, and close in on them. Who else is going to check John Smith's warrant status but Smith himself or those close to him, right?

I'm really hopeful the Fugitive program will help clear our courts of a truckload of cases and help some local residents get on with living. After all, the surrenders will give us news items for several days, so it's helps with work for sure. Still, I'd like to believe more folks will "be a man" as the saying goes, and get these things handled long before they see a way out on the evening news.

Local college students still hot after freeze

It's great to see the U of A and Kent State each embracing the idea of freezing tuition for the coming year and hopefully beyond. They'd like you to believe they're doing this out of the goodness of their academic hearts but the truth is they're buying into a program under our new Governor to halt increases in favor of some state dollars. Regardless, if you're paying for school right now, you just need the financial relief.

My frustration is why did it take so long? Why weren't we able to find these same dollars under "What about Bob" Taft's tenure? My fourth grade son could look at the rising tuition rates compared with the number of students leaving Ohio for less-expensive college classes and suggest that a rate freeze was in order. Why couldn't the education Governor and a state legislature paid to find solutions do the same math?

Don't get me wrong here. I love the idea of the freeze, but couldn't it have come a few years ago before the tuition rates got this out of hand? As it is, a city-born high school grad can expect to invest 40-50K for a four-year degree at Akron or Kent, including books and living expenses. Even living at home with mom and dad will require 35-40K. Did we really have to let it get this far out of hand before someone came up with a plan? The old idea of a high school grad getting a summer job to pay for half of college (with parents paying the other half) is now a daydream at best .. and the idea of student loans creates such debt that even those Akron-area students who graduate in four years will have a long period of indentured servitude before they can really begin to make their mark in life. Has anyone seen the high default rate on student loans?

Luring and keeping jobs is another obstacle altogether, but making high education affordable is a simple mathematical problem: What's the cost to provide it minus How much do we already have equals how much we charge our students. The state universities certainly haven't hid these figures, but it's taken so long for our state leaders to finally understand the equation that our students will be paying long after this freeze begins to thaw.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

True Story .. just ask Warren Moon

I was asked in church this morning about my appearance a few weeks ago on CNN to talk about the Jessie Davis case on Larry King. The appearance went well, but the truth is, I met Larry King a few years ago in Florida and there's a funny sidebar to it all.

I was attending the Childrens Miracle Network gathering at Disney in Orlando. It's an entire week of "work" getting interviews and ideas for the local telethons that benefit our area hospitals. At that time, Tim Daugherty (WONE) and I were co-hosts of the annual event for Childrens Hospital here in Akron. One of the perks of our roles was the annual trip to Disney to network with other CMN groups and take part in the national CMN events.

Larry King was one of the celebrity presenters that year and held a session one afternoon to take general questions. It was a great experience. The two stories that stand out in my mind included one where he bragged about fathering a child in his 70's without Viagra. The other was about a strange woman calling him at a radio station in the middle of the night for a rendezvous. This was 50 years ago. He claims he put on a long album and ran out to meet her, but in the throws of passion, he heard the record start to skip on the air, so he had to leave and run back quickly. King also shared a story about his interview style. For example, when there's a major fire, King says that Ted Koppel will ask the fire chief, "how much damage has there been?" and "what kind of injuries have there been?" King, on the other hand, would ask the chief, "what makes a perfectly healthy man want to go inside a building while it's on fire?"

Anyway, the funny part came on the night when King was supposed to present one of the CMN awards at a black-tie dinner. Daugherty and I had our tickets (and our tuxes) to attend the dinner as one of the 1,000+ CMN participants. While we were gathering in the lobby, we saw LK in the distance heading out to a private patio. TD and I decided to wander over and take a look at the VIP gathering. We could see a handful of celebrities (TV, Film, sports figures, etc.) all having drinks and chatting with a lot of the "real-money" civilian types. TD and I kind of looked at each other and thought, why couldn't we be out there too? I told Tim, if we walk out there and stare at the celebs, we'll get tossed out for sure. But if we just talk to each other in confident conversation, I'll bet we can fool em into thinking we belong there. So we decided to give it a shot and crash the event.

