Thursday, January 31, 2008

New reporting challenge - finding the real story inside Cleveland's homicide numbers

I love my job, but at times it can get repetitive .. so I've been trying to broaden my horizons and push myself to bring my reporting to a different level.

Today .. my first web-exclusive story is on-line .. looking at the real reasons behind Cleveland's monster year for homicides.

In early January, national news organizations began looking at crime rates across the country for 2007 .. and Cleveland kept getting nailed for its 134 homicides. One article listed Cleveland as number two in the nation behind "Kill"adelphia for being killed. Even the PD's article pointed to the homicide basics -- crime, crime, drugs, crime -- as the factors for the rising rate.

Yet, nowhere could I find what these homicides looked and felt like .. and what the data really showed.

So I requested the demographic and crime info on all 134 homicides. It took several hours to input all of the data into a computer spreadsheet, but I got it done in a few days and began to analyze it.
Turns out, drugs weren't the number one factor (at least statistically) for these deaths. In fact, only 18 of the 134 were listed as "drug-related."

I also looked at the "solved" rate and found that nearly 60 percent of Cleveland's homicides had indeed been solved ... that's more than 10 points higher than the national average ... something the national media outlets weren't mentioning. (FYI: Akron detectives also had a good year when it came to solving homicides ... making arrests in 21 of 23 murders in 2007). Certainly, Cleveland's small homicide unit was working their butts off but not getting the proper credit.

Anyway .. I pushed hard to look beyond the numbers for ground-level stories .. and pushed my bosses at WKYC to let me take my analysis to the web .. and they agreed. So take a look if you like ... browse the data .. see what strikes you .. and give me some feedback.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat

Cutts jury is all Caucasion

A jury has now been selected in the murder trial of Bobby Cutts .. set to begin on Monday.

A courthouse spokesman tells me that of the six men and six women who were chosen, all are Caucasian. Six alternates were also chosen (3 men and 3 women) which included one African-American as an alternate.

I don't yet know if the defense will make the lack of minorities on the panel to be a legal issue at the last pre-trial set for Friday morning, but others in the community will certainly weigh it in the discussion.

In November, Myesha Ferrell was prepared to go to trial but accepted a plea bargain just as opening statements were to begin. Her jury was also a panel of 12 Caucasians.

Cutts, who is black, faces the death penalty if convicted in last year's murder of Jessie Marie Davis and her unborn child. Davis was white.

Will an all-white jury deciding a possible death penalty of a minority make a difference? Or after weeding through 800 potential jurors, is the racial makeup a non-issue? I'm interested to hear some differing views.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TV promo too much?

Our newsroom is trying to grade itself .. specifically, the approach we've taken to promoting Tom Meyer's investigative story that airs this Thursday at 11 on Channel 3 News.

Click here to view it. When you're done, I'd love some honest feedback.

I had no part in this whatsoever .. still, I'm weighing in like everyone else ... and I'll tell you that you can believe the hype on this one: Tom has done an excellent job with this horrific story and he'll have many people absolutely outraged. His report is that good, but it's also that upsetting.

Next week, I have a story that deals with a different-but-just-as-serious subject, and I wonder what's the best way to promote a story like that without going over the top or offending viewers.

Thanks in advance .. Eric

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union challenge

So it's President Bush's last State of the Union Speech.
I always like to challenge people who think they can do my job to watch the SOTU and try to write the 45-second copy story for the 11 p.m. news.

Which soundbite do you choose?

The one where he champions all of our hard-working men and women in uniform to total applause? Or the one in which he challenges changes to health care and the Dems never move out of their seats?

Do you choose the soundbite where he announces tax rebates that champion the little people? or do you use the moments when he stumbles while telling Congress how displeased he is that the Dems are holding up war funding.

You got 45 seconds .. so go ahead and choose. You write the story.

Think our job is easy in the press? Go for it. The networks and cable shows will beat the speech like a drum, but for the evening news, your goal is to provide a quick synopsis.

No matter what soundbite you choose, someone will take offense. Someone will email or call and say that you missed the "real story you bleeding-heart liberal you-know-what!" or that you "let the President off too easy you right wing so-and-so!"

45 seconds.

Most of us can't even give good directions to our homes in that much time, but your mission -- should you choose to accept it -- is to write the story that covers the highlights of the most important speech the President usually makes in a year.

Heck, it took you longer than 45 seconds just to read this post.

Good luck .. may the words be with you ...


Cutts and Butts and Busses, Oh My!

Tonight's newscast includes back-to-back stories about Bobby Cutts and Christopher Butts. Cutts and Butts. Butts and Cutts. A broadcaster's rhyming buffet. The suspected mom/baby killer and the accused U of A rapist. And it doesn't help that their initials are reciprocals: BC and CB. It's doubtful the audience will pick up the rhyme .. but I'll feel it in the flow of the show.

A few months back, we sent one of our photographers to Winesburg, Waynesburg, and Wooster all in the same day. As we went from story to story on the air, I felt like Elmer Fudd as the "W" theme kept "wolling awong."

We've also had broadcasts where we've had a slew of animal stories ... maybe a dog attack at the top of the news .. and a little later, a car vs. deer story, and then maybe a lighter story going into weather about a cat being found inside a house wall .. and then the final story of the newscast, which is known as the "kicker", is about a man who raises monkeys in his home.

Of course, right after "Butts" tonight, we have "Busses" with the Revere vandalism story .. so there's another verbal connection.

Years ago, when I was just a cub reporter, anchor Judd Hambrick used to talk about "seamless" news .. the idea that there's a transition or segue between every story. Even if you're going from a murder story to the weather, the anchor must come up with a connection. Something like: "Well, hopefully Bob we won't have a killer storm this weekend ..."

It was one of those ideas that worked well on paper and was championed by consultants, but really never worked the way it should have.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Denny Ross II will be different trial altogether

I'm not a betting man .. but if I were, I'd bet the farm that the sequel to Denny Ross's murder trial won't resemble the first one much at all -- at least from the prosecution side.

