Friday, September 28, 2007

My bad, my fault, blame me ..

The phones are ringing and the emails are coming through .. and while I didn't write it, it's my fault because the words came out of my mouth.

Long story short .. during our 6 p.m. newscast on TV3, I read a story about a steroid bust in Green. The prompter rolled with copy that told me the raid was conducted at the home of Drew Alexander. As the words came out of my mouth, it was as though a slow motion "noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! that's not right!!!!!!!!!!!!" was raging inside my brain.

Too late! Before I could say "wait a minute that's not right .. " my co-anchor Barbara Gauthier was already on to the next story. I got the producer on the phone to find out if by some miracle of a coincidence this bad guy had the same name as Summit County Sheriff DREW ALEXANDER.

She checked and realized that the copy she wrote using a Sheriff's Office Press Release was wrong .. and she'd inserted Alexander's name where the suspect's name should have been.

We did an immediate correction coming out of the commercial ... and I have apologized to the folks one-by-one who are calling in. (One guy who decided to make it personal in his email got a piece of my mind though.)

If I know Drew, he'll tease me forever about this one ... but he'll forgive me. Still .. Drew, I apologize. That shouldn't have happened.

Actually, it's not the first time the name game has frozen us TV folks solid. Years ago, I interviewed a woman named "Romona Robinson" and the director refused to put up the graphic under her soundbite because he assumed that it was an error. Another time, we had a "Mark Williamson" in a story on the old 23 and everyone hesitated. We've had graphics folks who would also "correct" the spelling of Jhonny Peralta because they were sure I had misspelled it when it was correct. I even had to say on the air that I wasn't related to the subject of a story on a drunk driver because his last name was Mansfield.

I'm human .. and I admit I should have been caught the mistake as it flew out of my mouth .. but as a journalist, the right thing to do is to apologize for the error and hope viewers realize that human beings -- not infallible robots -- put the news together.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

10 newsroom observations on a Thursday Night

I've been working in the Cleveland office of WKYC this week instead of my usual assignment in the Akron office. Using TV magic, I'm anchoring the Akron-Canton News from Cleveland, but being in the "big" newsroom has lead to a few observations worth sharing.

10. I've never been in a real earthquake, but now I feel like I have. The trains that run behind WKYC's building on Lakeside shake the h^ll out of this place several times a night. I jump every time the floor shakes so I look more like an intern than an anchor.

9. It's nice to have others on the set to talk with during commercials. I'm often the only person on the studio side of the Akron newsroom, but up here I get to chat with the co-anchor, sports and weather folks, and the floor directors. It's good for morale and helps me keep my energy up.

8. I'm no Mark Williamson. While pumping gas at the BP on Market Street Sunday, a man yelled "hey it's Mark Williamson and I watch you every night" at me in front of my kids. Mark's been off TV News for 11 years now, but he's still the first name that comes to mind. That should tell you what a difference he made for Akron. He's still tops in my book too!

7. The security cameras going up in Akron are pretty darn high-tech. I only wish we'd had them near Glover Elementary a few years ago .. so that we might have gotten a glimpse of the car that drove off after killing young Tony Swain.

6. How many stories about football players in trouble can we do in one week? Bodden, OJ, the Ohio State QB, Michael Vick ... anyone out there doing anything good? I've talked about more football players this week than John Madden.

5. It's not worth making much out of LeBron's comments about rooting for the Yankees .. as long as he never wears NY on a basketball jersey, he can wear whatever he wants on his baseball caps. He takes care of his kids, stays out of trouble, makes sure new basketball courts come to his hometown, and generally does all the right things that many other superstars don't. If his choice of childhood baseball teams is the worst thing he does in his life, I think we should all be able to live with it.

4. Hoover's cutbacks this week are tough to take. We'll feel the loss more as the weeks go by. The only solace might be the strong severance packages many of the employees will receive.

3. Quote of the month goes to Steve French at WNIR who quipped "nice to see more Akron people took the time to vote for Zippy in the mascot challenge than they did to vote for Akron's mayor." Classic.

2. Seems the Akron-Canton News has gained fans on Facebook. There's now a new group called "Akron-Canton News rules" or something like that. So far it has 30+ members. Not sure where it all started but I went ahead and joined anyway .. anyone know when the group is holding initiations? :)

1. Mark Nolan is too talented for this business. The guy should be on Whose Line Is It Anyway? or something like that. He's not only a great meteorologist, but he's a truly genuine, down-to-earth guy.

By the way, I'm getting multiple emails from folks trying to grip how I'm able to anchor the main news at 6 on TV3 and then the AkronCanton News on Time Warner at 6:30. It's all TV magic folks. Most nights I'm live in front of the green chroma key in the Akron office so that viewers see a computerized background of a newsroom. While working in Cleveland, I use the green screen at WKYC and it all looks the same -- actually it should look better from Cleveland because it's a high definition camera! If you'd like to see some behind-the-scenes photos, check out Frank Macek's blog.

What folks might really enjoy is what happens during weather. I'm in front of the green screen as I pitch to Mark .. then I have to run off to the side because Mark will do his weather segment using the same green screen and camera that I use for news. It's a quick two-step like dancing with the stars .. but without the music.

One more day in Cleveland before returning to Akron to get busy on my sweeps stories for November. It's been a great week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Guest blogger - war discussion edition

The following entry was written by my wife, Lisa, after taking part in a recent 90-minute teleconference with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and other Ohio military families . Brown scheduled the discussion to gauge the issues facing our troops and their Ohio families as the vote approached for a bill that would have guaranteed troops as much time at home as they had spent overseas in combat zones. Brown supported the bill, but the Senate did not deliver enough votes to override a White Hour veto. After the conference, Lisa told me of the overwhelming challenges facing some of our local military families, so I asked her to share their stories.

I have had several opportunities where my path has crossed with Senator Brown, and I can tell you that he does not take lightly his commitment to service members, their families or their issues once they are Veterans. I took concerns to him personally when Eric was overseas and have spoken to him in his office in Akron when he was my Congressman.

I once received a phone call just to see how the boys and I were doing after Eric had returned to Iraq following his two weeks of leave. I remember the day clearly because then-Congressman Brown was calling me just before he went into the House Chambers to listen to President Bush give his 2004 State of the Union Address. I was so impressed that in that moment he had military families on his mind, and flattered that mine was one of them.

The teleconference last Thursday included a dozen or so representatives from Ohio military families and many staffers from Sherrod’s Office. The Senator was detained for about 35 minutes because he was actually voting on the legislation that would have guaranteed service members as much time at home as they served overseas before they would be sent back. It failed while we were one the phone with him. Some people gasped and some cried out, “Oh my God.”

I wish I had kept notes so I could share with you their names of the other military families on the phone that night, but I can pass on just a few troubling tidbits of the lives they are leading.

Here are some of the people who are filling my thoughts and prayers:

A tormented young mother
The first to speak was a young mom and Army Wife who lives in the Columbus area with a nineteen-month-old toddler and a newborn. The newborn was premature and born with Down’s syndrome. Dad got to come home from Iraq on emergency leave when his son was born but is now back just east of Baghdad somewhere.

On Friday morning, his baby boy was scheduled for open heart surgery and weighing only 6 lbs. Mom called the Red Cross to try to get her husband home. The Red Cross called back saying that the Army had to have the mortality rate for this particular surgery on a premature two-month-old. What a horrible thing to ask a mother! Even with the baby's surgery, his coming home was denied.

Mom doesn’t know if Dad has even been told of the surgery. Now mom is left with all the worry of her young family and the impending surgery of this precious soul without the support of her spouse. And also, with the added worry of wondering if her husband doesn’t know, how this surgery will affect him when he finds out. And if her husband does know, how much can his mind be focused on his own safety or the safety of those around him if he's distracted by worry for his wife and child? How broken is our Army if we can’t let someone like this family get compassionate reassignment!?!?!

