Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Plane crash, RAM event canceled in busy news day

Our newsroom is buzzing with a number of developing stories ...

First, the RAM free medical event this weekend has now been canceled. An event that was expected to draw thousands of folks to the Cleveland area for a weekend of free medical care has been deemed two dangerous by state leaders who fear the swine flu spreading in large crowds. Monica Robins will have all the details at six, but she's pretty disappointed. She worked hard on her end to help bring this event to life. She and others are wondering if this means sporting events might also have to be canceled .. stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Childrens Hospital has issued a restriction on visitors while the swine flu continues to be an issue. It's just a precaution, but it's another reaction to this story that can't go unreported. I hear a lot of media bashing going on right now in talk radio .. as though the media is making too much of the swine flu problem .. but considering our President issued a health emergency and the CDC is now sending all 50 states flu treatment meds from the strategic reserve, wouldn't the media be dropping the ball if we didn't give this story heavy coverage?

Also .. we've got crews headed to Mayfield Village right now. At least one dead in a plane crash involving a prop plane. Dave Summer is out there for us and will lead our 6 p.m. report with the details.

I spent most of the day in Akron working on a story for next week on the next wave of law enforcement -- computer crime fighters. If the existing training programs continue to grow, Akron could become the place for those wanting to play CSI on the computer.

I began my day on Jesse Avenue in North Hill .. speaking with the family of Diane Mitchell-McMillan, who was gunned down early Sunday morning by a killer who fired through the front of her home. What a senseless, pointless killing. At first Diane's family was very vocal about not wanting the killing on the news in any fashion, but later in the day, they called me and asked me to come back to hear their story. Sometimes illuminating the loss can help lead to information coming forward. Prayers for all involved on this one.

I'm also keeping tabs around NE Ohio as the axe continues to fall at Clear Channel shops. Vincent Duffy hears that CC is chopping almost 600 jobs today alone. There are multiple reports that Brian and Joe from 106.5. Those guys have been on forever!

Busy day indeed .. more in a bit .. Eric

Thursday, April 23, 2009

News Cleveland Cavaliers commercial is hilarious .. love it.

This is raw .. and really funny. feel free to fast-forward through the first 45 seconds .. you'll still get the jokes ..

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This and that .. What I'm seeing and hearing ... and saying goodbye to Abby

Busy week so far ... but a few thoughts.

I have had a pleasant day covering the impact of President Obama's bill to add billions of $$ to service programs like Americorps. Think of it as a domestic Peace Corps where young adults (18-24) can serve a few years at low pay .. but with some college benefits .. while serving their country. Groups like Habitat For Humanity will benefit, and this should be a nice draw for young adults who can't get their lives jump started in this economy.

The backdoor whining from the recall folks is getting extreme .. and ridiculous. Several other journalists say they too are tired of receiving a constant barrage of emails and phone messages with out-of-context facts and challenges to do something about it. Bob Dyer's Monday column took aim at one part of the issue .. but several journalists in town say they too are tired of the personal attacks because the recall folks don't like the stories that are coming out .. or simply don't think the coverage is fast or complete enough.

Another of my colleagues is leaving. Morning Anchor Abby Hamm is returning to her home state of Tennessee as morning anchor at WBIR-TV, our Gannett station in Knoxville, TN. Abby is a great lady with a genuine heart. She's a lot of fun to be around. We didn't get to work together often, but I always enjoyed her company. She and her husband will be closer to their families and that means a lot in this business.

The General Motors summer shutdown is quite scary. The ripple effect of Lordstown shutting down for about nine weeks -- which is rumored -- would impact the entire region. We really need some good economic news.

My colleagues at the Plain Dealer are among those struggling too. As has been reported, the PD is asking the union to take significant cuts and to help trim $5 million from the budget or face more layoffs. I'm told that the cuts include a proposal for a whopping 15% pay cut across the board. That's the largest cut I've heard of any media group to date. Stay tuned.

Twitter is quickly becoming a constant in my daily news-gathering rhythm. It's not so much a way to tell people "hey I'm getting coffee", but it gives me a way to reach out and find contacts for stories on deadline. For example, for my story on families who have recently become homeless, I sent out a "tweet" that I was looking for families willing to talk . .and got responses within an hour. Things just never went this fast in traditional journalism, so computers are helping like never before.

OK .. off to the set .. we have a live audience tonight .. so I'll have to sit up straight during the commercials too :)

Yes .. we were all young once ... the 2000 promo

Thanks to Frank Macek for resurrecting this gem. Ahh .. the benefits of lasik surgery.

Monday, April 20, 2009

911 call debate misses the point, but is well-intentioned

Sen. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, has the right idea .. or, in my opinion, at least the right intention .. but his Senate Bill 105 misses the target and creates more problems than it solves.

