Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: Why I Hate Insurance Companies

This could be entitled "no good deed goes unpunished" after a very frustrating experience at the end of the year trying to use the HSA (health savings account) money I've salted away throughout the year for a new pair of glasses, right? Simple -- except they say I don't exist.

We started 2007 with these new debit cards from our company through a third-party provider (name withheld at this time). Good idea, giving people better access to their pre-tax health savings account to pay for stuff like out-of-pocket prescription, doctor visits, etc. and it even worked a couple times earlier this year.

But at the end of this year -- today, to be precise -- no go when using the plastic "convenience" card. I know I've got a couple hundred bucks left in the kitty so I called the number on the back of the card and after waiting for 9 minutes and 41 seconds (according to the telephone ticker at the Sears Optical in Twinsburg) I got a live person. All I wanted to know was my balance but the clerk checked my social security number four times, my name (first and last) three times and the card number itself twice before she told me I didn't exist.

"How can this be?", I asked, noting the number I used to call her came from the card she says doesn't exist. She even looked up my company (Rubber City Radio -- that only took another 3 minutes and 32 seconds) and says I didn't exist there, either.

I noted that was pretty strange since they've been taking money out of my paycheck twice a month and they didn't say anything about my not existing at the time. They didn't say anything about my not existing when I used the card in the first quarter of 2007 (that's when I thought it was convenient) but now when I want to cash out not only is the transaction denied but my very existence is denied, too.

This may come as welcome news to my staff.

Now I'm particularly paranoid when it comes to insurance companies and their minions, especially the third-party companies who manage all these programs for our benefit. I imagine the poor clerks answering the phones from pissed-off people such as myself at the end of the year dealing with slow computer uploads and missing records while the executives, who loaded up on six-figure bonuses for their golfing holidays in Hilton Head, celebrate at the end of the year. Personally, I believe America's health care system is crafted to do exactly what it's doing: frustrate and confuse the hell of out the rest of us so we just give up and leave our money with the insurance companies. I'm betting that's part of what leads to those juicy bonuses at the end of the year, as well as the generous lobbying fees to lawyers on Capitol Hill to keep the system as complex and byzantine as possible.

Not that I'm in a position to argue; I asked when a supervisor would be able to find the time to call me back but I'm not holding out my hope. After all, how much hope can one have when they don't exist?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Browns In -- Almost

Great lead from Tom Withers of the Associated Press on today's 20-7 win by the Browns over the hapless San Francisco 49ers: the team now has seven hours of overtime before they find out of there's postseason.

The Browns did their part today, a nice post-holiday gift for the faithful fans who steamed into the chilly lakefront stadium for the final regular season game of the season. We were treated to a win; Cribbs showing why he's Pro Bowl; even a sequence of plays from Brady Quinn spoiled only when a sure TD pass was dropped. Chilly, yes, but a ten-game winning season was enough to warm those beating orange-and-brown with a stripe of white down the middle. Think of orange and black and the suffering in Cincinnati or what it's like to be a 49ers fan.

Root for the blue and white; pray for Indianapolis to beat Tennessee even though the Colts would be incredibly stupid to put any of their starters in harm's way with a game that means little to them. Here's where you see just how much the drive to win is really on display amongst the professional sports class; no calling it in for the Indy 2nd, 3rd and even 4th string players because while this game isn't a must-win for the team it is a must-win for them to showcase their talent and heart.

- - -

Most fun game points: not on the field but off. Ray Horner of WAKR included his Dad Lou and young son Rocco in our party this Sunday. It was Lou's first-ever NFL game and while he didn't forsake his beloved Steelers he did have a good time, especially ragging Ray for our leaving early (and for leaving behind Ray's favorite team, the 49ers). It was Rocco's first-ever NFL game as well and for a five-year old he did a remarkable job staying with the game despite sitting out in the cold just-above-freezing temps. Three generations of Horner; at least Rocco roots for Ohio State.

- - -

Still a good idea to keep a close eye and ear on your kids during a Browns game. The language, for the most part, continues to be coarse (and I'm being charitable here) starting with the griping of folks getting through security before they even show their tickets, right up to simple talk in the stadium. And don't even get me started on the F--- Michigan shirts prominently displayed for all to see walking to and fro the stadium. I think the shirts are funny but could we get some compromise on not flashing it in the faces of the kids? The walk from Cleveland's bluffs to cross the tracks and enter the stadium should be a bit more kindlier and gentler than walking down the street of an Amsterdam brothel district.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Staying On The Straight And Narrow

Anyone else have the experience of seeing just about every police officer in the planet on the highways today? Nature Girl and I were driving to Cleveland's far west suburbs and using Interstate 90 from the Jennings Freeway; there was one Cleveland cop parked in the median (on a hill, no less) grabbing radar with at least SIX patrol cars about a half mile down the road, lights flashing with folks pulled over on both sides of the expressway -- and that's with two other patrol vehicles parked waiting for word to grab someone else.

And this was at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday; wonder just how many light bars will be operating when the bars are celebrating the height of the NY Eve holiday this weekend and Monday night?

Driver beware...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year End Chores

As part of our end-of-the year stuff in the Esposito home Nature Girl was insisting I get in our semi-annual property tax payment in so it clears before January 1...nice to know tax planning is in her nature.

So off I go to navigate downtown's Ohio Building to personally deliver the check because Nature Girl is not only thorough but also paranoid that we have a stamped copy for the files, and hence started my adventure.

My experience in the Ohio Building has been largely limited to walking in from the parking deck just east of the Building to the fourth floor atrium, then navigating up to County Council chambers. For the most part any other interaction I ever have with the county is handled with a check in the mail, but now I have a newfound appreciation for those who make the trek for business because there sure as hell is little pleasure in it.

From the fourth floor entrance off the deck you need to walk around and find the stairs; it isn't easily marked but thank God Fiscal Officer John Donofrio's staff has plenty of signs posted for idiots such as myself who need to find the third floor. After walking into dead-ends around the lighted atrium with the third floor taunting me from the open space below I finally find the stairs and make my way down...only to find more confusion.

Taxes and property is a big deal with lots of records so I'm forced to navigate to other offices away from the atrium; again, thanks to the proliferation of many signs although the people I literally bumped into were in the same boat. We find the offices, need copies of the bills that won't be mailed until next month, but otherwise the fine folks behind the glass are helpful and courteous.

After all this walking I need to...well, rest. So I notice in this public building on the floor where the people's business is done paying taxes there are doors to the men's room and a women's room at one of the dead-ends in the atrium. Of course, they have security keypads so they aren't open to the public.

Hasn't anyone in government figured out yet if it weren't so hard to find a place to pee in a public building we might not be p-o'd at government as much as we are?

Finally frustrated I opt to hop down a couple flights -- following signs again to tell me where the stairs are because the stairs aren't conveniently located where the giant atrium draws everyone's attention. Finally downstairs I see there is actually a convenient behind-the-glass window on the first floor South Main entrance lobby but it isn't for taking payments to the county -- that might be too easy. Instead it is for the CSEA (Child Support Enforcement Administration) leading me to conclude deadbeat parents needing to drop off a check have an easier time than the people of Summit County who own property and want to pay their taxes on it.

Suggestion to County Executive Russ Pry: the next time Summit County constructs a building for public purposes make every restroom open to the public (after all, they're paying for it) and by all means make the architects have to drop off tax payments in person so they get a full appreciation on how important it is to make doing business with the government as convenient as buying a burger -- not asking for Swenson's curbside service but it's a start.

- - -

Ironman viewing note for tonight: as posted earlier the NewsNight Akron crew already taped our Newsmaker of the Year special but it won't air until a week from today (9:00 p.m. on January 4, 2008) because of scheduling conflicts from the panelists. Tonight Eric Mansfield does his own NNA Year in Review show; pray he doesn't run out of breath. He's also anchoring Channel 3's 6:00, 7:00 and 11:00 newscasts in addition to the Akron-Canton News at 6:30 and 10:00 in addition to the PBS 45/49 9:00 p.m. broadcast.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Irony

Some more random thoughts post-Christmas holiday:

- is it just me or did the fact Fox News was still running the death-and-destruction ticker while airing Rick Warren's religious hour-long A Purpose Driven Life holiday program sort of counter the reason for the season? I mean, I know the consultants say the 24/7 ticker is an important part of news branding but even during the hug-my-family program aimed at showing the power of positive energy? WWJD if He was the technical director?

- Also on Christmas Day: Instead of running their 7:00 news block WKYC opted instead for Christmas With the Stars which included Lou Rawls, who not only has been dead since January 6, 2006 but his widow's home in Green was burglarized over the holiday weekend and among the items stolen was his passport. I could have overlooked Susan Anton and Erik Estrada among the "stars" but dragging out poor Lou? He was the best voice of the holidays (well, second only to Nat King Cole but we can discuss that one later) but two years after he passed away? At least we can tell the Bing Crosby and Perry Como specials date back to TV's Stone Age...

