Friday, August 29, 2008

Back in the Saddle -- Sort Of

Back from an amazing six days out west which included quality time at Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe! As always it is interesting to see how the other side is living and get a sense of regional differences between northeast Ohio and the rest of the country. Maybe northwest Nevada and the high Sierra Country in California isn't a good barometer, 'cause it seems as if Reno is busting out all over.

Then again, casino business might have something to do with it.

More later...

Friday, August 22, 2008

'Nuff Said

Why I'm not posting...

God Bless Ansel Adams, but real is something else. Enjoy the Convention, my fellow's hoping there's no TV signal worth bouncing off El Capitan...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How We Got It So Wrong

The family of the late Ohio 11th District Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones was dealing with the tragedy of losing a mother, sister, friend. Amidst the shock and grief of losing someone so vital comes questions on how the media in total got the story so wrong.

We blew it.

All of us, from the reporters, writers and editors on shift change to the managers -- myself included -- for falling into the trap of counting on the words of many to detail the story of the few. The family kept saying Tubbs Jones, who suffered an aneurysm while driving Tuesday night, was in critical condition but that wasn't good enough for the feed-the-beast mentality that hates a story that follows its own pacing and not that of the march of the news cycle.

All the major outlets, the Associated Press, CNN, Fox, CBS, The Plain Dealer, The Washington Post; all the local outlets who reported what the others were saying when we couldn't confirm with the very sources who weren't speculating but were praying for the best around this political leader struck down in her prime. Their concern was Stephanie as mother and sister, family member and friend, and not just the name attached to the public figure.

In this era of breaking and constant the political machine hundreds of miles away in Washington felt confident to break this most personal of news to a select few, and then the world. First came an email from Speaker Nancy Pelosi informing members of Congress that Tubbs Jones had passed, then the anonymous highly-placed source taking the extra step of confirming (without real attribution, of course) that this woman described often as vivacious was dead at 58.

It seemed so easy for the highest forms of journalism to go with confirmation of death even though that confirmation came not from those on the scene but nameless bureaucrats far away doing their job and peddling a scoop. It was so easy for those of us here at home to quote those in power despite the fact they didn't really have the power of what was right to begin with.

The world reported Stephanie Tubbs Jones passed from this earth after 2:00; The Plain Dealer, then CNN, then the Associated Press without waiting until doctors would speak at 2:30, just minutes later. So important it was to break the story, not because of the impact it would have but because it needed to be broken. Style trumps truth, the form overtakes the function. Governor Strickland issued a statement on her passing; wiser political minds talked of her impact but not of her passing but it wasn't good enough for the hungry news cycle beast that couldn't even wait 20 minutes for reality to step in.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones died at 6:12 p.m. Wednesday but the truth of her passing fell victim just after 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, a victim of a cynical news cycle that couldn't even allow Death his due and Tubbs Jones her passing in dignity.

There will be plenty of apologies, including this one, for poor judgment and worse decision making. Unfortunately, we will move past the loss and past the tributes for an amazing life lived into the next news cycle for the big story still to come that we aren't satisfied to report as it happens. In an age when even newspapers are emboldened to share the breaking news stage with broadcast isn't it time to remind ourselves that our responsibility still rests with the truth? Isn't this the kind of coverage that should leave all in the media feeling even a little uncomfortable about the ethic of allowing life and death decisions to outweigh the trust given to us by our readers, listeners and viewers?

posted from Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sports With A Tu-Tu

Up at a really stupid time on a Monday night, as indicated by the time stamp which shows it's really Tuesday and that's what I get for caring about the Browns.

Thank God for my sister Patti, who must live on YouTube to constantly find gems like Paul Hunt to remind me of what sport is really all about. Thanks, sis...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stuff Slider

Really, stuff the ballot box for Slider. He's earned it -- a chance for mascot immortality, his very own seat in the Mascot Hall of Fame.

Oh ye of little faith in your fellow humankind, there actually IS a Mascot Hall of Fame. According to their own news release they are four years old and casting for new Hall of Famers.