While attorneys have spent seven years seeking a new trial, I'm told investigators have been quite busy too .. gathering additional evidence and conducting new tests not available at the time. Additionally, a special prosecutor is now involved ... so different attorneys will be there to present the evidence this time around.

The original trial judge, Jane Bond, has since retired. So there will be a change on the bench as well.

So barring a reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ross will again be tried in the 1999 rape and murder of Hannah Hill. The 18-year-old from Kenmore disappeared in May of that year; her body was found a week later in the trunk of her car. Police picked up Ross, the last person to see her alive, and a subsequent search of his apartment turned up some of her clothes and his semen on her underwear.

I was in Ellet that morning when her car was found. I remember chatting off to the side with a police supervisor. I asked him if Hannah was in the car, and he just caught his breath and then sighed. He didn't have to say another word. We waited several hours to report that info until police told us that Hannah's family had been notified.

Three-ring circus

Seventeen months later, Ross stood trial dressed more like a schoolboy than a suspect .. and with a million-dollar defense team pulling the strings, jurors voted to acquit him of the most serious charge -- murder -- and were debating a lesser charge when the circus was turned upside down.

A juror reported that another juror had information on a lie detector test involving Hannah's former boyfriend, and that was enough for Judge Jane Bond to order a mistrial. Even though jurors had already signed forms acquitting Ross, they were never read in open court and therefor weren't official. It was the most bizarre ending to a trial that most reporters in this town had ever seen.

Double jeopardy rules prevented a re-trial until now. Our office worked hand-in-hand with Dateline NBC on a one-hour special called "Who Killed Hannah Hill?" which has been rebroadcast on MSNBC multiple times.

Family hopeful

I spoke to Hannah Hill's father tonight by phone. He's a gentle man who was nice enough to grant me a few minutes, and while he declined an interview, he did tell me how pleased the family was for the re-trial. Akron Police made sure that he knew about Friday's court ruling.

I'll never forget the first time we met the Hills. It was the day Denny was arrested. They took part in the press conference with police, making a brief statement about leaning on God and friends and family .. and thanking police for bringing Ross to justice. They were so quiet and so devastated that day. I can't imagine how difficult that was for them to sit in front of the TV cameras that day.

Second Victim

I spoke to a source tonight who mentioned that what's often forgotten is the 'second' victim .. a woman Ross met at a bar .. whom he beat and raped later that night. He's now doing 25 years for that attack -- a crime that couldn't have occurred, the source said, had Ross not been walking the streets after the first trial.

Still, there's a long way to go until this case is back in a local courtroom .. but when it is, look for a new twist to this already twisted tragedy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Odds and Ends on a Thursday

I spent the afternoon finishing a number of future stories .. mainly two pieces for our upcoming Bobby Cutts trial special. The nation will again focus on our area as the case begins Feb. 4th. It's tough to write new stories when there's a gag order on the case that prevents the attorneys and witnesses from talking with the media. Still, the news we've developed for this special is still quite compelling. Stay tuned.

I've got a barrage of emails that I'm trying to fight through, including a woman who tells me about serious problems at a Northeast Ohio nursing home. Those stories are always so upsetting because often the victims are at a stage of life where they can't stand up for themselves.

Got some great personal news at TV3 today .. but it's not my news to share .. so you'll have to wait until it's decided that it's OK to put it on the air.

I'm excited to get Steve Hoffman back on the NewsNight Akron panel tomorrow (Friday). It'll be Steve's first appearance of 2008 .. and the since "Elephant-gate" grew larger-than-life in the battle to control the Summit County GOP.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat

Webchat tonight!

Hope you can stop by tonight at 8:30 for live webchat. All topics up for grabs .. including the Board of Elections debates, the purchase of the State Road Shopping Center, the Cutts jurors, you name it ..

See ya tonight .. Eric

War lies leave local Iraq veterans empty

Sometimes I have to write as a military veteran instead of a journalist. This is one of those times.

A report posted yesterday by the Center for Public Integrity leaves me and thousands of other troops and their families just spitting bullets. The news story itself is being picked up today by news organizations across the country.

It's one thing to have critics make claims and ask you, "how does it feel to have been sent to a war zone when it was all a lie?" It's another, to have it displayed in black and white.

How are we as service members supposed to feel when we've volunteered to serve and sacrifice under the belief that our leaders will deploy us responsibly ... only to later find out that we were put in harm's way based on fabrications? Not just bad data, but manipulated info?

I could rant and rave for hours on this topic ... but that wouldn't get me anywhere. And believe me .. I know I was one of the lucky ones who endured my tour of duty and survived, so I recognize how blessed I am.

But to be honest, there are days when the facts and the truth about the war in Iraq slap me and other veterans silly that our lives were needlessly put in danger .. that our families were needlessly made to suffer .. and that the battle scars we now carry were given to us by choice and not necessity.

It is on days like these ... that while I'm thankful for all the yellow ribbons, the American flags, and the "welcome homes", I still can't help how hollow I feel on the inside.

Thanks for listening .. Eric

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fireworks reduced to firecrackers

I got my first taste of the current climate at the Summit County Board of Elections today. For the political taste buds, it was more bitter than sweet.

Alex Arshinkoff and Wayne Jones continued their political tango. AA with just enough verbal disdain for any agenda items that aren't quite fixed or corrected ... all while waiting to see what issues make him a punchline in Wayne's World. Jones rarely raises his voice at these meetings, choosing instead to play quiet verbal volleyball and spike the set when necessary.

Last week's meeting certainly one upped any of the Presidential debates. The foul language flew as well as the personal attacks. Good enough for front-page headlines in the ABJ. This week, tempers stayed in check ... even if the tone of the words remained terse at best.

As per usual, the pair agreed-to-disagree on petitions for Central Committee candidates -- the mass of folks who will later select a smaller mass of folks who later select the one mass to chair the Republican Party.

