Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another interesting interview I forgot

My first wife, Chris, recalled after reading my lengthy list below that while studying journalism at Canada (pronounced with the Spanish "n" sound - Cun-yah-dah not like the country north of us) College in Redwood City in 1976 I interviewed Elisabeth Kubler-Ross the author of "Death and Dying" the famous study in the process of grief.

Thanks for the back stop, Chris.

Other celebrity interviews over the years: Burt Reynolds, James Caan (back in my State News days), Marie Osmond, Moshe Aron (the name could be off, the man was an Israeli diplomat who gave me a 15-minute interview in the limousine taking him to Capitol City Airport in Lansing in 1978). There are others, but I'm going to have to think on them for awhile.

I covered another scam case in Oakland County involving a fat little con man who passed himself off as Randy Bachman, of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars out of lonely, rich Farmington Hills women. He ended up doing 7-14 years for fraud.

Wild and crazy things I did in my newspaper career

My favorite or most memorable assignments are listed below. This is not an exhaustive list, but one I've been meaning to do for awhile. I did it more to preserve my memories of these specific stories so I can write more about them later. I'd love to hear about your favorite or most memorable assignments as well. As more come to mind, I'll add them.

1. Flew on a World War II B-24 Liberator bomber. (Thank you Roger, one of my favorite editors, for that assignment which is still my favorite).

2. Flew in a C-130 and jumped from an Army helicopter with the Army parajumpers at Selfridge Air National Guard Base as it hovered above the snow with my friend and Oakland Press photographer, Ken Irby. (Update: 4/20/09-My father wrote to say he never knew of my parachute jump. Well, that's because I have never parachuted. When I said jumped from a helicopter, I should have made it clear the helicopter was hovering just a couple feet off the ground, which was covered with snow. The pilot told us he didn't want to set down completely when he couldn't see any obstacles (rocks, etc.) under the snow. So the jump, to be clear, was a very short one.)

3. Interviewed a Rochester Hills woman on her front porch while she was only dressed in a flimsy teddy in 40-degree weather. She had been arrested in a "fatal attraction" case involving a married lawyer.

4. Got a press pass and spent Thanksgiving Day on the Silverdome football field hovering around the Chicago Bears (Mike Ditka, Refrigerator Perry, Walter Payton) for an Oakland Press story. I have some photos I took and will scan some in for that story, when I write it.

5. Was the first reporter (well, Julie of the Oakland Press was with me) on the scene after the roof of the Silverdome collapsed in 1985.

6. Testified at a murder trial in Lapeer.

7. Interviewed the mother of a former Marine charged in the homosexual rape of a Pontiac man and then talked her out of his Marine Corps photo for the picture in the paper. (I'm not particularly proud of that).

8. Spent a day inside a southern Michigan prison with former prosecutor and current Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson to cover the parole hearing of a convicted murderer.

9. Flew to Pittsburgh along with reporter Jane Hale to cover the story of a couple murdered in Holly. (In all four people were killed in that incident. That was back in the day when the paper spent the money to fly us places for stories).

10. Worked twice with producers of the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" to catch killers from the Pontiac area. (Both caught, by the way, and one of those got me a trip to Tucson to do the follow-up, again back in the day when newspapers paid for non-sports travel). Later worked with "America's Most Wanted" producers on similar stories.

11. Found a front row seat in Ferndale for the shooting at the Rialto restaurant during a July 4th weekend. Long story which I will tell later.

12. Interviewed Dr. Jack Kevorkian on the night of his first assisted suicide. In the days that followed I freelanced for New York Newsday, ending up with $3,000 in my pocket and a couple of front page bylines in that newspaper.

13. I once tried to interview a "hooker" working on Dort Highway about a string of prostitute slayings only to later find out that she was a police decoy and the officers listening in on her wire got a good chuckle out of my conversation.

14. Was once taken to lunch by a judge who was angry that I had found sources who referred to him as "Let 'em go Louie" for his lenient bail policies.

15. Also went to lunch once with another judge angered that I had found sources who referred to him as "Gentle Jerry" for his lenient bail policies. (Hey, two free lunches from one negative story, not bad, eh?)

16. Had a back stage pass to the Michael Jackson "Thriller" performance at the Silverdome. (In one of the more bizarre assignments of my career I later went to the hotel where Michael Jackson had stayed to see his hotel room. It was my editor's idea at the Oakland Press. There was a moment when a hotel manager pointed out Michael Jackson's hair gel smeared on the head board of the bed. I couldn't believe I was covering something this stupid. I would later cover much more stupid assignments.