The Indians mascot Slider (pictured at left in all his glory) has been a Tribe fixture for 18 years. I remember when he first came "out" at the old Municipal Stadium, and must admit I was among those horrified over what the Indians had done. I was happy to hear that I was not alone, given Indians VP Bob DiBiasio's discussion earlier this week on WAKR (link here if you want to open the .mp3 in Media Player or Quicktime), but the big pink guy has actually grown on me as well as the rest of Indians fans.

Slider has some serious competition, primariy from Hugo the Hornet -- but I don't think that's likely since Hugo and the Hornets have left New Orleans.

Voting is now underway; it makes sense to stuff the ballot box, especially since it is online and you can vote and vote and vote and vote without having to worry about James Carville spoiling your party with spin. It would be wrong to directly link to the site where you vote, and it would be shocking to encourage multiple balloting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hello Donna From Beijing...

My pal Donna Renae used to toil for ABC Newsradio and CNN Radio, skipping across the country covering big and small news. She's got an interesting take on what its like to live in Beijing at this point in time as China puts the best face forward with the world watching not only Michael Phelps play Flipper but just how the most populous Communist nation on earth deals with the free spirit and enterprise of sports.

In the old days this would have been a major undertaking, but today it was a simple as figuring out how to make an international call (hint: just dial 0-1-1 to get the ball rolling, and don't expect the ringing to sound the same) in radio morning drive. Usually the five or six o'clock hour is death but half a world away means 12 hours ahead on the clock so our call before sunrise in Akron actually came at the end of the workday in Beijing.
Donna (seen at left with an honest-to-God walking logo) is out of the j-business but now in the e-business -- as in education, working to help teach english via long-distance web learning in China as well as communications and performing arts in Beijing proper. From home base in Oregon to China may be just a flight over water but it's worlds away in terms of time zones, political underpining and cultural understanding. Donna's spent much of the past two years in China and her eyes sparkle when she talks about the differences, challenges and surprises. I've posted audio on my blog as well as including this link which should work for Quicktime and Media Player.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chinese Spin Cycle

Been enjoying the Olympics? Join the crowd -- 30 million viewers alone last night, an absolutely huge number for a summer Tuesday night. Michael Phelps may be making news on the sports pages but it's what the Chinese now admit they did to kick off the world's biggest dance party that really has people talking.

Turns out last Friday night had some Fake. Actually, quite a bit of Fake, and not just where you may have thought.

The trades are alive with the story of how the fireworks really weren't the fireworks people on the ground were watching, thanks largely to digital re-creation. Variety has an excellent rundown on the video magic behind making the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics look too good to be true. Here's what it looked like to people who were really there:

It turns out the world's most populous nation also took liberties in faking a little girl's singing of their national anthem.

She sure was cute and what a voice, but one problem: her cute, not her voice. Lip-synching is really nothing new and who can blame organizers for wanting the best performance possible for a worldwide audience. Who wants Roseanne singing the National Anthem here live? Beijing took it a step past forgetting words or going off-key...they used the better voice over what the Communist state decided was a better face. Even the seven-year old's father was surprised, he says, to see his daughter singing but hearing a different voice.

Ah, no matter. It's television, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Akron's Green Party

(adapted from Letters From the Editor blog; please link to the original for audio)

What a nice opportunity this morning to talk politics with an Akron treasure; Dr. John Green at the University of Akron, and the "party" was getting an hour with him on the air. Jody Miller and I are sitting in for the vacationing Ray Horner this week and while we don't normally agree on politics we do agree it's fun to sit down with a national expert and get his perspective. Dr. John Green fits the bill.

We talked national, with post-revelation of the John Edwards affair to remember (now that he admits it) and the strong likelihood the former North Carolina Senator's political aspirations are now as cold as yesterday's toast, but it is interesting to hear Dr. Green's take on never say well as how this might impact the Obama campaign's wishes of expanding on what Gore and Kerry hoped for but never saw materialize in northeast Ohio during 2000 and 2004.

Also food for thought the one big congressional race to watch in Ohio, and it too may help send a big message to the rest of the nation. While State Rep. John Boccieri and State Senator Kirk Schuring duke it out to fill the seat being left open by the retiring 16th District legend Ralph Regula, it may mean more than just who sits in Washington on behalf of Canton and the region.

