Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Night Webchat

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Akron's Sewers-for-Scholarships idea getting web attention

A national website that provides info on what local governments are doing is spotlighting Akron's sewers-for-scholarships idea. Click HERE to read the article.

If you've been following the story, there's not much that's new in the article. Still, it's worth a click because there's a sidebar article all about the "Kalamazoo Promise" plan, which Mayor Plusquellic mentioned was a motivating factor behind his drive to provide free college to local high school grads.

It's been almost three months since the Mayor made the announcement. He mentioned that the next step was forming two committees -- one to examine the sewer sale/lease options and make a proposal .. and a second group to examine the education angle to include recommendations on to implement the program.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Man behind "The Director's Cut"

Frank Macek is one of those people who exists in my ear. Kind of like a conscious that whispers things but you never actually see him in human form.

By day, Frank is one of WKYC's best directors .. working every show that TV3 puts out. Many nights he's directing the Akron-Canton News at 10 .. which explains why he's "in my ear."

Frank is also the driving force behind one of the most popular blogs on the local broadcast circuit. His Director's Cut chronicles life both in front and behind the camera .. and helps us catch up on folks who live the TV3 life as well as those who've put TV in the rear view mirror.

Yet even those who read Frank's blog daily, don't know what he's actually like.

I caught up with my fellow blogger in the Cleveland newsroom today for a chat. It's the least I could do after he shared the cool music application I posted her earlier today.

Without further delay, here's Frank Macek:

Music to read "Have I Got News For You" by ..

My thanks to Frank Macek for sharing this neat application .. enjoy .. Eric

Monday, April 28, 2008

What no one tells you about today's troops in Iraq

I interviewed a local woman today who served in Iraq and now has returned home to be a mother. We actually used to work together years ago in the Ohio Army National Guard so it was good to catch up.

As we were talking about her experience in Iraq, it reminded me of the co-ed living conditions that exist in most military areas of today's battlefield.

During most of my stay in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I lived in a "12-man" tent. There were six women and six men. The 12 of us worked together in the Operations section of our command 8-12 hours per day, and then lived together in the same tent. Each of us had a 6X8 living space (that included our cots) as part of an open area. Not much room at all.

Six men and six women. One big happy Army, right?

Well .. I doubt any of our spouses were pleased with the set up .. make that I know they weren't pleased. Some emailed the commanders to let them know that they didn't like it one bit.

What many don't realize is that today's military is set up to be operationally effective, and if that means men and women living and sleeping side-by-side with bunks a few feet apart, so be it.

To be honest, even as professional soldiers, the idea took time to accept. I wasn't used to having to go to the restroom to change clothes, but with a co-ed arrangement, we all had to be more modest as you can imagine. Still, when it was 130-degrees and you're trying to sleep, everyone just had to suck it up and not be offended by the fellow soldiers of the opposite sex.

At one point, I had a 50-year-old mother of two on one side of me .. and a 23-year-old woman who was newly married and worked for the Victoria secret catalogue living in the bunk on the other side of me.

After a short time, we all adjusted and just accepted it as part of our tour of duty. Certainly, there were bigger tasks ahead than just being uncomfortable with seeing someone's sweaty underwear. Still, the comfort level of our family members back home didn't like it then .. and probably still don't like it today.

I just wonder how many of you would have accepted those living arrangements. Officers living with enlisted, older soldiers next to younger soldiers, and men living with women. We had it all in our tent.

Think you could do it?

Akron's First Glance deserves support

I had a great experience Saturday that's certainly worth more of the community taking note. I joined a group of friends from the Chapel to volunteer at First Glance -- a non-profit, community program in Kenmore that provides a positive place to hang out for hundreds of teens and young adults with a Christian message.

Their center on Kenmore Boulevard needed some lighting and other work .. which is where my buddies and I came in. Anyway, the program has been thriving and growing for seven years .. and has been featured in the ABJ and elsewhere, including a story I did last year on WKYC about their teen moms program. They've also put together a "Stop Having Sex" group to help teens fight peer pressure as they approach adulthood.

For all of the complaints about teens and young adults being out of control in Akron, this is one that critics should take note.

Anyway .. before we finished Saturday, I spoke briefly with the director of First Glance, Noelle Beck, about what the program does and needs.

You can learn more about opportunities to help our local teens through First Glance at their home page.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Forgetting and Remembering on a Friday

I've been working my tail off this week to finish a few newsroom projects and get my upcoming series "The Long Road Home" set for WKYC. Two things stand out tonight.