- Nice headline on Drudge Report on how rotten this holiday shopping season has been for retailers: they reported only a 3% and change increase from last year. Now that's not big stuff according to the bean counters because they want 5% increases but note they never seem to have any problem with salary increases bumping up only 3% -- that's called "normal".

- State Senator Kevin Coughlin is weighing in with an email warning of "false" notices from his New Summit Republicans, now waging war on the Arshinkoff faction of the county party. With slates needing to be assembled for the full assault on the membership of the county committee (literally hundreds of folks) underway communicating the message just stepped up a notch. Add to it the stories from Stephanie Warsmith in the Akron Beacon Journal on expected costs allegedly OK'd by the Summit GOP Executive Committee to defend Alex ($350 grand) and the tough no-holds-barred fight ahead this'll be a gem to watch. Stay tuned...with the early primaries culling the Presidential herd the races for local party faithful in Summit County's GOP ranks may be the most compelling political lesson in the March primary.

- We tape the NewsNight Akron "Top Newsmakers" special this afternoon at Northside...sort of a return to the crime where we last led off with the best and worst of the year. I'm excited Eric Mansfield is at the helm for this one -- especially since he's kept plenty close to the vest so Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I are still in the dark. Note: this NewsNight Akron program airs on PBS 45/49 on Friday, January 4, 2008 at 9:00 p.m.

- had the occasion to visit with former WKSU PD and News Director Vince Duffy just prior to Christmas at his new (and impressive) digs at Michigan Radio in the Free Republic of Ann Arbor. He looks well -- I'd opine even younger now that he's back in the solid news trenches and out of the grind of program management. His stations stretch their signal from west to east coast and just about all of the lower half of the "mitten" in Michigan, with a heavier dose of news delivered (each hour) and the challenges obviously invigorate.

- speaking of WKSU these are the final days for Daniel Hockensmith, AKA Dan Taylor from his Akron Radio Center days. Dan's been hosting "Your Way Home" on WKSU but leaves broadcasting behind for a new gig with Plastics News. I'll miss him on the radio but look forward to his work covering such a huge beat that literally extends around the world -- good luck Dan!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Random Holiday Thoughts

I'm very thankful this morning for the energy and dedication of young people; the holidays are usually wide-open in terms of the news business and we are blessed at the Akron Radio Center with talented staff getting into the business. Kent State student (and very recent grad) Kristen Russo holds down the fort on Christmas Day, giving everyone else the most valuable gift of the season: time with family and friends. Yesterday KSU's Lindsay McCoy came in on Christmas Eve to do the same, along with soon-to-depart Rick Green (moving from the Akron Radio Center newsroom to similar duties with Metro Traffic in Cleveland).

Mike Glass, a recent addition, sat in for Joe Jastrzemski (and will on New Year's Eve, too...) with veteran Bob Allen hosting in place of Ray Horner. Ryan Haidet, Shannon Dailey, Shelley Blundell, Alan Courtright -- all work hard to keep our listeners and web visitor to AkronNewsNow informed, even at times when being informed is the last things on our minds. Thanks for the wonderful gift of your time, guys.

- - -

I was saddened to read of the passing of Thomas Morgan III. He was truly a giant in our industry, not because he worked for the NY Times but because he was a leader in journalism and a role model for thousands of aspiring reporters. Morgan was the first openly-gay President of NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists, earning his election after helping professionalize NABJ's finances while Treasurer. There was considerable angst on his election as President on what message it might send -- and thankfully those naysayers were proven wrong quickly. The message is regardless of color, creed, orientation leadership comes in all shapes. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Morgan (among hundreds of others) in 2005 when he was inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) Hall of Fame in Chicago, a much-deserved honor for his work bridging the two groups; his dedication, hard-work and focus on doing what's right should serve as an example to all of us.

- - -

On Thursday Eric Mansfield, Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I sit down for NewsNight Akron's best (and worst) of 2007 show. We tape at Northside (next to Luigi's) just after lunchtime with our listing of who we think the top newsmakers of 2007 were, good and bad. So far the input from the panelists as well as from other contributors has been weighing heavily in favor of Mayor Plusquellic and Bob Keegan thanks for the end-of-year gift from Goodyear that they'll stay put with a new headquarters building in Akron. Others ranking high on the list: Russ Pry, the Strickland Administration, Sylvester Small...a long list of positives. There are some making the not-so-nice list too, which opened up debate: are we obligated to make the top newsmakers someone (or group) because of good deeds? Should be an interesting chat...the program airs on PBS 45/49 Friday night at nine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Using Hillary

The latest broadside fired by the New Summit Republicans against incumbent, long-time party boss Alex Arshinkoff is textbook, and right out of Alex's own playbook to boot: use a polarizing person, issue or thing to provoke action.

This brochure was dropped to select Summit County households just in time for the holidays (you can see the whole trifold with this .pdf file) and since I got mine in my northern Summit County mailbox ahead of the frozen candy boxes, bills, cards bearing holiday wishes and the usual hate mail I have to figure Alex got his in Hudson, too.

It has the usual: he squanders money with party money on his ride (an Escalade); expensive eats (more than $6600 bucks alone in one posh downtown joint); party time at the country club (five grand at the Portage CC! What did that buy, a burger and chips?...) and $600,000 on the party headquarters, including drapes. All this and Summit County doesn't have more Republicans holding office.

But in order to make this stick for people to actually care and 1) run for the GOP Central Committee and, 2) actually vote for someone who runs for the GOP Central Committee it takes a world of hurt to force said people to act.

Image from New Summit Republicans brochure

This ought to do it...

When in doubt and you don't have a cavorting Bill, or the Mayor cussing out parking lot attendants, or Nancy Pelosi arranging taxpayer-financed flowers for her office go with the big guns. Nice touch with the shot on the back of Ronald Reagan pointing with "how can you help" underneath.
Enjoy the holidays. The campaign for control starts in earnest right after we watch Ohio State play another national title game against another speedy SEC team. I'd rather bet on Alex versus Kevin...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Sources & Reporting

I surely don't want to add the "we told you so" to such a horrible case...but it IS worth noting the reporting from AkronNewsNow and WAKR, WKYC's Eric Mansfield, 19 Action News team Sharon Reed and Ed Gallick, the Beacon Journal's Phil Trexler and the Canton Repository's team was pretty much right on the money in the Jessie Marie Davis case.

You may have missed today's widely-reported news on the filing from the Stark County Prosecutor with details on just what happened the day her body was found at the Top O' The World park site.

That day is still vivid in my mind; Toni Cicone and Joe Jastrzemski on WAKR, Kristen Russo's story on AkronNewsNow and 19 Action News anchor Sharon Reed first reported Bobby Cutts had confessed but our sources weren't holding news conferences -- that was two hours to come later. Eric Mansfield added critical details known only to investigators and his sources, including the report that Cutts himself led police to the site but at the time his report was dismissed.

Turns out he -- and other reporters -- were right.

Prosecutors, police and defense lawyers for Cutts and confessed accomplice Myisha Ferrell followed a self-imposed gag order before the case ever went before a judge, carefully limiting information in the case. It was a textbook example of controlling media we're now seeing play out in Chicago in the Stacey Peterson case, another high-profile missing woman that lept from the police blotter to the crime-and-punishment nightly TV lineup with a life of it's own.

There's plenty of room for debate on the treatment afforded these cases and the reporting style but what clearly isn't up for much debate now is that local reporters who trusted their sources acted responsibly, in large measure, in their reporting during the heat of the moment. Today's news reported first by the Canton Repository includes the now-confirmed truth from Prosecutor Ferraro's office: Bobby led them to Jessie's body.

The next step: will prosecutors take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a plea agreement? Ferrell took the deal, providing the State with damning testimony against Cutts and my gut tells me the filing by the Cutts defense team challenging the death penalty specification is positioning to force the prosecution hand on proving intent. If the capital spec holds, it puts more pressure on Cutts to accept a plea bargain if Jessie's family tells prosecutors they would be supportive. That's a question the family has been firm in side-stepping, and with good reason: it would weaken the case against Cutts to pull this legal weapon from their quiver.

Monday, December 17, 2007

We Used To Know How To Drive

I've officially turned into my grandfather; "these kids" don't know how to drive.

He used to crab about that on a regular basis, especially when he was being driven from one spot to another after he couldn't drive anymore. Especially in winter when it snowed, but it seems like we did a much better job back then in the 70s (when I was a teenage curmudgeon instead of an old man like Grandpa) even when it seemed to be snowing more back then.

What happened in the past generation?

Schools are closed all over greater Akron today but when you go to work -- and make no mistake about it, unless you work for the schools you ARE going to work today -- you'll find side streets snow-covered but the main roads wet and a bit slushy. Not impassable and certainly not the blizzard-like conditions that prompted Medina County to declare a Level 2 "get the hell off the highway" warning Sunday. Wet and slushy, slick ramps and bridges, about what we should expect in a typical northeast Ohio winter.

