Monday, June 30, 2008

Web plan a no-brainer .. but will Akron businesses benefit?

City council clicked "yes" on what should be a no-brainer for Akron ... a wireless Internet network for downtown and some select areas reaching into the neighborhoods.

Through a partnership with the U of A, the Knight Foundation, and a non-profit network, the free web access should be up and running soon. The city is hitting the "return" key on $800K of the $2.2 million needed for the project. Council hopes that the network will reach 62 square miles of Akron.

While the primary audience here is Cindy and Sandy Cyberbottom, I'll be interested to see if any small businesses dump their wireless providers in favor of the free web access. That could be a big savings for companies facing hard times.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Akron women swing hammers, tell of discrimination

I had a nice chat with some hard-working women on Noble Avenue today. They're part of an all-female volunteer group that is building a Habitat For Humanity House for a family in West Akron. We're featuring them tonight at 7 on Channel 3 News.

It's a neat idea ... as many women who've always wanted to take part had instead backed away rather than go saw-to-saw with their male counterparts.

Just a bit intimidating I guess. So some women instead focused on painting their nails instead of hammering ones.

I was shocked -- and maybe it's just showing my age -- by what one worker, Camille, told me. She said that when she went to Firestone High School in the 1960's, girls weren't even permitted to take shop. Boys went to shop; girls went to home economics to learn how to cook and clean.

What a crock!

Again, maybe I'm showing my youth, but coming from a man whose drill sergeant at Basic Training was a woman (SSG Amerol, she rode a Harley and would kick any man's butt! .. probably still could) and who has worked for women in broadcasting and in the Army his whole life, I just can't fathom that kind of open discrimination.

For what it's worth, I know a lot of men who could use some time in home ec .. especially when it comes to cooking and cleaning (and yeah, I can probably use a refresher myself), but shouldn't a teen girl in Akron have at least been given the opportunity to learn how to use a screwdriver?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Odds and Ends on a rainy Thursday

The continuing saga of the Karen immigrants takes stage tonight on Channel 3 News at 7. A grassroots group has formed to seek more help for these families. While the group, which has named itself the "Genesis Project," believes the International Institute isn't providing enough support for these refugees, the volunteers see the II as their first stop in helping the Karen get the food, jobs, trainings, and housing they need. Members of the group are set to meet with II leaders on Monday.

Sheriff Alexander's decision to return five suspended deputies to the payroll just stinks. Now, I don't mean that in a way that judges the deputies innocence or guilt .. and I don't mean that in a way that demeans the financial hardships each has endured since being suspended. It stinks in that this is a case that already has been criticized for special treatment. So to now use tax dollars to pay men who were indicted by the grand jury in the violent death of a handcuffed inmate invites the general public to cry "foul."

These same deputies were provided special treatment in how they were booked and arraigned. Most people indicted for murder must surrender to the county jail and typically spend at least one night in jail, in an orange jumpsuit, waiting for a hearing in which they'll post bail. The circumstances behind the crime don't usually matter. That's the way the procedure goes. But last fall, these deputies were permitted to go through a simple appearance process at the Medina County Jail and then were released to their attorneys who brought them back to Summit County for their court appearance. No orange jumpsuits and prison van for a ride like the rest of the public would get. Once they got to court, they were each released with a personal recognisance bond -- meaning they didn't have to pay a dime. Considering one of the inmates is charged with murder, and if convicted could be in jail for the rest of this life, how does any court justify no bond?

I hope that when this case is over that the deputies will be willing to share their stories .. and that as a community, we can talk openly about the issue of mentally ill patients in the county jail.

But for now, when perception is reality, many in the Akron community just see the system taking care of its own .. and it makes some of them that much more skeptical of their government.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No webchat tonight

As much as I'd love to chat about the Summit Deputies back on the payroll and the other talk-about news of the week, I won't be able to make it for webchat tonight ... sorry . Eric

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"All The Way Home" has deep message

Having nearly finished reading David Giffels' All The Way Home - Building A Family In A Falling-Down House, I've come to one succinct conclusion:

David didn't write this book.

He didn't.

I know the book has his name on it and there's a picture of David smiling on the back cover, but after being sucked in to his 312 pages of prose, I'm convinced that this isn't his work.

Rather, it's the voice inside David's head that penned this gem.

We all have one. A voice that tells us wrong from right and goes along with us when we make questionable decisions. I have one. You have one. Heck, some folks who pass my building at Main and Market each day have several.

David's inner voice is the first one that's learned to type at a keyboard.

Leon Bibb once told me that the best way to write is to "slit your wrists and bleed on the keyboard." The idea is of course metaphorical (and in this case Leon -- a great writer himself --was quoting another famous writer) but the implication is that purposely choosing words isn't nearly as effective as letting the words flow from the brain to the fingers to the page.

David has done that with colorful heart and soul.

While the trials and tribulations that David, his wife Gina, and the rest of their immediate family must endure are great writing material, it climbs to the next level because it's written from David's point-of-view. This book wouldn't be nearly as good had it been written by a third-person observer.

You need this book

The book is a must for husbands/fathers and a gem for all others.

Part family drama, part housing adventure, part young father-husband finding himself, the book lets readers tag along as David and Gina embark on the challenge facing so many young couples -- looking for a bigger house once the first baby arrives.

For the Giffels, they didn't want to find just any house, they wanted to find the house. And for David especially, the house meant redefining "fixer-upper" while visualizing the restoration of a castle much like Kevin Costner did a baseball diamond in the cornfields of Iowa.