Got it? Make sense? Right!

AA has a mass that he supports; Kevin Coughlin has made it clear that he has his own mass with a goal of making AA's a mass casualty. (Insert joke here).

And no BOE meeting would be complete without Coughlin's name being tossed around. Coughlin wasn't there, but the one time his name did come up, AA snapped back on it. To be honest, I was a bit confused at the board's action regarding Coughlin's absence to defend certain issues, but I heard Coughlin later on WAKR claiming that he hadn't been officially notified of the meeting as required by law (he says) so he was contesting whatever action had been taken.

So all kidding aside .. where does this leave us as a community just six weeks til the election? Tough to tell.

It doesn't seem like anyone can agree on anything at these meetings. And no matter what anyone at the table suggests, someone else implies there's really a secondary agenda.

Plus, the Secretary of State must be mentioned a minimum of 20 times .. ( so much so that at times, I felt like college kids could make a drinking game by tossing one back every time they heard the SOS uttered from members at the table.)

The only sure thing is that at least once per meeting someone on the board must lecture the crowd about the importance of having a democracy and how we should all be proud that we live in one.

Now, if only the board members could agree on that point ...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Danger downtown?

I had a chance to visit Akron Fire Station #9 over the weekend. Our cub scout tour of the neighborhood station on Dodge Avenue was pleasant and a great learning experience, but it also kind of scared the hell out of me.

Station #9 has one of the department's newest ladder trucks, which reaches a full 75 feet in the air when fully extended. It'll reach up about five stories, one fire fighter said. So the reporter in me had to ask, "but what happens if there's a fire higher than that in a downtown Akron building?"

"They're on their own," I was told.

Seriously? Wow!

It's not to say that AFD's finest wouldn't be working their hoses off to knock down a fire like that, in fact the department recently held high-rise fire training to practice for just such a crisis. Yet, as it was explained to me, the protocol for fighting a fire higher than five stories would be to attack it from inside the building (two floors below) and hope to put it out fast enough so that people trapped above it could then be saved. (Akron's tallest building is the First National Tower -- photo courtesy Wikepedia)

In other words, if you work on the sixth floor or higher, you need to know that in case of a fire, AFD may have no way of getting you out, but rest assured they'll do everything they can to put out the fire before you cook.

I'll admit that it's not that I have some crazy notion that there are super-giant-huge-monster ladders out there that reach 20 floors up. But I can't help but think about the number of people I know who work in the First National Tower or the National City Bank Building .. and college students living in the Quaker hotel ... and the hundreds on the upper floors of Akron's municipal courts. I can't help but worry that their only hope for surviving a high-rise fire may be to climb the building's staircases and hope fire fighters can contain the blaze before it burns the folks above.

It's just scary to think about ..

Friday, January 18, 2008

Student moved for own safety ... and getting under my skin ..

I spoke to a source in the Akron Schools today about 16-year-old Ed Davis. He's the local teen who was charged but later cleared in the Cage nightclub shooting that left 18-year-old Shawrica Lester dead.

Today's ABJ article cites Davis' denial to enroll at East High School as district leaders championed safety reasons.

My source says that Davis' guilt or innocence was never a factor in denying him entrance to the school, but that future violence was the chief component to keep Davis out of East High.

"We had credible information that retaliation was not only possible but probable against this young man," my source said. "So for his own safety we placed him in an alternative school where more security is present."

This is the same case that has 17-year-old Tyree Feaster serving a long sentence for refusing to testify against the man prosecutors believe actually pulled the trigger. Although Davis was found not guilty, he spent six months in juvenile detention and now looks to get his life back on track.

If APS had allowed Davis to return to East High knowing that retaliation would take place, the district certainly could have been held partly responsible for what happened. Still, how will the students and parents at Davis' new school feel about having him in class? But on the flip-side, how is Davis supposed to take advantage of a "second chance" if he can't get started with one?


On tonight's NewsNight Akron (9 p.m. on PBS45/49), we'll discuss the case in Green and whether the students' inappropriate youtube videos should be covered as free speech. That reminded me of a great debate (more like a journalistic injustice) that was reported last month.

The debate centered on KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden, whose phone records were seized by police in Minnesota. Here's a snip-it from the Society of Professional Journalists :

"According to published reports, including the Associated Press, Lyden went to the police department with intentions to research the criminal record of a woman who was sitting in a car with a man who allegedly shot an undercover police officer last June. Under Minnesota’s public records law, Lyden should have been entitled to view a copy of the seven-year-old traffic arrest of the woman. However, he was denied by St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh.

"Lyden later obtained the document from a county official who acknowledged it was public information. He reported his story without naming the woman, who was considered a witness in the police shooting last summer. After the story aired, the police department issued the administrative subpoena, citing concerns over data privacy.

"In obtaining my phone records they basically opened up my reporter’s notebook," Lyden told another KMSP-TV reporter. "They basically looked at my notes. They have looked at sources. They have looked at people I have tried to protect."

"What’s crazy about this whole thing is that the police department wants to know which public employee actually followed the law by providing a public document that everyone is entitled to," said David Cuillier, chairman of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. "This could frighten government employees everywhere, telling them that if they don’t go along with secretive, illegal agency practices they will be hunted down through any means and perhaps punished. Police should be upholding the law and good governance, not scheming to undermine it."

I gotta tell ya folks, the thought that police would seize a reporter's phone records in a witch-hunt to identity the reporter's sources is a serious allegation. It flies in the face of the laws that protect journalists' (and the public's) right to know and establishes checks-and-balances with our government.

Ten years ago, a police officer told me in confidence that investigators in the Doug Prade homicide case wanted to know who was calling me with information. They were trying to find leaks in hopes of preserving their case, which as a professional I can appreciate. The officer told me that at least one investigator had set a phone "trap" at the police station with my newsroom phone number so that if anyone dialed our Akron news office, they'd know it.

