Friday, May 30, 2008



"Will anchor for food" :)

I'm trying to keep a sense of humor today .. with so many emotions going in so many directions. My phone hasn't stopped ringing .. and the email has long since hit capacity.


I just feel like I can't keep up. Our newsroom is already smaller .. so I'm the only one answering the phones while also writing my part of the show scripts for 6:30 p.m.

Couldn't believe how much the ABJ published this morning about the end of the show. Very nice to receive that much ink. Hope everyone realizes that this broadcast has always been a team effort and the producers and videographers have worked their you-know-what's off for the last seven years too.

Had a great time reminiscing with Matt & Angela at WKDD and also with Ray Horner at WAKR. Thanks to both stations for their support .. and for the chance to talk candidly. Matt and I will visit the topic again later this afternoon .. around 5:35 p.m. on his talkshow on WHLO.

It was ironic to talk about the newscast's end during today's taping of NewsNight Akron, which airs at 9 p.m. on PBS 45/49. The loss of the show is newsworthy in itself and changes the media landscape of how the area is covered.

Jody Miller of the Bath Country Journal made me feel quite special with a special bouquet of roses. She's a gem .. both as a person and as a journalist.

I've put together a few short stories to keep tonight's broadcasts local. Tomorrow is a big "walk away from violence" event at Leggett Elementary School in Akron, and I also have a short piece on David Giffel's new book -- two stories that are the type that will rarely see air on most Cleveland broadcasts.

We'll also have a good piece on the traveling Viet Nam Wall arriving in Wadsworth and what that means to our local veterans.

I still have no idea what to say at the end of the broadcasts tonight ... just trying to get my head above water and make sure we've covered all of the day's top stories.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Welcome to webchat!

[ Copy this | Start New | Full Size ]

Webchat tonight at 8:30 p.m.!

All topics up for grabs tonight ...

Widowfield resigns ... thousands of $$ spent on the Civic Theater .. the end of the Newscast .. whatever's on your mind ..

See ya at 8:30 p.m.!


Residents flood sewer and water meeting .. but is it too soon for pitchforks and torches?

I wish I could have attended the S.O.S. (Save Our Sewers) meeting last night. The ABJ estimates about 150 were in attendance.

I was already committed to an interview in downtown Akron for a story that runs next week, so I couldn't be in two places at once .. and with only one nightside photographer who was shooting my story, there was no way to get anything from the meeting on the 10 p.m. news.

The group contacted me earlier this week about two national experts coming to town to talk about the good and bad of privatizing utilities. Mostly bad I take it.

I think it's great that this many people are passionate enough about the topic to come out to hear more, and when it comes to a multi-million dollar utility, I think it's right to skeptical.

Still, I think most people want to wait for Mayor Plusquellic's study group to report back with some specifics for the plan before passing judgement. The possible benefit -- yearly scholarships for local graduates to the University of Akron -- is certainly worth exploring.

Anyway, I would like to have heard more of the arguments from those who are steadfast against the idea. For the record, in my conversations with the Mayor, he's been focusing on selling or leasing the sewer system whereas the S.O.S. website provides a top 10 list on why privatizing the water system is a bad idea. Aren't they two separate entities?

I would have liked to have heard what alternatives S.O.S. would offer that might lead to the same goal of higher education for Akron's brightest. Can anyone argue against trying to attain that goal?

Obviously Mayor Plusquellic and others are passionate about exploring the sale/lease idea because of the upside of the benefits ... and obviously, the group opposed to the idea -- led by a group of well-known anti-Plusquellic community folks -- is just as passionate about making sure that Akron voters have all the information so they can make an informed decision. In S.O.S.'s case, they'd like it to be mandatory that citizens vote on the plan before any deal becomes reality.

Isn't there a way to combine both groups' passion towards a real solution here?

I have faith that if the Mayor's group finds that the idea isn't in the best interest of the Akron citizens, that they'll advise him of just that. I look at how hard city hall has fought to protect the water rights of the Cuyahoga River over the last 20+ years .. so it's reasonable to think that the same caution would be taken in relinquishing anything water related.

But until that group has made its report, making an assumption that it won't work is like saying you don't like a movie you've never seen .. or disliking someone you've never met.

Partnerships provide new opportunities for covering Akron news

As if saying goodbye to our evening broadcast and several of my co-workers wasn't enough of an emotional experience, now I'm moving my desk in the Akron newsroom to make room for some new roommates. It's a good deal though.

PBS 45/49 and WKSU are moving in later this summer, July 1st to be exact. Each was looking to extend their reach into Akron from the respective headquarters in Kent, and our station's loss became their gain.

It's a good move for both groups, but selfishly it's also a very good move for our news operation as well. Our downtown Akron office at the corner of Main and Market has plenty of space, more than enough for what will soon be a 2-3 person bureau for WKYC instead of the full-service newsroom we've had for the last seven years.

Getting both organizations into downtown Akron can only be a good thing for local viewers. With the loss of our evening newscast, there will soon be a perceived vacuum for broadcast information. Residents will be looking to see where they can turn to get Akron info when they need it.

I'm excited that the partnership will allow us to record "NewsNight Akron" in the Akron office as well. For the last nine years, the show has been taped at Kent State University. Moving NNA to downtown Akron should make it easier for local guests to take part in the weekly round table discussion, which may also expand to allow discussion on more regional issues. Who knows, we also might be able to have a live studio audience sometimes!

I'm not sure how the physical layout of the office might change, but our day-to-day news coverage for TV3 won't be interrupted. WKSU is already eyeballing our newsroom's one office that faces Main Street; they're hoping to upgrade the acoustics to make a recording studio. I used that office as my personal space when we first launched PAX23 in 2001, but it didn't last long. As a reporter, I felt disconnected from the rest of the staff so I moved my desk back into the newsroom and never looked back.

For what it's worth .. the whole thing is just a blur right now. Six weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk making a broad list of feature stories I was hoping to cover during a typically slow summer. Now I'm saying goodbye to the Akron-Canton broadcast and a few co-workers while welcoming some new journalists into our space.

I'm adjusting to the changes .. but to be honest, it's still sinking in.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Webchat delayed until Thursday

Due to an 8:30 p.m. interview I have tonight, webchat will move to Thursday.

Join us to talk about all things Akron .. including the end of the broadcast. All topics are up for grabs!

Loss of Akron-Canton News getting media attention

I had an odd deja vu today ... chatting with ABJ TV writer Rich Heldenfels about the upcoming end of the Akron-Canton News. It was odd because I can remember having the same interview with Rich seven-plus years ago when we were first launching the broadcast.

Seems every time our newscast took a step forward (adding the 10 p.m. news in 2003 for example) or took a step sideways (moving from PAX to Time Warner Cable in 2005), the change was always worth a mention. When you're the only evening news game in town, whatever we do or don't do is news in itself.

This time it's a story about the end of the broadcast. Look for Rich's story in Friday's ABJ.

I've also been invited to spend some time on WAKR with Ray Horner Friday morning after 8 a.m. talking about the changes ahead.

A few weeks ago, it looked like I would be out of town for training and would need a fill-in anchor for the broadcasts. While the vacancy never materialized (my training was canceled), I couldn't help but wonder how great it would have been to have had Mark Williamson sit at the desk for a night or two. The former WAKC anchor and news director of 23 News never got to have a "final" show.

Instead -- as well know by now -- the station's new owners dropped the hammer in February of 1996 and yanked the broadcasts without warning. Williamson, who'd hosted the show for 17 years if memory serves, never got to say a final goodnight.

I think the viewers would have enjoyed it .. and I think Mark would have too. For those keeping score at home, Mark is the City of Akron's Communications Director, so he still interacts with the media on a daily basis. Mark gave me my first job out of college, so I owe him a lot.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Katie Couric's stop at the Today Show to be brief

NBC's tease of Katie Couric's return to "Today" on Wednesday netted not less than 214 separate news stories (according to Google) as of 8:30 p.m.