There were numerous stories of PTSD
Do you know that if you are a veteran living in Northeast Ohio, you are still required to go all the way to Dayton to be treated for PTSD? After the 3-4 hour drive, even with an appointment, it can be matched by an equally long wait.

The wait for treatment and misdiagnosis came up many times.

There are soldiers being sent back to jobs overseas even though they may have threatened and even attempted suicide while in uniform here at home. One young man even tried to blind himself because the “pictures in his head” were so bad and he couldn’t face going back to Iraq. The Military is still planning on sending him.

There were many stories of TBI, (Traumatic Brain Injury), the so-called "signature" injury of this war. Again many missed diagnosis or delays in treatment meaning longer recovery or no chance of recovery. Many problems, which would not be new to Vietnam Vets, of low percentages for disability from the VA.

There were major pay issues.
Families who hadn’t received overdue supplemental pay for three years and others whose monthly paychecks haven't arrived. One woman spoke up about her husband, a Navy Reservist who was being re-trained to ship out with an Army unit. He's been away training for the past five months for an upcoming 15-month deployment. (That is nearly two years away from his family for those of you keeping track.) Get this: His family has been living without a pay check for the last five months! Paperwork problems ... something has to give here!

The war:
Several times the discussion turned to a debate about the war. Interestingly enough, military families seem to mirror the country as a whole. Some still whole-heartedly support the war, mission, and the President. While others just want this all to end. They feel the price they have paid is too dear for any gain.

Senator Brown and his staff were well prepared for the outbreaks of emotion that this kind of discussion might create. They tried very hard to redirect everyone to what we had in common rather than our differences. They reminded us that we had made incredible sacrifices in a time when so few were being asked to make any at all .. .and that we all loved the people who served nobly no matter what the mission.

There were so many more stories that I know I fail to do justice. Still, I have to tell you, I have a whole new respect for the job that Senators and their staffers do on a daily basis. After just two hours of listening to these other families, I had trouble sleeping ... and none of them have left my mind.

I can only place hope in our Senator's belief that you CAN make a difference .. even as he and all of us watched a bill that might have made a real difference for real military families in Ohio go down by a small margin.

Media stuff

Stuff that comes to mind as I read along this morning ..

The ABJ should have put Phil Trexler's piece on Akron's foreclosure crisis on the front page instead of the top of the local section. Likewise, Stephanie Warsmith's piece on the Ward 4 recount belonged on the local page instead of above the fold on page 1. Both stories are well written, accurate, and timely, but I think they should flip-flop positions. Call me old fashioned (or just call me a broadcaster who should stick to flapping his gums and stay out of the print business) but I think stories that affect the masses have greater appeal than those that affect the few.

Speaking of media stuff that should have been flip-flopped, I don't think viewers will long forget missing the end of Saturday's Kent State-Akron thriller in favor of some local commercials and a national pre-game show for the Ohio State-Northwestern game.

Channel 5's decision to cut away with 1:13 left and Kent driving down 27-20 still cuts viewers like Robert who writes, "... It wasn't until 9 minutes later that the OSU game actually started. Everyone I know is very upset about this. I would greatly appreciate it if you could report this story sometime this week. It would give your newscast a lot of respect for sticking up for the Zips."

I've gotten quite a few emails from folks still upset ... but since I work across town, I can't really speak for WEWS's decision .. other than I think they underestimated the local viewership.

Roy Peter Clark has great insight at that captures the debate over Washington's uproar over the creative license taken in the NY Times ad debate:

Clark writes, "The writer should indeed have written the phrase 'General Betray Us,' showed it off to friends and colleagues, and then murdered that little darling, burying it and leaving possible exhumation for another day. I make this case as someone who leans left of center, but who thinks the characterization of the general as a traitor is as reckless and dishonest as the accusation that those who oppose the war are hurting the troops and lending aid and comfort to the enemy."

Well said.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Signs of the times, guns .. and other stuff

Time to talk about those smoking signs again .. because so many of you sounded off last time I brought it up. When last we left our hero .. we were discussing why the University of Akron had put up a zillion "no smoking" signs at every door of every building (pictured here is the entrance to Guzzetta Hall) but not one "no guns" sign.

Again, I'm not implying that I think either sign is really effective .. in fact, I believe the opposite .. Still, isn't it a bit of overkill (pun intended) to hit me in every direction about what can happen if I smoke on campus but not even one sign to remind me that I should leave my sidearm at home? I mean, look at the photo .. how many signs to we really need?!?!?

A petition drive to save Geauga Lake is gaining steam, even if it's probably more of a longshot than the Browns in the Super Bowl. You can sign your name here if you like and/or just view some of the folks' opinions on the subject. I find it hard to believe the owners didn't decide until the end of the year that they were going to close the amusement park. In fact, had they made the announcement in mid-August, can you imagine how many folks would have bought tickets for one last day the park?

I'd like to know how many of those 200 not-to-be-ever-counted ballots were for wards 4 and 6 in Akron. Were there enough to make a difference? And what's the harm in counting them and sharing the results, even though they wouldn't be binding? Even when it's a 8-1 vote on Survivor, we still get to see who cast that one vote right?

I'm having a great-but-tiring experience anchoring the newscasts on TV3 this week from Cleveland .. while also anchoring the Akron-Canton News at 630 and 10. Tonight I'm doing five shows and my voice is already going .. hoping I can make it til week's end without going hoarse .. and oh yeah, I still have NewsNight Akron on Friday. Yikes!

My so-called news week

I would try to explain where I am and what I'm doing .. but director Frank Macek has already done it on his blog.

I'll have some notes to pass along from the newsroom and on a few of our breaking stories later tonight ...


Friday, September 21, 2007

Geauga Lake announcement not whole story

OK .. I didn't see this one coming .. I don't think many folks did. Geauga Lake is getting out of the amusement park business and will be solely a water park next year. According to its owner, Cedar Fair, most of the major rides (roller coasters, the Ferris wheel, etc.) will be dismantled and sent to other CF Parks.

Here's what stands out from CF's press release .. see if you can read between the lines:

Dick Kinzel, Chairman and CEO of Cedar Fair, says, "Water parks traditionally draw from a closer geographic market than amusement parks, and we believe Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom will continue to be successful in drawing visitors from the greater Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron-Canton areas."

Since when did a business owner ever say that he didn't want visitors from outside of his local area? Why would anyone say they're targeting fewer customers by only thinking of the immediate neighbors? How is drawing "from a closer geographic market" a good thing for the any of us?

Admitting that your target audience is now reduced to just a 40-mile radius tells me that closing the rides at Geauga Lake has a secondary purpose: they're hoping NE Ohio folks will drive farther and pay more to ride roller coasters at Cedar Point.

Nowhere in today's press release is there even a hint that GL was losing money on its traditional amusement park rides. We didn't see mass layoffs or cost-cutting measures. None of the typical events that precede a major cut like this ever reared their Wildwater heads.

Instead, we're blind-sided with news that our 119-year-old park is closing .. BUT HEY, NOW WE CAN ALL GET WET AND WILD WITH PEOPLE THAT LIVE IN THE SAME THREE AREA CODES!

What kind of marketing strategy is that? Hey, I liked when I saw Pennsylvania and Columbus license plates in the GL parking lots. We certainly spend lots of money visiting their businesses .. let em spend a few bucks here!

I took my boys to Geauga Lake last week with no idea that it would be the last Saturday the double loop would ever be running. (picture courtesy No idea that it would soon be in pieces like a giant erector set.

I liked GL (and Sea World before that) because it was close enough to Akron that I was able to go to an amusement park and be back home the same day without feeling completely run down from the long commute.