This race has some national significance, says Dr. Green, noting he wouldn't be surprised to see both Obama and McCain spend time and resources in the Hall of Fame City heading into November. It could mean the difference between a major shift of real power in Congress -- to the Democrats and veto-proof majorities -- as well as a sea change of the landscape in what used to be automatic for the GOP.

That sound you hear from the overlook is William McKinley spinning...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Obama Takes Page From Taft

Well, not 100% Taft...but something that was a big deal during the Taft Administration, which had the great timing to be in office when Ohio's Bicentennial celebration included painting barns from C to shining C (that would be Cleveland to Cincinnati for those Buckeye-impaired). Now the Obama campaign is getting into the act...

All in all, it's a nice idea since all those barns stand mute these days without Mail Pouch or other tobacco ads -- unless, I'm sure, you are south of Ripley, OH and in the prime of Ohio 'backy country.

The "Barns for Obama" drive (why didn't they go for Barns for Barack...has a nicer sound?) starts in Trumbull County if we are to believe the YouTube video:

Does this mean "Mills for McCain" is close behind? Nope -- those are closed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Weekends With Nature Girl

Nature Girl loves her weekends because she spends plenty of time in her sanctuary; it's the one place the dog doesn't pester her too much because she usually sleeps with the fountain in the background. Problem is, First Friend Karen lives in the lake country north of Minneapolis and doesn't get to share in the summer joy.

So here you go, Karen -- it's not Whitefish Lake but it does come close, even if we still have to drive two days to get a good hot dish and your big pepper beef stew.

Of course I must point out despite her love of Sanctuary this is the same flower bed and backyard where the Preying Mantis last summer decided to feast at the Monarch buffet...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shamless KSU Plug

We're not supposed to be organs for advertising (well, in a perfect world, I guess...the truth is everybody in the media likes to eat and you can't live on free donuts in the newsroom forever) but I think I'm good with this one since it's media-related and a Kent State University-Poynter Institute joint production.

Former Akron Beacon Journal Editor Jan Leach, now living the life academe at Franklin Hall, is one of the brains buzzing over the 4th Annual Poynter KSU Media Ethics Workshop. This event on Thursday, September 18 is an all-day deal but includes lunch. "Whose Rules?" seeks to clarify what we all secretly love about the web: nobody's rules, anyone with a computer can pretty much report on what they want to report and comment on what they want to comment.

The common wisdom used to be the "Golden Rule"; whoever has the gold, makes the rules. Now whoever has the CPU the blog, with or without video. It's so easy even my tired old fingers managed to figure out a way to work Google's blogspot for this exercise. It's so easy I even made one for my dog.

Here's the official plug: you can try to email Jan but you'll do better getting more info from Darlene Contrucci instead. If you're a student, it's free with advance registration. Otherwise if you breathe other-than-rarified Kent State air you'll need to shell out $50, which again includes food.

Probably not donuts, though. Those Kent and Poynter folks are obsessed with healthy living, even the ones who spend all their time in the Starbucks a quick walk from Franklin Hall.

Is It OK To Call Her A Tart?

I'm not turning into some bluenose but I admit I was taken aback this morning with the Associated Press treatment of the Paris Hilton response to John McCain story. You've probably seen the video by this point...anyone with 20 yards of a television couldn't miss it this morning as Hilton decided to enter the political fray with her own energy plan.

This comes to us after McCain's much-hyped ad attacking Barack Obama as the world's greatest rock star, using images of Hilton and Brittney Spears to make the point.

All of this is wonderful theater in an election that, despite the billing as the most exciting and important in our generation, continues to sink into the same-old same-old. McCain has tire inflation gauges as campaign props; Obama gets plenty of TV time for buying peaches from a Ravenna store.

What depth! No wonder Paris is burning to enter the media swirl usually reserved for future Presidents: it's a natural for one of America's favorite TV targets, a woman who has used her brains to milk her famous (or infamous) public persona for millions.