A few of the headlines:

Couric to Make ‘Major Announcement’ on NBC’s Today
What Is Katie Couric’s “Major Announcement?”
Katie Couric's big announcement is out of the bag!
All Eyes on Katie Couric for 'Today Show' Announcement
Katie Couric's Major Announcement: Cancer Telethon

The fodder goes on and on .. but that last headline hit the ball out the park.

KC will join fellow network news anchors Brian Williams (NBC) and Charles Gibson (ABC) in doing the rounds tomorrow morning to promote a cancer fundraiser coming up in September.

All three networks joining forces on a broadcast IS a big deal, but you wonder why "Today" felt the need to generate buzz that some might feel is unnecessary. That happens sometimes in TV News .. and backlash or not, it obviously worked. I'm sure "Today" will score more viewers tomorrow with the big-3 anchors than the other morning shows because viewers will want to see how KC and Meridith Vieira get along.

I know I'll be watching ..

My favorite blog headline on the topic: CBS May Be Pondering Move From Couric Broadcasting System.

My favorite viewer comment from the story on "Hopefully it's that she's retiring and taking Ellen, Oprah, Maury and Jerry with her!!!"

9/11 .. and the other days that put our newsroom to the test ..

Four days and counting ...

I've begun reorganizing my desk to get ready for my transition back to a bureau operation versus the full-service newsroom we've been for the last seven years. I've found a lot of old stuff -- both personal and professional -- that I thought was long gone.

I've found some notes from 9/11, which happened just 90 days after PAX23 News debuted. By noon of that day, we'd made the decision to carry NBC programming on Channel 3 to shift all of our local news coverage to the PAX Channel. We brought quite a few folks into the Akron office that day for interviews; a few went live from the Akron anchor desk for interviews with Tim and Romona.

One of our interns that day had an aunt who worked in the Twin Towers. I remember the gasp she let our when we had her live on the Akron set watching the towers fall for the first time. She didn't know yet if her aunt had survived, but later learned that she was o-k.

For the next few nights, the newscasts went commercial free .. so instead of filling the usual 13 minutes of news (commercials, weather and sports fill the rest) ... we attempted to fill the entire 30 minutes with fresh content. I remember having Pastor Knute Larson from the Chapel as well as other local leaders on live to talk about the community trying to cope. I remember interviewing the folks at the North Hill flag shop as they ran out of American Flags. I remember how tired and exhausted we all were leaving the office each night that week. Just floored. Our producer and photographers just worked their butts off.

Ironically, a crew from PBS 45/49 just happened to be filming us behind-the-scenes on 9/11. They were here to get footage and interviews for a special on covering the Akron area called "24 Hours," which can still be found on-line. If you watch the special (which is really well done), just know that the video you see in our newsroom that day was shot on 9/11.

There have certainly been other days that pushed us to our limits. Quite a few times, we've taken the entire newscast live on the road, which is my favorite challenge.

In 2002, we went live from the Green tornado zone, so instead of anchoring behind the desk, I was walking in between destroyed houses while pitching from story to story. During one two-minute commercial, I was quickly driven up the street to a second location and a second camera to bring a different perspective. No other newscast in Cleveland came close to the show we did that night.

We've also done the entire broadcast live from First Night Akron, the Aeros season opener at Canal Park, and multiple times from Stark County during the Jessie Davis case. There's nothing like the energy you get from broadcasting live in the field. No prompter, no fancy lights, and no net to catch you.

Once, on election night, I was physically the only person in the newsroom during the broadcast. Our 10 p.m. producer and night photographer were still out gathering interviews as the votes were being counted, so I was the only one here.

Still, there's nothing like beating the clock (and the competition) on the big story, and the nights the Akron-Canton News did that were the nights we shined the brightest.

Katie Couric's return to "Today"?

Matt Lauer just teased that Katie Couric is coming back to the Today Show on Wednesday to make a "major announcement." How's that for a tease?

The bloggers are quickly lighting up the web with speculation as to why KC would come across town from CBS to do something for NBC again. Is she returning to Today, or is this some personal announcement that seems better placed on Today than on her adopted network at CBS?

I'll poke around the NBC sources to see what I can find .. but I'm reminded that Bryant Gumble made an appearance on Today years ago even though he'd moved on to the CBS Morning Show by that point. It was all part of a Today anniversary piece and they were getting all the former hosts to take part.

I'm wondering if Katie's appearance tomorrow will be part of the same thing ... some kind of Today Show retrospective ... either that, or something concerning her on-going push for colon cancer screening.
Don't for a second think that the vague mention of Katie's return wasn't done for the buzz it would create ... it was very intentional.
And while I was skeptical that anyone would be able to take KC's Today spot and flourish, Meredith Vieira is as good as it gets ...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Akron seniors get the message, but too many still fail the OGT

The Class of 08 can pound their chests against the Class of 07 for one thing .. fewer will miss graduation for failing to pass the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT).

Of the current seniors, 89 still haven't passed all portions of the OGT and therefor can't walk across the stage. That compares to 127 last year, some of whom were in tears as they threw themselves on the mercy of the Board of Education, which was powerless to change the policy.

This year's seniors learned a lot from watching last year's class. Still, 89 out of 1,500+ seniors is too many .. but at least the test scores are moving in the right direction.

I know there's an argument to be made about how some kids are great students but lousy test takers and vice-versa. I know that a great many parents fell the district is spending too much time "teaching to the test," but right now, it's what we've got.

One of the kids who failed to graduate last year stayed in touch with me over the summer. She'd only missed the test by one point on the science portion, and had to watch her twin sister walk the stage while she stayed in the audience. And after taking some make-up classes and retaking the OGT, she finally passed it to get her diploma. It was a fun follow-up story to put on the evening news. If she did it, shouldn't other OGT-F's be able to do it?

Still, I wonder how many of last year's OGT failures just said "the heck with it" and moved on without a diploma to face the world.

Yeah, I still feel bad for the seniors who completed every academic class of the last 13 years but won't get to walk across the stage with their classmates. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that you don't want to miss. Hopefully the Class of 09 will accept the challenge to beat the 89 left behind this year.

I'd love to get some feedback from Akron teachers .. on what they think helped more of this year's class get over the challenge of "the test."

The strangest things happen in a TV Newsroom ...

Among the many crazy things I can recall of the last seven years:

  • The fire department coming to the station during the 6:30 p.m. newscast because people were stuck in our building's elevator. Four of Akron's finest came through the door with axes in hand as I was pitching to weather. Betsy Kling and I chatted live on the air as I did play-by-play of the big rescue inside our own building.
  • Numerous times that our studio camera went crazy during the broadcast. Since it's remote-controlled by a man with a joystick in Cleveland, there's always the possibility it'll go nuts. There have been times that the camera suddenly shot at the ceiling and other times when it zoomed out or in real fast like an action movie. One time I shrunk while in front of a graphic of a butterfly, and it looked like I was being eaten by the bug.
  • The day a man dressed as a pirate came to the front door seeking employment. Our Executive Producer, Chris Hyser, told him that the only job we had open right now was for a meteorologist. Captain Hook immediately said "I can do that!" When Chris asked the man if he had experience, he responded "I've been predicting the weather for years .. just not professionally."
  • The day a woman walked into our newsroom through an open door and accused us all of being "wolves in sheep's clothing" because we were conspiring to cover up a major meat infection story on the East Coast. Needless to say, we quickly escorted her back to the street.
  • A woman who brought her son to the front door claiming that the boy was possessed by the devil and that she needed to get Satan out of the boy's body. We quietly called police; they were quite familiar with this woman and her mental issues.
  • Seeing a big black car come up on the curb on Main Street during a 6:30 broadcast. The vehicle then came to a stop right outside our windows, and I began wondering if the driver inside was planning to kill me live on the air. As the electric window came down, I realized it was Mayor Plusquellic inside teasing me that I had the easiest job in Akron.
  • Getting a late-night call from a stranger who told me, "it hurts. It really hurts and I can't make it stop." I nearly hung up on the woman thinking it was a crank call, when she finally told me who she was. Turns out it was one of our reporters and she was having an appendicitis attack in the basement of our building. We didn't even know she was down there and thought she'd left the building to go to dinner. Had she not had her phone with her or had I hung up, she might have died.
  • Having a man come in off the street and begin to use our newsroom computers to check his e-mail. When questioned about who he was and what he was doing, the man said, "what? isn't this the library?"