This announcement feels like someone just sold me an elephant ear ... which is advertised as this huge, sweet treat that you can't live without ... but once you digest it, you realize there wasn't much nutrition to it.

Friday pot luck

The Donna Moonda case is finally over. Media from Pittsburgh were tripping over each other outside the federal courthouse trying to get what few video shots were really available. Still can't believe that the woman who orchestrated the murder got life while the guy who actually pulled the trigger got a definite term that frees him in his mid-30's. I've never seen sentences handed down like that.

Judge Teodosio's ruling on Akron's ballot lawsuit won't be released until Monday. Considering the Board of Elections already voted to follow state law and not count the ballots, the window of opportunity to force the inclusion of these 200+ votes is closing quickly. Teodosio's ruling is likely to be appealed, regardless of what he decides. Still, if he sides with the city, the case could become the first step towards changing state law down the road.

I've received several emails from a nice lady in Barberton who claims the fast food kids meal she bought for her 4-year-old daughter came complete with a razor blade. The restaurant (not named here) immediately apologized, she says, and offered her free meals for her shock and awe. The child wasn't hurt. I haven't been able to pin down all of the info I need to get this one on the air yet, but needless to say, check those fast food bags twice before reaching in for the fries!

APD now looking for two suspects in the discovery of a murder victim off of Forge Street. While the details of this case are still coming out, APD has a good track record this year in investigating homicides. This is the 17th murder of the year .. and to date, arrests have been made in 15 of the cases. That's an 88 percent arrest rate for a department that's short-staffed.

Seems local Ohio's football coaches are losing control more than ever. Last year, 20 coaches were ejected from games .. that's up from 15 statewide the year before. While major league umpires can toss a single manager multiple times in a season, I think it takes quite a lot for a high school coach to get tossed from the game.

Speaking of the gridiron, kudos to Firestone and North's football teams. Both city series schools are 3-1. Last year, Firestone ended its long losing streak as legendary coach Tim Flossie took over. North (my alma mater, Go Vikings!) has struggled to compete with much larger schools, but the Vikings have always had a lot of heart and good coaches .. great to see the team out to a winning record. North plays Buchtel (0-4) tonight ...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Guitars for Grunts" worthy experience

It's not often that us Army officers will ever admit "I met a great Marine today" .. but that's exactly what I did for my story on WKYC.

41-year-old Paul Hickman of Stow has launched his own one-man war to send used and new guitars (and other stringed instruments) to troops in Iraq. Hickman is a former Marine and remembers how valuable his acoustic guitar was to him when he was serving aboard a ship 20 years ago. An avid musician and guitar collector, Hickman was fixing up an old six string a few months back and got an idea to send it overseas so that a Marine in Iraq might have access to it.

That first donated guitar led to another half dozen headed to the war zone, and recently Hickman took another dozen to wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (See the picture to the right) Some of the troops will use the guitars to help rebuild their motor skills. How's that for a worthwhile project?

While many folks talk about supporting the troops, Hickman is actually doing it. He's started a one-man campaign called "Guitars for Grunts" and is in search of any used guitar you might have stashed away in the basement .. or one your teen son just never plays any more. Give it to Paul and he'll get it tuned up and off to someone who can find great use for it.

This story really drew me in because the first time I picked up a guitar was in the Kuwaiti desert during my tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I paid $100 to buy the off-brand six string from a Kuwaiti market owner who kept saying "I wrap it up for you!" even before I told him I wanted to buy it. It ended up being the best investment of my tour of duty. There's very, very little to do when you're off duty in Iraq, and having a guitar to play as an "escape" was a positive, creative and therapeutic way to pass the time.

While visiting Paul's home for our story, he talked me in to playing one of his favorite guitars from his collection. He tells me it's a "1984 Gibson Explorer in Alpine white, with gold hardware, and black pick guard." While I might be strumming it in the picture, trust me when I tell you that I can't play it nearly as well as Paul.

"Guitars for Grunts" is worth your time. I reminded of the inspiration others had to support our "Mitts for Military" campaign last year .. I'm hopeful many of you will come forward to help Paul's cause too.

You can reach him at

Send him your old guitars no matter what condition; even banged up ones with only two strings can be combined with others to make a usable instrument. Cash donations will help with new strings and shipping. Paul also could probably use help setting up a simple (and free or inexpensive) website for the program if that's your area of expertise.

He's a Marine who certainly remembers Semper Fi, so let's support this project and help our troops in harm's way find a positive way to feel closer to home.

Authors bring new life to Akron's Walk

I had a great conversation last week with author Russ Musarra and illustrator Chuck Ayers. Both names should ring a bell from their many years of work with the Akron Beacon Journal.

Some two decades ago, the pair opted to go out and walk around different spots in town to create a series of feature articles for the Beacon Magazine. Now that both have retired from the paper, they've compiled all of their old feature articles and illustrations into Walks Around Akron published by the University of Akron Press.

I'm not much a book critic, but I can tell you that Musarra's writing and Ayers' artistic eye are the perfect ying and yang for a literary walk through parts of Akron that many of us have driven by too fast to notice. Some of Chuck's drawings are of events and places long since gone.

It's a good read and a good investment for the family.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

One story begats a second

It never fails that at least once per week, I head out on one story, but come back with another.

Sometimes it's as simple as covering the Mayor's press conference on the topic-of-the-day only to have him announce something you didn't see coming. Other times, it's breaking news ... heading out to cover a school dedication only to come back with video of a fire rescue.

Today .. the fireworks exploded at the Board of Elections meeting. I attended the meeting to bring back a story on the Board's vote on what to do with the 200 uncounted absentee ballots that were delayed at the post office and I planned to include Mayoral Candidate Joe Finley's words to the board in support of them counting ballots.

Instead, the bottom fell out before Finley ever saw the stand. Board officers announced that the absentee ballot of a 70-year-old woman was in question because her signature on the ballot didn't match her signature from the day she registered. When they called her to ask about the discrepancy, she told them that Bruce Kilby -- as in Akron's Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Kilby (pictured here)-- had signed it for her. Seconds later, Board member and Summit County GOP Boss Alex Arshinkoff said "well that's a felony" and ordered an investigation.

A short time later, I was headed to East Akron to track down Kilby and find out about these charges, which included a second alleged violation (and possible crime) by the board for giving that 70-year-old woman a $1 stamp to mail her absentee ballot.

Sidebar: So where exactly do they put guys with these crimes in prison anyway? "Hey buddy .. whatcha in for?" (pause) "Oh .. I gave a grandmother a stamp to mail her ballot ... are you the guy who tore the tag off his mattress?"

Kilby opens his on-camera interview with the words no journalist ever expects to hear someone say on TV: "Well, I guess I'm guilty." (That's the moment my head should have spun around like Linda Blair, but I couldn't because I still had to do the evening news broadcasts. )

Kilby admitted to sending scores of $1 stamps to voters as a way to help them vote absentee, and he says he owned up to it on his campaign finance reports. He says that should validate that he didn't know it was a problem.

He flatly denies signing anyone's ballot or absentee applications and promises to get a hand-writing expert if it comes to that. He believes the allegations are politically motivated by the candidates he defeated on 9/11 and by Mayor Plusquellic, charges that surprise no one who follows local politics and/or knows Kilby.

So here I am .. racing back to the station at 5:35 p.m. trying to make it for a liveshot at 6 p.m. .. again, on the story I didn't expect to get when I left the office this afternoon.

Somehow it's the stories you don't expect that get the whole town talking ... or in this case, at least mailing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BMV, Wacky callers, and "Free Jim!"