His bill aims to prevent Ohio's broadcast outlets, including websites, from airing part or all of 911 calls. TV stations and others that air a call would be subject to a whopping $10,000 fine.

While I haven't spoken with him yet about the bill, print reports indicate that he's trying to protect the callers .. believing that their safety could be in jeopardy if they call in details on a bad guy only to have their name and voice put on the evening news.

It's a good point .. and one that's not lost in my disagreement with the plan.

What's missed is that police departments already have the power to hang on to 911 calls that might fit this category.

What's the harm in airing a 911 call of someone saying "My neighbor's house is on fire!" or someone saying "there's teenagers drag racing on my street!"

As a TV journalist, 911 calls can add drama and story-telling, but I won't try to argue that we couldn't live without them. We certainly can still provide the facts to viewers.

Sometimes, however, the 911 call itself is key part of the story, especially when showing the "customer service" side of dispatchers .. or when doing stories on response times.

So .. my argument is that police already have the ability to control the release of calls that could be problematic .. so why legislate it again? And why the hefty fine at a time when small websites (and TV stations too) are struggling like any other business?

I'm open to debate here .. but on the surface, this seems like a good intention but one that may be unnecessary.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mendenhall offers to step down from leadership role in recall effort

Warner Mendenhall says he'll let someone else lead the campaign and keep the books, at least when it comes to Change Akron Now, the group trying to oust Mayor Don Plusquellic from office.

In a group e-mail sent Wednesday evening, Mendenhall warned of today's ABJ article highlighting his $178K tax lien and promising to have it paid back within 12 months.

Mendenhall penned: "Nevertheless, if the co-chairs of this campaign and its thousands of supporters feel that my roles as spokesperson and treasurer of Change Akron Now is detrimental to the recall effort, I am offering to stop filling those roles."

Knowing the group, I would expect most would still rally around Mendenhall and encourage him to stay in on in both capacities. Who else would want those roles?

Still, it's a second major setback to the group this week. On Monday, a Can email charged that an electrical worker's firing by his private company somehow meant that Plusquellic had allowed new Akron School buildings to be constructed with safety concerns just didn't get any traction .. and the ABJ again followed the bread crumbs that showed it to be a stretch at best.

Copies of the Mendenhall's tax lien were sent out to the media by the pro-Plusquellic folks on Tuesday. Those loyal to the Mayor seem focused on the spin that if you can't believe the messenger (Mendenhall), you can't believe the message (recall).

As the daily darts keep flying, I can hardly wait for what arrives today! (sarcasm)

From the calls and e-mails I'm getting at the newsroom, a great many folks are really sick of this campaign already, and they just want hard facts from both sides to make a decision should this get to the ballot. Others just don't want to see it on the ballot -- period.

I wish I had more time to explore this issue on Channel 3, but we'll discuss it at length this Friday on NewsNight Akron. More will come on Channel 3 in the coming days, but to date, our coverage has only covered the basics because we haven't had the available news crews.

With so much on the line, many Akron folks just want the headlines (and the few journalists left in town) focused on local businesses, schools, and the economy instead of this political pillow fight.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Developing Story: Ashford Thompson pleads guilty in cop killer case

Ashford Thompson has admitted that he pulled the trigger and killed Joshua Miktarian. We'll have full coverage tonight .. but if you'd like a blow-by-blow . .akronnewsnow.com has done a great job .. read here for a the courtroom blog.

Update: I spoke to the Prosecutor's Office and have been told there is NO PLEA DEAL in place .. that Thompson simply plead guilty on his own ... and that the death penalty and other possible penalties are all still in play here.

Back on the news treadmill

Odds and ends as I return to work from a much-needed break ..

I expect the trial of Ashford Thompson will be quite emotional indeed. The manner in which he shot and killed Twinsburg Police Officer Joshua Miktarian leaves little room to argue anything in his defense. I'm interested to see how defense attorney Eddie Sipplin addresses the court when opening statements begin this afternoon. I'm not sure why a trial happening in downtown Akron requires the ABJ to credit the Plain Dealer for the info included on Ohio.com .. read here. I can only assume that it's because of staff shortages .. but I would think just about anyone in the ABJ's newsroom could have written those four paragraphs from memory.

Browns supposedly close to deals that could send Brady Quinn and/or Braylon Edwards packing, according to cleveland.com. I'd be really surprised to see Quinn go .. but I guess nothing is off the table when it comes to the Browns these days. If that happens today, expect our evening news plans to get turned upside down.