First, I was so swamped that I emailed Jody Miller and David Giffels to make sure they were set for tonight's taping of NewsNight Akron. Turns out, they weren't scheduled for tonight's NNA taping. Instead, it was Steve Hoffman and Phil Trexler. I was just moving too fast when I looked at the schedule of panelists. Steve, Phil, Ed Esposito and I had a spirited discussion about "Perfect Beauty", the new hospital, the Summit County GOP, and the Taser Trial among other issues. It airs tonight at 9 p.m. on PBS 45/49. Too bad I added undo stress to David and Jody's worlds.

Second, it's funny keeping an eye on the Tribe tonight. Billy Traber is on the mound for the Yankees, but he used to be in the Indians organization. A few years ago, I was assigned to interview Traber after he was traded to Cleveland by the Mets for Robbie Alomar. Just my luck that Traber was sent to Akron to play for the Aeros.

So I run over to get the standard "how's it feel to be in Akron?" interview. I waited around for Traber in the locker room, and when I finally saw him I asked for an interview just as he was getting in line for some afternoon food. He said "OK" and we stepped out into the hall to get away from the noisy locker room.

As my videographer fired up the camera and the light, I notice that Traber is holding a piece of bread in each hand. One has bologna and mayonnaise and the other has ham and cheese. I have no idea why he didn't just put the pieces together into a sandwich or just set them down on a plate until we're done. Oblivious to how this looks, Traber justs says "let's get this over with."

My first question was, "what do you hope to accomplish with the Indians?"

Traber responded with "I want to be my own person and be a unique player."

So my followup question was, "how will you go about doing that?"

Traber responded with "by looking to the guys who've come before me and trying to use them as my role models."

Huh? Didn't he just contradict himself?

Again .. just remember that Traber has a slice of bread with meat in each hand .. and his hands are spread apart like a 2-year-old saying "sooooo biggggg"

I realized I was getting nowhere and told Traber, "thanks I think we've got everything we need."

From then on, Billy-the-kid became known as "Mr. Room Temperature IQ" in our newsroom.

And to think he's now pitching for the Yankees???? I can only assume that someone else prepares his sandwiches.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Former Massillon football star Chris Spielman shows he's a class act

Chris Spielman may be one of the nicest pro athletes I've ever interviewed. At least in the top five. He's polite and treats journalists with the same respect he'd like in return. Let's just say not all athletes do that.

Recently, Spielman flew over to Kuwait to visit with American troops .. including hundreds of Ohio troops from the National Guard's 37th Brigade Combat Team. He was there as part of Operation Gridiron, which sends former NFL stars to the Middle East to support the troops.

According to a release from the Ohio National Guard, once Spielman knew there were Ohio troops in Kuwait waiting to move forward into Iraq, he added extra stops in his schedule so he could visit more base camps and see the Ohio troops. He even put together a make-shift sand football team and tried his hand at coaching. (pictures courtesy the Ohio Army National Guard)

"This trip is a very small way to serve my country compared to our service members," Spielman said in the NG press release, "but it's the best way at this time in my life. My favorite part of events like this is the fact the guys appreciate us being here. I appreciate that they are here. It's very humbling."

This is the kind of stuff that is just awesome for the troops. For the Ohio Guardsmen who had just arrived and are facing a year in Iraq, getting a little touch of home and seeing a celebrity makes for a nice memory.
During my tour in 2003-04, very, very few of the celebrities made time to visit the smaller base camps. Most wanted to stick to the basics, see the larger groups and move on. As a result, some troops got to see celebrity entertainers, pro athletes, Kid Rock, etc .. while other troops got to see sand and camels and that's about it because they weren't in the larger base camps.
Spielman's a class act.

Will new hospital keep suburbanites from having to share waiting room with inner-city folks?

I'm making a broad leap this morning but follow me here ...

With today's scheduled noon announcement of a new hospital in Northern Summit County comes the valid argument that moving medical facilities closer to where people live is a necessity as we age.

O.K. I get it. I agree with it. I'm cool. Lots of folks in Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Hudson, etc .. need health care and having a hospital close by is a great asset. Plus there's jobs involved there too.

Still, by creating a health care system that allows the suburbanites to avoid having to share chairs in the waiting room with poorer, inner-city folks at Summa and AGMC... are we supporting the further division of the lower and middle classes? Will we set up a system that encourages the better doctors to work at the suburban hospital because more of their patients are likely to have insurance? If the area is getting a new medical resource, are we more likely to put it in the suburban hospital?

Maybe I'm totally off base at 8:38 a.m. .... i haven't had my cereal yet and I still need to go exercise.

Still .. anyone else see a downside to a new hospital?

Just asking the question to stimulate discussion here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome to Wednesday Web Chat

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Behind the scenes of the Akron-Canton News .