Barring an 11th-hour court filing, the Fairlawn License Bureau will be temporarily shut down beginning tomorrow (Wednesday). The announcement follows a Columbus judge's ruling that supports the state's decision to terminate Deputy Registrar Susan Suso and seize her franchise. The agency came under fire following last month's Channel 3 News investigation that found drivers' personal information in the dumpster instead of shredded or secured. I'm not sure how long the office will be shut down, but state leaders want to ensure the office has new leadership and an effective system in place to secure personal information.

There's nothing more entertaining than answering the phones in a TV newsroom. Yesterday a woman called begging me not to hang up and to please help her. As I was calming her down, my first thought was that she was on the run from a killer or in need of immediate medical assistance. She then began by saying, "I'm not crazy." I said, "O-kayyyyyyyy." Then she said, "I really, really, really need the phone number for 19 Action News." Trying to keep my composure, I told her, "you realize this is Channel 3, right?" "Yes. But I can't find their number anywhere and they just ran a story about my relatives and it's not true! And I need to call them right now to give them a piece of my mind and get them to fix that damn story!" "Hold on ma'am .. here' s the number."

About an hour ago I heard scratching at the front door of our newsroom. Sounded like a giant cat trying to claw his way in. I headed for the door and found an elderly gentleman who was attempting to tape a letter over our glass doors on Main Street. I opened the door to ask him what he was doing and he told me that he wanted us to see his letter petitioning for the release of former-Congressman James Traficant from prison. I asked him why he didn't just knock and hand it to me in person .. and he said, "well, I thought if it was out here you'd take it more seriously." Not sure how to respond, I simply smiled, took his note and wished him a good day. He responded by yelling "Free Jim!" three times and telling me to give the independent party a chance.

Next time I hear scratching, I'm letting the interns get the door.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wall to Walsh coverage ..

Kudos to Lisa Kindleburg of Akron whose ABJ Letter highlighted the misrepresentation of state report cards when applied to an entire school district. She finds that while the state lists the Akron Public Schools as a whole earning a "continuous improvement," the moniker is misleading.

In reality, Firestone and Ellet each earned "excellent" rankings that are glossed over if the district is looked as a whole. Home buyers and parents should compare Apples to Apples when choosing a school. For example, comparing Revere or Hudson's "excellent" ranking to the "continuous improvement" of all of APS might be unfair.. when instead you should compare one high school with another. Lisa earns an "excellent" herself.

Sherri Bevan Walsh will be busier than normal tomorrow. She'll be prosecuting a kidnapping and rape case herself. James Tayse is accused of kidnapping a 31-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter in Pittsburgh, driving them to Ohio, and then attacking her. Two witnesses reportedly were watching Channel 3 News when they spotted Tayse's car and called police.

The case should be good theater for courthouse pundits. Walsh won't be alone; lead prosecutor Mary Ann Kovach will also be in the courtroom. I'd be most interested in seeing Walsh's direct examination of the victim to see how her caring demeanor comes across the jurors. Two weeks ago, Walsh told me her nights and weekends were pretty cramped with case preparation but that she was feeling pretty energized by the opportunity to try a case herself again.

Poet Streets now writing on the wall

Akron City Council is moving forward with its plan for "eliminating conditions of blight" and dismantling homes on Poe Avenue, Shakespeare Street, and Twain Avenue .. better known as the "Poet" Streets.

Officially it's part of the Eastgate Urban Renewal plan; unofficially, it's a key to the plan to clear away property to build a new Goodyear Headquarters and keeping the wingfoot brigade from taking its tires and rolling all down to North Carolina.

Among the properties on the agenda is item 23P located at 266 Riley Avenue. It's owned by (drum roll please) councilman Bruce Kilby. Just odd to see a home being targeted for blight that's got an Akron councilman's name attached to it.
We're already receiving calls from some of the home owners who claim the initial $$ offers for their homes are too low, but I think that's to be expected. Laws prohibit how much governments can offer when it comes to buying homes for developments. We'll compare and contrast and I'll let you know what we find.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Odds and Ends of the week

Among the stories that came into the newsroom this week that I couldn't get to:

Amy writes to tell me about a co-worker's boyfriend, who is an Iraq war veteran and who used the money he saved from his overseas service to buy his dream motorcycle. On September 11th, his bike was stolen from West Akron and a person riding it later died in a crash on Route 8. Setting aside the awful tragedy on the highway, the bike's owner didn't have theft insurance and is now out big bucks and his transportation becoming, unfortunately, another veteran down on his luck.
A woman in Stark County swears that her community has just sold an unused elementary school to a developer who plans to turn it into a half-way house for sex offenders. She can quote sale prices and contracts as to a major fear for the neighbors of their once proud school. Now she says the transformation is on hold and not to do a story just yet -- stay tuned.

Another lady continues to email me about her sick cat, while two different people contacted me this week to see if I would speak to their college-aged kids about career paths. One told me, "he just needs some decent direction otherwise he's going to live here at home forever." Not sure I can really work enough time into my schedule for those challenges, but it's nice to be asked.

I had the privilege of speaking to 100+ 4th and 5th graders on Sept. 11th at Miller South School for the Performing Arts. I tried to give them a brief -- and non-violent -- overview of the day's significance and then touch on why soldiers like me and thousands of other troops had been deployed in mass to the Middle East. And oh yeah, I had to do it all in about 40 minutes. Challenging you say???

Remembering that these kids were in pre-school or kindergarten six years ago and yet are still just 10-11 years old, I felt it was better to undersell the story than oversell it. I showed pre-9/11 pictures of the World Trade Center and Pentagon and then showed a picture of Osama Bin Laden, telling the kids that he was the man who lead a group of bad guys to attack those places and harm our people. Then I showed a picture of President Bush and talked of how it was his job to capture Bin Laden and his group and bring them to justice. I didn't feel the need to show pictures of burning buildings or rubble to get the point across, hoping the students would follow along without the images of violence and death.

It was tough to segue into Iraq ... but after showing a map of the Middle East, I pointed out how Iraq is to the East of Afghanistan and simply said that the President felt that Iraq was also a danger to us and that's why we sent troops there. From that moment on my presentation was easy. I did some show-and-tell with military uniforms and artifacts I'd brought home with me from the war, including children's school books written in Arabic and some newspapers. The kids loved that part and filled the rest of the time with questions about how hot it is in the war zone and what it's like to be away so long. Near the end of my presentation, I discovered that several students were Muslims with may relatives still living in the Middle East.

What amazed me was how easily children will believe and grasp something as broad as 9/11 if you just keep the explanation simple and at their level. I didn't really sell it as light as a fairy tale, but I also didn't want to scare the dress code out of these kids either. Still, I'm hopeful that this isn't the last lesson of 9/11 and Iraq these kids get as they grow in our schools.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hey! I know that face!

I tried to buy an ABJ this week and bought a PD by mistake. (The reason is in the photo!) I was yakking on the cell phone while heading to breakfast with a military buddy, so I only half-looked at the pac-man newspaper dispenser and grabbed my morning prose. I was stunned to see the PD looking back at me on the breakfast table. Thinking that I had a big scoop that the PD was being sold from ABJ machines, I went back outside to confirm and realized I'd been duped by the face of Terry Pluto. Suddenly I realized the marketing attack that the Cleveland paper is launching in Beaconville. What really stunk was that Terry's column wasn't even in the PD that day! I think he owes me 50 cents now!

Speaking of newspaper news, ABJ columnist David Giffels is set to return to the newsroom on Oct. 1. He's been on sabbatical writing his latest book.

I've been gently hounding DG to let me know when he would return to column work. He sent me this message today .. "as you probably know, the media has been camped on my front lawn for days now, awaiting the puff of white smoke from the chimney." Ha!

David said he has to learn the paper's new computer and phone systems .. and get caught up on a number things before his column returns to life.

Cutts juror poll forces deep thought ..