I don't know if they pinpointed anyone dialing that number, but if true, it was certainly a rare reach by police to get a glimpse of the journalist-source relationship. I'll never say whether any of my sources ever called me from APD or reveal the names of any sources on any story ... but I will tell you that it's a slippery slope when investigators -- especially these ones in Minnesota -- begin focusing more on squeezing the media than solving their case.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat

Cutts, Mitts, and Grunts

I'm busier than a one-armed paper hanger right now. I just can't seem to keep up with the number of stories and other requests coming in to the newsroom right now.

All of us in media are keeping tabs on the Cutts' jury selection. I'll be interested to see how they come up with the final dozen. With all of the pre-trial publicity and the death penalty specification, there's a lot to consider when paring down the mammoth pool of potential jurors. We're making plans for a 30-minute special on Channel 3 looking at the history of the case and what we should expect from the trial. Reporter Chris Tye and I are muling the majority of the special's contents .. and trying to deliver new insight without violating the case's gag rule.

I have soom good news to pass along. I was really excited to deliver some sports equipment to some local troops deploying to Iraq. I had about a dozen baseball/softball mitts along with 10 bats and a bunch of other sports gear still available from the "Mitts for Military" campaign I helped lead nearly two years ago.

At the time, I'd hoped to help 2-3 companies, or about 500 soldiers. To date, MFM has provided sports equipment to 16 companies and more than 2,000 troops ... including members from each branch of the service. Thanks so much to Terry Pluto for his column and for collection and publicity support from the Chapel and WAKR radio.

This most recent time time, we delivered a complete set of equipment to soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard's C-Company, 237th, just before they pulled out of their armory on Hawkins Avenue earlier this month. The group's First Sergeant was happy to get the equipment, which will come in handy for the troops to pass time at their mobilization station and later in Iraq. It was a good feeling to see the last of the equipment delivered to real troops who can use it; thank you again to all of you who took the time to contribute.

Speaking of helping the troops, Paul Hickman from Cuyahoga Falls continues his quest to provide musical instruments to troops overseas through "Guitars for Grunts." He recently sent me the following email:

"Last month I was on an Internet forum and one of the people posted a request to mail Christmas Cards to her son's unit in Iraq. Even tho her son Daniel was killed on May 23rd 2007 she was still thinking about her son's other family...his Brothers in Arms. I contacted her and asked her if I could send a guitar to Iraq in memory of her son, and she thought it would be a wonderful idea.

"A couple of days later a guitar arrived that was donated by a gentleman and I thought it would be the perfect guitar for this. I emailed the donor and told him my special plans for his guitar. Now here is where it just rips me to pieces, a day or so later I check the Guitars for Grunts P.O. Box and there is a letter from Daniel's mother (in California). Sitting in the parking lot of the Stow Post Office, I open her letter and the tears came on like tidal waves. The envelope contained a letter thanking me for what I am doing, imagine being thanked by a Gold Star Mother! A check for $100 to help the GFG project and a special made Dog Tag in memory of Spc. Daniel Cagle." (Here's a picture of the guitar)

Paul .. thanks for the note .. and thanks for spearheading the program which is obviously making a big difference.

If you have a used musical instrument that you'd like to donate or some funds you had earmarked to help the troops, please visit the Guitars for Grunts page and Paul can take it from there.

See ya tonight for Webchat starting at 8:30 p.m. Eric

Live Webchat tonight at 8:30 p.m.!

Whatcha doing later tonight? Stop by beginning at 8:30 p.m. and join the chat. I'll have it all set up. All you have to do is share your thoughts.

I'm sure everyone's got a thought on whether the Green Schools were right or wrong in disciplining students for their Youtube videos. Did they go too far? Is this a Freedom of Speech debate or is there more to it?

Plus anything else that's on your mind .. see you tonight!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Freedom of speech for high school students?

A few odds and ends to pass along on this cold, Tuesday evening ..

Tonight's lead story at 6 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. is sure to be a "talk-about" case around town. A local high school suspended a handful of students who made a Youtube video mocking their teachers and fellow students. They made the video at home on their own time, yet the school district feels it has grounds to take disciplinary action. The videos have since been removed. I did speak to the parent of one of the students who tells me that he's furious the district would suspend the kids during exam week when the law isn't clear (he says) that the school has jurisdiction here. The superintendent and parents are due to speak with one of our reporters in the next hour or so .. so stay tuned.

I didn't know it, but my first documentary "Reporting the War" aired again last night on PBS 45/49 and is scheduled to air again this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. This 30-minute report looks at the challenges local journalists face while trying to cover conflicts thousands of miles away. My interviews include TV anchor Tim White and Leon Bibb, long-time news anchor and news director Virgil Dominic, local radio anchor Larry States, ABJ military reporter Jim Carney, and veteran photojournalist Larry Baker. You can also watch the documentary on-line at the 45/49 website.

How in the world did LeBron's speeding ticket stay quiet for two weeks? He was stopped on Dec. 30th but the story didn't come out until Jan. 13th. I'm just amazed that it took that long considering the trooper who wrote the ticket must have known who it was behind the wheel. How did someone not leak it to a reporter? I realize a lot of people are taking shots at LeBron's "cavalier" attitude towards the ticket, but my first thought was his two sons. Forget the basketball career and celebrity .. how do you go 101 MPH when you have two little boys who depend on you to be around as their daddy? Guess it's just the father in me .. and recalling how I began slowing down and taking fewer risks once I became a parent.

So Tennessee and Indianapolis both lost their first games in the playoffs. Somehow I feel those losses were karma for what happened to the Browns on the last week of the season. I realize the Colts had their reasons for resting those starters (and we can see how well that worked out), but for the hard-working fans who paid big bucks to attend the game, weren't they still charged full price even though they didn't get a first-team show?