While there's a chronological flow to the book's structure, David often breaks out into moments of fantasy flashback .. similar to that scene at the beginning of Titanic when the camera is pushing in on the ballroom doors of the sunken ship and for a split second it transcends to light and music as a man opens the door to welcome you in circa 1912 ... then just as suddenly you're back to reality and it's decades later with the ship on the bottom of the ocean.

In this case, David plays James Cameron by flashing back several decades to when his sunken house was alive with other inhabitants providing the energy. David not only sees those glimpses, he's able to articulate them for others to enter his brain.

I love that David thinks and writes like a real man thinks. The mansion has a billiards room. He writes it over and over just as any man who bought a house would do. A billiards room? I have a billiards room? Why yes, I have a billiards room! He also lets women in on the treasured male past-time of how men quietly compare themselves to other men by the makeup of the other man's tools. I can't explain it, it's just how we men are.

Book of characters

The house itself becomes an ever-changing character. Transitioning from unattainable manor to welcoming homestead while unveiling its secrets along the way.

I can't believe how many times I found myself remarking aloud to the next revelation in this crazy challenge. At the beginning, I was rooting for David and Gina to run away from the monster, but by the end, I was cheering them on.

You won't believe the cast of characters that come and go during the home's transition. Even the most insignificant of construction workers is captured for his creative contributions.

Without giving anything away, the home's previous owners become recurring characters long after the house changes hands.

Even the colors of the walls come alive in this book.

What's wild is that I drive by his house each day coming to work, so it's as though the house has been whispering to me "hey Eric .. it's me! the house you've been reading about!"

I just recently noticed the fire hydrant on the devilstrip in front of the Giffels house. Now I wonder if the voice in David's head saw that hydrant and said "hey, how come there's a hydrant in front of my house? Does the fire department know something I don't know about my house catching fire? Is there an omen here that I should know about? Maybe they think I'm going to burn it down for the insurance money?"

Why David Giffels is special

I'd often felt that as much as readers enjoy David's columns in the Akron Beacon Journal, that there was still something missing. I realize now what it is. The space given to David's newspaper writing is too confining. Filling 35 inches of copy for a column doesn't allow David enough space to really delve into a topic with the creativity he brings to his writing.

The book has also tought me that David is part "Ally McBeal" with music playing in his head at all hours. Not necessarily full songs, but stanzas that capture the moments. I'd expect nothing less from a man who's the area's foremost Devo anthologist.

I do wish that Gina would have written a few more chapters. Her capture of Christmas Eve was not only precious, but it's so well written that the reader almost feels like their intruding on the intimacy that only a married couple can share. That of a wife taking care of her husband when he's pushed past his limits.

I also wish there were a few more pictures in the book, but more have since appeared on-line, so they're out there.

Final thoughts

For me, the book became both a challenge and a deterrent. At one moment, I'm intimidated thinking "heck if David can fix up an entire house like this, why can't I just finish painting the basement?" The next moment I'm thinking "If David can do it, so can I. Let's go find something old and fix it!"

Getting to know David has always made me feel a bit more normal. I've felt a bit odd by holding on to my Cleveland Force pennant, Akron "Blast" t-shirt, and a Prince concert jersey still wrapped in plastic from the 1984 Purple Rain concert at the Coliseum. I'm just an Akron guy at heart, and I hate throwing those things away.

I like being able to say "devilstrip," and I like that I know what a blimp sounds like without looking up. I like that I can tell what a Swenson's cheeseburger tastes like with my eyes closed.

And I like that someone like David Giffels makes me feel like I'm not crazy for feeling that way.

Still, the deepest message any of us can take away from reading All The Way Home is that for a man to succeed he needs two things. The vision and passion to set a goal beyond his means, and to have a wife that not only supports that vision but lets him know that she believes in him no matter what.

Free Gas on North Hill! 3-4 p.m. courtesy the Cleveland Cavs!

Got a call from some folks in North Akron that there are cars lined up around the block near the Circle K on East Tallmadge Avenue. Word on the street is that they're giving away free gas for one hour only .. from 3-4 p.m.

Now .. the following email just came across from the Cleveland Cavaliers .... (let's just hope this doesn't turn in to another Papa John's $.23 pizza night!)

SURPRISE GAS GIVEAWAY! Courtesy of the Cavaliers and Fueled by Kia Motors THIS AFTERNOON FROM 3:00 TO 4:00 PM (or the first 110 cars in line)

Cavalier Girls, Cavs Legends, Scream Team and Moondog
will pump FREE Gas at the Circle K Station in Akron

Beginning at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon the Cavalier Girls and Moondog will be standing by ready to pump free gas (up to $30) to the first 110 cars to arrive at the Circle K gas station located at 935 East Tallmadge in Akron. The surprise gas giveaway is courtesy of the Cavaliers and Kia Motors America.

Ashley Spencer lands "Sandy" after all

Big theater news hot off the presses from the Canton Repository:

Already on Broadway in a prominent role in "Hairspray," 2003 Jackson High School grad Ashley Spencer is about to be a bona fide star.

On July 22, she will take over the leading role of Sandy in the Broadway revival of "Grease" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

In 2006, Spencer placed second on "Grease: You're the One That I Want," an NBC-TV reality series designed to find a Danny and Sandy for "Grease." On Broadway, she is replacing the original Sandy (and series winner) Laura Osnes. Appearing opposite Spencer as Danny will be another NBC finalist, Derek Keeling.

Spencer will continue as Amber Von Tussle in "Hairspray" through July 13.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Illegal gaming machines bite the dust

I was on my way back from Canton after covering today's story about an officer who was attacked by a panhandler when our station got word that the Sheriff's Office has having hundreds of illegal gaming machines demolished at a local scrap yard.