Thanks to all of you who took part in my blog poll on what screening criteria is most important when choosing impartial jurors for the upcoming Bobby Cutts trial.

To recap:
  • 20 of you feel that a juror's thoughts on the death penalty mean the most
  • 16 feel that a person's thoughts on race and interracial dating is tops
  • 7 feel that internal feelings about police officers should be considered first
  • 1 felt that personal judgements of those who commit infidelity should be out in the open
Again, this assumed that knowledge of the Jessie Marie Davis case would be the first area jurors would share, but what about the rest?

I'm surprised that death penalty was the top choice. Not because it's not important, but rather because the DP only becomes necessary with a conviction .. and that tells me most people feel that Cutts is guilty so deciding his fate is the only real question on the table. Additionally, it's the most black-and-white question because those who are not willing to consider a death sentence would be excused from being jurors.

I'm not surprised that race was second on the list. We could discuss this all day, but all of us have views and thoughts on race and race relations. The racial makeup of this jury will be scrutinized plenty .. to say nothing for the prejudices each juror brings with them. The question becomes, "can you as juror put prejudices aside and not allow them to affect your decision in this case?" Remembering that "prejudice" means to "pre-judge" something. I think it's difficult for anyone to argue that they're not prejudice against someone out there ... be it short people, skinny people, white people, minorities .. etc . How do those prejudices affect a person's decision to decide a murder case?

Thoughts about police officers and police work are ALWAYS an issue when selecting a jury. If a juror thinks that all cops are "ego maniacs" or -- on the flip side -- that all police officers are "perfect beacons of society who can do no wrong" how can someone say that won't affect how they see Bobby Cutts?

As for the impact of infidelity, this lone vote surprises me. The talk shows seemed to be full of people slamming Cutts for having a relationship while still married while also attacking Davis with "that's what you get for messing around with a married man" statements. Have affairs become so common on the news that people aren't as likely to let that cloud their judgement? Still, if it's something that a potential juror feels strongly about, wouldn't it certainly impact their ability to reach a fair verdict?

Where does this leave us? Waiting .. and waiting .. we don't even know if the trial will be held locally or moved elsewhere ... but the topics raised above must be discussed and debated wherever the trial ends up if Bobby Cutts is to have an impartial jury.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Finley, Plusquellic, and the 34-cent nightmare!

A few notes to pass along following last night's mayoral election "extravaganza!"

I had a lengthy discussion with Joe Finley this afternoon about why he's contesting the election results and what he hopes to accomplish. While he's challenging what poll workers told Republican voters who were hoping to switch parties and vote in the Democratic Primary, he's not willing to fight to the death. He plans to raise a complaint and ask that it be investigated while waiting for the 288 provisional ballots to be approved and counted. Still, knowing that he trails Mayor Plusquellic by more than 1,000 votes, Finley told me he won't hold out forever just to be spiteful.

I asked Finley if the two camps had exchanged cell phone numbers prior to last night's election watch parties. He quickly said they had not. Translation: if either party had opted to concede, they couldn't have done it because they had no way to reach each other. What's that say about how these two feel about one another, eh?

Finley also took me to task on the pre-election hype. He pointed to the results and asked me how I could say a few weeks ago on NewsNight Akron that this "wasn't much of a race" and that he "didn't stand much of a chance?" I told Finley that under the same circumstances, I would say the same thing. I told him that from the outside looking in, it's tough to give much of a chance to someone whose facing a multi-decade incumbent with a $ million kitty and expect them to win .. regardless of who they are. It was a good, honest conversation so I'm glad Finley was willing to challenge me.

I also asked Finley about the different ward results and he quietly shook his head telling me that he thought he would have done better in Wards 3 and 4. He felt that his camp had banged on a lot of doors and attended a lot of events in those districts to come up so short. He lost those two districts combined by more than 1,000 votes.

Maybe it's just me .. but for what it's worth, only in Akron can a mayoral race between two Democrats be contested by what supposedly happened to the Republicans.

Meanwhile, I asked to do a followup interview with Mayor Plusquellic but was told that he was headed to New Jersey on business. Ironically, after being told that DP was unavailable, I saw his car drive past me on Hawkins Avenue. Someone else was driving and the mayor looked like he was typing intently on his blackberry. I'm told he was on his way to the airport.

His comments last night seemed very much from the heart. Ever the quarterback, Plusquellic compared his six-percentage point win to wins by Ohio State and Appalachian State. His grandkids were there at the party, so I'm sure that played a part in DP not blasting Finley too much.

I also had a chance to chat with Bryan Williams at the Board of Elections today. He said yesterday's election ran like clockwork. He said the turnout was low as expected. A little more than 35,000 of the 100,000 printed ballots were used across the county Tuesday, leaving 64,000+ ballots empty.

Williams told me that each ballot cost 34 cents. Want to do the math on that one? That's more than $21,000 spent on blank ballots that must now be held in the safe for 60 days and then destroyed. $21K in wasted paper! Williams told me, "that's actually better than it used to be."

I can only imagine.

FYI, the November ballots will cost 36 cents each, so we won't have to destroy as many to waste the same amount of money. Maybe we could recoup the money by selling advertising on all that blank space that wasn't used on the ballot-that's-bigger-than-my-head.

Ads like, "If you can read this, thank a teacher and vote for that school levy above" ...


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Finley contesting mayoral results, and other election notes

OK . .the dust is sort of settling now that the final votes have been released by the Summit County Board of Elections.

Don Plusquellic defeated Joe Finley by 1,033 votes .. 9,765 to 8,732 ... roughly 53 percent to 47.

Plusquellic was expected to appear at his campaign party around 8:30 p.m. but didn't appear til after 9 p.m. since the race was much closer than many expected. As a former high school quarterback at Kenmore, it wasn't surprising that Plusquellic used a football analogy to describe his victory. Claiming that OSU and Appalachian State are happy with six-point wins so why shouldn't he be too?

Meanwhile, Finley wasn't giving up hope even after the final results were in. He claims there were voting irregularities at the polls, chiefly that voters who tried to change their party affiliation in order to vote in the Democratic Primary were not permitted to do so. He also wants to ensure the provisional ballots are counted.

Facing a 1,000-vote deficit, I can't believe Finley's defiance can last for long, but it does add more drama to this growing saga.

I'll be interested to hear from Randy Hart, who was defeated as Barberton Mayor tonight by Bob Genet.

Also ... only in the Akron area can we see a new Mayor in "Norton" while a candidate named "Norton" win the mayor's race in "Green" ... all while a candidate named "Greene" loses in 4 by 4. 4 votes in ward 4 that is.

I love election night.

Finley makes Plusquellic sweat, recounts coming for two council races

The final vote:

Plusquellic 9,765 52.79%
Finley has 8,732 47.21%

This was much closer than most of the media . . and other political experts predicted .. let the great debate begin. I, for one, am surprised it was this close .. with a voter turnout of 18,497.

Additionally, incumbent Renee Greene was defeated by Deandre Forney in Ward 4 by 4 votes! Meanwhile, incumbent Terry Albanese defeated Wayne Kartler by just 12 votes.

Both races are headed for mandatory recounts since they were decided by fewer than one percent.

Frye, Hynde, 9-11, and more ..

More odds and ends on a Tuesday ..

About a dozen protesters demonstrated outside the Summit County Jail this afternoon. They're upset that the five deputies charged in the murder of Mark McCullough were released on signature bonds. All face felonies, including deputy Stephen Krendick, who faces 15-to-life on one count of murder. I can't recall anyone charged with that serious of a first-degree felony being released on signature bond.