Producer Kim Graves decided to have fun with my handy-cam during last night's 10 p.m. newscast. These short videos should give a little insight into the actual set-up of our Akron news set .. and the always-top-secret "green screen."

I never realized how much I use my hands when I talk :)

Watch closely in the last clip, and you'll see me drop my pen with no way to retrieve it ...

Enjoy .. Eric

M.P. goes to P.M.

Matt Patrick's day will start at 5 .... actually twice a day it will.

While his normal morning routine at WKDD-FM will continue to begin in the 5 a.m. hour ... he'll soon also be coming on the air weeknights at 5 p.m. on WHLO-AM with a two-hour call-in talk show. For all the specifics, click here.

I think it's a great move for the area .. and for Matt. He's been leaning towards talk-radio -- at times -- in the mornings for a while. When an issue gets under his craw -- like it did a few weeks ago when he learned married couples making $150K+ wouldn't get federal tax rebates -- Matt opens up the phone lines and the calls pour in. He's also been weighing on local politics, regional economics, and I even called in a few months back when he was blasting a Pentagon General over his comments on gays serving in the military. (photo courtesy WKDD)

Matt has always felt like the fun buddy you can hang out with and shoot pool ... where the defenses are down and you can both laugh and have a good time without having to impress each other. This move should allow him to invite callers who don't have time to dial in during the morning to still reach him and have a laugh or two.

I think it's also a good move for the region ... the 5-7 time period includes a lot of folks driving home from work (me included starting in a few weeks), and could use a competing voice to the conservative FM banter across town.

Good luck Matt ... get some sleep .. and remember it's always 5 o'clock somewhere :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Cynthia George case is back!

See ya tonight at 10 ..

Akron officer gets bumped for Cynthia George comments

I think this one may be the talk-about story of the day ...

Veteran Akron detective Vince Felber, who co-authored "Perfect Beauty" about the Cynthia George case, has now been reassigned from the investigative unit to answering phones in the radio room. Police brass have launched an official internal investigation to see if Felber's comments broke any rules or procedures -- which ones we don't know yet.

I expect this one will become a major First Amendment debate. Should an officer be able to talk or write about a case he/she worked on once the case is officially cosed? Or should officers be limited in what information they can release as it might defame the department and/or release key investigative techniques?

The book hit the shelves three weeks ago, although I had a heck of a time getting a copy today. The area Barnes and Nobles were sold out . .and the Borders at Chapel Hill sold their last copy before I got there. At this hour, one of our Akron producers is driving fast to Montrose to try and score me a copy before tonight's 6 p.m. broadcast.

I spoke briefly with Felber by phone and he sounded confident that he hadn't gone too far. He told me, "most of what I have to say, I said in the book. The public has a right to know what really happened. I told a true story."

APD leaders aren't saying much right now ... other than confirming that Felber has been reassigned and that an internal investigation should take about three weeks. FOP #7 President Paul Hlynsky says the rank and file are backing Felber, and that there's nothing the public would find in the book that it couldn't have found through a public records request.

Several Akron officers tell me Felber is as good as it gets when it comes to investigating crimes in Akron .. and that he's meticulous with details. But after 16 years on the job, including the last 12 in the Detective Bureau, Felber is now off the streets .... Stay tuned ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Coming up at 10 ..

Just thought I'd show you one way that I've been promoting the show using my handycam on Facebook ...

Ashley Spencer is "all that" on Broadway

Ashley Spencer is just so good. She really is. I'm not a theater critic by any means, but seeing her performance as "Amber Von Tussen" in Hairspray on Broadway a few weeks ago drove home to me that the Stark County woman has it all.

Ashley caught all of our eyes last year when she was runner-up on NBC's "Grease: You're the One That I Want." She didn't land the role of "Sandy" at Ridel High, but she's doing great in 1952 Baltimore singing and dancing her heart out. I had my handy-cam with me and got some video of Ashley signing autographs after the show. I'm posting the raw video so you can see how nice she is interacting with the audience.

After she finished with the autographs, I got to talk to Ashley for a few minutes on the side. She said she's having a great time on Broadway and hopes to stop back home to Stark County in a month or so. She promised me an interview next time she's in town, so hopefully we'll be able to talk with her then.

What's stands out to me is that Ashley is so nice and pleasant in person, yet plays such a selfish vixen on the stage. "Amber" is out to hog the spotlight and the hunk .. but loses both to a spunky-and-chunky "Tracy Turnblad." Ashley's voice is so strong and her diction is so good that even from the upper balcony, it was easy to understand her lines. Several times I noticed sweat pouring down her cheeks from dance numbers that are phenominal workouts all by themselves.

