Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wishing Matt Well

In the old days, rival media outlets never mentioned each other. You still see some of this today in the way some newspapers imagine their readers don't watch news the night before on television, or the way some television stations imagine their viewers don't listen to the radio at work, or the way some radio stations think their listeners live in dark caves until turning the knob.

Glad those days are changing.

We'll find out more details Friday morning but the cat is already out of the bag on Matt Patrick. He'll be stepping away from the microphones he's used for a generation in Akron, with his final shows through December on 98.1 WKDD. Still up in the air is what happens with his talk show on 640 WHLO, but either way it doesn't diminish the big change Matt will be making. It is a big change for Akron radio listeners, too.

There have been soap opera qualities to Matt's life and career, but a constant has been his unabridged, consistent caring and concern for his community. In an industry where it is common for hosts to move from city to city, Matt Patrick has called Akron home. He's worked hard to serve as a voice for those who never had the chance to step behind a piece of electronics and talk to everyone at the same time.

Matt and I actually worked together -- for one day. I was at a station he wanted to work for, and we hit the studio for some promotional announcements. It was a fun day, and we were looking forward to a fun start a couple mornings later. Unfortunately, the station he was working for at the time took a dim view of these music chairs and, an injunction later, Matt was firmly planted back at WKDD. We've been friends since.

- - -

Matt's come under quite a bit of grief lately, mostly for his outspoken comments on his talk show regarding tea parties (he supports 'em), his decision to host a rally on behalf of fire and police in Akron (his video rant can be seen here) and his programs raising questions on issues such as the Mayor's experience with police in front of the Lux nightclub and a late night in Highland Square.

None of this was really new; Matt has had a way of talking about what we were talking about for over 30 years.

There have been a few folks in northeast Ohio who've remained part of Akron even though their reach went beyond the city, even to a region or nation. Jaybird Drennen certainly fits the bill and still, in my opinion, ranks as the top radio person ever to work in the market. He set the standard in terms of class, hard work, and knowing a simple truth: be true to your neighbors and the rewards will follow. Jaybird was one of those unique individuals who understood the word rewards wasn't just about the paycheck. He clearly knew the relationship with Akron worked both ways.

Others in the news and entertainment business understand that as well. You can take Terry Pluto out of Akron, but I believe Terry would be the first to admit you won't ever take the Akron out of Terry. Bob Dyer, Regina Brett, Jewell Cardwell on the print side; Eric Mansfield, Dick Russ, Ted Henry and Virgil Dominic on the television side; Howie Chizek. Stan Piatt, and Ray Horner on the radio side. Each enjoys or built a special relationship with their respective readers, viewers and listeners here in Akron.

But there are a select few who have taken that to the next level. Jack Knight built the Beacon Journal best remembered in the glory years; Fred Anthony at WAKR radio and television and Jaybird on WSLR. I'd add Matt Patrick to that list. I don't believe Matt Patrick's time behind a mic is done; way too many electrons still buzzing through his veins.

So congratulations on a great career at WKDD, my friend. And here's looking to the next remarkable chapter in the journey. To borrow the line from CBS's Charles Osgood -- we'll see you on the radio.

- - -

Note to fans of NewsNight Akron airing on Western Reserve Public Media (you remember them as Channels 45/49) every Friday night. The show is moving, but just a half-hour later from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m. We'll still be yipping and yapping about news and community events in our hometown but we'll be doing so a bit later to make room for a hip new program about the local economy. I know -- the words hip and economy really don't belong together -- but this fresh approach to money mattes in our region adds a new element to programming aimed at showcasing just what makes northeast Ohio tick, and the kinds of things we should think about to help make northeast Ohio improve.

Same place, different time starting Friday, November 6th. In this case, we'll see you on the television.
Changes coming to Akron area radio and tv lineups...more in AM from WKDD and PM on 45/49.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on Jack Knight's legacy on the anniversary of his birthday, and how yesterday relates to today. ( )

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Doing It Jack's Way

"Final Edition" may be prophetic in describing not only the Knight brothers Jack and Jim but also the world they left behind.

Here's a link to the University of Akron site with video clips

I had the pleasure of watching the premier of the documentary by Paul Jacoway and Kathleen Endress in main auditorium of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. There is more than a trace of irony in the location. It is located in the heart of the town Knight helped build. I have no doubt it would be a far different place if it weren't for the full support of the Knight brothers over the year, both directly and now from the Foundation which manages their legacy. The viewing came on what would have been Jack Knight's 105th birthday.

The Library sits across the street from the Akron Art Museum -- made possible largely because of Knight Foundation support -- and the John S. Knight Convention Center. Among the panelists discussing the Knight legacy was the University of Akron president, no doubt aided by the partnership with the Foundation in redeveloping the neighborhood called University Park.