I know the arguments from the rural districts such as Highland will be those hilly highways haven't been cleared yet because ODOT and local salt trucks have been busy hitting the main roads; I hear the school administrators note it's unfair for the little tykes to stand in the snow waiting for the bus; I can only imagine the parents who won't clear their own sidewalks whining about the tough slog their kids will have getting to the bus stop.

People: you live in Ohio, for God's sake! It snows. There's slush. It can get icy.

In those good old days we still went to school unless it was snowing that morning or the snow totals started being measured in feet, not measly inches. And that was walking uphill both directions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wasteful Workout

What a great example of tax dollars at work -- and the insolence of public officials in managing your money for the best.

Kudos to Phil Trexler for pointing out how well Akron's publicly-funded private club has been faring. The CitiCenter Athletic Club used to be exclusive but must now feel excluded, with membership down from an elite high of 700 to just a couple hundred now. Trexler's report chronicles how the high-and-mighty used to work up a sweat and then enjoy the perks of membership but now they sweat elsewhere, leaving Akron's taxpayers to pick up the tab.

According to the Beacon Journal article Akron shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars -- over a million in the past ten years -- for the exclusive workout center, complete with swimming pool and one-time restaurant. This generous subsidy came at the same time the Mayor was pushing to tax Summit County residents and City voters with levies to support the arts, schools, business development and more police. What's more important here, the chance for a handful who can afford the $47 bucks a month (it would be more like $100 bucks a month to balance the budget if it weren't for your wage tax dollars) to ride a stationary bike to keep on riding or getting more cops on the job?

All of this, as the ABJ points out, with the Canal Square Y up the street. Not to mention attractive fitness centers at the University of Akron (perhaps the finest in the City), Shaw JCC Recreation facilities on White Pond, AGMC's Wellness Centers in Montrose and Stow as well as community rec centers in Cuyahoga Falls, Green and Macedonia. That doesn't even include the private clubs in the Valley or all those Curves storefront workout joints at every strip mall in the area.

Dave Lieberth, Deputy Mayor, is quoted by Trexler saying the City isn't in the business of making of profit, it's in the business of providing service. Well, he's right about one thing: Akron's getting serviced, all right.

Do The Clothes Make The Artist?

Tonight's meeting of the Akron School Board may be a rip-snorter with parents up in arms over plans to have their kids follow a city-wide dress code; there's lots to talk about on a bid by some Miller South School for the Performing Arts protest and just how disruptive it will be to mandate the little darlings wear appropriate clothes.

By "appropriate" we mean the standards voiced by the Akron School Board; should Miller South students be permitted to blow off the rules because they're "special"? My colleague Eric Mansfield makes the point in his Have I Got News For You blog as well as during a spirited debate on NewsNight Akron last weekend: these kids have already been singled out as unique and worth getting a pass from the rules that govern everybody else. Parents reason their little performers should be allowed more creativity because, after all, that's why they fought to get them into Miller South in the first place. Anything less, they reason, infringes on their creativity and creates instead an undue burden.

Whoa. According to that scenario we shouldn't have dress standards for other "centers for excellence"; after all, Firestone's theater and international studies kids are certainly "unique" so do they get a pass? Buchtel and Garfield play some serious football, so should those teams get "unique" passes too? What about the kids going to private schools such as St. Vincent-St. Mary and Hoban -- they actually wear uniforms but I'm not seeing a huge drop in collegiate admission scores because the kids saw their creativity limited by the big bad headmaster holding them to reasonable dress code expectations.

Fact of the matter is: how much of a brain drain do public schools have when parents and students worry more about what the kids wear (or what they're allowed to wear) versus what they're learning? Some of the more dress-restrictive schools in Summit County are in fact the highest-performing academically (not to mention Walsh, SVSM, CVCA and Hoban usually kick butt in athletics on a fairly regular basis, too) and I'd hold the creative energies of students pointing to careers in the arts aren't impacted in the least by the dress code.

The point of public education is a standard for all, not the few. Selling the protest under the cloak of "my kid is special" seems to ignore the fact Miller South is, after all, a public school and not an elitist institution standing apart from the rest of the Akron district.

Proud parents have every right to want the best for their children, and the curriculum at Miller South promoting artistic creativity ought to be front and center for protesting parents -- not the worry they might have to use a rest room to change into their dance togs. Athletes and performers in every other Akron school live by their rules and fair is fair.

I can only imagine the response if I'd come home telling Mom and Dad how unhappy I was because I wasn't allowed to wear my favorite clothes and how that would make me a lifetime loser because I didn't get my way at ten years of age; Dad's size tens would be quick to follow.

How do we get to these points where the students run the schools and the parents?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Army Way

Only in America do kids sending "get-well" and holiday wishes to soldiers recovering from horrific war injuries get the cold shoulder.

From the Army, no less.

Check out Jeff Maynor's story at about the 400 students at Highland Drive Elementary in Brecksville just north of Akron. Talk about no good deed going unpunished! Walter Reed Army Hospital notes security regulations that say any cards or letters must go to patients or staff by name, no exceptions.

At least the teachers at the school are using this as a great tool to educate kids where there's a will, there's a way: all these good wishes and hand-made cards will go to a soldier and his unit in Afghanistan.

Friday, December 7, 2007

When Number 1 Isn’t First

Wanted to share some thoughts on a conference I attended in late October on the First Amendment sharing experiences with like-minded folks who wonder why #1 seems to have trouble even making the grade these days. The get-together was sponsored by ASNE – the American Society of Newspaper Editors – and included representatives from major newspapers, RTNDA, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Online News Association as well as musicians, library and free speech advocates. Needless to say, we all had similar ideas.

You should know these freedoms made possible by the founder’s vision of what America should stand for: freedom of speech, a free press, freedom to worship as we please, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to petition the government. It’s the “Fantastic Five” of liberties and a model for what so many around the world still admire about the American Idea even if they don’t like us much anymore.

It’s what gives conservatives like Rush Limbaugh the same access to our ears that Al Franken had, ratings notwithstanding. The First Amendment allows the folks responsible for Akron-area print layout and newscast stacking to make choices, such as what plays first? This went through my mind the end of October with the death of a six-year old Akron boy in a local house fire and the death of a Chagrin Falls co-ed in a Sunday North Carolina beach house blaze that killed her and six fellow college students.

These are the editorial decisions loaded with scrutiny; a young boy or a young woman? Both stories are tragic. One involved what firefighters believe is a pan of hot oil left over from frying chicken wings racing through an Akron home without smoke detectors; the other sparked on a deck and quickly racing through the beach house where college kids were relaxing away the weekend. Both avoidable with care, our hearts tell us, both horrible accidents ending young lives full of promise.

But what’s your lead? You’re in the news business so one story has to run first. Do you make your decision based on location? If so, Akron tops North Carolina. Is your primary consideration the date of the tragedy? You’ll be splitting some hairs on this. The Akron fatal fire came in the wee hours of a Sunday morning while the North Carolina blaze broke out late on a Sunday night. Is the story best told by pictures, and does the more spectacular scene of huge flames caught by citizen journalist aired on CNN trump the next-day photos of burned-out home shot by your weekend crew in Summit County?

The question not many want to ask, much less answer: do you base your decision on the makeup of the victim?

The media has struggled with charges there is a caste system in place when telling stories of tragedy. The best example is the story of missing Mountain Brook, Alabama teen Natalie Holloway during a class trip in Aruba. Many, including myself, were critical of the tenor of the continuing coverage so prominently displaying the picture of blonde innocence as a poster for the story while so many other children – not so blonde, not so white, not from such an affluent area, weren’t worthy of the nightly talk show spotlights.

This case makes me wonder about the decision making process, too. Two families ripped by tragedy, one white and the other not-so-white. One with attractive photographs, the other without the graphics. One from a middle-upper class background (hey, it’s Chagrin Falls) and the other from another side of the tracks.

Does race matter? Does economic and social class matter?

What I believe matters is these decisions are made by flesh-and-blood human beings who (hopefully) take their jobs seriously and give deep thought to the stories of life-and-death that may not hit home for all but certainly rip apart the hearts of some. Our job is to present the stories of our lives to others; to provide information and context and sometimes to stimulate debate, even if it turns inward and we are called upon to exhibit the same transparency of our decision-making process we expect from others.

The First Amendment exists to give voice to those who may be shouted down by the majority; freedom of speech provides the protection that the government won’t use all of the power given to it by the people against opinion from the people. Freedom to worship as we see fit keeps others out of a most basic and personal communication: between ourselves and our God, who or whatever He or She may be. We have a right to lawful assembly because the business of the people is that important. This is important stuff for each and every one of us. It’s why it’s First.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Where's Michael Vick When We Need Him?

There's a great adage in the news business that the story of a dog biting man isn't news but the man biting the dog? That's a different story. How about lawyer biting dog?