By the way, the Broadway edition of Hairspray includes George Wendt -- yes that GW of "Cheers" fame -- playing Tracy's mother "Edna." John Travolta played the part in the movie version of Hairspray, but Wendt is fabulous on the stage. I still think Ashley is a dead ringer for a young Meg Ryan, so maybe she'll be on the big and small screens too someday.

Her bio page talks a lot more about what Ashley's been doing in NYC, but if you get to the Big Apple, make time for Hairspray. Nothing like seeing a local gal doing well.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Akron superintendent expects enrollment to drop but sees better days ahead

I had an enlightening interview with Akron's new superintendent, David James, for tonight's edition of NewsNight Akron, which airs at 9 p.m. on PBS45/49. James, and current superintendent Sylvester Small, talked openly about the district's challenges and what lies ahead with a change of leadership. James takes over for Small on Aug. 1st.

I'll let James speak for himself, but viewers should take note that both he and Small believe enrollment will continue to drop to as few as 20,000 students before it stabilizes. Current enrollment hovers near 25,000 .. and has dropped by 500 or so students each year for the past few.

James also admits that a dress code for high school students probably isn't too far away .. and that Akron's best teachers can expect him to go war for them while those who aren't performing can expect him to go to war against them.

Thanks to those of you who sent in questions .. you'll find that I did use some in the interview.

Two of James' children attend the district, which puts him in a unique position as both parent and administrator. He's also never served as a teacher or principal, yet now becomes their senior boss.

My first question: "why in the world would you want this job?"

Hear his answer tonight on NewsNight Akron.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eye opening night

I've spent the last few hours following a series of police crackdowns throughout Akron. APD targeted "Hot Spots" for a second night in a row ... backed up by dozens of State Troopers, U.S. Marshalls and officers from pretty much every department in the county ... more than 100 law enforcement officers in all. The troopers also brought their helicopter, which bounced around overhead and drew a lot of attention

I want to share a quick note about the last call we followed tonight. A man stopped in an SUV. Police found crack cocaine and a bag of pot (they tested both on the scene) in the guy's front seat .. and his four-year-old son asleep with no seat belt on in the back seat.
Here's a picture of the state troopers and APD working together to process and test the drugs.

It was surreal to watch the officers process the vehicle and obtain the positive test results with the chemical test units ... all while this four-year-old boy was clinging to who I assume is his father in the back of the police car.

The officers called out a "rule six" so that CSB would come take the boy to safety while the man is taken to jail. I can't imagine how tough it is for those little eyes to understand what's happening.
My story on the police crackdown will air Friday night on Channel 3 News and on your Akron-Canton News.

One-on-one with Akron's new superintendent

In the fog of yesterday's announcement, I forgot to post a note about Friday's edition of NewsNight Akron.

New Akron Superintendent David James will be my guest .. along with outgoing school boss Sylvester Small. So just who is David James anyway? And why should parents believe he's the right man to lead this urban district?

We'll talk about the challenges ahead, and what James can bring to the table during a time when APS is struggling with enrollment.

So what would you like to ask the new top dog? Send me your questions at and I'll be sure to include as many as I can.

NewsNight Akron airs at 9 p.m. Friday night on PBS45/49.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday Night Webchat

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Thanks to all who've supported the Akron-Canton News

I had hoped today wouldn't come, but after several days of rumors the bad news came right to our newsroom today -- the Akron-Canton News is ending May 30.

Tough economic times have limited the advertising support for the newscasts for quite a while, and WKYC General Manager Brooke Spectorsky informed out staff today that the station could no longer continue the broadcasts. Brooke was genuinely upset that it came to this. He was here to launch this project, and he knows of its value in the Akron-Canton area.

I'm just numb tonight. I received the news along with the rest of our staff a few hours ago, and I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts into words. My heart just breaks for my co-workers and for the Akron community, which will revert to having only Cleveland broadcasts for traditional evening news.

One of my first thoughts was how lousy it will be on election night when there's no evening news source for results and analysis. Maybe the Internet has already made that obsolete anyway. I'm thinking about the smaller stories -- kids getting art awards, major community events at lock 3, highlights from games at Canal Park -- that won't get the coverage that we gave them.

After WAKC stopped doing Akron news in 1996, many Akron and Canton residents complained that we'd lost some of our identity. Regaining an evening broadcast became one of the community's listed goals and was also the feature of an entire Beacon Magazine.

I was so glad that we were able to help return the broadcast in 2001 via a relationship between NBC and the PAX network. Still, it took the vision of our GM and the support of community leaders to give this crazy idea a chance.

Then a few years ago, we were on the ropes again when PAX hit the skids, but thankfully Time Warner Cable stepped up to give us a shot. My thanks to Steve Fry and everyone at TWC for all of their support as well.