More will come to me as the week goes on ..

Beginning of the End -- Last Week for Akron-Canton News

Well .. the week I dreaded has arrived. This is the final week of the Akron-Canton News, which is being discontinued due to a number of economic reasons. Basically, not enough ads were sold to keep the product on the air, so the last show will be the 10 p.m. broadcast on Friday May 30th.

It's been a slow death since the announcement was made 5+ weeks ago. The stress level has been high in our newsroom as we each deal with the loss in different ways.

The broadcast we launched on June 13, 2001 as "PAX 23 News" has taken a lot of turns in its seven-year run. We began with seven newsroom staffers doing one broadcast each day and then eventually grew to 11 staffers doing two shows each weeknight just before the Iraq war began in early 2003.

When problems at PAX arrived in early 2005, the show moved to Time Warner Cable and a new series of struggles began -- specifically informing viewers in each community where they could find us on the dial. Regular viewers who weren't TWC customers gave us an earful, but moving to cable was our only option so what could we do?

Through attrition and relocating some staff to the Cleveland office, we slowly shrunk from 11 staffers back to seven while still doing two shows each night. As of this writing, we are down to six staffers .. some of whom, unfortunately, will be let go after Friday.

Throughout this week, I'll try to share some of the behind-the-scenes stories of the highs and lows of the last seven years.

It's so hard to know that our community is losing its traditional evening news broadcast -- and in some ways its TV identity -- for a second time.

Losing a program that so many of us loved with all our hearts is just hard to describe. This whole week is just going to be really, really hard.

Friday, May 23, 2008

OMG - Akron's Aquarium was really in the plans!!!

I'm saying up front that this is not an April Fool's Joke Part II ... and I in no way knew any of this on that glorious day when I duped a number of folks in town with a blog post that a new, downtown aquarium was on the way for Akron. (At least one media organization called the University of Akron just to make sure I was really kidding.)
Turns out ... thanks to the keen eye of a friend of mine .. there were not only discussions of a downtown aquarium, but a firm in Boston, MA had drawings made (see above) and still has the idea on its website as a future project.
The site claims:
"The Akron Aquarium will be located in the center of downtown Akron, Ohio. Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole have designed the aquarium to be a landmark and
cornerstone of the major urban revitalization mixed use master plan. The plan is focused around a central urban waterway which ultimately links with Lake
Erie. The waterway will be lined with shops, restaurants, offices, hotels and a renovation of Akron’s historic performing arts theater. The Aquarium will include a major world class ocean tank, multiple focus tanks, interpretive exhibits, aquarium shop and visitor services. The aquarium design is planned for future phasing and expansion. Opening planned for 2008."
I checked with city hall and have been told that the idea was killed two years ago ... but I'm still trying to get details on whatever the plan was at that time and just who planned to ride Shamu.

But right now .. all I have to say is .. what were the odds????

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Steven Curtis Chapman tragedy beyond words

It's an awful story .. no matter what family it affects. A couple's teen son accidentally runs over and kills his 5-year-old sister in the family driveway. That's what happened to Contemporary Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, at the family home in Tennessee.

SCC is far and away my favorite performer ... his songs of faith and hope helped me tremendously during my tour of duty overseas .. and have always been the right inspiration for me at the right time. If you click on the cassette tape to the right, you'll hear some of his songs that I linked to my blog last week.

The Chapmans have three children of their own and adopted three more from China. Maria, the youngest of the adopted children, was the one killed.

As a couple, Steven and Marybeth have been national advocates for adoption and they also have a foundation that provides financial support to couples looking to adopt. It was a big part of his concert in Akron last fall.

News reports indicate the family was playing outside when the accident happened, and at least two of the Chapmans' other children witnessed it. No charges are expected as police believe it was an unforeseeable accident.

I can't imagine the agony the family must be feeling at the loss, but I equally can't find the words to describe what SCC's teen son must be feeling as well. Their entire family has been changed forever.

I've covered similar stories for the evening news, and I'm quick to realize that the pain the family endures in the initial few days of the tragedy is only the beginning. Long after the TV cameras move on to other stories, this family will still be grieving. Now it's happened to a family we all know.

SCC's two teen sons played with him during his concert last fall at the Akron Baptist Temple. Both are phenomenal musicians, like their father. Hopefully, the boys can lean on that close relationship with their father for support.

On his most recent CD, SCC shares a powerful message about fathers and daughters in his song "Cinderella" which laments a daddy's joys and pains in watching his little girl grow to womanhood. Knowing how much SCC loves his daughters, I can't imagine how he'll ever play that song again and not be in tears. My own son has made "Cinderella" one of his favorite songs and has already said that if he has a daughter someday, he'll play it at her wedding. If you're a fan of Christian music then you've probably heard it on the radio by now.

One of SCC's most emotional songs, "When Love Takes You In," was written about the adoption experience. It's very powerful and indicative of the passionate lyrics and message true of SCC's music in general. I know that the little girl in the video is one of the daughters he adopted, but I don't know if it's Maria.

I invite you to watch the video below and let the song sink in ... and when it's over say a prayer for this Christian family that they find peace and healing in the coming days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Webchat!

[ Copy this | Start New | Full Size ]

Veterans' medical saga well told by CBS reporter

This story by Byron Pitts on CBS will leave you speechless ... and that CBS devoted 8:00 to one story should you tell you a lot right there. Take a look:

I could go on and on about the good and bad I've seen in military health care, but I think the flipside story here is the government's inability to attract the best doctors to military service when their professional careers in the private sector can be so lucrative.

When I retired from the National Guard two years ago, the state was offering $20K cash bonuses to doctors willing to drill one weekend a month for three years. That's on top of their normal pay as soldiers. All to provide physicals to the troops and to attend our two-week annual training -- usually in Michigan -- to help treat any injuries we received during our maneuvers.

You'd think young docs with mega college loans would jump at the deal, but a great many of those jobs weren't filled. I remember a Lieutenant Colonel asking me if I could put a story on the evening news asking for doctors to at least give it a try -- that's how bad the military needed good docs to help out the ranks.

What stands out to me in this story is how well it's told by Byron Pitts. He doesn't choose any hyped-up adjectives or verbs to try and overpower the viewers' emotions. Instead, he lets the people involved become "characters" and steps back as a story-teller instead of making himself the story. Too often, TV reporters do indeed get in the way of their own stories. I'm glad that wasn't the case here.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NEW WKYC.COM set to launch Wednesday!

The new-and-improved launches in just a matter of hours .. and it should really push our station to the next level.

The new website includes a great deal more of social media tools, including allowing readers to start their own blogs, post their own photo galleries, create forums on special topics of interest and even post comments about our stories, similar to what provides, (not that anyone would ever criticize my work, right? right?!?!!? ha!)

The site provides an updated video player that will allow you to embed WKYC video directly into your own website, like Blogger or Facebook, instead of having to just add a link and then have your readers navigate away.

If you're a weather warrior, the new site allows you to enter your zip code to get a more distinct forecast just for your neighborhood. In fact, if you have a keen cyber eye, you'll notice that the main banner changes based on that day's weather!

Remember that it's a work in progress .. so there might be a few hiccups the first few days .. but give it a try and tell me what you think.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The e-mail I opened too late ...

A local military mother e-mailed me late last week about my series, "The Long Road Home," that followed the tough challenges our local troops face in readjusting after war.

She wanted me to know about her four sons. Two have returned home from Iraq facing issues with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while two others (twin step-sons) recently joined the Ohio Army National Guard. One is already at basic training.