In a fashion that's the treat scheduled for Tuesday, December 11th from the Ohio Supreme Court -- and best of all we can all follow along at home thanks to the First Amendment and an enlightened court that opens up oral arguments of cases to webcasting.

Here's the gist: Rebecca Kim of Columbus got popped with a barking dog complaint from her neighbor, Joseph Berardi, who testified he just couldn't take the 90 minutes of Kim's dog "Lucky" going non-stop despite Berardi being inside his own home with the air conditioning on. Kim was found guilty and, not missing a beat, moved up to the 10th District Ohio Court of Appeals to argue the state law was vague because it doesn't define exactly HOW long or HOW loud barking needs to be to drive the neighbors nuts.

The appeals court didn't buy Kim's argument but as luck would have it the 11th District DID find the law in Warren (State v Ferraiolo) too vague in a related case, hence the Ohio Supreme Court having to decide just how loud a barking dog needs to be in order to call the heat. Now our highest-ranking judges will figure out when dog-barking becomes "unreasonably loud or disturbing” or “detrimental to the life” of one resident of a neighborhood when it may be completely inoffensive to another.

Lawyers being lawyers Columbus is arguing in their legal filings that the vagueness of the law isn't a problem so long as the court finds that "no reasonable construction that would meet constitutional requirements," or to paraphrase the only way to find barking dog laws unconstitutional is to find the barking dogs are protected by the constitution.

They point to court decisions in several other states that have struck down noise ordinances that are more specific than the Columbus ordinance at issue here, and they urge the Court to affirm the 11th District’s reasoning in Ferraiolo that the subjective standards set forth in the Warren and Columbus ordinances are unconstitutionally vague.

You have a front-row seat to all of this; all you need is a fast connection, a computer with Real Audio and this link to access all the fun. Best of all will be watching folks seriously argue the measurement of when dogs cross the line.

Who says government is boring?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Akron's REAL Good Year

Keeping the company here for at least 20 years: $30 million dollars.
Building a garage for 2900 workers and untold shoppers: $20 million dollars.
Keeping Akron the Rubber City: Priceless.

As expected Goodyear Tire & Rubber, flanked by just about every Don, Ted and Russ politico between South High here and South High in Columbus, announced it will stay in Akron thanks to a generous incentive package worth about $50 million in forgiven state taxes and loans with great rates, on top of plans to launch what approaches a one billion dollar redevelopment plan to build a new world headquarters, renovate the existing technical center and build Akron Riverwalk, an ambitious mix of retail in east Akron.

The collective year-long breath-holding can now cease. The giant that Seiberling built will remain on the banks of East Market and Martha in some form or another, retaining our image as the Rubber City even though most of the rubber barons left for warmer and greener pastures decades ago.

The questions about the deal are legitimate; as Council's John Conti is quick to point out there are plenty of states and municipalities looking askance these days at corporate welfare packages. In New York, for example, hundreds of such job-protecting job deals are under red flags with the discovery the jobs never materialized even after the tax breaks did; my own experience with Anchor-Hocking in West Virginia nearly 20 years ago (the state sued to keep machinery in a soon-to-be abandoned Clarksburg-area plant and won) was an early round in the war of politicians hungry to keep jobs at home getting snookered by companies who didn't keep their word.

The difference in Akron, however, is the tradition Goodyear holds over us; since 1898 the company founded by namesake Charles and built by the Seiberlings has steadfastly called this place home, even after the Firestone's left for California vineyards and Nashville; the Goodrich legacy is name only after that company even picked up what was left in Richfield and took flight to North Carolina; O'Neil doesn't even stick around as a department store downtown. Even after the Seiberling clan lost control of Goodyear the company called Akron home, and Akron has come to depend on it.

Rubber may grow on Indonesian trees but it also flows in our blood. Today's announcement is more than confirmation our money talks; the message just as strong, just as true, just as loud is that we take care of blood first. Other companies would have been fine working a deal for a new corporate campus near an airport and a golf course but Goodyear's rebuilding includes neighborhood development, which makes this deal unique. It's not just about keeping the headquarters and R&D center, it's about keeping the 'hood a place where we want to live. Using the power of Goodyear's corporate relocation decision to leverage improvements to Akron's neighborhoods is a deal too good to pass up.

It's the kind of deal we should consider priceless.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goodyear, City Hall, Zips and Dog v Baby

OK, this has already been a big week; it's likely Goodyear will announce tomorrow it is staying put in Akron; two members of City Council tussle with the Mayor in an unusual public display of will and ego and University of Akron head basketball coach Keith Dambrot is so frustrated we're not showing up for Zips games he's promising to work to get us all free hot dogs.

On Goodyear: the State passes a big plan and now the world's top tiremaker has a news conference set for Wednesday to announce whether they stay or go. The developer will be in the house, and not just to hum the Clash tune; it's a no-brainer Goodyear will stay. As we told you last week the economics to keep Akron the Rubber City was on the fast-track to happen in early December (I noted this was coming during our "crystal ball" segment on NewsNight Akron a month or so ago). This isn't insider information but it is highly likely since Governor Strickland, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, Summit County Executive Russ Pry (confirmed) and Mayor Don Plusquellic (we think) are all planning to attend the news conference. Ohio wins one in the war to protect our economic flank, and this is a HUGE win for Strickland & Fisher -- and Pry has a major feather in his cap heading into a March 2008 primary election. Plusquellic should share in the love, too as local government proves it can do what it is supposed to do: keep Ohio's businesses in Ohio. That hasn't always been the case.

I could opine further on both Mike Williams and John Conti taking on the Donald but this link to AkronNewsNow's coverage, complete with audio, is 'nuff said. We're working on getting Dambrot's full comments after Sunday's Zips-Wyoming game posted as well but in the meantime my favorite multimedia is included in this blog: who cries loudest and isn't it great we've finally found something other than a car ride to quiet the screaming baby.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The List of Thanks

OK, let the sap flow even though it's far from spring...what are YOU thankful for this holiday season?

I'm thankful for my wife Diane who puts up with so much news nonsense even though she long ago came to terms that more than 75% of the garbage we get exorcised over isn't really worth the effort. Nice to have such a rudder when the storm winds hit. Plus love really is a wonderful thing...

I want to thank Joe Finley and Warner Mendenhall for the nice reminder to the poobahs at City Hall that elected office really isn't a life term. Regardless of whether you voted for or against, it was heartening to see there were enough people in Akron who decided NOT to be automatic votes for either candidate and make the 2007 Mayor's race an actual race...

Thanks to Don Plusquellic for taking Finley more seriously than some of my compatriots in the media did. Lord knows it would be a boring job covering government without the thin-skinned Don of Akron launching off and tearing us a new one now and then but at the very least he understood he had to run for re-election rather than sitting back and letting it slide. Of course, he was able to do that once the Primary was over and done with and it was back to globe-trotting on behalf of Akron's economy...

Thanks to John Saros and the rest of the CSB crew and Don Davies and his ADM folks and the Summit County establishment for working hard under the radar and better yet thanks to the voters of Summit County who know a good thing when they saw it this past November. Nobody likes taxes, especially when it costs more money because of the way the law is worded -- and at a time when $3.00 gasoline was just around the corner -- but once again the people proved they aren't stupid when it comes to taking care of kids and people with big needs helped by common-sense solutions. Bravo on passing the CSB and ADM issues...

Thanks to the TSA for keeping our skies safe, even if not everybody remembers to keep the heat neat and locked in the closet...Marco's back in court next week...

Thanks to LeBron for bringing us close enough to a world championship to make us remember northeast Ohio used to be the home of champions; no thanks to LBJ, though, for wearing the Yankee hat and then acting surprised when he caught a dose of reality over it...

Thanks to Eric Mansfield, Steve Hoffman and Jody Miller for their friendship and arguments after the cameras go off on NewsNight Akron every Friday. Some think it's rude to argue; for the rest of us it's a debate, so get over it...

Finally thanks to Russ Vernon. What would the holidays be without spending our savings on Killer Brownies over the holidays? And while we're at it thanks to Luigi's even though we won't be stopping in after Thanksgiving through Sunday because everyone with Akron in their blood will be there or Swenson's this weekend. Hmmmm...I wonder how a Galley Boy would taste piled high with mozzarella cheese?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Marco's Moment In Muni Court

Akron Council President Marco Sommerville is scheduled to appear in Barberton Municipal Court this afternoon, where he's formally charged with packing a gun through the TSA checkpoint at Akron-Canton Airport en route to a National League of Cities convention in New Orleans last week.

If you haven't heard about this story yet it's because you didn't read a paper, surf the web, listen to a radio or watch TV; given the usual holiday dearth of hard news this one easily bubbled to the top for the Akron newsies given the powerful combination of political power and "what was he thinking?" content.