I had a nice time this morning as a panelist with the Child and Family Leadership Guidance media day. My Q & A with a handful of local public relations folks followed a panel discussion the group had with four Public Information Officers, including Akron Police Lieutenant Rick Edwards. He described his role with the media as that of a zoo keeper. Every day he has to find the right food to feed the hungry local reporters. Classic.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Police Auditor delivers compassion with crititques

I had a nice chat today with Phillip Young, Akron's new Police Auditor. He's been on the job about 90 days now, so I thought it would be good to do a sit-down interview for the evening news (look for the story later this week).

Young's persona is much like you'd expect from a career state trooper. He's soft-spoken but direct, personal, and professional. He has excellent listening skills and the kind of genuine eye contact you'd expect from OHP.

The overall impression you walk away with is that Young hears you. He may not agree with your complaint or be able to solve your problem, but you'll have no problem communicating.

That's a big key. Young tells me that many of the complaints he reviews focus on communicating. The words an officer chose or the body language the officer gave out during their interaction with a citizen can lead to miscommunication or even hurt feelings -- and that can lead to formal complaints.

Young tells me that he reviews about 20-25 citizen complaints each week plus all use-of-force and taser reports. He reviews them for trends and procedural issues. I don't get the impression that Young's looking to pass judgement on whether the officer on the report was right or wrong, but rather he's looking to see if there's a change or modification to APD's policies and procedures that might be worth revisiting.

He also becomes the "voice of reason" for some folks who just want more explanation. For example, Young tells me that yesterday he spent more than an hour with a local father and his teen son. They'd come in to complain about an incident involving the teen and police. Long story short, after sitting and chatting with Young, the teen confessed to some additional details of which his father hadn't been aware .. and the dad was able to leave with his son knowing that the officers had been in the right. Again, it comes down to communication. Doesn't it almost always?
I don't get the impression that Young's out to make change just for the sake of making change or as some way to justify his job. He expects that by mid-summer, a plan that would add auditing the Summit County Sheriff's Office will probably be back on the table for discussion.

Young hopes to make a positive impact with an upcoming Public Service Announcement asking for citizens to call in when they see officers do something good.

He also hopes that people learn where to find him. He's on the 6th floor of the City Center Building, and his phone number is 330-375-2705 (although Young says that when people call 311 looking for him, the operators never know where to send the calls.)

Still, it will take time for Akron's finest to reach a comfort level with a new watchdog in their yard. I mean, how would you react to someone from the outside auditing your work? Probably skeptical -- at least at first.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

That pizza looks good to me!

A couple of notes on an early Sunday morning.

With the Quaker Hotel officially going "Animal House" this week, wonder where the city stands in getting a new hotel for downtown Akron? One city hall source tells me that there's nothing new on the horizon. To the city's credit, city leaders only found out a few months ago that the U of A was purchasing the historic hotel, and they did manage to convince Zippy to keep half of the hotel open to the public for now. Still, if for no other reason, we'll need a new hotel in the next year to support the new football stadium.

Multiple sources contacted me on a Saturday night about the "real" story behind a local tragedy. I'm hoping its not true, but if it is, the ripple effect will be big .. and the national media could very well pick this one up and run with it.

My son's scout troop enjoyed a lock-in overnight party at the Jewish Community Center, but when I went to pick him up, I saw that there were a dozen pizzas still in the boxes. For the life of me, I wondered how that much pizza had survived the stomachs of a score of teen boys with never-ending appetites. (Wait for it .. it'll come to you.) So as I ventured toward my son, he told me he was hungry. I asked him why he hadn't eaten some of the pizza, which is still good cold, right? (Figure it out yet?) He told me that he wasn't touching any of it and most of the guys weren't either. Stunned, I asked him "why?" He said, "because our leaders didn't order any meat on the pizzas because we're in the Jewish Community Center." Moral of the story: some teens would rather go hungry -- even forsaking hot pizza -- rather than eat vegetables.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Phone call helped police nab rapist

Two sources tell me that the evidence collected from the rape of a woman on Kling Street earlier this week was "fast-tracked" to the top of the DNA testing list at the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Usually rape evidence is processed in "the order in which its received" .. meaning the items could have sat at BCI for weeks or longer as other cases were tested first.

I'm told a senior officer placed a call to the lab and asked that the testing be sped up because the circumstances in the latest attack were similar to two other university rapes -- one in November on Carroll Street and another in September on Spicer.

Police feared they had a serial rapist on their hands and needed answers fast. It wasn't long before BCI called back. The quick test of the evidence in the Kling and Carrol street attacks netted a DNA match -- a 24-year-old door-to-door salesman from Columbus named Christopher Butts.

I'm not sure if the fast-track cost the city any extra $$, but even if it did, it would be well worth it.

Turns out that Butts' DNA was collected in 2001 .. when he was a juvenile. That's key. Minors can only be forced to give DNA samples when convicted of a pretty serious crime. So if Butts has been on the offensive since at least 01', who knows how many other victims might be out there.

Butts remains a suspect in the September attack, but has not yet been charged.

I also spoke to a source about John Wayne St. Claire, whose arrest was also announced Friday. He's now confessed to breaking in to more than 20 homes around the University area.

Police were on his trail Tuesday when he fled on foot to a vacant home. After securing the perimeter, three officers drew their weapons and entered the home.

Fortunately, St. Clair gave up ... but the officers breathed a sigh of relief when they found St. Clair was packing a stolen .38 revolver. One officer told me that had St. Clair decided to shoot it out with the officers who entered the house, it would have been "ugly in a hurry."

Political Dysfunction

Well .. it looks like the blood-letting has begun with the Arshinkoff-Coughlin fight. I only wish I could have invested the time to be at yesterday's Board of Elections meeting. According to the ABJ story, profanities flew as board workers discussed discrepancies (or alleged ones anyway) in the petitions for central committee applicants for the Republican Party.