While the story will only be about :20 on the evening news, I thought you might like to see what it's like being really close as metal is being ripped apart by giant chomping machines that look like t-rexes.

I always carry my own little video camera for moments like these; you'll see WKYC videographer Larry Baker and another photographer in the foreground getting their "shots."

Watch til the end and you'll also see why we reporters never wear expensive shoes (cuz you never know when you'll be at a house fire or flood or a scrap yard full of metal and mud!)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Long Road Home" benefit goes beyond tonight's 7:30 p.m. special

I'm so excited that today is finally here. I've put a lot of time into tonight's special, "The Long Road Home," but I'm equally excited for the on-line community for local military families that I've sought more several years .. and that we're launching today!

As for the special, we recorded it last week at Channel 3's "Studio B" in Cleveland. "Studio B" is where we tape shows like Good Company and many of our locally-produced sports shows. ("Studio A" as you may have guessed is directly next door and it's where we tape the evening news broadcasts).

I'm a bit nervous to be honest. It's one thing to put together a 1:30 daily news story or even a 3:30 sweeps investigation. This is a 30-minute, in-depth special. I approached Channel 3 management with my idea just a month ago and they quickly gave it the go-ahead. It's a good feeling when you know that your bosses have faith in you and believe in your projects as passionately as you do.

Beyond following the readjustments of five local service members, the special also allowed me to look at how a local campus is educating its teachers about PTSD so they can help their students who are coping. I was also able to interview a VA psychologist (a Vietnam Vet himself) who is treating our new veterans each day.

Hopefully, the military families and their friends who watch this special will feel comfort in knowing that they're not alone in this journey-after-the-journey. I know that it took a full 6-9 months for me to feel normal after my deployment, so I'll be honest that this special was quite cathartic for me.

Beyond yellow ribbons

Last fall, long before I interviewed service members for the special, I went to Channel 3's leaders with the idea of creating a website where military families could connect with other families and also with the public who wants to support them.

The idea came from the phone calls that I received every other day.

A local girl scout troop called me to say they had 500 boxes of cookies and they'd like to send them directly to a local unit in Iraq. Can you help us find one since you're a veteran?

Meanwhile, a military wife emailed me telling me that her husband's unit in the war zone really needed a microwave. Is there any way you could get the word out to local businesses that might donate one?

I often felt helpless when military families would email that "My son is on his way home from Iraq for the first time in 10 months and we'd really like to let the community know so they can come out to the Akron-Canton Airport tonight at 9:35 p.m."

All of these were items of great importance to the people involved, but often, none were items that I could put on the evening news.

I kept thinking that there's got to be a way for the "givers" and the "needers" to meet without the red tape of government documents or a journalist in the middle for that matter.

I searched the web until I found the end of the Internet, but there really wasn't a place for the people on both ends of the equation to find an equal sign together.

My idea was to launch a web community for military families to meet and share with one another while allowing community support groups to post items and services they'd like to offer the troops as a benefit. I also wanted a place for local military families to brag about their loved ones overseas like you see in the Wal-Mart lobby with a bulletin board of photos. After all, we don't have an active duty Fort or Camp or Base around here, so military families can often feel isolated even though there's hundreds and hundreds all over NE Ohio.

With the new power behind, we've finally created that community and launched it today. Click here to visit.

You'll not only find the most recent stories about our troops, including some of the stories from tonight's special, but you'll also find forums on the right side of the screen for public use. I've already added a few notes from viewers that seem perfect for this type of site.

For example, a local woman wanted to offer Aeros tickets to a local military family with a father serving overseas. I posted her offer with an e-mail contact so that a taker could contact her directly. From here forward, others can post their own offers with contacts and the rest should take care of itself.

Likewise, there's links to military support groups and a place I've dubbed "service member spotlight" where you can upload a picture and add some text about your loved one. Write comments of support of the entries.

You can click directly on the Gold Star Families forum and you'll find a special note from Julie Barkey, a dear friend who's son, Michael, died in Iraq while serving with the Ohio Army National Guard's 1484th Transportation Company from Akron. I also posted a note from some other military moms who are seeking stories from local military families for a book.

If you're a military family, please take advantage of this site and let me know how I can improve it with more services.

If you're someone who has a guitar to send a soldier, or you just have a service you could offer a deployed Marine's family, feel free to make a brief listing with an e-mail address so those families can contact you direct.

You could help me a bunch by telling others about it ...

Most of all .. let's use this site to its fullest ..

OK .. I've rambled enough .. I hope you can join me tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 3 for "The Long Road Home" .. and I hope you'll visit our special web page and tell others to use it as well so that we can really help our military families in their adjustment.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Akron cops face dual calls for help just 30 minutes apart ..

The story of an Akron Police Officer who came face-to-face with his own gun and lived to tell about it is compelling enough on its own. Believe it or not, it wasn't the only officer-in-trouble call that happened to APD yesterday.

The suspect, 31-year-old Damond Herrington, is a known violent offender who's done hard time in prison. After taking the officer's gun by force, Herrington told the officer he was going to blow his head off.

Fortunately, the officer remained calm and talked to Herrington until backup arrived and they could subdue him without a shot being fired. (Can you imagine the restraint the second officer showed by not shooting the suspect who was holding a gun to another cop's head?)

What's hidden in the news copy is that this was the second "signal 21" (code for "officer in trouble") that went out on the police scanner yesterday afternoon.

The first one occurred just 30 minutes earlier.

A resident called 9-1-1 to say that an Akron Police officer was getting pummeled by a suspect on East Exchange Street.

The dispatcher called it out as a "signal 21" and every car in town started towards Exchange Street. Turns out it wasn't an Akron Police Officer but a private security office who was in struggle. Akron officers arrived to assist, but I'm told the security officer got beat up pretty good.