Because of my busy week, I was only able to glance at the top of her email, assuming that I'd respond to her this week when I had more time.

I just read the end of her e-mail ... and I'm speechless .. because I've read it too late ...

Read on:

"But there's a family out here who is suffering terribly, their Marine was home on leave in Dec 07 and was standing at a bus stop in Cleveland's downtown area and he was shot in the neck, by two young men he grew up with on the same street in Cleveland. This Marine I am speaking of is LCPL. Robert Crutchfield, He has suffered so many surgeries since then, he has had 3 major brain surgeries due to his brain swelling, and they needed to remove his skull, to release some of the swelling. He is on a feeding tube , he can finally walk a little with assistance of others. He is presently in St Augustine Manor on Detroit Ave in Cleveland trying to recovery from his injuries..Because his family is unable to care for him the way he needs the care. Please it would mean so much to the Crutchfield family if you might do a story on this Marine in need of help.."

Crutchfield died last night. His death has been the lead story on several area radio and TV broadcasts today ... as this local Marine lost his battle to recover from his injuries.

He was only 21.

Had I read this mother's email about Crutchfield Thursday night when I received it, I don't know that I would have been able to reach the family in time to do a story about their needs before his Sunday's passing .. but I wish I could have tried nonetheless.

I hate that the limitations of time prevent all the stories that need to be told from actually getting on the air. I'm frustrated that while I had a good, informative story on the air for tonight's early news broadcast, that another more important story remained untold.

I know I can't be everywhere .. I know that I can't tell every story .. and I know that there's still a story to be told here.

But when it comes to heroes like Robert Crutchfield, other stories should wait. They just should.

I only hope that the stories we tell of his passing are presented in a way that honors the service Crtuchfield provided us during his short time on this earth. He deserves nothing less.

Akron woman's siphoning woes only part of troubles

I had a real nice chat with Jenni Morrison outsider her Work Drive home today. It's not often you can meet someone who can smile and make light of being robbed for the fourth time in two months.

She's a hard-working, self-employed mother of two. Unfortunately, someone's been siphoning her gas tank dry in the middle of the night. Morrison recently invested in a locking gas cap, but that didn't stop last night's bad guys, who used a screwdriver to pry it open and take her fuel.

Her story will be featured tonight on Channel 3 News at 7 p.m. and also on the Akron-Canton News at 6:30 p.m. Later tonight, you can view her story on

If only stolen gas was Jenni's only problem.

Jenni also tells me that she and her husband are pursuing Concealed Carry Licenses because of the rising crime in her neighborhood. She lives a few blocks from the Delia Market, where last week a store clerk opened fire on three bad guys with guns who tried to rob the place. The clerk even "winged" one of the would-be robbers -- a teenager -- who was nabbed when he showed up at a local hospital bleeding in the arm.

Morrison pointed to three different spots on her street where she's witnessed teens and young adults fire weapons at one another. With two kids to raise, I can't imagine how stressful it must be to live on Morrison's street. I get the feeling she'd sell her house and move to a safer neighborhood if she could, but who's going to buy her house in this economy?

Still, she's trying to be compassionate and tells me she won't press charges even if police find out who's been unloading her unleaded. She knows the economy is tough, so she assumes it's teenagers who need the fuel more than she does.

Meanwhile .. she's left to wonder each morning if there will be fuel in the gas tank when she comes out to take the kids to school .. or to take her father to chemotherapy ... or just to get out on her route so she can earn money to pay the bills.

Sleeping with one eye open, worried about the gas in your tank is no way to live.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Akron Police radio traffic entertaining to say the least ..

I'm fairly used to having an Akron Police radio playing all day long in the newsroom. As a journalist, you've always got one ear open for the serious stuff. A "33" is a shooting .. "34" is a stabbing ... "5" is emergency traffic ... "100" is swat ... and so on.

The dispatchers and officers do a pretty good job of being brief and to the point .. following set rules and procedures to keep the lines of communication open.

Still, you can't help but hear the tone in their voices with some of the calls that come in.

A short time ago, a dispatcher sent an officer to Gauge street for a woman driving while completely naked. There was just enough pause in the responding officers' voice that you could "feel" him smirking on the other end -- probably wondering what law to charge this woman with breaking.

I also heard a call go out today of a man with a gun and a scope on top. Pretty serious call and it obviously gets the officers' attention in a hurry. As the officer races to the scene, the dispatcher added additional information that the man was actually a teenager and the gun was a B.B. gun he was using to shoot bottles for target practice.

A few days ago, a dispatcher told an officer about a problem with a teenager who's parents don't speak English. The dispatcher ended the call with a laughing "good luck" as in "good luck with that."

Also today, a dispatcher sent an officer to a small brush fire near I-77. When the officer got on scene, he confirmed that there really was a fire, and the dispatcher responded with something like "yeah, I thought so. I've gotten a million 9-1-1 calls."

My favorite happened a few months ago. A dispatcher called out a BOLO ("be on the look out") for a man near the downtown bus stop with no pants. She then began describing his height, weight, shirt color .. before finally stopping and saying "I'm guessing you'll know him when you see him."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Webchat .. Bring it on!

[ Copy this | Start New | Full Size ]

Webchat tonight at 8:30 p.m.

It's a pot luck night .. among the topics up grabs ..
  • Marc Dann finally steps down
  • Akron store clerks keep opening fire
  • Long Road Home highights veterans readjustment

Would love your thoughts on any and all ... see you at 8:30 p.m.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Akron store owner opens fire .. second in two nights

We're on the scene of a shooting in West Akron tonight at the Delia Market. Akron Police tell me that three would-be bad guys walked in and brandished a gun. That's when the store owner pulled a piece of his own and opened fire on them.

The would-be robbers beat feat .. but the store owner believes he hit one of them. Officers have one man in custody with a gunshot wound. They're trying to make sure it's the same guy.

Turns out, we had another of these store shootouts last night. Two masked men tried to hold up the Dairy Mart at 587 West Market (not far from the Delia Market by the way) when an employee opened fire and the bad guys took off.

Be careful out there everyone.


Webchat delayed until Thursday

Because so many folks will be watching the Cavs tonight .. and our newsroom will be so busy with the Marc Dann story .. I'll be here for webchat Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. instead of tonight.

As always, all topics welcome .. and I'd love to get some feedback on the "Long Road Home" series now playing on Channel 3 News at 11.


Dann's resignation includes Governor wasting gasoline

The headlines tonight will all focus on Marc Dann's resignation during a 4:45 p.m. press conference with Governor Strickland. Dann's comments were short before he bolted like Indiana Jones chasing a sword-carrying henchman. While it's the day most in the media thought would happen sooner than later, it's not the way today was supposed to go.

Follow this for a moment:

Strickland was scheduled to attend a Fuel Cell Conference at 3 p.m. here in Akron. As of noon, Uncle Ted's great adventure was still on tap and we believed he was on the road. Reporter Chris Tye was slated to cover the event for WKYC. Chris had been at the Statehouse yesterday when word came that Dann could step down at any moment, so the chance that Chris might be able to ask Strickland a few questions was a good one to take.

Chris Tye was on his way from Cleveland to Akron when our newsroom got word (around 1:45 p.m.) that the Gov was sending the state's Chief Economic Development Officer in his place.

While it's not unusual for a politician to send a replacement to scheduled events, Strickland's late snub meant something was up and he was returning to the statehouse.

We still covered the fuel conference (look for Vic Gideon's story on the Akron-Canton News at 6:30 p.m.) but immediately put out feelers to Columbus to see what had pulled Strickland off schedule. Sure enough, by 4 p.m. we got word that Strickland and Dann were scheduling a joint press conference. Tom Beres, our station's Senior Political Correspondent, spent the day in Columbus and was on standby for just such a news conference. So as a newsroom, all our bases were covered.