I spent some time interviewing Zips football coach J.D. Brookhart this afternoon about last weeks' OSU game, this week's test at Indiana, and of course, Charlie Frye. Brookhart is a good barometer on stuff like this since he played major college ball and also served as an assistant coach in the pros (Denver). Brookhart told me that he hadn't spoken to Charlie yet today, but he anticipated that by mid-week, Charlie will have put the trade behind him and be focused on winning games in Seattle. Brookhart also sees it as a great opportunity for Charlie, since Seattle is Super Bowl caliber and has a veteran coach in Mike Holmgren. Still, does anyone else feel like it's 1993 all over again and the Browns just cut Bernie in mid-season? Just feels odd to dump the hometown boy again.

I got chills watching some of the MSNBC replay of the 9/11 Today Show. It never ceases to amaze me how TV news can bring a moment back to life. What stood out to me this morning was the first interview with one of the World Trade Center leaders who estimated that about 10,000 people were inside each of the towers with another 5,000 visitors possible. That would be 25K+ in harm's way .. plus the first responders. It reminded me of the initial uncertainty we all felt about the death toll ... and how for the first week or so I expected the loss of life to reach 10,000. Just overwhelms the emotions.

If you're going to the Chrissie Hynde benefit Saturday night, here's a tip: don't leave early. We already know that Jerry Lee Lewis will be there to play along, but I found out today there's another surprise on tap too. My lips are sealed.

Multiple news agencies are reporting a light turnout at the polls in Akron today. Not sure what to expect for the mayor's race, but most pundits believe that a smaller turnout supports Finley .. since his supporters were certain to come out and vote whereas the Plusquellic faithful might assume their vote isn't really needed. We'll know for sure in a few hours how it plays out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Newsroom Odds and Ends

Stuff that's worth telling you about ..

Good News/Bad News: Good to see John Saros out in front on his first day on the job as Executive Director of Summit Couty CSB. Bad that his own organization has yet to put his name on their website. The only place "John Saros" appears on the CSB site is an announcement six-and-a-half weeks ago that he's been hired as the new top gun. With a key levy pending, wouldn't someone have grabbed a digital camera to take the guy's picture and put it on the web with his bio by now???? For that matter, there's nothing on the CSB site about Issue 21 either. If the CSB leaders wait 6.5 weeks to get info on that too, they can kiss it goodbye at the polls. (I've taken the liberty of posting the picture of Saros that still exists at the website for his last job in Franklin County .. please feel free to steal it from me if you need it here in Akron)

Election Day: Tried to get video today of Mayor Plusquellic and Joe Finley each out stumping for votes in the final hours before election day, but it doesn't look like either one had anything formal planned. The mayor's office told me that he would probably attend the CSB rally but then that didn't happen. I called the Finley camp and Joe actually answered the phone. He didn't have anything set in stone for tonight either, but said he'd be making the rounds at the polls on Tuesday. By the way, Mayor Plusquellic and many of the other local Dems will hold their Election Night gathering at Gus's Chalet, while the Finley faithful will gather at the Crowne Plaza Quaker sporting $1 draft beers.

Email from Doug: "Isn't it ironic that because of a recent court ruling, a convicted felon and registered sex offender can live wherever he chooses to live, but our safety forces have to live in the city to get or keep their jobs! What's wrong with this picture?" Hmmmm .. food for thought.

Deja Vu? Weren't we all jumping up and down three years ago for the Browns to please give Charlie Frye, aka. the "hot shot rookie with Ohio ties," a shot to be the starting QB? Fast forward and now we're doing it all over again with Brady Quinn.

Yeah she was bad, but.... I find it ironic to hear all of the folks on the cable networks, radio, and talkshows bad-mouthing Brittany Spears for her performance last night on the MTV awards. I heard one guy on the networks say "it all began with how out of shape Brittany is" .. Oh my goodness ... does he have any idea how many married men wish their own wives looked that good after delivering two kids?? (not me though .. my wife looks much better than that!!! right honey???)

Oh to be a pillow on that couch ..

Here's a few observations from the 2007 Sapphire Ball fundraiser held Saturday night at Summa. I enjoyed the opportunity to be the emcee for the event, which supports a new oncology center at City Hospital.

Even with nearly 700 guests mingling, drinking, and laughing during the cocktails portion, I couldn't help but notice the two men sitting and talking quietly off to the side. On one couch, University of Akron President Dr. Luis Proenza. Across from him on the other couch sat developer David Brennan. Sure, they could have been talking about the Zips/Buckeyes or the Browns/Steelers ... but I'm guessing by their demeanor that there was more at play in that lengthy conversation than whether the crab cakes were better than the cheese balls. Oh to be a pillow on that couch ...

I swear I almost fell over when a nice young valet asked me to make an announcement to the crowd. It wasn't that I was unwilling to help, it's just that the information he needed broadcast seemed futile considering we were in a room with hundreds of wealthy doctors. But I did it anyway: "Will the driver of the black BMW please come forward and pick up your valet stub!"

I had a great experience sitting with reporter Shelley Blundell. She was there covering the ball for WAKR and AkronNewsNow. Originally from South Africa, Shelley studies as a grad student at Kent State and moonlights at the radio station and also as a magazine writer. She mentioned a few of her working story ideas that I think are better than some of the stories our local professionals have pursued lately. (Click here to read a strong editorial she wrote for last year.) She's got a great head on her shoulders for a young reporter and will do great if she gets the opportunity to do some on-air work. You'll recognize Shelley as soon as you hear the accent.

It was great planning to hold the ball outside under a huge tent; it was just lousy timing with the humidity Saturday night. Quite a few folks were "sweating to the oldies" on the dance floor.

I also had a nice chat with Akron's Service Director, Rick Merrolla, who returned to city hall earlier this year. Rick is truly one of the nicest guys you'll meet in public service. I mentioned to him that there's probably "a lot of folks at Highland Square who'd like to bend your ear." Rick smiled and said he knew it. He also mentioned that one of HS's strongest community leaders is moving out of the area.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cops charged as criminals? This has to stop

First Canton Police Officer Bobby Cutts is charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend.

Now it's Summit County Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Krendick ... and in addition, four of his fellow deputies face serious prison time for their alleged roles in the death of an inmate.

What gives?

There's still so much we don't know about both cases, so I can't speculate as to their innocence or guilt.

But somewhere, someone, somehow we've got to turn this sucker punch around as a community. It only takes one incident like this to fuel anti-police sentiment ... now we've had two local cops charged with murder in just a few month's time. And remember, they're some in the community who are still distrustful of APD following the Demetrus Vinson case (note: both an internal review and a special prosecutor cleared the Akron officers involved; Summit County Prosecutor has yet to give her ruling on Vinson).

If you can accept that police officers are held to a higher standard as community role models, then accept that it only takes one officer crossing the line to tarnish the image of the whole force. So how much damage is done when officers are indicted for murder?

Imagine being the family members of the hundreds of people (men and women) who are tonight confined to the Summit County Jail. How worried must they be for their loved ones' safety?

On the flip side, imagine how difficult it must be for the remaining jail deputies who are doing their best in a profession they love while the community microscope begins to focus hard on them. How tough will it be come Monday when they'll be looking at five of their fellow deputies in orange jumpsuits?

While it's commendable that the system holds all of us (police officers included) to the standard of the law, it's not fair that the rest of our local police officers pay the price for others' bad choices.

Somewhere, someone, somehow we have to turn this around.

Friday, September 7, 2007

BMV Boss booted

The state dropped the hammer today on Fairlawn's Deputy Registrar, Susan Suso, after our investigation last month that found BMV documents with sensitive information in the trash instead of shredded to bits. Here you can watch the latest story in this saga.

Those of you who saw the original stories on TV3 will recall that the BMV spokesperson said on camera that the documents were put there by "lazy" customers and therefore aren't the BMV's responsibility. That explanation certainly honked off the drivers whose info was trashed, but today it also T-boned Suso in the state's decision to can her. The termination narrative includes the phrase "your spokesperson blamed your customers in derogatory terms."