Still, seven years later, we're about to lose our newscast again. It just doesn't seem possible.

Tonight I read a short copy story announcing the end of the newscast. There's nothing more awkward than reading your newscast's obituary on the air.

For what it's worth, I've never had anyone tell me they didn't like our newscast. I've had folks say they don't watch because it's on at a bad time or because they don't get cable and a host of other reasons. Still, I've never had a viewer tell me that they could watch but wouldn't because they didn't like it.

I'm fortunate that I'll be able to continue reporting on news in the Akron-Canton area for WKYC in a tradition bureau role again, and I know our managers and producers will work hard to include as much A-C news as they can in Channel 3's broadcasts. Still, it won't be the same. I'm glad to have kept my job and to get paid to do something I love, but it hurts to know that we could provide more to the viewers.

Over the next six weeks, I'll do my best to keep delivering a quality newscast .. but tonight, I'm just numb. After seven years of racing to beat the clock each night, I just feel like it can't be over .. but I know it is.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Insurance policy saves local school district further embarassment

An Akron woman has settled out of court with the Manchester Local Schools, even though she never attended a class there.

She was molested seven years ago by Randall Crane, her music teacher at Akron's Jennings Middle School. She was only 14 and in the 8th grade. She came forward to police four years later and came clean about the sexual relationship she'd had with her teacher. Crane pleaded guilty to sexual battery, lost his teaching license, and headed off to prison.

What she didn't know, at least until our story on WKYC-TV hit the air, was that Crane had been investigated for allegations of inappropriate behavior in the mid-90's when he worked at the Manchester Schools. But Manchester's leaders kept those allegations quiet and instead sent the Akron Schools a letter of recommendation that lead to Crane's employment with APS. The allegations at Manchester included charges that Crane was "too much like boyfriend/girlfriend" with female students, "too much touching" and being alone with girls with the office door locked.

Neither the victim nor the Manchester District will reveal the contents of the settlement, which was paid by Manchester's insurance company. To be honest, I don't need to know what the amount was, but rather just wanted to update the viewers that the district had been called out for failing to notify another district of a potential pedophile.

As a reporter, I can't help but wonder how many other times this has happened. How many times a district has known that an employee is "trouble" and possibly dangerous to others, but the leaders keep quiet hoping the "problem" will just leave and work elsewhere. How is that acceptable when kids are the targets?

Local school leaders tell me that often their hands are tied. They fear being sued by the teacher if they share allegations that haven't been proven. Still, one superintendent told me that school leaders need to find a way -- even an off-the-record phone call -- to warn others when a pedophile might be on the move.

I have covered more stories about teachers abusing students than I can even remember, and I hate that this minority of educators is giving a bad name to teachers as a profession. Most teachers I know are working hard for all of the right reasons .. and not for the money, dollars that don't come close to what they should make.

Still, I wish this case had gone to trial so that the public could have heard Manchester try and defend its failure to act. Try and justify investigating a teacher for possible misconduct and then a few weeks later writing a glowing letter of recommendation to a unsuspecting neighboring district.

I guess I just wanted Manchester's leaders to look this young woman in the eye and tell her why they failed to try and protect her from the sly fox who took her innocence.

Tragedy week approaches

We are beginning one of those weeks that creates a bloody time machine for most newsrooms. Here are the week's anniversaries:

April 16th Virginia Tech Shootings (2007)
April 19th Waco massacre (1993)
April 19th Oklahoma City (1995)
April 20th Columbine (1999)

Again, it's all ahead for this week.

Which story or stories get the most air time? Which ones get the least? Which are are worth revisiting our local connections? and which are better left to just airing some of the national coverage?

The VT shooting will most certainly get top billing as it was the most recent .. and as it was such a shock to the country. But weren't the others as well?

Can't you remember how the country was gripped in tears watching Columbine unfold on live TV? or how we were all at a loss for words when the first video hit the air from OKC? Will any of us ever forget the mammoth blaze we saw at Waco?

Yet .. in the TV news business ... finding the right balance of video to show for anniversary stories is always tricky. Some viewers feel we're wasting our time on old news when other issues that affect today's world need told. Yet, other viewers feel like we do a disservice to the impact of these tragedies by glossing over them between the latest political sniping and weather.

So .. I'm all ears ... which ones deserve the most media attention and it what form?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Making my move to a bigger market .. sort of

I can't believe I'm actually writing these words .. but I've found a home as part of the news team at WUSA-TV (CBS) in Washington D.C.

It's not a move I thought I'd ever make .. in fact, it's not a job I was pursuing .. yet last Monday night after the NCAA Championship game signed off, I made my D.C. debut.