There are few things for good in Akron which don't bear the Knight stamp. Maybe that's why watching this documentary left me wondering why the media institutions that Jack and Jim Knight built are considered dinosaurs today.

My hometown paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, is today a shadow of the glorious newspaper that housed Jack Knight's office (photo at left from Stanford University); it was a place where presidents came to curry favor. It was a keystone in the empire that included other newspapers that helped set a standard of excellence here and in Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Charlotte and dozens of other cities. It was a Pulitzer factory.

At one time the biggest newspaper group in the country, Knight Newspapers and later Knight-Ridder had its life sucked dry by the very money men who put up the capital to build a news aristocracy, only to demand the heads of the royalty they created when it was time to cash out.

Going public provided the push to grow into greatness. Being public led to the demise. The strongest clip of Knight is when he tells an interviewer newspapers are not a growth industry. He doesn't say the media business is dead.

The flagship papers, such as the Beacon Journal, didn't even make the cut when McClatchy Newspapers sliced and diced what used to be Knight-Ridder into digestible chunks.

Those left behind wage a mighty struggle to live up to tradition, but under ownership who seems more skilled at reading numbers than words. Seemingly lost in the mix are the steps the Knight brothers learned at the feet of their father, expanding coverage and depth at precisely the time when the competition was cutting. Being positioned for growth when bad times turned better seems to be a common thread among great companies with a vision to be greater. Many point to and old-line corporate giant such as Ford as an example in today's auto industry, looking for an American phoenix to rise above the ruins of the car crash. Tech favorites such as Microsoft, Apple and Google are part of every newsroom. Even the ultimate service-based business of McDonald's seem to embody the sense of understanding the core mission and how to serve their customers, even those who aren't customers. Yet.

There are innovators in journalism, and realists who see the business had to evolve and adapt. The contrast is striking between those mired in what was and those moving to what will be. On one hand we want to restore the control of media and the security that brings, while employing the magic of the genie we let out of the bottle by making the web free. Living in the past allows more whining than winning.

Rich Boehne, president and CEO of E.W. Scripps, told a recent gathering arranged by the Ohio State Bar Association that we in the media are seeing the end of our salad days. The era of jaw-dropping profits is over. It was a great ride -- a fun ride -- but it is time to move on to the next thing. What remains is what we do, our core. Reporting. Storytelling. Giving voice to our communities.

All while figuring out how to do it at less expense. New technology and hardware. New methods and mindsets. Fresh approaches looking forward instead of the backwards pining for days gone by. Among broadcasters, groups such as Fisher Broadcasting in the Seattle area, Hearst with properties across the nation, and those with strong Ohio roots such as Scripps, Cox (based in Atlanta but let's not forget the foundation in Dayton) and the print and broadcast operations of Columbus-based Dispatch stand out even in times of tumult.

My friend Steve Safran of the media consulting firm Audience Research and Development notes "...wishing is NOT a business model." We spend an inordinate amount of time pining for the champagne times where we controlled not only the products of journalism and media but also the delivery. When innovation knocks there will be those who refuse to answer because they think the warmth and safety will be protected by not opening the door.

We need to be honest with our partners in the community; our readers, listeners, viewers and website visitors. We should be open with our talent in explaining why jobs don't pay what they used to; we must be transparent with our backers by reinforcing their support buys a business but not our editorial value. Jack Knight's handling when his company went public, telling analysts their money would be better spent elsewhere if they didn't like what he was doing, was real leadership. That wisdom is reflected today by media companies taking their companies back and, in some cases, ownership reclaiming their properties at a fraction of the cash flow formula from the same people so eager to buy over the past decade.

The lesson and legacy left by the Knight brothers profiled in "Final Edition" speaks to service, staying true to the mission and the value of independence both editorial and financial. Mourning the era of such masters of the universe wastes time finding solutions to what we need to figure out: making a living the same time we make a difference.
Not on web yet but soon from CWRU: using Second Life to illustrate ethics training. ( )
Wow. Twice as many people made an Escape From New York than left Michigan since 2000. ( )
Mayor Plusquellic says AFD Lt. now apologizes for chain of events leading to APD event. ( )

Monday, October 26, 2009

Former Summit County Sheriff, US Marshal David Troutman dies. More coming up on @WAKR and @AkronNewsNow

Saturday, October 24, 2009

ND tops BC in a great game 20-16. I'd say the Irish win, the IIIII-rish win but that might confuse some of my BC pals.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Most Wanted: An Investigation

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...Akron's version of the political Great White Shark swims back along the beachfront. In this case, the shark description doesn't point to an individual -- I'd like to make that clear from the outset. It describes what has become the norm, the style, the tone of political discourse in Akron magnified by the latest chapter from the Mayor's office.