We wandered in making conversation about the stock market, and heading straight for a waiter who bought the 007 roles we were playing and handed us champagne. TD and I then sauntered over towards the food tables and got a plate of shrimp that were as big as my head. As we drank and chatted, we whispered about all the folks we were seeing up close and personal. Merlin Olson. Larry King of course. Delilah from the national radio show. We were really pulling it off like a couple of big shots. That's when I bumped into someone who came up behind me. "Warren Moon!" I yelled without thinking. The Hall of Fame quarterback just looked at me. Then at Tim. Then kept walking away. Unfortunately, I said it loud enough that plenty of the VIPs heard me and it was obvious that our secret agent identities were out in the open. At that point, I locked eyes with Larry King who seemed to have a light bulb go off that signaled, "aren't those the two guys from Akron who were in the front row of my talk?"

Tim and I made a quick exit to the lobby again and rejoined the masses where we belonged. Fortunately, none of the security folks followed us. We vowed never to speak of it again, but something tells me that if I ever come eye-to-eye with Larry King again, he'll remember it. If he does, I'll be quick to fess up that it was Tim's idea :)

Friday, July 6, 2007

It's Friday -- must be a guilty verdict

Anyone surprised Donna Moonda was found guilty in the plot to killer her husband along the Ohio Turnpike? Judging by the day of the week, you shouldn't be.

My experience has been that jurors hate to be sequestered on a weekend, and that they'll usually come back with a guilty verdict on Friday afternoon rather than give up their off time. That's not to say that this group of 12 didn't come to the right decision or in some way made their verdict with some sort of agenda, but hang around the courthouse long enough and you'll see lawyers, court officers, and media out in the hallways betting that the verdict will be done by Friday's close of business. By today's wagers, the Moonda verdict came in right on schedule.

I guess there are some who thought Donna Moonda might get off with the Cynthia George defense: "yeah, I talked to the killer before and after the murder but since you can't prove what we talked about, you can't prove that I was in on the plot." It worked for CG, at least on appeal. Still, unlike Damian Bradford's burst of a conscious, CG's lover, John Zaffino, is maintaining his innocence while stuck behind bars. Had JZ rolled over on CG like DB did on DM, CG and DM might be working on a two-girl act for the sequel to the musical "Chicago."

Instead, CG is free to roam Medina County and beyond with her family while DM is now facing a possible death penalty in federal prison. Hard to believe the triggerman gets a definite term with parole while the wife convicted of hatching the plot is the one facing the grim reaper.

Pickerington? Why not Akron?

I had a chance to visit an Army buddy of mine this week and get a good long view of Pickerington, Oh. As I traversed this Columbus suburb just southeast of the outer rim of I-270, I couldn't help but think about Akron.

If you haven't been to Pickerington, just imagine a series of big, century-old cornfields that have obviously been remade as instant neighborhoods. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of new, just-add-water homes built on cookie-cutter streets and sporting development names like "Pleasant Cove," even though there's no water there.

What absolutely floored me were how many of these developments there are in little old Pickerington. Pickerington! Pickerington! I must have passed several thousand new homes, with signs at the front of their developments that read "nice, family homes starting in the low 200's!!" Meanwhile, the only thing Akron has in the low 200's is our population. We're losing about a thousand people per year, and 200K could be a memory if we can't stop the census bleeding.

Still, how is that this one-time Mayberry can be booming with all these new homes and new families buying them up like iPhones, while Akron can't even maintain its rotary dial subscribers?

I know the macro answer is job, job, jobs. We're losing them, Columbus is gaining them. Still, I can't help but shake my head when a place with a name worth 55 points in Scrabble seems to be a better investment than our five little letters.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Differing Opinions

I was off for the 4th, so I'm catching up on news, notes, and blog entries. Being out of town and out of the office, the best of real insight I have to offer tonight centers on folks I've been speaking to about the ever-delayed ruling in the Demetrus Vinson case.

The "slam-dunk" ruling that some foresaw in their crystal balls seems to be anything but now. In fact, if the details one source relayed to me are true, this case will have the ear of Oliver Stone for a conspiracy movie sooner than later. As I've been telling you here in blogville, the police department's internal review/investigation of the March 17th shooting was complete well over a month ago and prosecutors have had plenty of time to review the findings and conduct additional interviews.