Imagine my surprise when a story I researched, wrote, and reported for WKYC in February was shown on the very station I was watching while laying in a hotel bed during my son's school trip. The story included an exclusive interview with a local teacher who'd gone to prison for crossing the line with students.

Here's my original story as it aired on Feb. 6th on WKYC-TV .. click here.

Now, here's my story as it played Monday on WUSA-TV ... click here.

Do you notice my voice sounds quite a bit deeper in our nation's capital? That's because it's not my voice. WUSA took my story, took out all of the Akron references, and re-voiced it with their own anchor. Presto! Instant local news story.

The bottom line is that Gannett owns WKYC and WUSA and 20 other TV stations .. and we often share some of our better stories with one another. Sometimes the borrowing station will air the video in its entirety and other times one of their local news team members will re-voice the story as their own.

The practice happens all the time .. and makes a lot of sense in the big picture of the broadcast world. I've had my stories air on NBC, CNN and other local affiliates with someone else re-telling my words .. and sometimes even re-writing it to fit their own style. I've been on the other end as well .. re-voicing a national news story to give it a local connection.

Still .. I'd never been out of town as a viewer .. and actually seen one of my stories air someone. It's kind of surreal.

In reality, it's flattering that other TV stations think enough of my story to play it on their air. The teacher-pedophile story drew a lot of attention in February here in NE Ohio, and it's certainly an issue in other parts of the country.

WUSA did give me credit in the web copy version of the story .. but I'm not holding my breath that a check is on its way any time soon.

As for WKYC, I'm staying put .. because there's no place like home .. and there's no place else I'd rather be.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Back from DC-NY

I always love coming home ... and this time, I really love it.

I've been on quite an adventure on a DC-NY school trip with my oldest son. Imagine taking in both our nation's biggest city and its capital surrounded by 40+ 13-year-olds who also study drama? As if just being 13 isn't dramatic enough :)

I'm exhausted and trying to get my bearings .. while also catching up on the week's news while I was away.

So far I've figured out ... wi-fi for part of Akron .. David Brennan's still in trouble .. Carol Klinger is setting an agenda for a group she doesn't yet lead .. and Inventure Place is closing for a while. Does that about cover it?

Let me catch up .. see what things await me in the 1,000+ emails that are there .. and I'll drop a blog entry or two or three about a number of stories I'm hearing about ...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rubber Bowl can be yours ... for a price

You won't find it on ebay or craig's list or the ABJ classified .. but the Rubber Bowl is most definitely for sale. Yep. It's on the block.

Today's groundbreaking for Infocision Stadium and Summa Field officially kills any chance the Rubber Bowl had of remaining a viable sports venue. The cost to maintain it would far exceed the private dollars it would bring in as a rental for pick-up football games and battle of the bands.

So the Rubber Bowl is for sale .. you heard it here first.

Trust me, if you have an idea of what to do with it, then city, county and university leaders want to hear from you.

Tonight while talking on WNIR, I made the comment that I think the Rubber Bowl property would be good for a state prison. I KNOW prisons aren't popular near neighborhoods .. and I KNOW putting in a prison near the soap box derby track wouldn't be aesthetically pleasing. I KNOW all of the reasons that it wouldn't be a popular idea.

Still, prisons bring jobs .. lots of jobs .. and this area could use more jobs. Can anyone deny that?

My advice to anyone with an idea for the property is that you should pitch an idea that includes new jobs for the area.

Think it could be an auto race track or indoor shooting range? Come up with a plan and go for it. Got an idea for some kind of renovated sports complex? Get your investors and be my guest. Think Bass Pro might reconsider and build a unique shop into the side of the hill? Call em up ... and tell them I said hello.

Bottom line: All ideas are on the table. Local leaders tell me it's time to think "outside the bowl."

I'd like to think that all of the great ideas have already been shared and just aren't practical in this case ... but I'm realistic to know that the Akron area needs jobs so even non-traditional renovation ideas -- like a state prison -- shouldn't be discounted so quickly.

Stadium groundbreaking fills a big hole ... drops a big splash

Today's groundbreaking for Ifocision Stadium and Summa Field went well ... albeit in real football weather with some rain and wind.

I had a great time as the emcee because the project is such an awesome "get" for the city .. and because I'm among those who've been calling audibles for a downtown football stadium for years. Nice to see the money and the planning have finally come together.

Dr. Proenza thanked the dignitaries -- specifically Infocision and Summa whose large gifts make it all possible -- and other significant players in the audience. Proenza rolls with the punches pretty well. He accidentally called the Don Plusquellic "Doctor" and then couldn't quite come up with Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth's name. Still, Proenza just laughs it off and is pretty good at keeping a crowd at ease but on-topic. Must be part of the reason he's been so good at driving the dollars to overhaul the entire campus.