What we need is more investigation

From a media perspective, the weekend story of Don Plusquellic's interaction with Akron police, sparked by a 9-1-1 call about his driving, was fading from view after exploding Monday with the first word from 19 Action News and subsequent reporting from all media outlets. As the news cycle progressed, the story basically began to focus more on fact than speculation and by Wednesday morning it appeared to have exhausted itself. Most public response, pro and con, seemed to have moved on.

Plusquellic's news conference Wednesday re-ignited the story with his extraordinary charges he was targeted by a thousand dollar bounty offered APD officers by disgruntled members of the Akron Fire Department for dirt. Specifically, a grand incentive to sit outside clubs waiting for the Mayor, Fire Chief or deputy fire chiefs to exit under the influence to be stopped and arrested when driving under the influence.

This afternoon, the head of the Akron Firefighters Union IAFF Local 330, Phil Gauer, held his own news conference to respond to the Mayor's charge of a bounty on his head and the role an AFD Lieutenant played in this past weekend's 9-1-1 call. Gauer raises questions on the conduct of the mayor and his use of a city vehicle. In the same story, FOP Lodge 7 President Paul Hlynsky, representing police officers, says APD members would not hesitate to enforce the law on the mayor or anyone else but worry about retaliation.

The news cycle beast is fed again, and this will be the week we'll remember either as "the Drive" or "the Set Up" depending on your point of view.

To note such a bounty is offensive is beyond words. It paints a picture of Akron as Iron Curtain, with a Stasi-like secret police mentality turning friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, worker against manager, all using the most vile methods such spy agencies are rightfully reviled and hated for. In this case, it's people we trust to protect us turning spymaster using some of the other people we trust to protect us against the people we choose to lead us.

I am no fan of the Mayor's personal style, but I do respect his leadership -- both good and bad. In this case, I respect the courage in making this public even as it saddens me his remarks add more fuel to the fire of Akron's desperate and despicable political underbelly. That we have reached this point is sad, but can any one of us say we are not surprised we've sunk to this level?

- - -

Mayor Plusquellic's revelation is being dismissed as paranoia by his detractors, but have no doubt there are those operatives on both sides of the political discussion who are comfortable and willing to play this game exactly as he describes. It is serious enough to not just let lay unanswered by people in this community who care deeply that Akron is better than this, and that respect and decency in the public marketplace of ideas and issues is something we have a right to demand and expect.

It's why we shouldn't just move forward and chalk this off to the latest colorful politics. If the Mayor's charge and observations are correct, does this rise to the level of bribery or obstruction of justice? Is it criminal or just bar talk from angry city workers, spawned on a bar stool of their own? Do we really want to keep walking past this car wreck of a cornerstone of what we expect from our political system -- the ability for all of us to express ourselves while still respecting the views of others, especially those who disagree with us? Haven't we reached the point of putting our foot down and saying "enough" yet when elected leaders are so brazenly not only stalked but openly hunted like Bambi before Thanksgiving?

- - -

The safe thing to do is wring our hands, make commentary and move on. This isn't one of those times, because this attacks the core of our political system. This is an attack on all of us, because if it's Don Plusquellic this time is it Russ Pry next? Don Robart? Chris Grimm? Bill Roth? Matt Patrick? Howie Chizek? Me? You?

The right thing to do is treat this as it is: assault on all of us. If indeed Mayor Plusquellic is the target of head-hunting video vigilantes pining to corner him in an embarrassing moment or, worst yet, fabricate such an incident, then it is something that should be fully investigated and prosecuted. This isn't about the free-flow of ideas, it is about protecting our public discourse and sending a clear and convincing message that such poli-paparazzi tactics won't be tolerated in our free and open society.

Prosecutor Walsh and Sheriff Alexander are in a unique position to fully and fairly investigate the allegations the Mayor is making. Representing both Democrat and Republican parties, both have earned the public trust to get to the bottom of this. Mayor Plusquellic should turn over the information he has, whether anecdotal or factual, for an independent investigator to research and weigh. If there is wrongdoing, it should be exposed. If it is criminal, it should be prosecuted. Those involved should be held accountable.

- - -

Finally a word to those in the spotlight.

In a story which won recognition and national awards for investigative journalism, KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs was getting repeated tips that a local prosecutor, in charge of prosecuting DUI cases, was in fact living a double life. They decided to see for themselves and investigated the prosecutor, even taping several bar trips and drinking habits. The prosecutor was understandably outraged that his conduct would be on such public display, disputed the drink count and has promised voters he isn't drinking again while using a county-owned car. According to recent news accounts, he is in a tough fight for re-election. At least one local newspaper, when endorsing the prosecutor's opponent, admits the scandal is big enough for voters to consider but only in examining the total operation of the office.