What you need to understand is that a "signal 21" gets an officer's blood racing like nothing else. It means a brother-or-sister-in-arms is in a life-or-death situation and needs immediate help.

A police supervisor told me that the department typically puts out about three "signal 21" calls per year.

Yesterday, there were two .. just 30 minutes apart. Both certainly could have ended in death.

I can only imagine how the blood must have been pumping for the dayside officers as they finished up their shifts last night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The first document in the firing of an Akron Police Officer

OK .. after much discussion about how the process works and who-did-what and who-wrote-what in the discharging of two Akron City Police Officers, I've acquired the following document from city records. This is what started the ball rolling two months ago in the recent dismissal of Officer Christopher Seiler. He kicked a handcuffed prisoner who had been apprehended following a vandalism spree at North High School.
Now a bit closer ...

Notice the final part and signature? "I concur with his recommendation" signed Michael T. Matulavich, Chief of Police.
A similar document was filed with city hall recommending that Officer James Givens also be discharged for hitting a suspect who was cuffed.
These documents were received by Deputy Mayor James Masturzo who also recommended the officers be fired.
Under the city charter, as I understand it, before the officers can have a full hearing, their discipline must first be established. In this case, a police major, the police chief, and a deputy mayor all recommended firing. Once the mayor accepts these recommendations, the officers then can ask for a full hearing to have all of the evidence presented to the Mayor, who can either uphold or alter the discipline.
None of this is about whether I believe it or not .. or whether I like it or not. These are the facts of the process to date.
If you don't believe that this was what was intended at police headquarters, take it up with them.
If you don't think this system was fair, take it up with your councilman or someone else at city hall who can help you begin petitions to change the charter.
That's all I gots folks .. It's been a fun debate, but I'm ready to move on to other topics ..

"Dump The Pump" Day 4 -- It's all FREE!

Well .. I made it to work .. that's the good news ... and I did it all on the Metro bus .. although I've got to admit that it was an adventure as always ...

Here's the video of the first half of the trip including the two passengers on board.

Eventually, the "other" bus #28 showed up in the Merriman Valley and took me downtown. There was a whopping one (1) passenger on board this time. A nice man named "Will" who lives near Graham Road in the Cuyahoga Falls and works part-time at Stan Hywet. He loves the bus because it takes him to work and back.

After Will got off the bus, the driver and I chatted all the way to downtown. He told me that some of the busses overflow, others are sometimes empty. Most of the people living in the area of my route -- West Akron -- have cars and drive around town. They may not even realize that there are bus signs all over the neighborhood (I didn't). He said the "North Coast Express" busses that take riders from Akron to Cleveland for $4 each way are the best deal going and really popular right now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday Webchat - "Dump the Pump" Edition

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"Dump The Pump" Day 3 ... filler' up!

I was all set to bike to work today using a different route . and a different bike for that matter .. when child care issues came in to play and I had to drive instead. $4 a gallon here I come!

For what it's worth my co-workers are kidding me like crazy about trying to find other ways to work. Their top suggestions for me so far:

1. Roller Blading

2. Skateboard

3. Horse

4. Lawn Tractor

5. Rickshaw

6. Canoe

There's no way you're getting me on roller blades .... or roller skates .. or skateboards ... even in the driveway. Although all three could be a lot of fun on the West Market Street hill.

As for a horse, well .. let's just say riding a horse through downtown Akron would be a one-way ticket to a Beacon Journal photo .. and probably a citation from APD. Would they call a tow truck for my Thoroughbred?

My lawn tractor could be fun .. but it still burns regular unleaded .. so I'm not really accomplishing much. Although maybe I could pick up a few side lawn jobs on Merriman Road along the way. .. or maybe an endorsement from John Deere.

The rickshaw is my favorite, courtesy videographer Carl Bachtel. Not sure if he expects me to be the guy in the seat .. or the guy running along carrying the wooden handles ... but either one gets me noticed. I could probably sell advertising on the sides of the rickshaw .. and maybe add a catchy slogan of "we haul with class, while you save on gas!"

I only wish I could paddle a canoe up the little Cuyahoga ... but not quite sure how I'd haul it up Howard Street Hill to the Akron broadcast office. I need some of the native Americans who used to live in this area hundreds of years ago to show me the proper way to "portage" a canoe.

Remember .. tomorrow is the day to ride the bus for free ..

Any ideas I'm missing here? Please share ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I must tell the end of the story first .. before I can write about the beginning.

My car is sitting in the garage next to our newsroom as I drove to work today. Driving isn't usually a problem for me, but I was hoping to take the bus today (see post below) as part of the big "Dump The Pump" week-long community project.

I haven't taken the bus in years. My fondest memories are picking up the Metro on Howard Street and either heading to Chapel Hill Mall or to the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium to swim. I think it used to be about $.50 so it was a good bargain.

This morning, I put eight quarters in my pocket so that I'd definitely have enough change to hop on the bus.

I checked the Metro website to locate the right bus and time for my ride into downtown Akron. From what I could make from the map, I needed the #28 bus which originates in the Merriman Valley and heads downtown several times a day.

At 9 a.m., I called the Metro HQ at 330-762-0341 to make sure I was reading everything right. The nice guy on the other end told me that if I was standing at the corner of Portage Path and Barcelona at a few minutes before 10 a.m., that the #28 bus would scoop me up and deliver me to town.

Easy. Easy. Nothing easier in the world. Right?