Plusquellic quipped that it's so cold that "everyone will walk away saying that Zippy had the best speech of the day because it was so short." (Of course, mascot fans will get the joke because they know that Zippy and other mascots never talk) Plusquellic also made note that the "rubber bowl has served its purpose" and that he wants to be one of the first to throw a pass in the new stadium before the Sept. 19, 2009 opener against Indiana. I actually teased that the Mayor had four years of eligibility left should Head Coach JD Brookhart need a QB.

The most memorable moment may have come from someone who wasn't expecting the spotlight. Ken Torisky is one of the hardest-working, nicest public relations folks in the business. He's so dedicated that when one side of the roof to the canvass tent began to leak on people in the seats, Ken jumped in to try and keep others from getting wet. Unfortunately, Ken hit the wrong part of the canvass and about 5 gallons of fresh rain water fell on Ken and his nice suit. The crowd gasped .. and Dr. William Demas from the U of A Board of Trustees had to pause in his speech. Ken got a towel and everyone felt for him ... but it was a lousy way to become part of the press conference.

Ted Curtis, the U of A VP whose been leading the project, later made reference to Ken's misfortune by saying, "waterfalls are not a part of the complex, but I've got some ideas now."

The dignitaries turned the dirt on cue .. and the project officially got underway .. although some 75,000 cubic yards of dirt have already been moved.

Afterwards, there was a nice lunch set up inside the fieldhouse. The pizza and sandwiches were great .. and everyone seemed to be enjoying talking about the great games ahead.

The odd part was watching folks with their dessert. There were cookies in the shape of Zippy. It was fun watching folks hold the cookie and not know if they should bite Zippy's head off first .. especially with the actual Zippy so close by.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Showing Akron pride by stepping up to the plate

I found this vanity plate in a parking lot a week ago .. and didn't know whether to track down the driver to ask him or her why he or she chose our hometown for a license plate. The more I thought about it, the more it really didn't matter why the driver did it; it only mattered that they think enough of our town to advertise it.

Truth be told, I'm not much for vanity plates anyway .. except if they're on really, really unique or antique cars. Seeing U4IA or I8PIE on the back of a 98 Nissan just doesn't do it for me.

The extra cost is worth it for many folks ... so if it's something they feel strongly about it, go for it.

A few years ago, the local license bureau actually called me when the plate "CH23TV" became available to see if anyone in our office wanted to purchase it. I was really touched that they thought to call. I thought about it, but realized the 94 Saturn I was driving back then didn't need the extra attention.

I'm remember LeBron's speeding ticket from January .. and his vanity plate that read "KNGOFAKRN" ... or something like that. If you're trying to stay incognito, a plate like that doesn't help.

During my military years, soldiers were discouraged from paying for vanity plates that would identify them as members of the U.S. Army. We were told that identifying ourselves with "82ndAB" or "SGTJONES" would make us targets for terrorists or bad guys looking to buy us drinks so that we'd spill the beans with top secret intelligence.

Still .. whoever out there bought "AKRONOH" ... I tip my hat to you ... for this indeed is a great city in which to live.

$13,000 city toilet not all it's flushed up to be ..

Would you pay 13 grand for a toilet? Akron City Council did .. sort of ... and no this isn't an April Fool's story.
Council recently approved ten new thrones for the women's rooms at Lock 3. I don't think anyone will argue that's a good investment based on the success of the venue .. and let's face it .. women ain't coming to Lock 3 if they can't be comfortable.

The approved cost was $13,000+ .... each.
They're not quite the gold ones pictured here, but at that price, some folks might expect a high-class seat for their business. I just couldn't resist this photo I found on the web.

City Hall tells me that the cost also covers some sinks .. and a few other bathroom essentials .. and renovations .. but on the surface, $136K sure sounds like a lot of Jack for our Janes to have nice Johns.

I'm assuming that either:
  • Each flush will generate college $$ in the sewers for scholarships proposal.

  • The toilets are so nice that women will want to leave the gritty, dirty uni-sex toilets of their downtown offices and schedule their lunch breaks near Lock 3.

  • The tissue paper that compliments a 13K commode is so soft women just won't want to leave.

  • Now that we have four women on council, someone is finally paying attention to ladies' needs.
I still want to see the actual work orders so I can see what we're getting for our tax money .. but I'm already putting together the idea of pink t-shirts that say: "I went #1 and #2 at Lock #3"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pot Luck Tuesday

Been bouncing from story to story today ..