In this particular report by the Colorado Springs TV station, reporters followed the public official in question multiple times before assembling the report they eventually aired. I think there is a big difference in a journalism enterprise undertaking such an investigation as opposed to a general public shadowing of a public official. Such reporting by the television station brings to the case legal reviews and the standards reporters observe in compiling investigative work. The standard is higher than simply following someone.

The Colorado case isn't the same as this latest event involving the mayor and public safety forces in Akron. There is no credible evidence the mayor was impaired; a police lieutenant determined Plusquellic's demeanor, appearance or behavior did not trigger further investigation. If there was any lapse on the part of the mayor it is his heavy foot on the gas pedal, something he is well-familiar with and admits.

That said, in today's age of instant publication (including video) it should serve as a not-so-subtle warning to all public officials and public figures that they are not invisible. More than ever, their actions make them more accountable to those who put them in office or place them on a pedestal. Like it or not, the public spotlight comes with a sharp price to pay in the loss of privacy and sometimes perspective.

Putting their names before us and asking us voters to choose them to lead is still public service, not a public waiver. It bears repeating: if it's something you wouldn't do with everybody watching -- don't do it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

MORE on Plusquellic charge a bounty was put on him, police & fire chiefs by disgrunted firefighters.
DEVELOPING @AkronNewsNow Plusquellic now says firefighters had a bounty out for any dirt against him; charges it started with residency fight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is A Little Quiet Asking Too Much?

With three weeks to go before elections impacting city council seats across the region; school board races determining the direction local education of our kids should take; whether or not we can bet on Ohio or even assure that lump of chicken on our plates was treated humanely -- what is it we're talking about?

What kind of driver is Mayor Plusquellic?

We're at war on two fronts, with our best and brightest putting life and limb on the line seeking to establish toeholds of democracy on the shores of radical Islam; we're striving to figure out if the way we provide and pay for health care can be upgraded; we're well over a trillion dollars in debt, and growing.

We're not talking about these issues, either.

Akron just laid off 39 firefighters and temporarily staved off deeper layoffs of police officers until the end of the year. The City is now locked into spending tens of millions of dollars to shuttle what we flush away from the drainage when it rains. The County and cities in greater Akron are slicing into shrinking budget pies while we insist on the same, if not more, government service.

Those aren't the topics of the day.

It's whether Mayor Plusquellic is treated differently than the rest of us, whether he was set up by more than circumstance, and if he was suffering behind the wheel from after-party effects of a night out with friends. His fiercest critics are now scrambling to shout this proves everything they've ever said about him.His most vocal defenders decry the atmosphere where a guy can't even go to a birthday party at a local restaurant without being stalked by people out to get him.

Welcome to Akron politics.

This morning, "Melanie" was on WHLO's Matt Patrick program, discounting critics who say the stalking of the Mayor was a setup. She maintains she was acting in the public interest by calling to warn police of Plusquellic behind the wheel, even to the point of following him from the Firehouse Grille and Pub on Tallmadge Avenue (anyone else get the irony of the location, given the recent fire department layoffs?) on to Memorial Parkway before recounting what it's like traveling in Don's wake to Hickory Street.

We're in question mode on Akron's political version of "Speed Racer":

- The Mayor was driving fast and allegedly swerving -- so how it is "Melanie" and her boyfriend were able to keep up without breaking the law themselves? Plusquellic claims their chase car was also driving fast and erratic in hot pursuit;

- "Melanie" now admits she knew all along it was the Mayor behind the wheel, from the point where they admittedly followed him from the Firehouse Grille and Pub down Tallmadge and on to Memorial Parkway. His critics claim to have video of him peeling out of the parking lot. Doesn't that fuel charges this might be political in nature? If I thought someone was following me at one in the morning, I think I'd be tempted to get away from them;

- The owner of the Firehouse says she specifically talked with Plusquellic, said he looked fine. She told us she asked him if he was O.K. to drive. She noted the mayor backed off any legal beverages for the last hour of the party and was drinking ice water. Mayor Plusquellic says he was attending a party full of cops, including the police chief. Would they all let him drive off if he were intoxicated? Forget for a moment they are police officers (both current and retired, sworn to uphold the law) -- they're his friends. Would you let your friend drive drunk, especially knowing his a high-profile friend in the crosshairs of political enemies? It is a classic rule: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

- at least four APD units responded to the call at Highland Square; they decided just one would make the determination the Mayor's appearance and behavior didn't trigger asking for further testing to determine impairment. "Melanie" gave the dispatcher a very specific report, even down to the license plate. Why no walking the line, or blowing into a breathalyzer? Would you or I get that kind of gentle treatment, especially from police officers now trained with zero tolerance of drunk driving?