I got a ride to the intersection and arrived a few minutes early .. around 9:54 a.m. Since I had a few minutes, I struck up a conversation with a few construction guys working on the sidewalk at the bus stop. (see picture) I told them about riding my bike yesterday and the bus today. One guy laughed that I could probably take my bike on the bus with me. It was good chatter before my big trip on ye old Metro bus.

9:57 a.m. Tick, Tick, Tick.

9:59 a.m. "HEY THERE GOES MY BUS!"

Looking one block away, I watched as the #28 bus totally ignored turning on to Portage Path to pick me up, and instead the driver continued up the Merriman Road Hill like Sandra Bullock in the action movie Speed.

"Looks like you're walking," one of the brick layers told me.

I was absolutely stunned that I was left standing at the bus stop. I mean, the website and a metro employee told me exactly where to stand and when to be there.

I got left anyway.

I've since checked the RTA website again to make sure there wasn't some note about re-routing the #28 because of nearby construction but there is no such note. I also checked to make sure that the Barcelona-Portage Path spot was on that bus's route . .and it is .. for 10:01 a.m.

The bus driver just dissed me.

As if getting dumped by the bus driver didn't make me late enough, I got stuck waiting for a train a few minutes later in my car. (yet anothe photo from my camera phone)

Just not my day.

I'm still pursuing a "Dump The Pump" story for tonight's 7 p.m. broadcast because the program is still a good one.

I might still try the bus later this week, but after this morning's exercise in futility, I'm thinking of hitchhiking. (Kidding)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Headline leads to miscommunication

Today's press conference from Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic contained a pretty good lashing of the media for reporting over the weekend that DP had fired two Akron Police officers for misconduct.

Long story short .. the Mayor's point was that media reports made it sound like he'd already reviewed the evidence and that he had decided alone to fire the officers. Today, he took the media to task that our reports were wrong, and while a police press release contained a headline that he had discharged the two cops, in reality, DP had signed the recommendation made by the Chief of Police and the Deputy Mayor for Labor Relations. It was protocol that for the officers to have their hearing, Plusquellic said he must first sign the recommended discipline and then give them a meeting to present their evidence as to why they should not receive the penalty.

The officers will get their chance to present their evidence to Plusquellic .. some time in the next 30 days .. and he could reduce their discipline and reinstate them .. but he could also let the terminations stand.

Taking the "Dump The Pump" Challenge

So it's "Dump The Pump" week ... as we try to get folks to use alternative ways to getting around as a way to save gas .... I'm gonna give it my all this week .. beginning today with riding my bike to work.

The good news is that I survived and made it to my desk. And now, as I continue to suck down water and wipe my brow ... I'm realizing it was more work than I thought it would be. Not that the 4.5 mile trek is that long, but that there were more hills than I anticipated. And, like most novice bikers, I didn't have enough air in my tires among other mistakes I made on the morning trek.

Officially, the yellow shirt was for safety reasons so drivers could see me. Unofficially, I wanted to feel like Lance Armstrong. (I had videographer Carl Bachtel snap a quick photo at my desk this morning so no one would have to ask if I was wearing a helmet.)
As a typical man, I was also convinced I would break down on my ride, so I brought along a bunch of wrenches too .. but fortunately didn't have to use them. Still, it was extra weight I didn't need to haul around.
Another lesson I learned today was to bring a water bottle that squirts and not one that has a lid. Trying to take the lid off while moving didn't work too well and made me stop a few times before I went splat in front of some nice little old ladies who recognized me and said "Oh, hi Mark!"
Ugh. My favorite!
For what it's worth, I was pleasantly surprised by the nice view on the towpath piece that stretches from the Mustill Store up into downtown. Just before it turns on to Beech Street, you can see the buildings rise up out of the trail. Very pretty and inviting. It gave me a good reason to stop and snap a photo.
In a few weeks, I'll no longer have to turn on Beech Street and cut over to Howard Street .. because the new bridge will be complete across the Innerbelt which will allow me to go under Market Street and come in to downtown through Cascade.
OK .. quick rinse .. into my superman outfit ... and off to a news conference.
COMING TUESDAY: RIDING THE METRO BUS TO WORK (that's provided I bike home safely after my shift today.)

Tribe looks to 10-year-old to pinch-hit

I met a great young lady yesterday at the Tribe game .. and you should meet her too.

I was scheduled to be there to introduce the "kids starting lineup" for WKYC, but Emily was supposed to be somewhere else.

The Tribe's scheduled singer couldn't be there, so they made a call to the bullpen, in this case Amherst, to get a pinch-hitter for the Star Spangled Banner.

And as you'll see (thanks to my son Jacob playing videographer) .. Emily can bring it!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Videotape key in Akron cop's firing

I'd heard about this was coming for weeks .. two Akron Police officers involved in separate incidents .. both in trouble for getting physical with suspects who were already cuffed.

Today, Mayor Plusquellic fired both officers: James Givens and Christopher Seiler.

Givens was assisting Cuyahoga Falls Police on an early-morning chase that continued through both communities in February. Dash cam video released today from the CF car shows Givens drop an elbow to the suspect's head while the suspect is bent over the front of the cruiser, about two feet from the dash cam. The suspect was obviously mouthy and still a threat at the time, but the debate begins whenever force is used on a cuffed suspect. After Givens struck him, officers moved the suspect to the backseat of a cruiser and he kicked out a window. They eventually tasered him before they could finally get him in the back of a wagon. You can hear his loud mouth challenging officers to fight him long after he was struck.

Seiler's case came a few weeks later at North High School. A vandal had gone crazy inside the place and even tossed a weight at the officer. Seiler claimed he delivered a small kick to the vandal in an attempt to calm him down. I'm told Seiler actually brought the kick to his supervisor's attention feeling it may have been misinterpreted as abuse, but that it wasn't meant that way. The security tape of that incident isn't very clear, but it was also part of the case file.