Current GOP boss Alex Arshinkoff and Democratic Party member Wayne Jones -- both Elections Board members -- got into it hot and heavy. Not the first time they've exchanged pleasantries, but it doesn't often happen in front of the media.

I applaud the ABJ for using the actual language that hit the fan instead of just writing "expletive" or "bad word" to describe what was said.

To me, the underlying debate is the joust between Board Director Bryan Williams (Republican) and Deputy Director Marijean Donofrio (Democrat). Donofrio says that her boss, Williams, ordered board workers to overly scrutinize the petitions brought forth by Kevin Coughlin, whose gone public in hopes of overthrowing Arshinkoff. Eventually Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (Democrat) will end up deciding some of these issues as to who can and cannot be on the ballot come March.

So where does that leave us now? That's the mess that awaits us. Already a youtube video has appeared that pokes serious allegations at both Arshinkoff and Coughlin has appeared. Both camps are beginning to light up my in-box with daggers. You can bet it won't be long before one of them runs the other's boxers up the flagpole.

Know this .. AA ain't going down without firing everything in his arsenal, but Coughlin isn't launching this assault blindly. He knows his future in the party will be made or broken by charging the hornet's nest on his own.

Either way .. local elephants need to choose which trainer they plan to live with because the zoo is no longer safe to wander around alone.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yeah, but could Zippy be comfortable in there?

I got to tag along with some Akron U students today as they became the guinea pigs for the new dorm rooms at the Quaker Hotel. Let's just stop right there .. these students now live in a hotel! Wow! (photo courtesy City of Akron)

If you've ever stayed at the Quaker, you know it has the cool round rooms with the neat audio effects when you're talking while standing right in the middle of the room. The Resident Assistants have nicknamed the center of the room as the "suite" spot. Very cute.

Some units are two-person rooms while others are trios. The RA's get their own. Ain't responsibility grand?

The University has locked down their porch doors so that the students can't get out on to those balconies you see when driving past the hotel. Probably a smart move considering a lot of freshman now call the Quaker home, and a lot of nervous parents don't want their 18-year-olds having access to an 8-story drop on May Day.

There's also plenty of common space in the hallways for students to gather, so the traditional college experience is still in play. What's nice is that the old silo walls are thick concrete .. so students in one dorm room can study in peace even when their neighbors are blaring the tunes. For you historians, you'll like knowing that the Quaker Oats decals are still visible on all the dorm room doors.

Several students told me they miss having a kitchen like they did in the old dorms, but fear not ... the ground floor restaurant, Trackside Grille, has been converted to offer buffets to students on meal plans and also serves food ala carte for cash. Hello? Room Service?

And get this .. while the hotel isn't quite on campus, the U of A is providing shuttles to take students back and forth to class. How's that for campus living!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh college. What was I thinking graduating and entering the real world?!?!?!

"Knock Knock!" "Who's there?" "Johnny Depp!"

First, thanks to all who took part in last night's "Wednesday Web Chat." It looks like we had 20+ folks bop in and out between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Hope to have you along on future Wednesdays.

There's a car that's now gone from in front our newsroom on Main Street, and we're all pretty glad for it. It was driven to our station a few days ago by a woman who claimed she had a big news story to tell us about. As I'm told, once inside our office, the woman began screaming at a producer and a photographer .. and made claims that people were out to kill her. She then fled from the office and screamed her way on to a nearby metro bus and disappeared. Akron Police say she has mental problems. You think? Nevertheless, the woman's car sat out in front of our office for a while making us nervous until yesterday.

It's not the first time strangers have arrived at the front door and then gotten loud at our newsroom. A few years ago a woman wandered in to the office and accused us all of being "wolves in sheep's clothing." She exclaimed that we were covering up a government meat experiment in New Jersey that was making people sick. She eventually left too, but I tried to explain that if that if her story were true, we would be the first to shout it from the mountain tops.

One time a man came to the door dressed like a pirate looking for work; our producer said the only job we had open at the time was in the weather department and he replied, "that sounds good." I can only imagine how our evening newscast would look if I pitched to a swashbuckling Jack Sparrow for the forecast. Instead of using maps with names of our local cities, he could just use an "X to mark the spot!"

Over the years we've also had people wander in looking to use our computers to surf the Net .. probably mistaking us for the downtown library. Others show up at the door expecting to see the folks from the Today Show since "this is NBC, right?" I've had folks bring me info and checks to list their family's obituaries in the Beacon Journal and they get mad when I tell them that it's down the street a few blocks.

Another time we called police when a woman came to the door telling us her son was possessed by the devil and that she felt he had wires in his body. The paramedics already knew her on a first-name basis.

Still, my favorite is probably the guy who called telling me that Akron Police had planted a transmitter in his stomach during a traffic stop. I asked him how he knew this, and he told me that ever since that traffic stop, he saw police officers everywhere he went. For fun, I called city spokesman Mark Williamson for an official comment and he responded with, "we're not that smart." Ironically, that man later tried to rob a bank and wouldn't you know it, there was a uniformed Akron Police Officer in the bank at the time. Maybe he was right about that transmitter all along?????

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat

Here we go!

Web Chat tonight!

Hope to have you join me tonight for my first "Wednesday Web Chat" here on the blog ... I'll have it all set up at 8:30 p.m.

Couple of good topics for tonight ... including the Court decision that supports the City of Akron in mandating city employees live within the city limits. Should police and fire fighters be allowed to live elsewhere? or are city leaders right to make all employees have a stake in Akron by living here?

All other topics up for grabs as well .. see ya at 8:30 p.m.


"Aunti Em! Auntie Em!"

Well .. my shed has seen better days. Fortunately, about five screws (holding down the front of the shed in the right corner of the picture) hung on for their rusty little lives.

I can still remember paying $400 for that shed at Home Depot a few year ago and then assembling it as a place to house my sons' bicycles.