Marco was supposed to visit with WAKR's Ray Horner this morning but it's not a real surprise defense lawyer Bob Meeker stepped in; if it were my client (I'm playing lawyer on the web now) I would've weighed in with a "what ARE you thinking NOW?" about going on the air, even for an apology, before all my legal ducks were in a row. I note, however, that Marco did phone Ray to talk with him early this morning and explain the reasoning and Meeker did the same thing a few hours later.

So here's the way it should play: we'll find out this afternoon is the Marco charges will be bumped up to the feds. The FBI reportedly examined the case but it could go either way; there was no intent to break the law and when it comes to criminal charges "intent" is the operative word. For all those screaming for Marco's head on a platter and accusing him of getting preferential treatment it is important to note the handful of folks who've screwed up and forgot about their guns in other CAK cases were also allowed to continue their travel and face the music when they got home. The tune played usually wound up as a plea to a misdemeanor, public service and a fine.

Does anyone really believe Marco intended to pack a gun for the flight to New Orleans? Is the airline snack service that bad that you need to hold attendants at gunpoint for a bag of nuts rather than pretzels.

Big mistake, not thinking doesn't lead to jail time in these cases. Whether it should is another story and something TSA reportedly wants to get a handle on so at least the pursuit of the law is uniform at each airport around the country.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Marco Moments

Today one of my Starbucks barristas lent her voice to the talk over Akron Council President Marco Sommerville's trouble with a loaded .38 in his bag while en route to boarding a plane at CAK. She's a Christian woman, she tells me, but then whispers "what the HELL was he thinking?"

Here's the answer.

"I wasn't," he tells friends and family who were asking the exact same question (albeit some with more forceful language). That's the one-on-one Marco had with WAKR morning host Ray Horner, although not on the air -- yet. Sommerville's lawyer has already done most of the talking here and Marco confirmed for us he does have a concealed carry permit and just forgot the gun was in his carry-on luggage while moving through the security checkpoint at the Akron-Canton Airport to lead a contingent of Akron council reps to the National League of Cities get-together in New Orleans. (sidebar: is it just me or does anyone else find it interesting a leading major city Democrat has a concealed permit and regularly packs a gun, even for business purposes? I thought all those folks were supposed to be gun control wackos...)

An honest mistake, but now there are more questions on what happens next.

Marco's attorney is Bob Meeker, and he tells AkronNewsNow this isn't the first time someone has been popped with a piece at the TSA checkpoint; in fact, he says, three others were treated as misdemeanor violations when they went through the court system and it stands to reason Marco would be treated otherwise. The Council President was also allowed to continue on his trip as long as he agreed to face the music when he got back, also typical treatment in cases such as this where the perpetrator clearly acted out of ignorance and wasn't pulling an Osama by slipping weapons past the security inspectors.

But today's Akron Beacon Journal reports police may seek to serve Sommerville with a felony warrant when he gets back in town. Is Marco being subjected to a higher standard because he's a government official? The conspiracy theorists speculate Sheriff Drew Alexander, as a Republican, will push for the felony warrant and the feds will then take over throwing City government into turmoil because Marco will be turfed from office since felons can't serve. Alexander says most of that story is bunk, telling AkronNewsNow the treatment is typical and he expects the rest of the way out to be typical, too.

Makes a nice story to fill space in the paper (and online in blogs, thankfully) but don't look for it to get that far.

If it's a felony warrant it'll be because that's the way the law is supposed to be, followed quickly by a plea on misdemeanor charges just like everybody else. Most of these cases of innocent what-the-HELL-where you thinking stupidity wind up exactly where they belong: in a muni court, not a federal case, with time served and fines paid and embarrassment serving a more fitting punishment. But in the meantime it gives ink-and-electron stained scribes something to fill space and time with, which in the greater scheme of things is a welcome change from the usual pre-holiday fare involving 765 different ways to cook a turkey, how many police will be looking for boozers, what gas costs and the hassles of flying during the busiest travel time of the year blah-blah-blah.

Shameless plug: Marco's scheduled to be in-studio with Ray Horner on 1590 WAKR Monday morning in the 8:00 hour. He's been a stand-up guy off the air, telling us he knows he messed up (even Marco asked what-the-HELL was he thinking, barristas!) and will take the medicine. Sommerville is not the kind of politician to duck questions from reporters or the public, taking phone calls many times while on our airwaves. I'm just hoping the warrant blood lust holds off enough so Marco doesn't have to call us collect from the Barberton lockup.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another Typical Akron Tuesday

A week after the elections and already the news hounds are bored; how the last five hours provided the spice of life for the ink-and-electron stained wretches doing your news for you. Too bad we don't get paid by the hot story.

First things first the big wreck on I-77 at South Arlington that basically left the world south of downtown a parking lot for four hours. NewsChannel 5 reports the driver of a pickup truck was critically injured.

Then there was the electrical vault fire that spewed black smoke over downtown and spoiled the late afternoon for the lizards still pumping down a drink or two near Canal Park (OMG, how did the late crowd at Brico wet their whistle?) but worse yet knocked out power to just about all of the business district of America's 74th largest radio market -- including the corporate headquarters for FirstEnergy, parent company of Ohio Edison. Power may not be fully restored until Wednesday.

The resulting scramble was such a mess the Akron PD begged people to avoid downtown at all costs since it was pure gridlock. Our partners at WKYC had Akron-Canton anchor Eric Mansfield standing in the dark on their 6p broadcast and their 630p cablecast news; usually his perch beside the ballpark is a fine location to show off the lights downtown but not this evening.

Oh, by the way down the pike today the auction began on the guts of Hoover. The once-mighty worldwide sign of northeast Ohio corporate and industrial dominance has been reduced to people coming from around the country to cart off machines and whatever else is ready to go from the North Canton location where Boss Hoover once ruled a worldwide empire made possible by machines that sucked -- literally. How the King of Vacuum has been reduced to this still makes me shake my head but now even the marble topped fireplace facade in the private office where Boss used to do his business is up to the highest bidder. Hell, even the room where the Boss really did his private business is up for grabs; as of this writing I hadn't heard if anyone was able to cart off the tile floor, sink or commode in Mr. Hoover's private bathroom.

Before I wrap up: Akron Council President Marco Sommerville and a handful of other members of Council were taking their annual junket to the National League of Cities meeting in New Orleans when they ran into a snag; seems Marco forgot to pull his piece out of his carry-on. The TSA at CAK felt and FYI was DOA and arrested city government's second most powerful politician for packing heat in his bag. WKYC's coverage was anchored by Bill Safos but Eric Mansfield tells me the law enforcement community, as a whole, as unavailable to comment on this bust but the Barberton prosecutor has the case since Akron-Canton Airport is in the Barberton Municipal Court district. Early word suggests Sommerville will face charges since the feds have a well-deserved reputation for not thinking too kindly of people smuggling weapons onto planes, whether they just forgot or not. I'm guessing here that Marco has a legit reason for a concealed carry permit but that doesn't mean squat on a plane. Our efforts to get a call on the cell returned failed but we'll try again tomorrow.

I think this Friday night's NewsNight Akron program on PBS 45/49 should be interesting...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

America's Real Pastime: Politics & Paranoia

It's a potent combination and Tuesday's roll call of electioneering is no exception. It is what makes watching politics fascinating in considering the wonderful gap between the true believers of fill-in-the-blank cause and the rest of us.

I won't name names but we've been on the receiving end of some great e-mails and phone calls from candidates, family of candidates, party conspiracy theorists and the spin doctors as we edge closer to November 6th.

Some of my favorites include warnings of dire consequences should X beat Y in the race to show who's political chromosome actually protects the American way; how Y accuses X of running "...the dirtiest race ever." Yeah -- like accusing President Grover Cleveland of fathering an illegitimate child, or the whispering campaign that candidate Warren G. Harding was of mixed-race heritage, hence "The Shadow of Blooming Grove" tag for the Great Bloviator, was polite campaigning.

It always amuses me to see just how thin-skinned those who speak the loudest can be. She threw mud, he's playing dirty, this party's just filling patronage, that party's just paying off know the drill because you hear it every election cycle. Always have, always will, because political rhetoric is easier to generate than substance because it's what we political junkies enjoy so much about the process and it's usually the best way to cut through the clutter of everyday life and convince voters our candidate is less evil than the other.

Keep those calls and emails coming -- along with getting your frequent whiner card punched for number of letters posted or earning extra points for your Fat Cats account you are keeping the traditions, values and entertainment of American politics alive and well.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bill's the MAN!

A great Columbus Monthly article now making the rounds came across in email form today from a high-ranking Summit County Democrat, targeting the ratings of two prominent GOP-er's for being the biggest publicity hound and laziest legislator -- but actually reading the article provided even more mirth.

If you want to read it online you're screwed; there's no direct story link other than the alternative newspaper website that serves more as a bid to subscribe than get it for free, but I'm hoping this link to the .pdf file of the article works but if it doesn't you can try my blog entry on AkronNewsNow.