FOP President Paul Hlynsky believes Mayor Plusquellic's decision to fire the officers versus lesser punishment is overkill since the officers' have good records and cooperated with the investigation. Hlynsky is appealing both firings.

Plusquellic has a news conference scheduled for Monday to talk about other news issues .. but he's sure to address the firings .. and he's sure to use strong words in defense of Hlynsky's claims.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Forgotten Families" move out while landlord plays coy

I spent about an hour on North Hill today as housing inspectors revisited the apartment building featured in my March series "Forgotten Families" which found scores of local immigrants living in deplorable conditions.

Let's just say that I probably got more accomplished in my hour of standing on the sidewalk than the inspectors did. That's because I got a complete story while inspectors got a short tour and not much else.

Team chief Jody Forrester said her crew had hoped to inspect more than 20 apartments to assess the roach, rat, and light problems .. as well as overcrowding .. that was documented after our series ran three months ago.

Since then, the building's landlord, Tom Keith, has submitted paperwork indicating that he's made repairs and has chased the roaches and rats -- or at least some of them -- out of the area.

But when Forrester and her team arrived Thursday, Keith gave them access to just three apartments claiming that he didn't have keys for the rest and/or the residents were prepared to be inspected because Keith hadn't told them the city was coming to visit.

In other words, a thorough inspection that should have taken well over an hour was instead over in just minutes.

Keith had few words for us other than telling our videographer to stay off his property.

Inspectors will be back in about 30 days for yet another follow-up.

Most of these immigrants arrived in Akron in 2007. The "Karen" had fled their native Myanmar for refugee camps in Thailand. That's where the U.S. State Department got involved and gave them a lift to Ohio.

What concerns me most is what happened to some of these families? Forrester said that ten of the overcrowded apartments were vacated after Keith gave them 30-day notices to move out. He doesn't know where they've gone, Forrester said.

My calls to the International Institute, which helped relocate these immigrants to Akron last year, have yet to be returned.

I've heard that Keith owns another apartment building with lots of immigrants a few blocks away, but I'm not sure if any of the Karen people have relocated there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday Webchat!

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Wednesday Webchat tonight at 9!

See ya tonight .. all topics up for grabs as always ..

New gun law seen as common sense by Akron folks

My story for tonight's 7 p.m. broadcast focuses on Senate Bill 184, better known as the "castle" law. Governor Strickland signed it today .. and it provides additional legal standing and backing to a home owner who opens fire on an intruder.

Think of it as getting a legal benefit of the doubt should you have to pull the trigger on a bad guy in the dark.

It's hard to believe that an intruder's family could bring a civil lawsuit against you should you be forced to defend yourself, but it's happened right here in Summit County.

Five years ago, a Summit County Sheriff's Deputy was at home with his wife when a man with a violent past who was out on parole tried to break in. The deputy eventually shot and killed the intruder, and he was later cleared of any wrong-doing by the county prosecutor. Yet, the man's family still brought a lawsuit against the deputy for wrongful death, causing the deputy tremendous financial and emotional stress in fighting in court.

This new law should prevent those types of lawsuits .. or at least, quash them faster.

I spoke with local prosecutors today who say that home owners typically get the benefit of the doubt in these types of cases anyway; gun owners I met today seemed to agree. One told me that one of his biggest frustrations from his Concealed Carry class was being taught that he could be arrested or sued if he were to actually use his weapon in self-defense.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Channel 3's Weekend Morning News gets interactive with viewers

Have you ever just talked out loud to the TV screen wanting to get your opinion to the anchor who just read a story you liked? or didn't like? or whatever?

Now's your chance to do it in real time.

This Saturday, June 14, WKYC's Saturday morning news will chat live with viewers as the news is being broadcast. The chat will begin around 8:45 a.m. and go until 11 a.m. ... enveloping the scheduled 9-10:30 a.m broadcast.

Anchor Kim Wheeler (her co-anchor Jeff Maynor is off this week by the way) along with Director Matt Babb and the crew will push the envelope to serve two audiences at once -- via a broadcast and a webchat.

Matt tells me that he also hopes to have a live stream of video from our overhead cameras so that viewers can watch on the web and see what's going on in the studio during the commercial breaks.

You can read more at the Weekend Show blog ... click here.

It's TV News like you've never experienced it before!
Enjoy! Eric

Monday, June 9, 2008

Coming up tonight ..

Call of the Wild shocks families at Derby Downs

Here's the story that didn't make the news from this weekend's local soap box derby races.

Around 11 a.m. Sunday, about an hour into the day's races, many of the families of the 33 racers were pitched in front of the grandstands looking to avoid the direct sunlight using whatever shade they could create.

On the far side of the grandstands was another family. A family of groundhogs. A momma and several babies. They sat on the grass on the hill in front of the nearby FOP lodge and seemed to be watching the derby cars whiz by.

The kids (moms especially) saw the groundhogs as great entertainment. Fuzzy wuzzy babies who kept sticking their heads out of their holes and catching a bit of action in between their summer fun.

With hundreds of eyes fixated on the little critters, a hawk swooped in across the race track and nabbed one of the baby groundhogs. No one in the crowd had even seen the bird circling the area, and now here it was attacking like LeBron heading to the hoop for a break-away.


Once the hawk had the baby in a good clutch, he took off ... lifting what now looked like a stuffed animal into the sky and above the race track.

The families, moms and kids especially, began yelling, screaming, and pointing. No one could believe it.

At a height of about 20 feet, the groundhog slipped from the hawk's mouth and plummeted back to earth, landing right next to the far rail of the race track. Thank goodness it didn't land on the track or even worse, on a moving derby car.