Right now, we're trying to get additional information tonight on the death of a 16-year-old student in Louisville. Police say her car hit a school van head-on this afternoon .. killing the van driver as well. We also got video of a hit-skip accident that turned into a chase and crash later in Munroe Falls.

I spent about 45 minutes in a teleconference with State Senator Kevin Coughlin talking about the upcoming vote for Summit County GOP Chairman. He's hoping that Alex Arshinkoff will agree to let state GOP leaders run the local secret ballot, but neither AA or anyone from party HQ has returned his calls yet.

I don't expect that AA is going to let the New Summit Republicans tell him that they don't think he can run an organized, civilized, and fair party election .... but I do hope the two sides can agree to some ground rules so that the actual vote for either AA or Carol Klinger doesn't turn into a shouting match.

I think it's exciting that we're finally ready to move forward with the U of A groundbreaking for the new stadium ... high noon on Friday ...

In reviewing our tape from yesterday's Tribe pre-game show, I now see that I'm the only on-air reporter who wore tribe gear. Last year, all of the reporters donned it .. but this year, I misunderstood the directions .. and since I was the only reporter at my liveshot location (in between the "Q" and the "P" on the plaza) I didn't realize I was the lone wahoo-ian.

April Fool's!!!!!!!!!!

Ok ok ok ok .......... you got me. I'm coming clean.

The aquarium and Shamu story was totally, completely, entirely fabricated. I wrote it while sitting in a livetruck outside of Progressive Field yesterday. I've always told people that if you put a simple news headline and a color photo together, people will believe just about anything. Seems some folks did.

I've received quite a few emails from readers who knew right away that there was no way we were getting a "Disney-style" hotel room .. let alone the rest of it. The saw it as a joke pretty fast.
Still, one PR guy in town says that a reporter called thinking it was a hoax but 'they had to be sure.'

I thought I put enough landmines in there that folks would see through it as a joke by the time they reached the second half of the story. Sorry if I gave a heart attack to anyone at the Akron Zoo or Acme.

For those who enjoyed it, thanks for reading. For those who were fooled, what can I say?

A few years ago, the Sun Newspaper put out an April Fool's story about a restaurant being hoisted up on a tower and then revolving (can anyone say Rex Humbard?) and a local TV station, not us, ran the story verbatim from the paper. Whoops!

I also remember when I was working as a part-time news reporter at WHIO-TV in Dayton (my college days) that a story crossed the wires on April 1st claiming that CBS had fired sports anchor Brent Mussberger. Considering WHIO is a CBS affiliate, our newsroom was convinced the wires (still rip-and-read paper in those days) must be joking for April Fool's Day. Turns out it was true.

A friend of mine told me today that it's "dicey" when the media plays games with fake stories .. because we often have enough trouble with credibility. It's a good point. Although in this case, Have I Got News For You is a personal blog .. so I'm able to have some fun.

Just know this .. if the story were true ... do you really think I'd let the cat out of the bag in the morning for my competitors to see instead of breaking it on the evening news? Now THAT would make ME the fool :)

Thanks for playing along .. Eric

Akron's new aquariam will reunite Shamu with NE Ohio

I'm not sure it's a deal that will put Akron "on the map" but it's certainly unique. I'm beginning to believe the whole town will revolve around the University of Akron before it's over.

The plan, to be announced later today, calls for a new aquarium to be built adjacent to campus that will support the university's new Marine Science degree program while also being a regional draw in the absence of Sea World.

I'm all for bringing Marine Science to the U of A as a new major, but I'm not sure the $50 million price tag for a major aquarium is the best use of private and government dollars. I'm also not sure that a "Shamu-like" exhibit will sell, but who am I to judge?

I'm told the exhibit will include dolphins, walruses, a gazillion different type of fish, and a 500-thousand gallon killer whale tank that will be open to the public by 2011. Not enough room for water ski shows, but there will still be plenty for a family aquatic experience.
With the right marketing, it will also be a magnet that helps push through a new hotel -- which city leaders so desperately want anyway -- that will include a "Disney" type of a feel with costumed characters working in the lobby and wakeup calls from talking mermaids.

I still have home video of taking my oldest son to Sea World and sitting in the splash zone. I never realized how much I missed that park until it wasn't here any more.

Project leaders believe that selling the naming rights (I'm told they've already approached ACME) will help cover the cost of the new aquarium, which will be built somewhere between the new football stadium and Route 8. It will be visible from the highway I'm told with a domed roof that will change the skyline as you view downtown from the East.
I'm also told that if it's successful, additional properties could be seized on the other side or Route 8 to relocate the Akron Zoo from the West side and make both attractions more visible to traffic.
Save me a seat in the splash zone.