Actually, had those few screws given in, I'm sure my shed would have become a flying shrapnel rocket and taken out a neighbor's house with a wicked witch riding one of our bicycles into the vortex ... although, now that I think about it, that would have been a great story for tonight's news broadcast :)

Anyone else get wind damage last night? If not, can I borrow your drill and some long screws? ha! EM

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Earthquake hits Northeast Ohio

Looks like we've had a earthquake measuring 2.7 .. and it's centered in Mentor. Happened just a few minutes ago ...

We have crews headed out there ... but a quick computer scan shows Mentor had another one back in October ... what are the odds?

Not sure if this means folks to the north are about to fall into Lake Erie ... but it definitely gets your attention ...

Funny that on a night when it seemed like we were all watching for tornadoes, we end up with an earthquake instead ... I wonder whose at "fault"?

Thoughts? Let's add an instant webchat:

Mystery trio emerges for superintendent's job

And there were three ... at least three anyway.

That's how many have applied so far to be Akron's new superintendent. Candidates have until Jan. 25th to apply, but so far, three have filed their paperwork.

The applicants' names are known only to the Ohio Public Schools Search Service team, which was in Akron today (Tuesday) leading meetings seeking input on what the community would like to see in a new superintendent.

I asked schools spokeswoman Karen Ingraham about the applicants' identities, but neither she nor anyone in the district has been given that information yet.

I could speculate, but none of my sources have any hard evidence yet on who wants to be Akron's new top educator. With 17 days to go, there's still time for quite a few more folks to toss their names in the ring so we'll have to see how this plays out.

No matter who takes the job, I think one of the top priorities has to be managing the declining enrollment. APS has been shrinking by nearly 500 students per year. A pamphlet at today's meetings list enrollment at 28,483 but that sounds high to me. It also lists the average teacher's salary at $60,600. Anyone else surprised by that figure?

There's a number of reasons for the decline, including families moving to the suburbs and out-of-state, fewer folks in Akron having babies (I think), the lure of charter schools and other factors. Regardless of the reasons, constructing all these beautiful new schools mandates that the district at least maintain its enrollment numbers.

You can bet that City Hall, among other local groups, will provide behind-the-scenes input on who should and shouldn't be considered for the job. Hopefully the search committee will have some strong internal and external candidates emerge.

I also hope that we're not left with the same dilemma we faced the last time .. where the board was deadlocked on two candidates and decided to have a super (Dr. Sylvester Small) and a co-super (Donna Loomis). In 2008, Akron parents and voters would rather see one name, one face, one vision take charge.

I also spoke to a management consultant from the Ohio School Boards Association whose group helps guide the superintendent search and assists with screening the initial set of candidates. He told me that dozens of community leaders took park in a phone conference today giving their thoughts on a new superintendent. Those ideas will be combined with ideas from district teachers/employees and parents/community members into a final report to the Akron School Board.

FYI ... the board screening of applicants is set for Jan. 31st with interviews scheduled for Feb. 4th. The goal is to have a new superintendent on-site by Aug. 1st.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Now THAT'S prose!

In doing research on a story involving local teen drug abuse, I queried a certain school's name on and stumbled across a page that really caught my eye. As a journalist, I have an appreciation for good writing .. and a young woman's emotional rant was really something to behold.

Rather than steal this woman's poetic thunder, I'll just let you read her thoughts with the precursor of WOW! Has this woman been scorned, but I love how she's crafted her emotional release ... read on.

"To several boys who I generally don't care about:

"Here's what I've decided: you are a tiny, minor character in my life. You aren't even important enough to get a guest star spot. You are the quirky neighbor who appears when it's convenient to the plot, and then disappears for weeks on end.

"You are the relationship at the beginning of a romantic comedy that sets the main character up for the real deal. You are a precursor, a footnote, the subplot, the backstory. You are the one that audiences love to hate, or possibly don't think about at all.

"You're here for character development. You're around so that I know more about me. You are stupid and tiny and I only think about you for long enough to be disgusted with you. You're the guy who gets written out in the second episode, falls down an elevator shaft, gets hit by a train, moves to California to pursue a career in acting.

"You're the guy who is off-screen, but gets mentioned every once in a while so that audiences believe in his existence. You're the guy who the main character talks about with melancholy looks on her face, but who we never meet except maybe in flashbacks.

"You have no lines. You don't even get any close ups. You are like scenery."

Like I said, Wow ... EM

Once a Marine, Always a Marine????

I received an email today from the campaign offices of Paul Schiffer notifying the media that Schiffer plans to run for the 16th Congressional seat being vacated by Ralph Regula.

Now .. I don't recall ever meeting Schiffer .. but I find it odd that his emailed release begins with the sentence, "Paul Schiffer is a former U.S. Marine and a lifelong resident of Canton Ohio" but when I click on the biography section of his campaign website, there's no mention of his military service whatsoever. Why is that?

I'm not doubting that Schiffer served in the Marine Corps. I just find it odd that the first bullet point that his P.R. staff wants me to know about him isn't also included (and highlighted for that matter) in his biography.

My first thought was, did Schiffer serve in Iraq? Did we cross paths while in uniform? Yet his bio gives me no clue as to some of the most basic info about the man such as his age or where he went to high school (again, his emailed release says he's a life-long Canton resident). His bio does provide great details about all of the political groups he's worked for and with since 1985 and the topics about which he likes to talk, but that's about it.

I'm sure the other info will all shake out eventually .. and is probably the least of his problems.

For what it's worth, scheduling your first big speech to the press for 7 p.m. (which Schiffer has done for Tuesday night at the 356th Fighter Group) probably isn't going to be a big hit with media. At that hour, our early newscasts are just ending for the evening and the nightside reporters are usually already committed to other stories. Additionally, print and broadcast newsrooms have fewer staff members available in the evenings.

Friday, January 4, 2008

"Newsmaker of the Year" airs tonight at 9 p.m.

An annual NewsNight Akron tradition is reborn tonight as we present our "Newsmaker of the Year."