As Dann leaves office .. I think there's still two big "gets" out there for journalists to chase. First, what's Jessica Utovich's story? She's the subordinate who was Dann's mistress while working in her official capacity as his scheduler. Much has been made of their relationship, but we really need to get her side of it. Second, we still haven't heard from Alyssa Dann, Marc's wife. She was not by his side 12 days ago when the AG first announced his dirty laundry, and she wasn't there today either. Obviously, her take on all of this would draw a great deal of interest as well.

For now, Dann is cleaning out what's left of his desk, at least what's still there after investigators reportedly seized computers and other items from the AG's office earlier today. From here forward, Dann becomes an asterisk on the history of Ohio politics. With possible criminal or ethics charges pending, it's too soon to say the Dann saga is over. But for now, there's still cast members in this play who have lines to deliver.

Fence sends wrong message about Akron development

Every time I drive down North Street under the Y-bridge I just cringe. Here's why:

There's a new development under construction that should provide great new living space for inner-city families who truly need it. When complete, the homes will be a real showcase for turning a neighborhood around.

As construction continues, the new homes have been fenced off, which is understandable to secure the unfinished structures and the construction equipment.

But why is the top of the fence tilted inward towards the new homes? Shouldn't it be pointed outward to keep people outside? The way the fence is set up right now makes it look like a prison yard.

When a potential tenant goes inside the fence to survey the new homes, they turn around to a view that sends the wrong message. I realize the fence is temporary and will hopefully someday be replaced by a pretty white picket fence.
Still, at least for now with inner-city housing such a serious issue, shouldn't the little things be important when it comes to the area's image?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gloria James' emotions nothing new in a basketball arena

I had to laugh as Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley spent several minutes discussing Gloria James instead of LeBron James during halftime of last night's playoff broadcast on TNT. Then this morning, "LeBron's Momma" became a five-minute debate on ESPN2, and right now, an old story about Gloria James' arrest is the most-viewed story on our station's website.

All this attention .. from a short outburst at last night's game.

If you didn't see it live, here's a recap: The family matriarch jumped to her baby boy's defense following a hard foul in the second quarter underneath the Cavs hoop. The site of 5'5" Gloria taking hard steps towards the towering Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was the stuff David-and-Goliath movies are made of. Only in this case, Gloria was reacting on emotion .. and certainly hadn't brought a slingshot -- not that it would have mattered against the two giants nearby.

As LeBron broke free from Pierce's bear hug, he could see his momma take a few steps and begin to yell .. that's when LeBron told his mother ... um .. shall we say ... "please mom, take your seat, I have everything under control." Although if you could read lips, it looked a lot more like "Sit your *$$ down mom!"

LBJ joked about it afterwards ... saying that "yesterday was Mother's Day." He wasn't proud of the language he used on National TV .. especially towards the woman who gave birth to him.

Still, if LeBron's roar kept his mother from making a major physical mistake, then his word choice saved the day. The last thing the league needs is fans taking physical shots at players .. even when it's the Chosen One's momma.

I can remember watching Gloria do laps on the concourse level of JAR Arena wearing a shirt that read "LeBron's mom" during a state playoff game a few years ago. I can also remember how she carried herself in the St. V gym from time-to-time. Always vocal .. always out in front .. never hiding who she was or why she was there. Meanwhile, she was so committed to her son that she even missed his final home game as a high school player in order to take care of a traffic ticket that LeBron had gotten.

While there are many who've felt Gloria's been out of control too often -- and her arrest for bad driving that included kicking out the window of a police cruiser didn't help -- there is something to be said for her loyalty and passion for her son.

Many will say that it's easy to be loyal to a son who's worth $100 million and buys you whatever you need. Yet, if you read David Lee Morgan's book, "Lebron", you'll find that Gloria put LeBron first long before she knew he'd be a superstar. She certainly had problems as a teen mom trying to raise a son .. and she was wise enough, according to the book, to realize when she was in over her head. That's when she placed LeBron with a family friend while she "got her life together."

I can't stick up for Gloria's actions ... nor can I possibly know what King James' relationship is with the woman who put together the plan for his high school HMMV ... but it shouldn't surprise anyone that Gloria was courtside and ready to defend her son.

Think Boobie Gibson or Wally Czerbiak's mothers wouldn't have had the same initial reaction if a giant grabbed their sons on the fly right in front of them?

You don't have to like Gloria ... but you've got to admire her maternal instincts.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Long Road Home" debuts tonight at 11

I'm really excited to finally kick off tonight's series. I've received some great e-mails from local military families that are dealing with different levels of coping with the readjustment.

I was thrilled to appear on Good Company this morning to talk about the series. My segment was slated for eight minutes, which is an eternity in TV News .. but relatively normal on the Entertainment side of the house.

Tonight's first segment is on Matt Wojtecki, a Marine from Copley who served with Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. He saw a lot of action and was injured during his tour, but he stuck it out til the end to come home with his brothers.

He self-published his journals into a book that's certainly worth your time if you're interested in a first-person account of what it's like in the heat of battle.

See ya at 11 .. Eric

Friday, May 9, 2008

"The Long Road Home" .. begins Monday.

Here's a preview of my next project. I'm excited to get this story on the air and to begin dialogue that brings real help to our local veterans. Take a look.

Local woman's courage sheds light on "Dirty Little Secret"

I've been communicating with Tricia Green off and on for months .. but we hadn't met face-to-face until last night. While her name was never reported, Tricia was the young lady who came forward in 2006 telling police that Randall Crane, a music teacher at Jennings Middle School, had molested her for several years beginning in 2001 when she was 14.

Police took her statement .. then set up a sting phone call to see if Crane would admit to the relationship. After recording the call, Crane was arrested and later plead guilty to sexual battery, serving six months of a two-year sentence.

Back in 2006, I gave Tricia her space as the story progressed. If she'd wanted to talk to the media, she would have let us know. Meanwhile, I dug into Crane's teaching record and found that he'd been investigated for allegedly crossing the line with young girls in the Manchester Schools in the mid 1990's .. but none of that information was shared with Akron Schools when Crane applied for his new job. Instead, Manchester wrote Crane a letter of recommendation .. and the district's "Dirty Little Secret" stayed hidden until we uncovered the truth.

Tricia was still coming to grips with telling her story of abuse when she saw our story about Crane's past. She was stunned. After Crane went to jail, Tricia told me that she would someday give me an interview about what really happened .. and about how upset she was that a school district that could have kept Crane out of her school failed to take action.

Last night .. that day arrived. I was amazed at the story I heard.

Tricia's story aired tonight on Channel 3 and the Akron-Canton News.

I can't imagine how tough it's been for Tricia to get her life together after going through an experience like this. She told me that she was an easy target for Crane .. because she came from a broken home and was raising younger siblings at age 14. She showed me her middle school report card. She missed 31 days in one grading period because she was home watching siblings. She says no one from the school district ever called or inquired as to why she wasn't coming to school (a troubling statement in itself) -- no one noticed, except Randall Crane.

She was forced to grow up quickly and without needed support .. so Crane tried to fill that void and filled her mind with flattery until he lured her into a relationship.

For years, she blamed herself. Crane was married .. and she felt like an adult ... so she must be at least half responsible. She knows now that she was used.

Crane continued to call Tricia all through high school. She kept telling herself that "this is what relationships are like." Eventually, she confided in a close friend who convinced her to go to the police and get counseling.

In Ohio, it's always illegal for at teacher to have a sexual relationship with a student .. regardless of whether the sex is consensual or if the child has reached the age of 18. Legally, Tricia was not at fault.

I can't imagine how may sleepless nights Tricia must have endured trying to make sense of all of this. She told me of having to duck down in Crane's car so no one would see her as he drove her to his home. She told me that other teachers knew Crane was "close" with students but didn't stop it.

"People a) don't' believe you because he was such a great teacher or b) or they don't want to believe you because he was such a great teacher," Tricia said. "It's embarrassing .. it's sad .. unbelievable that a teacher would do something like that. I think it's disgusting."