The letter actually spends more time chewing Suso's bumper for not cooperating after-the-fact than just problems with securing the documents.

What really stands out to me is how fast the investigation moved. We found the documents on August 8th and the state moved to fire Suso less than a month later. That should say a lot about the documents that were discarded and the lack of cooperation the investigators received at the Fairlawn agency.

In the end, my goal was to affect change, whatever that may be .. so that honest drivers don't see their identities stolen all because someone else was truly "lazy."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chrissie Hynde is a soundbite machine

I wasn't able to attend today's Chrissie Hynde's press conference today, but after watching tape of her comments, I felt like I was there.

The Akron native and lead singer of "The Pretenders" certainly wears her hometown pride on her sleeve (although today she was sporting a sleeveless white t-shirt, so just work with me people).

While her comments about wanting to open her Vegiterranean Restaurant in Akron's Northside Lofts were perfect for the evening news, other comments that didn't make the cut are still worth sharing.

For starters, Hynde reminisced about hanging out with bikers at the Glendale Cemetery .. and how as a teenager she used to get high near the tombstones. She then quipped that she'd probably be doing that again later today .. and not to tell her parents. The comments drew big laughs .. and even an awkward smile from Mayor Plusquellic, who was standing nearby.

Hynde also talked about the impact of returning to Akron 25 years ago. "When I did come back, in the late 70's and early 80's, I stood there at the corner of Main and Market and just cried." (Now, the inside story to that soundbite is that our entire news staff cracked up since our station is located at that same intersection ... and in TV, we endure a lot of crying :)

Still, in hearing Hynde's story, I have a greater respect for her song, "My City Is Gone" and what it means to Chrissie. Of course, she followed up her crying remark with "but I did make a lot of money on that song," which again drew some laughs.

There was also on odd juxtaposition when Hynde talked about killing animals for food as "indefensible" and later said her "blood" is in Akron.

Still, my favorite was the pure poet that lives inside Hynde, even when she's talking business instead of music.

"You know, there's no point in being on time, you have to be ahead of your time, but it's the people who are ahead of their time, who inspire the people who are on time, I'd like to think I'm splitting the difference somehow."

Ya know, that prose is so strong that I could write some song lyrics .. but then again, I'm sure her version would be much better.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"Operation Mayoral Name Snafu" now underway

Jamie from Akron writes: "so I just got a phone call from a young man asking me who I would be voting for in the upcoming election, Mr. Don 'Pluskweelik' or Mr. 'Findlay'? Can't they coach those kids??? I couldn't even correct him because I felt sorry for him. He seemed to be trying really hard to come up with that!"

I'm not sure which camp has a poll in the field. My instinct would be that it would have to be the mayor because Finley's camp doesn't appear to have as large of a pool of $$ to work with. I just wonder how valid the results will be if the callers are mispronouncing both candidates' names.

Anyone else get a call like that?

Newsroom Humor

Got a press release from Mark Williamson at Akron City Hall today that reads as follows:

"Visitors to this week's Beacon Farmer's Market at Lock 3 Park in Downtown Akron will have the opportunity to get really 'stoned' this Saturday - - and not because the market is celebrating Ohio wines. In addition to offering regional wines, Ohio cheese, home-baked breads and tasty produce, the Geology Department at the University of Akron will be giving walking tours of Downtown buildings."

Only a former broadcaster would find ways like Mark does to add humor to his press releases ..

A colleague of mine shared a story from one of his former employers that's worth sharing:

He says that the General Manager at his former station once walked into a news meeting and threw a tape into the VCR of a lion attacking and eating a gazelle. After a few seconds of shocked silence, the GM looked at the evening news producer and told him, "as far as I'm concerned, you're the gazelle. I need you to be the lion." I'm told the same GM also once sent one of his producers a shattered VHS tape of the previous night's evening newscast to make the point that he thought the producer's show was terrible. Yikes!!!!

Got an email today about a fundraiser at Mocha Maiden in downtown Akron. One of the bands is named "Faces Made For Radio." That's hilarious. Just reminds me of an old David Giffels column where DG penned about his early days at the U of A Communications Department .. and how students with bad hair were sent away from TV ... and immediately redirected to print or radio. I can't find his column on-line, but if you read it, you remember it.

The Cutts Jury .. can it be selected?

It's a daunting task to say the least:

Try finding 12 people who:
  1. know nothing (or very little) about the Jessie Marie Davis murder even though it dominated the local and national news for weeks
  2. are willing to consider the death penalty
  3. don't have preconceived feelings about those who commit infidelity
  4. can consider murder charges against a police officer while setting aside any positive or negative thoughts they have about cops
  5. can set aside their racial prejudices to include feelings about interracial dating

Now, if you can find those 12 people, are they really the people you want deciding a person's fate? And what would that dozen look like?

I've set up a blog poll to gauge your feelings about which area is most important when selecting jurors. Don't feel like you need to vote quickly; give it some thought and then weigh in on why you voted the way you did.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Emails dejour ..

A sample of some of the interesting emails that have come into our newsroom over the last few days:

One lady writes: "I'm looking for help with my sick cat. She has been in and out of the hospital for a week and they have run all kinds of tests, but cannot find the reason why she won't eat or why she is throwing up. We are trying to find help with the rising costs of her vet bills, already $4000.00 to date."

We actually get quite a few emails from viewers just looking for financial help. Some need money for rent .. some need to pay bills .. a few need bail. I never quite know what to think about folks who turn to a TV newsroom for financial help. It makes me wonder if they're completely at the end of their rope if they have to turn to the media for $$. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do to help this lady ... because if we do a story on one pet's needs, then other pet owners would be asking for the same treatment.

Linda emailed to tell me, "When my computer does spell check and doesn't recognize 'WAKC' it offers 'WACKY' as a possible alternative!"

Now that's comedy. Anyone who ever worked at WAKC-TV (the old "23 news") will certainly get a chuckle from that one. Most days there was definitely something wacky about that place! Of course, "WACKO" would have been appropriate some days too.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A defining moment

23 .. it's a number that's been with me in this crazy broadcast business for a while.

My first internship was at the old TV23, and then we launched the return of Akron news on PAX 23 ... and then we eventually moved it to Time Warner Cable on position 23.

That's a lot of 23's.

Today, I'm thinking of 23 years ago ... the date 9/4/84. It's a date I think about a lot as a TV reporter. In fact, it's a day that not only drew me into the business but one that guides my ethics and compassion most days.

23 years ago today was the date my older brother, Brian, was murdered in North Akron.

Brian was 17, and he was gunned down the day before he was to start his senior year in high school. Even though he was still a minor, Brian was living on his own ... one of the many byproducts of our dysfunctional, divorced family.

Long story short, Brian ended up living near a really, really bad guy .. who on 9/4/84 opted to put a shotgun into my brother's chest in front of an entire group of people. As the crowd was in shock and Brian broke into tears, the man pulled the trigger and killed my brother on the spot. Police caught the man and put him in jail, but it was too late for Brian.

About 12 hours later, after the family had wept and went their separate ways to grieve, a TV reporter knocked on our family's door asking for an interview. I told him my father wasn't home and that I didn't know much about what had happened. The reporter then pressured me with the argument that if I didn't talk to him on camera -- even though I was barely 16 years old -- that he'd have no choice but to run the police version of the story and comments from neighbors who hinted my brother had "asked for it." Stunned and numb, I said nothing to this emotional ultimatum and retreated in shock to my home.

Shortly thereafter --again 23 years ago today -- I made a promise that if I ever became a reporter, I would never approach grieving relatives the way I was treated that day. I would never make someone feel like they had to stop their mourning just because I showed up. I would never make them feel like my story had some bearing on how they should view their loss or whether it makes a difference in public opinion.