My question this morning comes in seeing the coverage we get from the AP for AkronNewsNow, using the word "tart" to describe Hilton's response. Witty headline writing usually not seen on the staid AP...even taking advantage to use "tart" again in the first paragraph. I raised a question to one of the world's largest professional news gathering organizations, especially after doing a simple Google search for definitions of "tart":

1. prostitute: a woman who engages in sexual intercourse for money
2. lemony: tasting sour like a lemon
3. a small open pie with a fruit filling
4. a pastry cup with a filling of fruit or custard and no top crust
5. sharp: harsh; "sharp criticism"; "a sharp-worded exchange"; "a tart remark"

I don't think Paris is lemony, a small pie, or a pastry cup; and while I think she's pretty sharp (in terms of manipulating the media), I wouldn't characterize her as harsh. So does that mean the AP was snidely calling her a prostitute (see #1, above)?

The folks at AP tell me they think their story was in keeping with today's younger, less stodgy approach expected these days. It fits the "flavor" of the story and besides, it's Paris Hilton -- a woman seen in a sex tape video (old news) and in this video "...reclining in a very sexy bathing suit and spike heels."

YouTube already pulled 'em down, citing copyright issues...but has the "exclusive", as you can tell by the tag imposed in the bottom of the embed video:

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Akron's Weekend Hat Trick

Sort of lost in all the hubub Saturday and Sunday was a special moment where Akron-Canton took a hat trick -- featured on the three major Sunday night network news shows or programs, but chances are you missed the one feature that showcased the event most in need of some help.
While CBS-TV was plugging away with Vijay Singh's one-stroke win at the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club the folks at NBC-TV were getting ready for some football down the road at Fawcett Stadium and the Hall of Fame Game two hours later.

In both cases we came off looking pretty good: who doesn't love seeing one of the great golf courses in the world? The South Course was in prime condition after a week of the kind of golf weather the sales staff lives for, and Canton sparkled with green field, blue and maroon fans and the occasional gold sport coat reflecting NFL greatness.

Over on ABC-TV, however, was a piece John Berman did the weekend before.

In an age of video games the network thought it was time to harken back to a simple sport where the skill comes from letting gravity do the work. The All-American Soap Box Derby has fallen on some tough times, no doubt about it. With more kids than ever qualified and estimates of three-thousand or so racers and their families calling Derby Downs a temporary home the stands are remarkably roomy. No big corporate sponsor like Bridgestone, nor a major sporting league (NASCAR drove off from the event) backing this family sport.

Chances are you missed the third score of Akron on network TV this past bright and sunny Sunday; chances are you were driving home from watching golf, driving south to watch football or maybe blowing off TV altogether while you and the kids were watching burgers and hot dogs cook on a classic northeast Ohio summer's evening, the kind of night that still makes me think we are the "Best Location in the Nation"...just like Ready Kilowatt used to say on Channel 5 all those years ago.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Defense 101: "I'm Too Fat" To Kill

There are times I think "only in America"...and today's story out of the Richard Cooey saga fits the bill. His defense lawyers now claim being overweight is reason to spare this killer's life.

I remember interviewing Cooey prior to his first trip to the Death Chamber in Lucasville. Even then he was a beefy guy, but I attributed much to muscle from what many inmates take as a daily weight-lifting regimen behind bars. It was my distinct impression, back then, that Cooey could clearly defend himself against anything that came his way while spending time on Death Row.

Anything, including attempts to serve the execution order that has put him away from the public for more than a generation.

Back then, Cooey won a stay from three levels of federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, that gave him the distinction of getting more than one "final meal" while in the cell adjoining Ohio's Death Chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Center in Lucasville. Apparently his appetite is now his defense, as his lawyers try to derail a scheduled return trip for another try by the State on October 14th of this year.

The defense in this case has never been about guilt, never about innocence. From the beginning, it has been a death penalty campaign waged by lawyers who cannot point to facts in the case as mitigating factors to spare Richard Wade Cooey his life. Cooey himself admitted to me his defense efforts came simply because he could file.

There's never been much doubt he and a friend murdered Dawn McCreery and Wendy Offredo in 1986; he's been in death penalty lockup ever since, while anti-capital punishment advocates worked the system to the point where even they were removed as his lawyers by an appeals court after running up the tab. His claims that lethal injection itself was "cruel and unusual" failed, so now his 5'7" 270 pound frame poses grounds that killing him isn't right, because executioners will have trouble finding his veins.