4,200 signatures sounds like a lot and -- providing each name is that of a valid Akron voter -- will be enough to warrant the recall election. We'll have to see if the petitions go unchallenged, but this certainly takes the debate to the next level. I've long since been telling the members seeking the recall that it's not up the media to be the messenger for their campaign to remove Don Plusquellic. If the issue gets on the ballot -- which is more likely now -- then it becomes an issue certain to warrant more media discussion. I did get quite an email from the petition folks complaining that our news cameras weren't there on Friday when the petitions were presented to Akron City Hall. I responded that a) I'm out of the office so contact the news desk directly .. and b) good luck getting television coverage when you choose to file opposite the Cleveland Indians home opener. Let's just say that most groups seeking television news attention know that there are certain days/times to stay away from .. and Opening Day is one of them.

Along that same line of thinking .. I'm amazed at the number of local groups that will leave me a voicemail about their organization's event even though my message states that I am out of town and that they should call the news desk instead. There's nothing like getting a message about a news event that has already happened.

Good to be back .. much more to write about .. more later .. Eric

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gone Fishing .. back in a few days

Need a few days away from all things journalism .. just to recharge my batteries ..  i'll have more to write mid-week .. and promise to get back to writing on a daily basis ..

and again .. I'm sorry to anyone who really got creamed by my April Fool's day blog posting.  A good friend of mine stopped me at church today -- four days after the post -- to tell me that she's been going ga-ga ever since hearing about it.  Next time I'll add a bunch of extra zingers that make sure it's a no-brainer April Fool's joke.

As always .. thanks for stopping by ..

See ya later this week ...... Eric

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pizza Shop owner fires "shot heard round Akron"

John Hayes fired the shot, and Patrick Finney took it in the chest.

That much everyone agrees. Now the investigation begins into whether Hayes was justified to open fire when Finney entered the restaurant with a shotgun. Legal folks tell me that Hayes will be cleared and quickly, but it'll be up to the prosecutor as to what happens next.

I actually met Hayes at 10 days ago and he was armed then. Now it feels like foreshadowing

"Your Pizza Shop" had circulated some coupons, and I thought I'd give my business to a newly-reopened neighborhood shop.

My 14-year-old son and I stopped in to pick up the pizzas, and we had a nice conversation with Hayes and two employees, one of them a childhood friend of mine I haven't seen in years. So it was a good experience and the food was good too.

On the way back to our car, my son asked me if I'd noticed the gun on Hayes' hip. I had not, but I told my son that beyond his keen attention to detail, he'd probably just witnessed a neighborhood business owner who knows that he needs to protect himself. I also told my son that I assumed the owner had a concealed carry license and was hoping that by making it clear to customers that he was armed.

Maybe would-be bad guys would get the message and stay away.

Obviously, that didn't happen.


April Fool's: No big concert .. just big laughs!

After only a few hours, I can't let it go much longer ...

As most of you figured out quickly, my blog post about the big Clapton/Zeppelin concert is an April Fool's joke.

There's no concert at the new U of A stadium ... and as far as I know, Led Zeppelin and Clapton won't be passing through any time soon.

Still .. it was a fun few hours as Matt Patrick and Krissi Taylor picked up on my prank and had some fun with the WKDD morning drive. Their listeners (most anyway) saw through the April Fool's prank right away.

Last year (check the archives), I posted a similar prank about a giant aquarium coming to downtown Akron complete with Shamu and a Disney hotel. Some folks called the Beacon Journal and the University of Akron just to be sure.

My point today -- beyond just having fun on April 1st --is to illustrate how easy it is to portray fiction as news. Just add a headline and a few photos , and a great many people buy into the story immediately.

Remember how War of the Worlds came about?

Now .. I know that my role as a journalist gives more weight to a story like this .. so I don't take my blog posts or stories lightly. I would never do something like this if it wasn't April Fool's day.

I teased the made-up blog via social media (Facebook, Twittter) this morning .. which also generated a great many "not-gonna-get-fooled" emails and responses .. but a few friends (Nadine!!!) got suckered. My sister-in-law called me immediately and said "I don't believe a word of it" before I even got to say hello.

Unfortunately, our station's twitter feed picked up just the headline as a new item and mass blasted it this morning ... but when I found out, I pulled it down .. although had anyone clicked on the link, they would have come to my blog and then decided for themselves on its validity. Other news organizations also sent a few April Fool's "tweets" today.

My friend Chris Hyser has his own take on his blog .. and thinks jokes with media involvement can go too far.

Still ... whether you like my April Fool's prank or not .. .ask yourself how many times you take a headline or quick broadcast sentence as fact? How many times you've bought in to an email only to realize later it's bogus? How many times you've almost gotten taken by a scam?

Scary .. isn't it ..