More screams and yells.

Beacon Journal photographer Ed Suba Jr. was the closest person to the skydiving groundhog and made his way over to see if it was dead. He nudged it with his foot a few times, but it didn't look like there was any life left in the little guy.

By this time, the momma groundhog had forced the other babies back in the hole but had returned to watch her lost child from a distance.

At this point, the derby P.A. announcer began doing play-by-play and encouraging everyone to cheer on the little guy to be reborn.

With derby families still gasping, the little guy started to wiggle. Then move. Then crawl back to his family hole.

All was well .. the day was saved .. all we were missing was Kenny Loggins singing "I'm alright, nobody worry about me" from Caddyshack.

Families began to hug and clap ... children restored their faith in the laws of nature.

It was almost as good as a downhill win.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Chasing lingerie, hidden cameras and more

It's been a busy day in the Akron newsroom .. or at least from the few minutes I've spent here.

I chased info on the theft of 113 super-duper bras valued at more than $5,000 from the Victoria Secret store at Belden Village Mall. Turns out, police reports show that that same store has been struck at least five times in the last 18 months. A year ago, the bad guys (or gals) took nearly 500 pieces totally $16,000 in merchandise. Another time, the target was 150 pink thongs. (Can I just say, what the heck do you do with 150 pink thongs anyway??)

The story has drawn chuckles and smart remarks all day in our Cleveland newsroom as you might imagine. My favorite is the idea that when police catch these guys, they'll make a big "bust."

Anyway .. what seems like a punch-line or an easy draw for a "teasable" story is a symptom of a larger problem. There have been heists like this from coast-to-coast. VS stores burgled for hundreds of panties and/or braziers at at time. Obviously, no one targets that many of one item unless there's a market for it somewhere. Many guess that it's Ebay, but who knows ...

As fate would have it .. a source tipped me to another investigation involving another store at Belden Village. A photo shop that focuses on kids' photos was under investigation after an employee claims he found a hidden camera in the bathroom/changing area. So I picked up that report too and headed for the mall.

We managed to get some video of the mall before the security guards tossed us out .. and the VS ladies were very nice and gave me a 1-800 # for their corporate office, which still has not called back to comment. Ever find it odd that even when you try to do a story that would seemingly help a company's image, that they still ignore the press? A story about the increased security that VS is now taking could help get the bad guys to head for a different store .. couldn't it? Other stores that do comment tell us so ... but not VS.

As for the hidden camera, the store employees are towing the company line but saying they are cooperating with police. Sources tell me that polygraphs are now involved, so this one is getting heated. I hated to break the story in the form of a 20-second reader on the 6 p.m. news, but to wait would probably open the door for a crafty Stark County print reporter to break the story .. and I can't have that now can I?

My colleague, Dave Summers is attempting to get more on this for our 11 p.m. news.

Off to NewsNight Akron ...

Akron man mistakenly sees "Sex and the City" movie

Good morning all ... off and running on my second day of fill-in work for Ray Horner on WAKR (1590-AM). Slept better last night, so I'm in better shape for another marathon work day.

A few notes to pass along ..

My thanks to Pho for his link to a great story about an Akron man who walked into the wrong theater and saw "Sex and the City" instead of "Iron Man." Considering I took my sons with me to see Iron Man, I can only imagine what they might have seen had we walked in to SATC first.

Had you ever even heard of Murfreesboro before this week's story that Bridgestone-Firestone might move its tech center there and leave our beautiful city in the rear view mirror? Murfreesboro? Come on! No way we lose a major job hub to Mur-FREES-boro. Even the BF folks don't want to write that one on their stationary.

Soundbite of the day yesterday .. I spoke with a man about his neighbor's home being robbed of copper pipes. I asked him if he was worried about his own pipes, and he responded with "I'm really more worried about going back to the penitentiary." Ya know, there's just no good way to respond to that one.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pomp, circumstance, and catalytic converters

Hundreds of young men and women and their families at Ellet High School will never forget the joy of last night's graduation ceremony.

And for a select few in the crowd ... they'll never forget how their catalytic converters were taken while they were in their seats applauding the graduates.

Akron Police are investigating multiple thefts of CCs ... which is becoming all too common in itself .. but in this case they were taken while it was still daylight and while multiple police officers were inside the venue.

These thieves are getting quite brave ..

Having fun ...

I'm nearing the end of my first morning fill-in shift here at WAKR .. and I'd forgotten how much I love doing radio. It has a distinct pace .. and a nice relaxed feel as well .. plus I don't have to wear a tie or makeup :)

I'll be in again for Ray Horner on Friday and Monday ... long days to get up at 4:15 a.m. and then still have to work my reporting shift in WKYC's Akron office .. but it's a great life :)

Akron Beacon Journal turns to Yahoo!!!

Several reports this morning show that Black Press, the Canadian group that purchased the Akron Beacon Journal, is teaming up with Yahoo Newspaper Consortium.

What that means is more ads purchased through Yahoo could soon show up in the ABJ ... and further shows how this business is moving forward with media groups working together .. and technology connecting the private sector directly into the media.

So if Yahoo gets a few more dollars that helps stabilize 44 East Exchange Street, I'm all for it ... although I think a quick video shot of David Giffels on a hill yelling the "Yahoo" theme would probably have websites everywhere linking to to enjoy the fun.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My return to radio ..

With the end of the Akron-Canton News Broadcasts ... I'm now moonlighting. Or maybe it's should be called "sun"lighting .. as I'll be doing some side work as dawn arrives.