I went through gastric bypass surgery; at 6'4" and then-nearly 400 pounds I should have an idea of the pain finding a vein involves, yet the doctors and nurses, medical techs at the hospital, and blood test laboratory workers never seemed to have any trouble that I recall. We have a fellow here at the station who undergoes dialysis treatment three times a week, and he's got a few pounds on Cooey -- yet he still gets his treatments.

I figure there are thousands of patients at AGMC, Summa and even Children's Hospital right here in Akron who could share stories of what a joy it is to have someone find a vein to stick a needle; I'm also imagining not everyone of them is in perfect shape, either. Does that translate to cruel punishment? The courts, for the most part, say no. Now the fat defense...

At what point does cynicism tip the justice scales?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thank God For Cuyahoga

Whenever one reads the comments pages on AkronNewsNow or the Beacon Journal's stories dealing with politics, one must figure the halls of power along South High represent more a three ring circus than the seat of government. Then our friends to the north step in, and oddly enough Summit County seems like going to church.

Sure, we've had Bill Hartung's trip to the big house, Tim Davis globe-trotting on the public dime, even the good old days of Judge Barbuto stalked down the street by Geraldo. All of that is just local color, though, compared to last week's big raid by hundreds of feds targeting two of the most prominent Democrats in northeast Ohio.

It's important to note Cuyahoga Auditor Frank Russo and Commissioner Dimora are wearing the Big D, since coverage of the Columbus shenanigans during the Taft Administration wore a Big R that was heavy enough to pull down the GOP's generations-long stranglehold on statewide offices. This is tit-for-tat coverage, and it shows all the posturing on which party is dirty is just marketing. Not surprisingly the GOP Chairman is calling for both to resign; not surprisingly we didn't hear the same call when it was the Republicans turn to twist two years ago.

19ActionNews video removed due to autoplay

The Plain Dealer has excellent coverage in Sunday's edition, plus more coverage so you can get a real taste of the political Greek tragedy taking place south of Lakeside. My favorite in the Sunday wrap up: federal Judge Nugent, who spoke glowingly of Russo and Dimora as his friends, and standards for excellence in public service.

That was the Friday before Raid Monday; later in the week he wouldn't comment to the PD, noting he might get the case. Get the case? You've gotta be kidding me; what judge worth his salt who was on the record specifically spouting the virtues of two potential defendants would even suggest they would get the case? Note to the Judge: if ever you had grounds to recuse, your quotes in support of the pre-defendants should apply.

- - -

On a side note: expected though still sad, the passing of former Akron U.S. Congressman John Seiberling. He's best remembered for his co-parenting of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but also remembered by the over-50 crowd for his Watergate Committee representation and standing up for Akron when Goodyear was under the gun from the British carpetbagger. (photo at left: Seiberling, right, with Morris Udall from National Park Service)

Seiberling was truly Akron royalty, the rarefied families such as Seiberling, O'Neil, Knight, Firestone and Goodrich who were more than just rich but were true empire builders or robber barons, depending on your point of view. Seiberling walked the walk before he even took his first step, born in the family home of Stan Hywet that now stands as tribute to our very own version of the Gilded Age. The federal courthouse in Akron is even named for him, albeit late in life by young Congressman Tim Ryan's efforts. His advocacy for the environment was recognized with a Presidential Citizens Medal Award during the final days of the Clinton Administration.

Those "glory days" make for good reading now but those days are long-gone; those cocktails and lunch meetings at Portage Country Club used to decide the direction Akron would take on the big issues but now the movers and shakers have a less global agenda. Seiberling was one of them by birth, but not by political philosophy and deeds. Anyone watching his work during the 1974 Watergate hearings on impeaching Richard Nixon can see that.

I live on a street named Seiberling, a few miles from the narrow national park that exists largely because of the vision of John F. and Ralph Regula. By the numbers it is one of America's most popular national parks, largely because it has more than 1.5 million people living in less than an hour's drive. It isn't a place people come to visit from far-away places, but that may grow as the word gets out of the ease of access and family-friendly recreation.

It may still remain a secret to plenty of northeast Ohioans who don't venture past Blossom Music Center, or just drive across the giant bridges spanning the Cuyahoga River valley to the north or the canal byways to the south. It is one of the "quality of life" jewels we sometimes take for granted thanks to the foresight of men whose persistence stands as their legacy.