- - -

All said, one still has to wonder if there's somebody, anybody, bending Don Plusquellic's ear that there might be better places to spend his time after midnight. Maybe you have the same gut reaction from those of us after-50 types at the radio station when first hearing the story: shouldn't adults over 30 be in bed for hours at the time the Mayor was driving home? Is this guy a magnet for this kind of trouble, or what?

As I noted in an earlier blog following the August story when the Mayor and friends found themselves witnesses to a street fight, not much good comes after midnight.

The police treatment of the Mayor should come under scrutiny as it should when dealing with any public figure. That's the nature of public figure and public official that goes with the territory. It is a double-edged sword, this part of being public. It opens doors and places us at the front of the line, most of the time. It also means our business when out and about is everybody's business, and anyone in public life should understand life under the magnifying lens both illuminates and burns at the same time. Celebrity and public life mean never being invisible. People will and do take notice.

In the case of the Mayor, the political environment in Akron clearly exists against a backdrop of backbiting, finger pointing, "gotcha" and personal attacks. This game is played by both sides, even to the point of explaining 1:00 a.m. traffic stops, 2:30 a.m. 9-1-1 calls after bar fights, verbal scuffles with parking lot attendants, critics of overspending with huge back tax liabilities, questioning the motives of those just asking questions, or vituperative attacks on those with opposing viewpoints. The comment pages on and are full of some of the most hateful, disrespectful posts one could imagine. Free speech isn't necessarily nice speech.

Anyone with political aspirations be warned: Akron's political environment can be poison laced with the personal. You have to have skin the thickness of a brick to make it in this world.

This isn't to say Don Plusquellic isn't entitled to live his life as he sees fit. He's a person who seems either hard-driving, passionate, hard-edged or always angry depending on what side you come across at any given time. He's entitled to enjoy a night with friends, he's allowed to enjoy a drink, he's allowed to croon with the karaoke machine to his heart's content (we're waiting for that video, by the way) and all without hurting another soul. It appears to me that's exactly what happened this past weekend, except those intentions crossed over to the intersection of the political.

I find it hard to believe "Melanie" went to all the trouble of leaving the same time, following the Mayor and then calling him in as pure citizenship. Akron's political environment simply raises too many red flags to believe such circumstance exists in a town where the "get" is such an important political trophy.

If his only crime is enjoying some good times with friends, then by God all of us should be so lucky to be committing the same crime.

- - -

Just last week, the Beacon Journal covered a poll which showed more than half of our neighbors no longer cared about the neighborhood. Most of Akron wouldn't recommend Akron to others. They've tuned it out; being part of the community doesn't matter anymore. One has to ask if one reason might be the community doesn't seem to want them anymore. We've become so invested in tearing down that we've forgotten how to build up. One wonders if this environment is beyond cleaning up.
9-1-1 caller says no setup; Mayor's office reports he was drinking ice-water before cop stop. ( )

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When is it ok for authority to lie?

When Cops Lie

It doesn't happen very often.

Police, for the most part, are trained to be trusted by the public. By the news media. Even by suspects of crimes. The actions of the Sheriff in Larimer County, Colorado in leading the media to report law enforcement didn't question "balloon boy" as a hoax calls into question the actions of his department in providing credible information to the public.

What comes first? The Sheriff points out, and most of us would use common sense to agree, that it was important to establish a level of trust and comfort with the Heene parents as a strategy to get to the bottom of Thursday's saucer-style balloon flight and gut-wrenching search for their six year old son. For hours, the nation held its breath waiting to find out the fate of the boy named Falcon.

This wasn't just your Nancy Grace-O'Reilly-Keith O-style godsend for a slow cable news night. All the major networks, all the big newspapers, all the radio news and opinion/talk shows, even the music shows, the web -- everybody -- was sucked into this one.

The breath-holding turned to cynicism even as the boy was found in a box in the family home; it worsened with the disaster on CNN's Larry King Show when guest host Wolf Blitzer effectively popped the father in the kisser with a direct question for little Falcon, answered in that tiny voice talking about "the show." It only got worse with the flurry of early-morning television interviews the following morning (who gets their kids up at five a.m. to show off on TV?) resulting in little Falcon hurling not once, but twice on the morning shows.

The parents pressed on, and even as most of us were incredulous with their actions while their son was barfing on his brother the Sheriff continued to maintain an aura of support for the Heene parents.

All a show, it turns out.

It was designed to make parents and children comfortable for what needed to come out -- the whole thing had been planned. Now the parents face possible felony charges, the Henne family name has achieved a level of notoriety the fame-seeking father hungered for but never envisioned and the three kids will be remembered as co-conspirators in the airborne cry-wolf scam everyone is talking about.