I told Tricia that I didn't need to know the intimate details or make her relive the hell she endured .. but rather, I wanted to give her the opportunity to tell other districts to get their act together when it comes to reporting suspicious activity by teachers .. and to motivate others who've endured similar abuse to get help and come forward.

That part was really important to Tricia.

"It takes a really strong person to tell someone (that you were molested) and if you can just do that, that would make a difference," she said. "And for them to tell someone, that's the world to me, I've changed the world in one person's eyes and that's all that matters."

Tricia had also watched a story I did in February in which another local teacher -- with his identity concealed -- talked openly about how easy it was to target students for sex. That man gave the advice that parents should get to know their kid's teacher because that will deter predators from striking.

Tricia told that that couldn't be further from the truth. She said that Crane liked meeting her parents .. because it gave him information about her life at home .. information that he could twist to show that he was caring for her while turning her against her family.

We spent about an hour together last night ... only 15 minutes of it on-camera .. and only one minute and 47 seconds of that made the air.

Yet, her openness really touched me. To see the pain in her eyes .. all these years later .. makes me want to dig deeper every time someone is arrested for this type of crime. Just to make sure that leaders were taking action if they knew that a person was dangerous to kids and that hopefully the person wasn't just moved from place to place.

To this day, Tricia still fears retribution. She still has bad dreams. A lot of them. She says she'll never be able to full trust men. Still, she is attempting to move on with her life.

Going public on the evening news was a major step .. one aimed at putting a real name and face behind such an awful story.

"Kids can't be forgotten. And even though I'm 21, I'm still a kid. And I shouldn't be forgotten for what he did to me."

I thanked Tricia for trusting me with her story ... and for sharing so openly. I sense that she felt relieved that she'd finally conquered the last hurdle of this story -- going public. it's an interview I'll never forget.

Hopefully .. someone else whose buried their own abuse ... will see her story and then draw from Tricia's courage and come forward. If that happens, Tricia may never know that it was her risk on the evening news that paid off.

Still .. it was a step Tricia courageously took last night ... and for that, I hope she finally can sleep in peace.

$20 per hour jobs? Yeah, sure ... there's lots of em ..

The high gas prices -- and high everything-else prices because of the high-gas prices -- have a lot folks reconsidering their careers right now.

Should I find a job closer to home to save on gas? Should I stop feeding my 401K so that I have more in my paycheck? Should I get aggressive and find a new job that pays more so I can reclaim my budget?

MSN recently posted an article about 20 jobs that pay $20 per hour or more and are expecting job growth in the coming years; the same article quotes the Dept. of Labor as saying the median household income is $48,201, which for a 40-hour work week means a job paying $27 per hour.

It's an interesting list in that some of those careers -- casino gaming supervisor and subway car operator -- would require moving out of Akron and possibly to an area where the cost of living is higher ... so what would you really gain?

Quite a few of the jobs are in the health industry, which is expected to grow in Ohio as the state's population gets older (and the younger folks follow jobs and better weather out of state).

Zoologists and wildlife biologists make $26.98 per hour; not bad if you can handle the great outdoors and the animal waste that needs cleaned up. Still, might not be enough gorillas and sea otters here in Akron to keep folks gainfully employed.

My favorite is the encouragement for folks to become a special effects animator. $27.90 per hour to create action sequences for big-time movies sounds like the beginning of a beautiful relationship for many men. I'm just not sure that there's that enough folks who could focus on making "Indiana Jones and the search for 23-cent pizza" instead of just sitting and watching it.

All kidding aside, we need local jobs that allow people to do whatever skill they do best and pay a salary that lets them pay their bills .. and $20 per hour ain't what it used to be.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pizzas almost gone .. Akron Police respond to fights

Statement moments ago from Papa Johns HQ:

"May 8, 2008
The response to the 23-cent pizza offer in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Youngstown and the surrounding areas has been terrific. We salute Cleveland fans for coming out in incredible numbers and showing their support for their hometown team.

As a mid-day update, even though we prepared our stores to make more than 75,000 pizzas today, this great response may mean we'll run out of product and if we do our restaurants will close for the balance of the day. If we do run through the supply, by then we will all have helped raise a lot of money for the LeBron James Family Foundation.

If you are calling our restaurants and receiving a busy signal or no answer, we apologize and appreciate your patience. The call volume is tremendous. Papa John's
appreciates the positive response."

Later .. this statement was sent out:
"Good afternoon all! Wanted to send a quick update letting everyone know that we are expecting supplies to last through dinner tonight and will continue serving customers and taking orders until we have run out of product. Stores will likely
close at differing times based on when they run out of product this evening. If you have any questions, please contact me at 517.256.6648. Have a wonderful evening! Hope everyone has a chance to pick up their 23-cent pizza too!!"
Akron Police have been called to both the East and West Market Street locations for possible fights ... not sure if anyone's been arrested.

Here's a suggestion: Local police should try this again in a few months .. but instead of announcing free pizzas publicly, send letters to people with outstanding arrest warrants telling them they're getting a pizza on a certain day/time .. and then just sit and arrest them as they show up.

Can't be any dumber than offering 23-cent pizzas .. right?

Breaking News: Papa Johns might be running out of pizzas

Note from a member of our newsroom moments ago: "corporate suit says pizza running out get ready for a big mess."

Considering the number of phone calls we've received from angry drivers today ... and the number of police calls we've heard go out of arguments and fights ... if the stores really do run out, it's going to be a major pie in the face. (Here's a shot from my camera phone of the West Akron store .. the crowd extending over towards Acme #1)

A gentleman from Cuyahoga Falls tells me that traffic near the state road store is backed up across the high level bridge. He fears that emergency crews won't be able to get through if need be. He says "it's just crazy out there."

Another friend of mine actually got a pizza and tells me "My dad, mom, and I waited for 2 1/2 hours at the store in Stow (it's on route 91). It was fun but people called ahead and got to go before us. That wasn't fair in my opition, but oh well."

Stay tuned .. the calls are still coming in . this could get ugly by dinner time .. Eric

Akron mom quits job ... but isn't a quitter

A friend of mine is quitting her job .. a job "Mary" truly loves that provides a paycheck she desperately needs.

The problem is that Mary lives in Akron but the job is in social work in Medina County. With gas prices, Mary can no longer afford the drive back and forth to work .. so she's turning in her two-week notice.

It's the sad reality of today's high gas prices .. yesterday hitting $3.79 here in Akron.

I not only hurt for Mary and her family ... but I wonder how those families she was helping in her job will cope with Mary no longer there to guide them through the system.

Anyone who thinks the high gas prices aren't having an exponential impact on our community needs to stop sniffing the fumes at the pump.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wednesday Webchat

[ Copy this | Start New | Full Size ]

Mayor Don a superdelegate?

Reporter Vic Gideon asked me today if Mayor Plusquellic is a superdelegate for the National Democratic Party. I told him that I started to check that very issue a few weeks ago, but I couldn't recall the outcome.

Anyway .. I emailed Mark Williamson at the Mayor's office tonight ... and he told me:
"Hasn't been determined in ohio yet. I think this weekend."

Based on the current lay of the land, it might be better for Mayor Plusquellic to not be selected as a SD this time around. He clearly backed Hillary Clinton in her campaign, and Clinton ended up winning the Akron area and the state. It would only seem right that as a SD, DP would cast his vote for HC. Yet, now that Obama looks like he's sealed up the nomination, buckeye SD's could be in a tough spot.

As I recall, U.S. Representatives Tim Ryan and Betty Sutton have already pledged their support behind Clinton. Of course, the vote is still many weeks away ... so a lot can change.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Local mother's passion has message for all of us

I shot a story today on an Akron mother who really impressed me with how she's taken an idea at home .. and turned it into a home business that helps her family financially while creating zero waste. (Videographer Mark Smilor records as Devona makes a new creation.)