First things first: it won't come as a surprise that Cuyahoga Falls State Senator Kevin Coughlin wins Best Publicity Hound, hands down. My guess is he will probably wear the tag with pride. His stylist will also appreciate the #3 Best Hair Award.

Tagging Cuyahoga Falls Representative John Widowfield as Laziest Legislator, however, isn't a good thing even if the writer got the story wrong when he noted Widowfield was running for judge (it's municipal court clerk, but never let a few facts get in the way of a good story) and his service was a great example of why we should support term limits.

The rest of the article, however, paves the way for Medina Republican Bill Batchelder to claim he's the highest overall rated member of Ohio's General Assembly in general, covering a wide range of categories: #1 Most Knowledgeable and #2 Best Orator to outweigh tops for Worst Hair and third Worst Dressed nods. Maybe if he compared notes with Coughlin he could start working on a push that really matters when he's nailing down votes for House Speaker.

Also worth noting: Kent Democrat Representative Kathleen Chandler ranked third in the "Least Politically Savvy" category. That won't come as a surprise to those watching when the promise of Portage County's turn in the State Senate went to Summit County's Tom Sawyer...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ready To Play Editor?

Folks responsible for Akron-area print layout and newscast stacking had a choice to make on Monday: what plays first, the death of a five-year old Akron boy in a Sunday Albrecht Avenue house fire or the death of a Chagrin Falls co-ed in a Sunday North Carolina beach house blaze that killed her and six fellow college students.

These are the editorial decisions loaded with scrutiny; a young boy or a young woman, both deaths are tragic. One involved what firefighters believe is a pan of hot oil left over from frying chicken wings racing through an Akron home without smoke detectors; the other sparked on a deck and quickly racing through the beach house where college kids were relaxing away the weekend. Both avoidable with care, our hearts tell us, both horrible accidents ending young lives full of promise.

But what’s your lead? You’re in the news business so one story has to run first. Do you make your decision based on location? If so, Akron tops North Carolina. Is your primary consideration the date of the tragedy? You’ll be splitting some hairs on this. The Akron fatal fire came in the wee hours of Sunday morning while the North Carolina blaze broke out late Sunday night. Is the story best told by pictures, and does the more spectacular scene of huge flames caught by citizen journalist aired on CNN trump the next-day photos of burned-out home shot by your weekend crew in Summit County?

One is now yesterday’s report; the other now dominates the national headlines.

The question not many want to ask, much less answer: do you base your decision on the makeup of the victim? My question doesn’t have a right answer, especially so close to the pain two families and friends are feeling right now, but it is worth asking.

The media has struggled with charges there is a caste system in place when telling stories of tragedy. The best example is the story of missing Mountain Brook, Alabama teen Natalie Holloway during a class trip in Aruba. Many, including myself, were critical of the tenor of the continuing coverage so prominently displaying the picture of blond innocence as a poster for the story while so many other children – not so blond, not so white, not from such an affluent area, weren’t worthy of the nightly talk show spotlights.

This case makes me wonder about the decision making process, too. Two families ripped by tragedy, one white and the other not-so-white. One complete with attractive photographs, the other without the graphics. One from a middle-upper class background (hey, it’s Chagrin Falls) and the other from Ellet (I’d wager most Cleveland TV producers would be hard-pressed to point out what side of Akron Ellet is on…).

Does race matter? Does economic and social class matter? Is it inappropriate to even bring the issue up for thought and discussion in our newsrooms?

My friend John Butte thinks these are just the issues we should be talking about in our newsrooms. He’s the GM of WEWS but comes to the top job from the news director route. John’s behind a committee of Cleveland and Akron news organizations (we’re the only Akron group represented at this point; the PD, all Cleveland TV and most of the Cleveland radio groups are also on the panel) looking at issues of inclusion, and whether we do a good enough job of reporting on and portraying our communities.

Diversity does matter, including when it is more than black and white issues that come to mind when we use words such as “diversity” and “inclusion”. At the very least we should be challenging ourselves in our newsrooms to give more thought to our editorial decisions other than “what’s our lead”. We should be asking “why”, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Auditor's Trigger

Some interesting chat coming out of City Hall on the appointment of Phil Young as Akron's new Police Auditor -- and what prompted the powers-that-be to get off the dime and get him on the job.

Turns out it was the job market, my sources tell me.

Everyone knew Young's appointment was coming; Eric Mansfield reported it in his blog, AkronNewsNow reported it online July 24th and anyone between a city badge and city budget knew who would fill the post...but the Mayor's media mavens pretended it wasn't official and wouldn't be until after Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh released her report on the Vinson shooting.

Well, Walsh's final report is still sitting on a desk somewhere in her why did Mayor Plusquellic finally put Phil out for everyone to see before the Don left for a trip to Germany?

He had to get moving because South High Street wasn't the only government entity wanting to make sure the retired Highway Patrol Officer on the payroll. The Strickland Administration knows a good thing when they see it and they were pushing hard to get Young on the state payroll, the heck with the locals who were looking like they couldn't make up their minds. Faced with the prospect of announcing his choice for Police Auditor was leaving the job before he even started finally prodded the Administration to move.

Quickly it wasn't; there are still plenty of questions on just what the Administration was really waiting for. Young could have started working months ago and they could have easily noted he wouldn't be working the Vinson case. Would Young would be at work today if City Hall wasn't forced to man up and get the deal done?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Amazing Mr. Harris

What an amazing experience at the Project GRAD dinner Wednesday evening -- thanks in large measure to a Buchtel alum sharing a most basic story of how his journey really began.

Leon Harris went from Akron kid to Ohio University grad to CNN intern to CNN producer to CNN anchor and now sits in the big chair anchoring for WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C. Heck of a ride for a local kid, but his homecoming talk centered on what he emotionally described as the pivotal moment in determining just who he really is.

It came, he told a riveted audience of 325+, while on assignment in Africa -- an assignment he really didn't want. With free time before a flight out of Dakar, Senegal he visited Goree Island (this Wikipedia entry doesn't do justice to the description Harris provided), the final stop for cargo (human and otherwise) bound for the Americas. Unseen hands held on to him, he recounted, forcing an epiphany of the heart and soul. It clearly drives who Leon Harris is today, and where he wants to be.

His message was powerful and clear: the miracles, he called it, of directing his DNA to this very spot and time, miracles we all share in many ways but take for granted. Unseen hands pushing and pulling us to places and roles we can choose to play in leading others.

What gave Leon Harris even more impact was the extended family sharing this First Annual Achieving Dreams Celebration, honoring the teachers such as Erie Island Principal Johnnette Snowden Curry; the parents such as Russel Neal, Jr; the volunteers such as Susan Vogelsang and James Toles and the big names who gave of their time and passion such as Akron Superintendent Sylvester Small, University President Luis Proenza, Council President Marco Sommerville, Judge Brenda Burnham Unruh, Deputy Mayor Billy Soule -- role models in their own rights for making their own dreams reality.

By the way -- best line of the night went to Small, who noted he was always nervous in the spotlight because he felt it wasn't right to be recognized for doing what God intended us to be doing all along.

This wasn't your typical non-profit dinner; I wasn't alone among the crowd perched on the edge of our seats sharing the moments and the motivations to take what we heard to heart. I expected a nice speech from Leon but not the real and deep emotion of his personal testimony on what life can bring us and the ultimate responsibility we hold in helping others make their dreams come true.

Leon Harris gives generously to Project GRAD, helping extend 50 scholarships to 100 and even signing over his usual speaking fee entirely to Buchtel High -- that's $5,000 for those of you keeping score.

Lessons from the heart combined with putting his money where his mouth is: that's a great example for anyone stepping up and taking responsibility for the world around him.

Amazing work, Mr. Harris.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pry's Perfect Planning

We aren't even into the 2007 General Election and already it's fun to check out the early sniping between the Akron Lords of the Ring.

Russ Pry will announce tomorrow (Wednesday -- AkronNewsNow story here) he will try to make appointed elected with a run for the Summit County Executive job. He's been in the post since Jim McCarthy retired last summer, holding down not only the top county post but also holding on to the Democratic Party chairmanship.

Nice work if you can get it, and so far Pry's done a nice job of showing the doubters (myself included) that he's got a pretty good handle on not only talking the talk but also walking the walk. Pry's not only got the look down but he projects the leadership style folks look for in an executive-level post in the time he's been running the show. He clearly has a style different than McCarthy's rough-and-tumble moving up the ladder: Pry is smoother, appears to work more on building consensus and he hasn't missed many opportunities to build on those relationships as a constant presence on major political issues such as CSB, the Urban League's new headquarters building, trying to find the peace over management of the Summit County Fairgrounds and even tackling animal control.

By the way, the County is still doing it's water and sewer and economic development thing, too.