The strategy worked in landing the criminal fish. It exposed the pathetic, even twisted abuse of a child to satisfy what seems to be a classic unhealthy love of the spotlight. The system in this case worked behind the scenes to solve the case but it wasn't just being had by the Heene's but also by Sheriff Jim Alderden.

The Sheriff apologizes for "bumping up" against the line for manipulating the media. He didn't bump -- he drove over it was dozens of news vans, reporters and pundits in hot pursuit. We in the media helped him with every update, every "expert" unveiling developments, all in real time. I wonder if the role of the media in this case actually helped pump up the pressure on Heene to come clean?

We trust the police to tell us the truth -- even when recognizing it's OK to lie to suspects law enforcement suspect aren't so honest. Courts have ruled investigators can sometimes lie to suspects in order to get to the truth in a case but it's not O.K. for law enforcement witnesses and lawyers to lie in their testimony. I suspect most of you will think what Sheriff Alderden did to mislead the Heene's and pursue justice in this case was appropriate because the end justified his means.

Will we think this the next time a trusted authority uses ever tool necessary to mislead? Isn't that what many media critics accuse the media of being now? Has truth become that much of an accessory to public issues today -- from the political, to the criminal and now to the infotainment that gripped the nation for three hours last week?
Go with Nature Girl to the apple farm or stay at home and watch Browns/Steelers? That USED to be a tough question...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just A Thought Here...

...but if this was YOUR kid on national TV getting sick or you are doing the interview, don't you think you would:

1. At least ask during the interview if the boy needs help?
2. Tell the interviewer your kids need to get off-camera?

This thing just keeps getting more strange by the minute...

Taking The Stairs -- One Key At A Time

With Balloon Boy (or BoxinAtticBoy, as my wife calls him) winding down we can move on to other interesting media.

This certainly doesn't come close to approaching the gravity -- or lack thereof -- in a story of a six-year old thought to be aboard a runaway weather balloon, but it is pretty cool. Hats off again to Volkswagen's innovative advertising folks...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thanks to my wife Nature Girl for best line of the day: balloonboy is really boxinatticboy after all this.
More from AP coverage of BalloonBoy -- found in a box in the attic and yes, he was seen in person...
UPDATE ABC News: BalloonBoy found safe at home.
Just TOO weird...Balloon boy is from family on ABC's "Wife Swap" show, kept balloon in yard to chase storms.
PUCO schedules time and date for public hearings on FirstEnergy bulb blooper. Here's details...
Is Jennifer Brunner a saint for taking on Jack the Dragon in Summit County? Some thoughts sparked by photo choices...

Political Sainthood?

Maybe it's just me on a rainy, chilly Thursday morning...but does anyone else wonder why the photo editor at the Akron Beacon Journal decided to pick the photo of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer
Brunner that shows her with a halo? I mean, I'm betting the Beacon isn't a big fan of Jack Morrison to begin with -- but graphically deciding it's Dragon Jack versus St. Jennifer?

My apologies for not having a cleaner photo; taken with the mobile phone camera. The
ABJ's story is here and you'll find other coverage, including Morrison's letter, here on There's additional links on the ANN version in case you need help getting up-to-date.

Jack doesn't look like a happy guy in this photo while Jennifer's coming off like Joan of Arc.

For the record: I still think Morrison should step down from the University of Akron Board of Trustees and this case also raises enough question for local republicans to look for other leadership to represent them on the Board of Elections.

Jack Morrison may very well win the legal arguments of this case. The political decision, however, is one of appearance. In politics it is the perception that serves as currency, and the perception now is Morrison is a distraction and liability. It doesn't diminish his service both to University and party, which has been considerable. Contrary to the partisan calls for his removal I don't think it permanently tars Morrison's reputation, but it is a reminder of how appearances matter in the public arena.

Ultimately judges will decide the legality of Morrison's case; the jury now is the political public, and that ought to be more of a consideration.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More information on services for Mike Partin to be updated Sunday afternoon; here's a link.
Very sad news from @denisealex on the passing of Ohio AP Broadcasters leader Mike Partin; only 42, lately of WBNS-ONN.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Maybe if we spent more time on the future instead of mourning what used to be? (
Common sense victory: FirstEnergy puts disastrous bulb program on hold. Just what were they thinking to begin with?

ON HOLD: The 300% Markup

(this post updates one published earlier this afternoon)

Remember the good ol' days when a light bulb above the head meant someone had a good idea?

One has to wonder how that all changed in the executive offices at Akron-based FirstEnergy when it came to their program to unload millions of compact fluorescent light bulbs on consumers in what has to be one of the most expensive flip-a-switch programs of all time.