Panelists Jody Miller, Ed Esposito, and Stephen Hoffman join me to look back at who-did-what in 2007 .... to include a few laughs and a few of us biting our tongues.

We had a great time taping the show last week in front of an audience at the Northside Grille.

I can tell you that each panelist (including regular guests Larry States and Phil Trexler) submitted their top 10 (or in Ed's case, 11) and I totaled the list for a final top 10 and a winner. I can tell you that the final vote was very close and that zippy was excluded because he was already on a roll :)

Nine of the top 10 are men, and not all are politicians or business leaders.

The recipient is not a previous recipient but certainly had an historic year.

See ya at 9 on PBS45/49. Eric

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Red Stamp to correct clerical error

How'd you like to face a trial on rape charges and then find out it was a clerical error?

That's what has happened to Jessie Jones Jr. of Akron. He recently had a pre-trial hearing for his upcoming felony case, which was originally charged as Rape and Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a minor by Akron Police.

Turns out ... the grand jury actually returned a No Bill when the evidence was presented in November. In other words, the grand jury didn't feel there was enough evidence to warrant a trial.

Still .. a secretary mistook the No Bill as an actual indictment and forwarded criminal charges to prosecutors and the jury foreman who signed off of them like any other case. Presto: Jones was facing serious prison time.


Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh has now dropped the charges and called the mistake "regrettable". I spoke with her at length this afternoon, and she seemed deeply upset by it. She told me that this shouldn't have happened, and thank goodness the error was caught now before the case actually reached a trial.

Walsh said the office has invested in some giant red stamps so that "No Bill" can be blasted on future cases that come back that way. She said that last year, more than 3,000 cases resulted in indictments versus 140 No Bills.

I'm sure critics will use this mistake as ammo against Walsh .. but seeing how she wasn't in the room at the time and both an assistant prosecutor and the grand jury foreman should have caught it when the documents were in their hands, it sounds like her argument of human error will have some validity. Still, Walsh knows she'll take a political hit for it.

Obviously, the case would be much more destructive had Jones been tried and the No Bill error not come out until after the fact.

Works in progress

I spent Wednesday hawking down a number of newsroom tips, which seem to be panning out ... but if it wets your whistle, among the New Year's stories that arrived in my lap:
  • some high school students in big, big trouble .. at a NE Ohio school you'd never expect ...
  • local police chief living with someone who did time for a serious crime.

Are the rumors true? It looks like it.

So does that make it news? Not sure yet.

So will these stories be on tonight's broadcast? Depends on whose willing to go on camera and whether there's enough detail there to warrant coverage.

But if you know the stories are true, why can't you just say so? Because there's other factors involved in both stories ... and ruining someone's lives with a rush-to-air TV News story isn't always a good idea.

Hmmmmmm ... then why tease people by telling them what you're working on? Well, many people wonder what the heck we do all day in a TV newsroom and what part our ethics play in what we put on the air. Also, if I've heard these rumors, you can bet others have too.

Okay .... So after all of that, what's left to do? Stay tuned of course.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"You put your Finley In, you put your Claude Brown out, You put Sylvester in but he'll soon be coming out"

He's backkkkkkk.

Joe Finley has decided he'd like to take another shot at public office. He announced today that he'll run for Summit County Executive, trying to unseat Russ Pry. The Democratic primary is March 4th .. a mere 60+ days away ... and with a petition deadline looming this Friday at 4 p.m., these might be the only two candidates for the job.

Meanwhile, Claude Brown was granted judicial release today, as was expected. He's a first-time offender, his sex crime was consensual, and he kept himself out of trouble while behind bars. I wonder if he'll eventually rise again as a speaker for local teens on how to keep from making big mistakes in life.

I gotta debate WTAM's copy on this story today when the reporter said "a judge in Akron today released 'legendary' football coach Claude Brown ..." I'm not sure legendary is the right adjective. Brown's teams never rivaled the man he replaced, Tim Flossie, although Brown's influence with his players and the Buchtel community was quite solid.

Meanwhile, the Akron Public Schools announced a community forum to gain input on selecting a new superintendent to replace the retiring Dr. Sylvester Small, whose contract expires at the end of the summer. Mark your calendars for 6 p.m. next Tuesday, Jan. 8th, at the Central Learning Center, 400 W. Market Street. Not sure any big names are really out there for consideration just yet, but I can think of a few solid principals in the district whom I'd like to see get consideration.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Web Chat

"Go ahead caller you're on the air" ..

OK .. maybe not on the air, but I've opened up the webchat while I sit here working on tonight's 10 p.m. (Akron-Canton News) and 11 p.m. (Channel 3) newscasts. What kind of weather are you seeing in your neighborhood tonight? What else is on your mind?

Zippy, Windy, Claude and webchatting

Congrats to Zippy, voted mascot of the year just a few moments ago at the Capital One Bowl. The newsroom gang here in the Cleveland office keeps teasing me that they want us to cut in with breaking news. I told them only if we send a reporter to the zoo for reaction from other kangaroos. Of course, when I told the newsroom that Zippy was a girl, they all looked at me like I had three heads. Slowly educating them I am!

The wind and blowing snow on I-77 is a mess. If you have to go out tonight (New Year's Day), my advice is plan plenty of time. I got blown all over the freeway trying to get from Akron to Cleveland. The snow is one thing, but the wind is making it even tougher.

While we're all enjoying our football today, former football coach Claude Brown is hoping to be sitting in a recliner in time for the BCS title game. The former Buchtel Head Coach has a parole hearing tomorrow morning after serving 6+ months of his two-year sentence for having sex with a female student.

If history serves, I would expect Judge Marvin Shapiro to grant Brown's request. Two years ago, Shapiro paroled another Akron teacher, Randal Crane, after serving a similar amount of time for the same charge.

I'm going to open up the webchat here on "Have I Got News For You" around 8:30 p.m. tonight for anyone whose board with football and feels like gabbing about anything TV News related. See ya then .. Eric