Folks expecting missteps have yet to be rewarded; so far no snide wars involving some of the more mercurial members of County Council. Pry gets high marks from other county elected officials, including GOP office holders in an environment where serving as County Executive usually means wearing a target on your chest because you control the flow of dough. Summit County is unique; the only county in Ohio with a charter government, one where a legislative body works with an executive branch (what a novel thought).

There's one job Pry's been holding that preps him well for 2008's election shenanigans now that his name's on a ballot a couple hundred thousand voters will decide on: a member of the Summit County Elections Board.

The Beacon Journal got some pithy thoughts from GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff's (Yin to Pry's Yang on paper even though it's really seen as an Alex v. Wayne Jones fight) on Pry's plans. Arshinkoff says Pry's been acting "like a Democratic officeholder" for his first 100 days.

No kidding, Alex -- Pry has been the Democratic officeholder, and with a reported $100k already in the kitty and the likelihood of banking even more makes him a strong opponent for any Republican. Or Democrat who thinks they can take him for a spin in the March primary.

Regardless of how he got there he's the incumbent, which is golden in a year of presidential and congressional politics. So long as Pry doesn't stumble, so long as there's no negatives, so long as there's no scandal it'll be tough for opponents to tag him as a rookie (not true since July) or too partisan (talk to the GOP'ers who govern with him) to force a change.

Shy of big names such as a Robart (unlikely) or a Coughlin (now waging a fight to the death with Alex for the GOP committee) there isn't a long line of Republican candidates in the wings ready for a bruising battle with the Democratic machine behind a well-financed incumbent -- even if he hasn't won a single election for the job he's holding.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Best Weekend Political Story

A year to go before the 2008 Presidential election: the airwaves and print pages are full of this observation or that keynote on what makes Hillary or Barack or Fred or Rudy and the rest of the gang tick, who's the best, who's the wisest, who's the most caring, what their policies mean.

At this point it's just favorite comes from The Sunday Times (that's in London, friends) and this piece on true love -- or at least the display for political gain.

Was Socks the cat dumped because it was just too difficult to keep the pet love going strong, what with Bill traveling the world to pick up checks for speeches, Hillary otherwise occupied in the Senate and Chelsea moving on in her own life? Couldn't the Secret Service protecting the Clinton home outside New York City be trusted to take care of Socks when no one was home?

Does this really surprise anybody?

Politics at this level is more about symbolism than reality; take the test of knowing what a gallon of milk costs. It's a nice media trick, attempting to show whether our candidates are human and just regular folks. But would you rather have the leaders of the free world understand macro-global-economics or what we pay for a gallon of milk?

Note: I can't tell you what a gallon of milk costs because my wife does most of the grocery shopping.

All these sidebar stories really accomplish is feeding the marketing machines known as political campaigns, desperately seeking any material to showcase their particular political horse rather than actually focus on issues and specifics. It's easier to talk about where the cat went -- or how sad Socks BFF Buddy didn't last long after leaving the White House -- than get down and dirty on what health reform really entails.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why I Can't Watch The Tribe

I love the Indians. Have since we moved to Ohio in the 60s. Cut my Ohio broadcast teeth working Indians games for the former WWWE in the 90s. Loved the old stadium, too. Was there for the opening of Jacobs Field, both the '95 and '97 World Series runs, even last year's low times.

But I just can't watch the Indians on TV for this run.

It's because I'm convinced it's a jinx.

My cousin Gene (the Yankees fan) admits he does the same thing; tune in, see our teams with big leads, then stare in horror as it all fades away. It happened in the NY series for that one game for me; last Friday I watched against the Red Sox when they creamed us. Tuesday I tuned in late to see three Boston homers back to back to back before I turned it off, afraid another second watching meant the end.

At this point I can hear my buddy Bob Salsberg of the AP in Boston screaming at me to turn the damn game on; he's probably calling the switchboard at Fox 8 in Cleveland to figure out how to beam those pictures directly into my jinxing eyeballs so his Sox can come closer to going back home to play more baseball instead of heading south to play golf. Sorry, Bob, it just ain't gonna happen. My mind's made up: my eyes will be shut tight to any images of Chief Wahoo sending your boys packing.

The jinx doesn't work on radio; I listen, then win (most of the time this season); the jinx doesn't work in person: they win them, too. Going online to check it out? They win. But turn on the tube and the tables turn.

In the full interests of my fellow fans, I will NOT watch ANY of the game tonight. I've already got the DVR ready with reruns of Law and Order, Shark, even Two and a Half Men. I might even watch the rerun of Desperate Housewives despite Diane's wishes to keep it fresh until she comes back from an out-of-town business trip. Even she watches the games, then tells me about it the next day. She's watched her beloved Tigers and even Twins move on to win World Championships so her fandom has proven to be non-fatal. As for me: the pain of true support for my team.

Not watching. But still waiting.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

FREE SPEECH: Where Do You Stand?

One of the aftermath issues following the Success Academy shootings in Cleveland is a drill just about every newsroom and journalist goes through -- or should go through.

WKYC's Eric Mansfield blogged about the student who reaped rewards from the checkbook journalists paying for his homemade video shot inside the classroom while a 14-year old fellow student shot outside the classroom, wounding four before taking his own life. A national program shelled out two grand without blinking, Eric reports, and local news shops followed suit (bidding remained in the hundreds) once word got out. WKYC did not join the tragedy auction but did air the video when NBC made it available to network affiliates.

Was it wrong for the student, and the student's mother, do quickly jump on the profit wagon with the blood of his fellow students and teachers still fresh on the hallway floors?

It is not unusual for networks, newspapers or magazines to pay for content; after all, those out-of-town but appearing in-studio guests on programs such as CNN's Larry King and Glenn Beck, or MSNBC's Hard Ball, NBC's Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's Morning Show, Fox & Friends -- most of the "real people", non-professional guests don't pay their own way to fly to New York, Washington, or Atlanta and then pop for a night's hotel stay for the pure joy of being on TV. In-studio means someone foots the bill for travel, and then some.

There's a fine line in television between the entertainment division programs and the news division programs; viewers usually can't tell the difference between the hard-driving CNN Showbiz Today or Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood, even as they air on the "news" channel or immediately following a news program. We broadcasters do a pretty good job of making that line fuzzy, and it isn't a stretch to note the public has better things to do with their time than grow sophisticated to easily recognize the difference.

Phil Trexler of the Akron Beacon Journal noted on Friday's NewsNight Akron program it is common practice for the paper to pay "stringer fees", usually a nominal amount. We practice the same policy with stringers and freelancers both in broadcast on WAKR and online on AkronNewsNow with some sports reporters, mostly Jeff Brewer who contributes coverage from pro teams as well as features on high school sports. Jeff is also a blogger on Suburban League athletics).

The newspaper/magazine equivalent to the networks is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for that "shot" of Brittney dropping her child on the sidewalk coming out of Starbucks, or Lindsay stumbling out of a nightclub after rehab. Those photos reap huge rewards just as the video does because the public wants to see those images, despite protests of disgust. In the business, it's the "what's under the sheet?" question: driving past a car wreck, everyone looks to see even though they know it won't be pretty. It isn't one of our finest traits, but it is what it is.

Who's wrong -- the video shooter or the TV/radio/newspaper/website paying for the media?

I find it hard to condemn the young man who shot the Success Academy video or his mother; they had a product in demand and customers willing to pay for it. The responsibility on what we as journalists air, post or publish isn't with the "user generated users" or freelancers providing the content, it is ours as traditional media (newspapers, magazine, radio, TV) or "new" media (Internet) since we weild the editorial decision on what content we believe our respective audiences want.

That decision is complicated and in today's fragmented media world not just one with journalism ethics attached; the differences in acceptance by the wider media audience measured in ratings points, circulation or unique visitor page views places huge economic considerations on those decisions. Also consider the First Amendment provides for very little in the form of regulation (yelling "fire" in crowded theaters, personal health privacy and espionage secrets excepted) for a very good reason: the Founding Fathers opted to put the power in the hands of the people, and not someone deciding for us what we would see and hear.

The market reality is: if viewers, readers and listeners have such widespread revulsion and are repulsed by these images and sounds those airing, publishing or posting the material won't make a living. When most viewers, readers and listeners demand and expect this material those responsible for the editorial decisions must and will weigh the economic consequences along with their best journalistic judgment, citizen or professional.

In our version of democracy, freedom of speech isn't bound by the limits of good taste or family-appropriate values. That decision is left to us, as it should be: I'd rather have a society openly debating excess rather than authority silencing speech.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week's End Thoughts & Tribe Stuff

This has been a rough week for the news business, leading off with the horror of the Success Academy shootings in Cleveland Wednesday. It sparked the usual gab-fest shows opinions on whether gun control would have stopped this; are our schools safe?; why weren't warning signs heeded; what led this troubled 14-year old to attack others and then take his own life.

I'm not sure there are any answers to these questions.