Breaking it down, the utility planned to "give" households across northeast Ohio a pair of the twisty bulbs to save energy. Unlike other power companies -- included next-door utility neighbor American Electric Power and fellow midwest utility XCEL Energy in Minnesota -- this program wasn't offering cost-saving coupons to spur us to buy more expensive bulbs to save power. FirstEnergy planned to have people going door-to-door carrying gift bags with bulbs and brochures extolling the virtues of the less-costly lights.

Except these really aren't less costly, at least not to you and me.

AEP's program -- ranging across multiple states -- offers a markdown program in partnership with bulb manufacturer and retailers, essentially allowing ratepayers to get the bulbs at a discount. Since they started the program in May, more than 700,000 have taken advantage of the discounts.

The bulbs -- which FirstEnergy admits cost them $3.50 apiece -- were to be paid for by consumers whether we want them or not, and instead of paying $7.00 for the pair we would be charged the equivalent of more than $21.00 over a three year period. The utility was tacking on the charge as a 60-cent add-on to your utility bill. A month. Over three years.

Did the Akron folks miss out on a utility conference where others shared?

Never mind you didn't get asked whether you want the light bulb.

Never mind if you are in the minority of people who reportedly get migraine headaches from the compact bulbs.

Never mind if it galls you to pay for bulbs you may or may not use.

Not only do you not have a choice on whether you are getting the bulbs, you don't have a choice on paying for them, either.

FirstEnergy's Mark Durbin earlier today told AkronNewsNow's Tina Kaufmann the utility was moving ahead with the program Monday regardless of what the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said. Governor Strickland's objection to the contrary, they'd already made arrangements to hand-deliver millions of these bulbs to the doorsteps of people who didn't want to pay for something they didn't order -- whether it was subject to a 300% markup or not.

It would be on the bill; you have to pay it.

Less than an hour later, Durbin called back to tell us the bulb program has officially been put on hold.

I would have hated to be one of the souls unfortunate enough to have a job delivering these bulbs to residences where ratepayers may be actually home at the time. Would it surprise anyone if the welcome were hostile? Does anyone at FirstEnergy's executive suite live in a world where the word "trespass" comes to mind?

This is basic mail order 101: if I get something delivered to me I didn't order, I can refuse it. I can refuse to pay for it. What makes this different other than the fact the PUCO originally gave it's OK to a program without first checking to see whether it passed a common sense sniff test.

Mother Nature needs the help, environmentalists say, and utility companies have to help shoulder the burden by reducing electric use even as we pay more for fewer kilowatts. But I find it hard to believe even the most hard-shell greenie thinks making people pay $21 for what costs them $7 makes sense.

Based on today's quick turnaround, maybe common sense is exactly what arrived unordered at FirstEnergy's offices. And they didn't even have to pay for it, unless you count a public relations black eye as payment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

More information on Strickland reprieve announcement re: Ohio lethal injection.
BREAKING: Strickland issues temporary reprieve to Ohio killers. More time to appeal "vein delay" defense against lethal injection.
Is it really that tough to find a vein? What's the real question about lethal injection?

Getting Blood From A Stone-Cold Killer

There's a great deal of talk today on a decision by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to postpone Thursday's scheduled execution of Lawrence Reynolds Jr. He's the Cuyahoga Falls man, otherwise known as inmate #A296121, on Death Row for the New Year's Day 1994 murder of neighbor Loretta Foster.

The appeals court, on a 2-1 ruling, decided more time was needed to give Reynolds' argument the botched execution of fellow Death Row inmate Romell Broom -- because of a two-hour try to find a usable vein to pump the lethal cocktail into Broom's body -- posed enough question to provide a delay. Summit County's prosecutors today appeared resigned to the delay even as the Ohio Attorney General's office was mounting an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Having witnessed nearly a half-dozen executions by lethal injection, I can attest that most appeared to be handled in a professional manner with the necessary injection of a needle into the condemned inmate accomplished with little apparent pain or discomfort. This clearly wasn't the case with Broom, which triggered Governor Strickland to order a temporary halt to Broom's execution. That decision and case now spark the latest strategy used by Reynolds to avoid a trip to the execution chamber in Lucasville, his last measure of defense as arguments for clemency failed.

This particular process hits home for thousands of people everyday; anyone who ever had to push back a sleeve for a blood test has experienced roughly the same kind of medical procedure used in administering execution by lethal injection. For the most part, it is a remarkably successful process; a report published in 2002 by a pair of Mayo Clinic researchers (found here on PubMed, the website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health) reports the failure rate is remarkably low:

Of 833289 encounters, 829723 were successful. Phlebotomies were unsuccessful because patients were not fasting as directed (32.2%), phlebotomy orders were missing information (22.5%), patients specimens were difficult to draw (13.0%), patients left the collection area before specimens were collected (11.8%), patients were improperly prepared for reasons other than fasting (6.3%), patients presented at the wrong time (3.1%), or for other reasons (11.8%). Only 2153 specimens (0.3%) were unsuitable; these samples were hemolyzed (18.1%), of insufficient quantity (16.0%), clotted (13.4%), lost or not received in the laboratory (11.5%), inadequately labeled (5.8%), at variance with previous or expected results (4.8%), or unacceptable for other reasons (31.1%).