I would simply tell them how sorry I am for their loss. End of story.

If they agreed to tell me more about their loved one, that's fine. If they didn't, that's fine too.

To this day, I despise the reporter who came to my door that day. I can still remember how overdressed he was for the September heat. I can still remember the coldness in which he addressed me. I can still remember how he didn't give a damn if I was hurting or why, as a teen myself, I was home alone when something so awful had just happened.

Additionally, I still remember hearing the radio news that day. Still remember the opening sentence on WAKR .. "An Akron teen is dead today from a shooting in North Akron .. and police must still determine what happened."

As a journalist, I can tell you that it's easy to write evening news stories in a sort of formula. "A fire on the city's west side tonight ..." or "An Akron man is lucky to be alive tonight ...." You know the drill. The stories become so routine that it's like making Kool-Aid .. but instead of adding two quarters of H20, you add two quarts of prose on a 6th-grade level.

Those stories about my brother remind me everyday that relatives will forever remember the adjectives I use to describe their loved one. They'll memorize the verbs that craft my sentences and make note of whatever I left out of the story that they felt was important. They'll never forget if I mispronounced a name or a place .. and they'll forever remember me as the storyteller.

Knowing all that, how could I live with myself if I was sloppy in my job? If I pressured or misled them for emotional interviews? If I guided my questions to purposely make them cry? If I fail to make sure the story is accurate?

For me, the pain on 9/4/84 unfortunately got much worse. My maternal grandmother died the next day of a massive heart attack triggered by my brother's death. We had two funerals on back-to-back days.

In 2003, the man who killed Brian was paroled under a new state program as I sat 7,000 miles away in Operation Iraqi Freedom unable to do much in opposition. I knew that that day would come someday. I'd already forgiven him (at least I hope I have) and made peace with the loss of Brian. I don't believe in the death penalty, so accepting that my brother's killer would someday be set free was unavoidable.

Still, today is yet another "23" for me.

23 years since I last saw my brother alive.

23 years since my family was forever broken.

23 years since I was branded with a horror that I pray will forever guide me as both a journalist and a man .. someone who chooses compassion over content ... and remembers my pain before remembering my pen.

Newsroom Stuff

A nice caller dialed in to our newsroom just seconds after I said goodnight on the 10 p.m. newscast last week. The lady on the other end of the phone began giving our Executive Producer, Chris Hyser, a big piece of her mind about the Michael Vick story. She was completely offended by the story she'd just seen on Vick and felt the media was being way too lenient on a dog killer. Chris could barely get a word in because she was talking so fast. Eventually, she took just enough of a breathe that Chris was able to tell her, "ma'am ... we didn't have a story on Michael Vick in tonight's newscast .. you must have been watching another station." After a few seconds of silence, the woman said "Oh!" and hung up. Believe it or not, that happens all the time.

Relatives of a man arrested for allegedly emailing a bomb threat to the University of Akron last week came by our front door on Friday. They were going on and on about how there's no way their relative could have done those things because "he's just not like that." They said he doesn't even have a computer at home. However, they did tell me that their loved one often used the computers at the downtown Main Library. If true, I'll be interested to see how police were able to trace the threat to this man.

Representatives for Mayor Plusquellic and Joe Finley have reached out to tell me that each man wrote his own opening remarks for last Monday's debate. In my blog blow-by-blow (see below), I shared impressions of their deliveries .. specifically that I felt Finley was reading someone else's writing while Plusquellic was more comfortable and polished. By the way, for those who voted in my blog poll about whether the debate would affect your vote for mayor, the final results were 22 "no" votes to five "yes" votes. Five others said they aren't sure yet.

I've shared multiple emails with an Akron mother whose daughter and son have attended Cuyahoga Falls schools via open enrollment for the last five years. The woman tells me that 10 days before classes were set to begin, she received a letter stating that while there is room for her son to keep coming to Falls HS, her daughter can no longer attend Bolich Middle School because there is no longer open enrollment space. As you can imagine, this mother is very, very upset. She still has a letter from June in which the district informed her that her daughter would be attending Bolich in the fall. Since I haven't heard back from the district yet, I really don't have all sides of the story .. but I have to wonder .. with districts fighting for every student (and the $$ that follow them) I'm shocked that any open enrollment student is turned away these days. For now, this mother is home schooling her daughter.

I had the opportunity to sit in on roll call last week at APD. The two evening shifts are each sporting about a dozen new officers from a recent class of academy graduates. There's so many new (and at times "baby") faces in those uniforms that I kidded one sergeant that he might as well be running a day care. I did see the one female officer in this new class. Her supervisor tells me that she was once a teacher in the Akron schools before deciding to be a police officer. While a great many members of this class are prior-military, I doubt there's very many who came from the classroom. Her classmates tell me that bad guys better not take her lightly or they're likely to get thumped.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Guest blogger

The following entry was prepared by my wife, Lisa, as we discussed the fascination so many people (especially women) have with the late Princess Diana. Happy reading. Eric

Can it really be ten years since the death of Princess Diana? There are still so many pictures and video of her looking beautiful that it is hard to believe. So, my dear husband wants to know why we are so fascinated with her.

Why she captured the imagination of so many, in a country that was built on Democracy and in defiance of royalty? Why so many remain captivated by her life? Why did we get up at all hours to watch her wedding? Why did we cry at her funeral?

He wants a woman’s point of view so here are my thoughts.

I am a few years younger than the Princess. So, she first came into the world spotlight when I was an awkward teen discovering boys and dreaming of romance. A real life Prince is a fairly unique concept in recent decades. The thought of meeting and marrying a "commoner" is the stuff fairy tales are based on.
I was 14 years old when I watched the whole wedding and pageantry at my Uncle’s house on a family vacation. I remember laying on the floor totally transported to another world. Wondering at the poise it must take to be so young and yet stand up in front of all of those people and become their princess. It seemed like a daunting concept.

Diana had that shy sweet quality that made her so likable. She wasn’t the "perfect" beauty, although beautiful. She made mistakes such as saying one of Charles’ many surnames out of order (She did. Go back and watch the tape.) Or wearing a skirt without a slip and having her photos taken.

As she settled into her role of mother, it again seemed the fairy tale; the first-born son, the adoring crowds and an apparently doting husband. No one knew yet of her heartache. First William and then Harry made a perfect family. More of what we as young girls dream of. Her public face grew beyond being a Princess into her outreach and making a difference in the world. Who could ask for more? It seemed like happily ever after.

Then reality.
Real life has oh-so-few "happily ever afters" after all. But even with the growing revelations about her marriage and ultimate divorce, somehow I could still be happy for Diana. She still fought her way to the top of the heap.

Managing to retain her grace and most of her dignity even as more and more was revealed about her private life. Her boys seemed to shine in the face of it all, as did she. She was getting on with her life despite it all.

Her death was such a shock. My middle son was only a month old so we were in the real "no sleep days" with him. Still, we stayed up late as the news started to break.

All I thought about was how horrible to die when her kids were so young. They were walking and talking but they were still so young. So many things in their lives she would miss. Wondering if she had enough time to have the influences on them that she wanted to have. Wondering if I would with my young sons if something ever happened to me.

Somehow in watching her sons turn into men, the fascination continues. So interesting to see what they have made of themselves despite the tragedy of their mother’s death. So interesting to wonder if they will live out the fairy tale that eluded their mother.

So today, I believe some of the fascination remains because we need to have fairy tales. Despite ourselves, we still root for the underdog, the little guy, over the ones in charge and the snobs of royalty. More than anything, we want a legacy that outlives us and the love of our sons or daughters when we are gone. All these things, Diana continues to give us even ten years after her death.