WAKR (1590-AM) has invited me to pinch-hit for Ray Horner as he takes some time off to be with his family. I'll be getting up early ... filling in from 5:30-9 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Monday. It'll be great to play host with WAKR's news, sports, and traffic crew .. which are all top notch.

I actually got my broadcast start in radio .. .airing monthly reports on the Akron Schools radio program in the late 80's ... and later with WDCR-AM -- a student radio station at the University of Dayton. And .. as coincidence would have it .. so did Ray Horner (pictured above). Ray's a few years older, but he too is a UD grad .. and he too got his start on UD's campus radio. We both also did play-by-play of UD sports events.

So it feels right to be filling in for my Flyer brother!

Now .. some day I have to tell you the story of my DJ marathon days at UD .. I stayed on the air for 101 hours and broke the school record .. which I think still stands!!!!

Anyway .. I've always loved radio .. I love the energy and the creativity when it comes to describing an event versus having to always depend on a video source to support it.

Anyway.. if you're up early, by all means tune in to 1590 ... and wish me luck .. I'm a bit rusty at the radio pace .. but I'm excited to have at it! It'll make for a long day because I'll still have my reporting shift on WKYC that begins at 10 a.m. .. so it'll be a long few days .. but well worth it.

Final Akron-Canton Newscast gets extra web play

Thanks to those of you who've been mentioning last week's who finale on your blogs and websites. A number of you took some great photos as well ...

Keith Kennedy at WKDD had some kind words and pics over at his blog. I don't think he ever sleeps.

Also .. quite a few of you say you DVR'd the final broadcast ... if I find a place where it exists on-line or at YouTube, I'll send it along ...


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

$60 for a 5-mile ride to work in Akron???

I met a great lady last week ... Susan Lang. She's a 9-1-1 dispatcher for Akron Police & Fire. You'll hear more about her when my story about her airs later this week on WKYC, but I'm just amazed at her dedication to her job.

Because she suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and works odd hours in the 9-1-1 call center, Susan needs special transportation to and from work. She's only coming in to downtown Akron from Kenmore .. about five miles each way .. yet the yellow cab service she uses charges her $60 a day. It's because she needs a special lift for her wheelchair. 60 bucks just to take her five miles each way.

Would you keep coming to work if you had to pay those travel expenses?

Susan pays it .. because she loves her job. Because she feels a calling to be there. Because she knows that at any given moment, there might be someone calling with a crisis and she wants to be on top of her game.

Still .. considering the critical service Susan provides, isn't there a better, more affordable way to get her there?

Susan tells me that the SCAT bus service is a better deal and much more affordable. Unfortunately, SCAT doesn't always run at the hours (nights/weekends) when Susan is scheduled in the 9-1-1 center.

Susan used to be on her feet all day cutting hair, but the MS has slowly taken hold. She's had a few bad falls in the last few years, breaking both ankles, so now the wheelchair is a must. The MS has also taken part of her right hand away .. so she's learned to type the critical details of a 9-1-1 call using her left hand only.

She never misses a beat.

Her fellow dispatchers are hoping that a national program like "Extreme Home Makeover" will get involved and help transform Susan's Kenmore home into something more accessible to her needs. In the meantime, the home needs immediate updates for basic accessibility.

Susan's fairly modest .... she's the last person to ask for help, but the first in line to give it. She tells me that elderly residents sometimes call in the middle of the night because they've fallen. Susan will stay on the line with them ... just keeping them company ... until a relative arrives to help .. or they regain their strength to get up.

She's there when we need her.

It's doubtful anyone calling in an emergency has any idea that the person they're calling for help is themselves fighting the good fight just to be there ... but thank goodness she is .. because we're all depending on her.

And that's why she spends so much of her paycheck .. just to get to work.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Odds and ends on a Monday

My first day as a bureau reporter again. Feels almost like the last seven years have been a dream. A few notes to pass along.

My story today focuses on an Akron family fighting the parole for their father's killer and his accomplice. The 1975 murder took place in a pawn shop right next door to where our WKYC downtown Akron offices now reside at the corner of Main and Market Streets. I never knew there had been a homicide right next to where I work every day. I've already written this story on, and you can see the story in its entirety on Channel 3 News at 7.

Akron is sending quite an entourage to Florida. Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth tells me that some 60+ folks are making the trip as part of the city's presentation to the "All-America City" judges. Our fine town has won the honor twice previously, and with so much on the line with jobs and such these days, grabbing the AAC moniker a third time would be a great marketing and image tool. The city has a press release up if you'd like to learn more about the big competition.

Friday night's final Akron-Canton News broadcast was quite special. It was great to have a live studio audience for the first time. I had about 30 folks in for the final taping .. which included post-show refreshments at Rockne's, the spot where we celebrated the first ACN back in June 2001. Keith Kennedy from WKDD was the first to arrive ... and even helped me set up the chairs for the crowd. He's such a genuine guy. (By the way, his "man crush" survey involving Matt Patrick is hilarious!) It was great to have political bloggers Kyle Kutuchief and Ben Keeler in the audience too. K2 blogged about it and plugged in some great photos. I could go on and on .. but for those who were here Friday night, thanks for making me feel so special.

Hopefully, those who watched me sign off Friday night understood the point I was making by having the director turn off the chroma key so that viewers could see the actual green screen behind me on the set. The newsroom is computer-generated, which many viewers had already deciphered, but I wanted folks to see it anyway.

I was trying to make a point that while a great deal of time and effort is put into the presentation of TV News -- especially with all the technology and green screen "stuff" -- that it's really about the people in the stories -- and not the story-tellers -- that matters. And while it's nice to have people say how much they'll miss me, what we'll all miss is the place where we can find stories about our friends and neighbors and the issues that truly matter to us.