Pretty substantial numbers; more than 833,000 "encounters" and fewer than 2200, or 0.3%, were deemed "unsuitable." This report doesn't note, however, how many specimens were listed as successful despite being difficult to draw. To the arguments of lawyers for inmates Broom/Reynolds, the low number doesn't matter because the state has a duty to avoid cruel and unusual punishment. Critics can counter the activity is neither unusual -- it is performed thousands, if not millions of times, daily in hospitals, clinics and labs across the globe -- nor cruel if we are to consider those millions of individuals spiked with a needle everyday.

For the family and friends of Loretta Foster, none of this matters. They've waited for more than 15 years for justice. Their exasperation as what seems to be another last-minute straw grasped by a desperate killer is understandable. The question we asking ourselves is whether all of this is a new legal ploy twister in opposition to capital punishment or a bigger issue: can the state apply death in any form without being cruel, and how do we define cruel?

Blame It On Rio!

Much has been made about the decision to pick Brazil over the US for the 2016 Olympics, and whether or not it was a slap in the face to this country and President Obama.

Me? I think the President was right to make the trip; every other nation on the finalist list (Spain, Brazil, Japan) sent their top elected leaders to help make the pitch.

It's the biggest show in the world; we should expect our CEO's to be part of the team trying to land the big one.

As to whether the decision to bypass Chicago for Rio was a slap in the face to the U.S., I'd note the games have never been held in South America -- a HUGE consideration for a "world" games -- and then there's just a great presentation, as seen below...

Lesson: not every decision is based on celebrity status or whether the other side likes us. Sometimes it's a pretty simple answer: it is time for the other guys.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Morning Blues

Used to be these Sunday mornings were exciting times; up early, get some stuff done, park in front of the TV for pregame or head down to the stadium for the in-person experience.

But those days seem to have had the life sucked out of them the past few years.

It's game day in northeast Ohio, what used to be reason to celebrate. Regardless of weather it was Browns Day, but now even the sunniest, clearest Sundays seem to be gloomy. There's just no fun left in the morning, and afternoons now become just another weekend day -- just without college football. Maybe the answer is in recording a college football game and watching on Sunday.

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It isn't often we see a healthy dose of journalism schizophrenia, but this morning's Akron Beacon Journal provides an example. I think it's a good thing, too -- seeing more diversity of opinion from columnists from the editorial pages adds to the public debate rather than detract. What makes this so interesting is the interesting choices of headlines: Friday's editorial remarked "spare us the rhetoric" when noting the Strickland plan to delay a tax decrease was really a tax increase. "Not a tax increase" said the editorial. Flash forward to Sunday where ABJ writer Dennis Willard shares his observation that the Strickland plan is a tax increase; "Strickland tax freeze a tax hike."

It's nice to see different opinions make it into print.

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For those of you who missed it: yes, Western Reserve Public Media, former known as PBS 45/49, moved NewsNight Akron to a different time. The programming folks are in a moving mode and figured the loyal viewership of the Akron area's only regular broadcast television news discussion program would be strong enough to play musical chairs with NNA and other programs. If you have DVR then it's easy -- just tell the recorder to find the show. There's an early Saturday morning replay in the event you don't want to skip Jay Leno.

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We ran into an interesting situation when trying to plan coverage of this Thursday's first forum featuring all of Akron's school board candidates. The now-eight person field is holding an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Resnick Community Learning Center, formerly known as Fairlawn Elementary. The LWV was in favor of our offer to broadcast the event live on 1590 WAKR and possible stream video on AkronNewsNow.

Then federal regulations stepped in.

The school gets phone and Internet service at greatly reduced rates thanks to FCC regulations but those same regulations put limits on the services being used for "school purposes only," and the schools hold that even a forum for school board candidates doesn't meet "school purposes only." Even, we are told, presidential visits bar the Secret Service from using those services.

We'll do a workaround; not live audio or video unless we get a little more faith in wireless broadband. It does spark some thought on how community learning centers function in conjunction with public schools navigating the complicated regulations often found in help from the feds.

A reminder everyone deals with red tape...even the folks living in red tape world.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

hitting the mall after early dinner. Interesting to act like we're already 80.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sorry for Chicago but can we learn something about how star power and celebrity doesn't guarantee everything? Olympics