Still, the official ruling isn't as ready as some had thought. In short, the case remains anything-but-unified on a few differing views of the medical results (including some who allege there is missing medical evidence) and differing theories on the paths of the bullets fired by the officers that night along with the extent of damage caused by those shots.

Remember, Summit County Prosecutors are conducting a mandatory review of the police-involved shooting while Cuyahoga County Prosecutors are conducting a parallel review of the case for quality assurance (aka. asked by Mayor Plusquellic as an outside agency and FYI, an April 24th ABJ article claims Bill Mason's office expected to be done with its part by mid-May.) Additionally, Vinson's family and others have asked several outside experts for independent assessments.

The latest vibe I get from sources is that Akron leaders will be forced to issue a ruling before the month is out. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn't expect all the reviewers to come to the same conclusions. On the contrary, some will be calling for yet another review possibly by the Department of Justice.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Partially Right

Well, I was wrong about the defense for Bobby Cutts wanting to go forward with the pre-trial hearing today (he waived it at the very last second) but I was right about Myisha Ferrell asking for a lower bond. Seems prosecutors were ready for that too, telling the judge that Ferrell helped Cutts dispose of the body, which in itself is a new bit of information. Once hearing that, the judge kept Ferrell's bond at a cool half million. Still, the media buildup and the presence of both families in court today seems a precursor of things to come.

A veteran officer tells me that Bobby Cutts drew the curious eye of a great many of his fellow men and women in blue from the first time he wore a uniform. Seems Cutts liked to wear his gun in plain view, even in civilian clothes when he was off-duty. Most cops don't do that, and those who choose to be armed when off the clock don't usually tote it around for the public to see. But Cutts was different, this officer told me. He'd wear his gun on his belt loop even when he was in jeans and surrounded by other off-duty cops. It was as though he was trying to tell the world, "look at me. I'm the law and I'm not to be messed with."

The only other officer I've ever heard described in this way was Doug Prade. Both have been described to me as men who would show up in uniform, even when off duty, at places where they wanted to make a personal statement.

I would anticipate that this is the last hearing we see on this case in municipal court. Prosecutors will now push to get both cases to a grand jury for an indictment that moves the case to the Stark County Common Pleas Court. Then we recue the arraignment proceedings and start all over again. What we don't know yet is if the prosecutor will push for the death penalty for Cutts.

Beyond the courtroom

A couple of thoughts as we head into today's preliminary hearing in the Jessie Marie Davis case.

If you're near the courthouse or see any of the rumbling outside, watch for someone with an actual film camera. I saw a man shooting film at the press conference last week following the initial arraignment. What that tells me is that some production company has already latched on to the idea of making this story a documentary. Years ago, we'd have to wait for a verdict in court before someone would buy into the rights of something. Today, companies will take the risk and capture important footage and then go to one of the families or investigators to broker a deal on a film. I'd also look for new characters in the courtroom. Those who look new to Canton and who wander around the courthouse carrying folders full of press clippings. They are probably crime authors who have relocated to Canton in hopes of penning a book that's ready to go the day after the verdict.

Watch for off-duty officers in the courtroom. My experience is that the brothers in arms typically keep a close eye on one of their own in court. There's no way to know whether the officers you see are close friends or barley acquaintances or even whether they support Bobby Cutts or think he's guilty. Still, Canton PD is a large enough department that I'd expect some of the force to be there during their off-duty hours.

If you're stopping in the area of the courthouse, watch for more racist fliers floating around the parking areas. In addition to the ones found last week, a group from the Southwest has begun mailing letters to people in the case. I received one from Texas that included a note saying "this is the what I sent to Jessie's mother." The details are shocking and let's all pray this nonsense is pushed aside sooner than later.

Watch for prosecutors to say nothing after the hearing and defense attorneys to make claims that the investigators are on a "witch hunt" and that "we haven't seen all the evidence yet." I'd expect Myisha Ferrell's attorney to ask for a bond reduction so that she might be able to get out of jail sooner than later.

I'd also look for less of a media crush as the national shows have moved out for the most part and will probably look to pick up video and interviews from their affiliates, at least for the short term. Should this case go to trial, the satellite trucks and sensational talk shows will be back in full force.