From a media coverage perspective we heard about this right after the first shots, thanks in large measure to WKYC's proximity right across the street from Success Academy. Frank Macek has very informative posts in his Director's Cut blog from Channel 3 on their coverage. The other Cleveland stations -- WEWS, WJW and WOIO -- also had strong coverage of this breaking news, coming at the same time a major train derailment forced a thousand people from their homes near Painesville.

One of the common threads of coverage has been the use of the 9-1-1 calls from parents relaying to police information they were getting from their children and others inside Success Academy. There is a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that seeks to restrict broadcast or web airing of 9-1-1 audio, on the grounds it discourages calls by people afraid of retribution after being tagged "snitches". One thing I took away from the use of the 9-1-1 calls and the job Cleveland dispatchers did in handling the distraught parents was the system worked, and the folks on the other side of the phone stepped up to remain calm and still try and get information to pass along which might be helpful to S.W.A.T and other emergency responders on the scene.

I've got to think some of the lessons from Columbine are still fresh, including the razor's edge situations posed for police who often don't know if someone running from the scene is victim or perp. Having the information relayed by eyewitnesses inside may not always be the most reliable (eyewitness testimony is notoriously all over the board) but it does help those on the front line try and paint a more complete picture of what happens behind the closed doors and windows of a hostage situation. Knowing the 9-1-1 system works on this level should be seen as a positive, and not an objection. Our tax dollars pay for it and most importantly it is public record -- and public understanding and support of 9-1-1 is critical to helping the system work.

On a couple of totally goofy notes:

The Indians begin their best-of-seven series with the Boston Red Sox Friday night at fabled Fenway Park. My good pal Bob Salsberg of the Associated Press in Boston enjoyed watching the Tribe dump the Yankees; of course it's not because he's a big Indians fan but more to the point it was us beating New York, and for folks in Red Sox Nation that pretty much makes the Indians fans -- until this weekend.

Some funny photos are coming out of the NY series; for example, this up-close version of Insectus Tribefanus. We owe a tremendous debt to this little fellow, captured by AkronNewsNow web designer Andrew Seese, for the Game Two 11-inning win over the Bronx Bombers. If only we could be assured warmer October nights for when the BoSox visit but alas, the forecast will be a fairly chilly Monday and Tuesday at Carnegie and Ontario so it's unlikely we'll see our little buddies lend a hand against Manny and company.

My cousin Gene forwarded this gem. It had to be one of the most painful things he's ever attached, ever.

He's a big Yankees fan and was, I'm sure, planning to find some creative way of rubbing a New York series win in my face. Without a single comment from me he forwarded this photo that kind of says it all. Please feel free to forward to your friends and family who wear pinstripes.

Finally Mark Biviano earns my thanks and gratitude for forwarding this image that bears the ultimate lesson of how money can't buy happiness.

The greatest quote coming out of the ALDS series comes from Mark Shapiro, who noted how much he enjoyed the loudest applause he savors most was the devastating silence from Yankee Stadium Tuesday evening. I'm only sorry it didn't come on the last game ever at the House that Ruth Built (that's next year) but it was great fun seeing all those empty seats as the overconfident New York fans slunk back into their subway holes to escape reality underground.

Friday, October 5, 2007

LeBron, Finley and Ted's Energy

Can TV (local and national) give the LeBron's a Yankee fan thing a rest? He's a Yankee fan. He sticks by his team. It's a game. If C.C. Sabathia doesn't care why should the rest of us? Make the point and move on...

That said, it was interesting LBJ turned the cap around and was gone by the time the Tribe made it 10-3. A fan's a fan but watching your favorites get slammed is no fun -- Cleveland fans know that feeling all too well...

Why the media (including us) really love sports playoffs involving home teams: we get to fill time and space with interviews with fans howling how much they love their Indians/Cavaliers/Browns, etc. It sure beats those man-on-the street interviews at crime scenes, high school sexual assault scenes, carjackings and armed robberies. Even the most hard-boiled street reporters get fed up at some point...

All said, it was still very satisfying to wake up Friday morning and see the score was the same as when the game ended. As an Indians fan I never take these things for granted...

Dollar General has removed Halloween products containing lead. Not Halloween candy but plastic buckets and monster tumblers kids could drink out of. It's easy to turn this into a made-in-China issue, especially since everything seasonal these days seems to come from China. Is the world's new strongest economy getting to the point yet where they'll keep the lead in the pencils instead?

Joe Finley still won't give up even though he admits there's no chance in the Akron Mayor's primary of making up that thousand-vote loss. Part of me agrees with MSM blogging buddy Eric Mansfield that it's admirable Joe sticks by his guns, but the bigger part thinks Joe should realize the point's been made...and now it's time to close the chapter. We know he's going to fight another day, show the kind of sportsmanship we try to teach kids to exhibit after the game is over. Why can't the phrase "MoveOn" mean what it says?

Jody Miller and I have a date Monday for taping a walk about the University of Akron to profile some of the remarkable changes in the Landscape for Learning. The transformation of the Akron campus is amazing and no, we haven't forgotten we paid for it. We'll do the proper gushing, I'm sure, but it reminds me how goofy I think this UA-Cleveland State merge talk is, especially when CSU exists just fine with Tri-C's downtown, east and west campus operations easily within their footprint. Want to save money? How about folding administration of CSU and Tri-C into one office?

I had the chance to listen to Governor Strickland's stump speech (note link includes audio) pushing his energy policy Thursday while attending the Ohio Association of Broadcasters convention. I've said before that Strickland's detractors (both public and private) really underestimate this guy. He's been in office for 10 months, had only one no vote on his budget, and the only major "scandals" he's had to deal with came in a missing hard drive (poor middle management decision making, not Strickland's policies) and the embarrassing departure of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman's wife from her cushy state job (well, that one hits home). Overall his easy-going country manner and speaking style plays well with folks and his management style so far paints Ohio as a pro-business tax-sensitive place for investment. And yes, Ted's still a Democrat.

If Ohio Dems were smart they'd remember having leadership that knows how to talk and act from both sides of the aisle wins votes statewide. It sure beats having Kucinich as the lone face of Ohio Democrat politics...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Frankly, I'm Ashamed

This weekend should have been fairly routine. Diane and I headed up to see her mother in Michigan, recovering from some pretty serious health issues. The newsroom seemed in good hands with plans to cover the Road Runner Marathon, Akron's farewell to Rex Humbard, the Indians on a playoff roll and the Browns looking to beat the Ravens. What's to go wrong?


Monday afternoon I got an e-mail and phone message from Laurie Cramer at the Prosecutor's Office, but because of tasks on my schedule for today didn't get a chance to see until late in the day she was alerting me to our story coverage last week where we dropped the ball.

Some of you have been following the coverage of the Tayse trial, the story of the Pennsylvania man charged with abducting and assaulting a Pittsburgh-area mother and her daughter before releasing them here in Ohio. He was found guilty. They were hoping for justice in Summit County, where Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh personally handled presenting the state's case of crimes that crossed state lines.

As you'll see in our AkronNewsNow story, edited earlier this afternoon, the names of the victims of this horrible crime were included in our original coverage. Not only did we make this mistake on Thursday of last week when the trial first went to the jury, but we also repeated the error on Friday. There is no excuse.

We've since removed the names because as a matter of policy we don't normally report the ID of victims of sex crimes, especially when it involves children. In fact, the only time I remember identifying the victims of sexual assault locally was the Denny Ross rape case a few years ago, and that was only because the victim insisted upon it. My personal and professional view is that we should never report the name of the victim unless it is by prior consent or, as in the Duke lacrosse allegations case, the charges are found to be without merit by clear and convincing evidence and the accuser becomes the accused. We've had such discussions on numerous occasions in the newsroom, usually in the coverage of high-profile cases but also in coverage of other, less headline-grabbing accounts.

We failed in our coverage of the Tayse trial, and worse we failed to correct our actions in a timely and professional manner when it was brought to our attention. When the Prosecutor's office first called to alert us the victims found their names in our coverage, we should have acted immediately to correct our story and apologize; instead, we left the issue in voicemail for another day.

I contacted Laurie and apologized for our original coverage; I apologized for our failure to appropriately edit the coverage on multiple levels; and I apologized for the lack of a response deserved by not only the Prosecutor but also the victims in this crime. They were victims of our actions and our inaction, and there is no excuse. We can apologize, but that will not repair the damage.

It isn't against the law to identify victims of crime, nor do I think it should be. Many times reporting the news is an ugly business, but making these decisions should be a constant subject of debate in every newsroom. News departments will fashion their own policies according to their own ethics and standards, and news consumers will make the ultimate judgment on whether those organizations earned their trust and respect.

We all work hard toward that goal, but there are times when we don't work hard enough. The problem isn't when we worry about what we do but when we don't worry about why; in this case we didn't protect a family in Pennsylvania who deserved better, we didn't serve our audience who should expect higher standards and we weren't true to our own sense of personal values that should drive us to question why, especially when that question is turned to ourselves.

We apologize on all counts.