Devona Brazier has combined her keen eye at the thrift store with the sewing skills handed down from her grandmother to create unique kids clothes that she sells from home on the Internet web store.

Her story will be featured Monday as part of our "30 Days, 30 Ways to Save" series.

Devona started what she calls "the perfect mom business" 18 months ago .. and sells just enough to pay for her daughter's gymnastics lessons and at least one tank of gas per month. Yet, with word of mouth and positive feedback, she's already earned more this year than all of last year.

I was amazed at how she took a men's dress shirt and with a few cuts and a some basic stitches turned it into her favorite creation: "daddy's old shirt"; it's a transformation from a man's dress shirt (figure a $2 shirt at the thrift store) into a cute little dress for a toddler daughter sold on her site for $35. Not bad, eh? She actually makes about 20 different products from thrift store clothes and sells 7-8 of them on-line.

My point here isn't so much as a commercial, but as a wake-up call to all of us to say "hey, isn't there a way we can use our hobbies and talents a few hours a month to make either a side income?"

I can't really sew .. make that I don't sew .. nor can I make birdhouses from pine ... nor can I write an advice column on how to make your life better.

But maybe if I look hard enough, I can find my own "daddy's old shirt" that can help me put a tank of gas in my car too. With so many struggling to make ends meet, I just wonder how many are trying to find a way to make/save more money versus just accepting economic defeat.

It's nice to be inspired every once in a while .. and today I was certainly that.

By the way, I don't have daughters, but I spoke to a friend of mine here at the station who has two teen daughters and told him about "daddy's old shirt." He said, "oh I would have been all over that when my girls were younger."

If not D.A.R.E., than what?

I'm just returning from a morning appearance at Northwest Middle School in Canal Fulton. I was the guest speaker for 100+ sixth graders who were graduating from the D.A.R.E. program. They've spent the last 10 weeks learning about resisting drugs and alcohol ... all while making good decisions to avoid trouble.

It's an odd juxtaposition considering our lead story last night was about three men busted for flying 66 pounds of cocaine into a local airport. I got paid to report on someone who misused drugs while at the same time I'm telling local kids to stay away from them.

I told the students, "if only those three idiots had had D.A.R.E. when they were your age, maybe they would have made better choices."

It's an easy illustration, but the bigger picture I fear is how best to really educate today's kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Several national studies downplay the real effectiveness of D.A.R.E., and quite a few police departments, including Akron and several others here in the area, have discontinued the program .. usually citing a lack of funds.

My question is: if not D.A.R.E., than what? What program will teach our kids about the dangers that await them? Not that D.A.R.E., was the be-all-end-all of education programs, but at least it was something for some kids whose parent(s) don't teach them about what's out there. Even for parents who do talk to their kids about this topic, D.A.R.E. adds extra education and reinforces what kids hear at home.

Do we need a similar program at the high school level? Is this a topic that should be added to health classes?
Maybe it's a bit extreme, but should we make questions about avoiding drugs part of the Ohio Graduation Test? I mean, it doesn't do Sandy and Sammy much good to know the three branches of government if the only one they'll be seeing is the judicial branch because they got busted selling weed.
I think local law enforcement and educators should have a summit on the issue ... and come up with a new approach. Something that touches on a topic that our kids are already seeing way too much of on youtube and the boob tube.

As a parent, I don't have the answer here .. but I just feel like someone needs to ask the question ... if not D.A.R.E., than what?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Marc Dann puts his head in a vice

Considering the number of public verbal condemnations coming Marc Dann's direction from members of his own party -- including Governor Strickland's threat of impeachment -- I can only imagine how many calls are coming his way behind the scenes.

The media tank around the Attorney General's office has grown from piranhas to sharks to killer whales -- all thirsting for blood. Can you blame them? On Friday, Dann stood on the side of the tank with a bucket full of political chum.

I first met Dann on election day 2006. I was told to "swing by" a church in Cuyahoga Falls that was one of the polling locations because we believed Dann would be there shaking hands. I think Betty Montgomery was also coming through town, and we were more interested in talking with her than Dann .. but wanted to get Dann to balance the story journalistically.

I was taken by how friendly Dann was with the voters .. and how personally down-to-earth he presented himself. He seemed more like a local public defender who believed in the good of poor clients than the stereotypical hardcore prosecutor. He gave me a brief interview and I wished him luck, not really giving him much of a shot to win that night.

That night, sure enough Dann did win. Surprising to a lot of folks then, and on Friday Dann said even he was surprised.

I wonder how surprised he is now that he's still in office today.

I also interviewed him a few weeks after he took office for an investigative story about how professional solicitors keep much of the money we donate to charities as "operations" costs. Dann became a hero within the story vowing to become more aggressive in forcing solicitors to give $$ to charities; He also promised to make donation data easier for consumers to access so they can find out who's really getting their money. A year later, I checked with Dann's office to see what, if any, of the promises Dann made had been fulfilled; a staffer told me that the data access remained unchanged.

With the Presidential vote just six months away and Ohio key to the Democrats' hopes for retaking the White House, the Buckeye State needs a clean political runway for the Dems to take flight.

It's as though Dann's head is now in a vice .. yet he's the one who pretty much put his noggin inside the grips and gave those in the workshop every reason to tighten the jaws. Only in Dann's case, he's added the additional dare of "I'm not quitting no matter how hard you squeeze my skull."

State Democratic Chair Chris Redfern says Dann will be tossed out of the Democratic Party while local, state, and federal leaders are signing letters urging Dann to step aside. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and Treasurer Richard Cordray are pushing for Dann's exit as well.

It's times like this that you need a close friend and/or or political ally but at 3 a.m. is there anyone who will take Dann's calls right now?

He sure as heck can't call Jessica Utovich any more, right? Wasn't he embarrassed enough by the 2,000 emails he and Jessica shared going public last week? Does he really want to wait until she sits down with a TV reporter like me and does an exclusive interview to give up the dirt? Does he really want his family to sit through that? Is he sure she doesn't have any pictures or recordings?

That's what Dann can expect as he solidifies his bunker at the AG's office ... never again able to hold a press conference without questions about why he isn't resigning and/or what he did or didn't do while his lieutenants were watching "Old School." All because he's standing his ground.

Under that kind of pressure, I doubt Dann will last a week .. but then again, I was wrong about him once before.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Marc Dann Deposition shows condo was active place

A few passages that stand out from my first reading of the 157 page deposition Marc Dann gave on April 22nd. You can read it all courtesy the Plain Dealer by clicking here.

For the most part, Dann is grilled about the activities at the condo he shared with Anthony "Tony" Gutierrez, who led Dann's general services office and Leo Jennings, his communication director.

Gutierrez came under fire when he was accused by two employees he supervised — Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout — of sexual harassment. Dann fired Gutierrez for his conduct and Jennings for allegedly telling someone to lie on an employment application. He also fire Ed Simpson, his policy chief, for failing to address the problems.

The other player in this saga is Jessica Utovich, Danns' 28-year-old scheduler. She resigned voluntarily today but published reports say she admits to a "close relationship" with Dann while spending the night at the Dann-Jennings-Gutierrez condo from time-to-time. As you'll see, Dann is quizzed about Utovich's activities at the condo, but he tries to deflect them. You'll also find that Dann's wife, Alyssa, apparently had attitude-and-then-some with the young women lurking around the office.

Update .. the Columbus Dispatch has since added transcripts of the some of the 2,000 emails Dann and Utovich shared.

Now that you know the backdrop .. here's a few passages to peruse from Dann's deposition:

(page 86)
Q. -- your wife was accused of staring and glaring at Cindy and Vanessa; did you ever hear that?
A. I heard it since this has all gotten underway and read it in the newspaper.
Q. At the time this happened, it was not brought to your attention?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you ever hear that Ed Simpson admonished your wife about the way she acted
toward these two ladies?
A: No.
Q. Okay.
A. Ed and Alyssa have a separate relationship, so I don't know what -- you know, I'm not privy to all their conversations with each other.
Q. But the question was you're not aware --
A. No.
Q. -- that he had admonished her about her --
A. I'm not aware whether he did or not.

(page 98)
Q. Did you ever hear that Vanessa Stout sent Tony an e-mail on his cell phone that was raunchous in nature?
A. I've learned that since this investigation's gotten underway.
Q. Did you learn also the fact that his wife became aware of that e-mail on his cell phone?
A. I -- again, I read that in the newspaper. And I may have read it in the complaint that generated this investigation.
Q. Do you know whether or not your wife was told by Tony's wife about this situation?
A. I don't know.
Q. Okay. Did you ever hear there were rumors -- about rumors in the office of Vanessa and Cindy Stankoski having relationships with management personnel?
A. No.

(page 100 .. discussion about Tony having a gun in his car ..)

(page 105 ... told Tony to clean up his act, and that his drinking had put the office in a "bad position")

(page 106)
A. Once the investigation got underway, I became aware that he was doing it.
Q. Okay. Were you ever made aware of the fact that Tony was telling employees about his mob connections back home and his influence in the office because he was your roommate?
A. No, I was not aware of that.
Q. Were you ever told about employees being afraid of what they may say or talk about because he was talking about his influence in the office with you?
A. No. But I'm curious and anxious to hear that.

(page 106 -- Utovich's job is changed around the time Dann claims he came clean with his wife about an affair with a co-worker)
Q. Would you tell me why Jessica Utovich's office was moved to the 15th floor.
A. I think her job was changed. Jessica Utovich?
Q. Yes.
A. Yeah. Her job was changed from my scheduler to the head of the travel office.
Q. Jessica Utovich was hired at a level of about $34,000 a year; is that correct?
A. I don't know. I had no involvement with setting her salary.
Q. Do you know how she got the raise of $10,000?
A. I don't have any personal knowledge of how she got the raise of $10,000. I'm told, after this -- again, after I learned about the raise, that the promise was made to her when she started that they would start her at a relatively low salary. She replaced somebody who was earning $70,000 a year. And if she were successful for a period of time, based on the reviews of her supervisors, that she would get an increase. And I only found that out because I was copied on the e-mail and I asked. And that's why the raise. And there were a number of administrative staff raises that were -- after we implemented the lawyer raises, there were a number of administrative staff and senior staff raises that were addressed, and that was one of them. It was with a group of raises.
Q. So it's your understanding that she got a raise because of basically a promise to her because her former -- her predecessor in that job was paid more money?
A. No. What I said was I had no personal knowledge of why she got the raise. I was told that she -- one, there was a promise made that her salary would be reviewed after her performance was evaluated. I'm aware that her performance was evaluated, because I looked at her personnel file, and was evaluated by Colleen Brown, who was her supervisor. And I'm also aware it was raised -- and then the decision to raise it was made by somebody other than me.
Q. When she got a raise, did her job duties change?
A. They changed -- I don't know what -- again, I'm not personally aware of the timing of the raise. I know her job duties --
Q. The raise was given to her when she was still a scheduler.
A. Okay.
Q. She did not change into the travel office at that time. She was still a scheduler.
A. Right.

Watching Marc Dann melt down

Earlier today, we streamed Marc Dann's press conference live on .. click here to watch the first part, and here to watch the rest. (we had sattelite issues which is why it's in two chunks).

Update: the Plain Dealer has uploaded the 160+ page transcript of Dann's deposition.

I can't believe what I've been hearing. It was shocking enough to hear Dann say that he was firing two men who were close to him in his administration for their roles in a sexual harassment case involving staffers at the Attorney Generals Office .. but now Dann has just admitted to an affair of his own. He won't say who it was with, but didn't deny it was a woman from his office who resigned rather than ask investigators' questions.

He says he broke it off a few months ago .. and told his family back then as well. He also says he never expected to win the election and that he's been turning around his behavior and that of others in his office for the last few months.

Now that it's out in the open that there were some kind of "sexcapades" taking place at the condo shared by Dann and the two senior staffers who have now been fired for misconduct, Dann's credibility is shaky at best. Dann also admitted that knowledge of his own sexual misconduct probably contributed to other staffers feeling comfortable crossing that line.

Dann says he won't step down because he's still doing a good job at "customer service" within the AG's office. Reporters are grilling him on how he can fire other staffers for misconduct while not disciplining himself.

Considering the sharks that swarmed around Bob Taft's mistakes, the GOP will be going for Dann's jugular.

What a mess for Ohio .. more to follow .. Eric

Looking for your input for "The Long Road Home"

As a journalist, sometimes you simply gather the facts of a topic and craft a story that makes sense for the time allowed on the evening news.

Then there are stories that really become a passion. This is one of those for me.

After finishing my first documentary for PBS last fall, I walked away having heard a common thread from a great many journalists and veterans alike: what happens to our veterans after they get home? Do they get their jobs back? Do they find happiness in their relationships? How do the ones with PTSD cope with being "normal" again?

That's how "The Long Road Home" came to be. Fortunately, I have a newsroom with leaders who support my projects.

My idea was to find a cross-section of local troops who returned from battle to share what they're feeling and facing. Included in the series is a couple struggling to reconnect after a 17-month separation, a college student who feels like a loner after serving on the front lines of the initial invasion, a local entrepreneur who used his writing to help him overcome the pain he left behind in Iraq, and a single mother trying to adapt to managing two little kids again after spending a year supervising dozens of soldiers.

I'm hoping that other veterans and their families will see these stories and know that they're not alone. I'm also hoping that those who've found success with the transition will share those techniques and programs that worked for them.

My thanks to WKYC assignment editor Dani Fink who took me down memory lane in her blog. Dani is a doll to work with .. and she really knows her stuff. I had no idea that she had hung on to some of the old photos I sent back from the dessert in 2003-04.
Anyway, if you're a Facebook person, you can find a link to the series on a special page there. Most of all, I hope you'll give the series a look .. and that we all can be sensitive and supportive of the hundreds of local troops and their families who are indeed on "The Long Road Home."
Thanks for listening .. Eric

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Busy Thursday ... VA process for troops needs to change

I've spent the day putting out newsroom fires, moderating a panel discussion, and pushing forward with my upcoming sweeps series "The Long Road Home."

I had a great experience with the Akron Press Club luncheon today, moderating a panel discussion on our local veterans and if we're taking good care of them. We had guests from the VA, the Veterans Service Commission, and the Attorney Generals office. The entire discussion can be seen on Time Warner Cable beginning May 13 at 7 p.m.

Among the issues that has always stuck with me is that troops returning from war have to go out on their own and register with the VA. Why doesn't the VA come to the troops to make sure they get signed up?

When I got off the plane, my out-processing included briefings from the VFW, the American Legion, someone selling soldiers' life insurance, but no one from the VA. Over and over again, I was told by the military "oh the VA will take care of that" or "you can take that up with the VA."

Later, after I signed up at the VA office in Akron, I learned that not everything I was told by the military about the VA was accurate.

The VA rep on today's panel told me that locally, only 37 percent of veterans are signed up with the VA and are using the health facilities or receiving benefits. Wouldn't that number go up if we could just get the VA in front of the troops as they come off the plane?

After the panel discussion, it was nice to catch up with Cindy Carney, who works at Oriana House. Years ago, Cindy was a top victim advocate with Summit County Victim Assistance. I would work through her when it came to interviewing victims and their relatives. It was great to have her as a go-between with families that had been through so much and who didn't need the media swarming them. Cindy also went above and beyond in helping a great many of these families. Victim Assistance's loss .. certainly Oriana House's gain.

Meanwhile .. at the office .. I've spent the afternoon writing for my upcoming series on how our local veterans are adjusting. Just interviewing these troops has brought back a lot of memories for me. I'm hoping that their stories really hit home with veterans and their families -- especially those who may feel like they're alone and have no one to connect with.

43 newscasts left ... til the Akron-Canton News signs off May 30th.