17. When Pope John Paul II visited Pontiac, I covered the security and ended up with a police captain who took me in the back stage tunnel where the Pope arrived and dismounted just a few feet from me. I'm no longer a Roman Catholic, but I have to admit at being awed.

18. Covered the visit of President Ronald Reagan at the then new Orion GM Plant. Didn't get very close, however.

19. Covered visits of President Clinton and both President Bushes during my career. Got a little closer at these visits. (I still have my 1984 Secret Service Presidential clearance card).

20. Watched in shock as a police detective threw up off a porch in Rochester Hills (then it was Avon Township) after he viewed the scene of a triple homicide involving a 30-year-old woman, her 14-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old niece by two drifters. I also covered the murder trial for both men. (That was the trial where one of the killer's family called me a "vulture" for covering the trial).

21. Once got cornered by an angry crowd at the Flint Croatia Club after a shooting who wanted to do me harm for being there. Fortunately, Sgt. Brown rescued me, and I believe a Channel 12 videographer from physical harm.

22. Spent countless hours riding in police cars covering drug busts, drag racing crackdowns and traffic stings.

23. In 1984 was assigned to cover what turned out to be the final and successful game of the Detroit Tigers World Series run. Although the story was supposed to be about fun and games and eating hot dogs at the game, it turned into a story about the frightening aftermath when crowds overturned cars, set them ablaze and generally ran amok in the streets. I spent two hours hiding behind a phalanx of police officers praying that I would have a car to drive back to Pontiac in.

24. Broke a story at the Oakland Press about a shoplifting police chief in Redford Township and an amazing story of a Rochester Hills housewife who wrote more than $900,000 in bad checks to buy lottery tickets from local stores. I interviewed her and her attorney in the the lawyer's Mercedes Benz as he drove her to a psychiatric hospital near Jackson.

25. Also broke a story about "Shiva" a six-month investigation into the eventual arrest of a postal worker for threatening to blow up Oakland County buildings if he was not given a $20 million extortion payment. I was working for the Oakland Press and the two sides were negotiating through the Detroit News and Free Press classifieds, which made my breaking the story all the more sweet. (Longer story later).

26. During a trial of five men charged with killing a male nurse for his wallet and $30 in Waterford Township, I got angry when I heard the five separate defense lawyers call the killing "an unfortunate incident," "a tragic accident," and "a horrible mistake." After the men were convicted of first-degree murder, I wrote a column (which I think won an AP award) about how the lawyers called the killing everything but what it was, a cold-blooded killing.

27. I spent nearly three months (much of it on my own time) researching a magazine story (back in the days when the Oakland Press had a magazine) about the 1896 "cyclone" that destroyed the then booming towns of Thomas and Oakwood. I prowled libraries, historical societies, interviewed the children of eyewitnesses (who were themselves very, very old) and visited dozens of local cemeteries looking for victims. The 1896 "cyclone" killed 26 people, the second most deadly tornado to the Flint-Beecher tornado of the 1950s. I had so much fun doing that story that I didn't mind not getting paid much for it. (I think in those days we got an extra $300 for a well researched magazine piece. Now it's $25 - $50 for a freelance article. So much for inflation. (I'll write more on this later).

28. Along with another reporter at the Oakland Press, covered the crash of Flight 255 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

29. Spent three days in Ohio tracking down the background of a young man arrested in a series of rapes in Oakland County. I stopped by his parents home in Ohio and found them to be devastated, but not receptive to an interview.

30. Along with Flint Journal photographer Steve spent three unhappy days in Bowling Green, Ohio, following the arrest of a 14-year-old Flint boy in the killing of his twin brother. This is a long story that involves the purchase of underwear. (More later.)

31. Spent the opening weekend of deer hunting season in 1985 with my friend and photographer Ken. Ken, who is black, reminded me at one point that I had dragged him into the north woods with a bunch of white, armed rednecks. We had a great three days together covering not just the hunting, but the night life associated with men going north to hunt deer. We went to a strip club just north of Gaylord (or Grayling, I can't remember) and my lede, which survived editing was: "The stripper picked up the dollar bill on the stage in a most unusual way." (This is another long, long story which I will write more on later, including the goshawful Radio Shack word processors that we had to use in those days for remote stories).

32. Was among the first reporters to arrive at the scene of a fatal shooting of a first-grader, by a first-grader at Buell Elementary School on February 29, 2000. My wife's Dodge Shadow, which I parked on the sidewalk in my haste to get to the scene, still shows up on file news footage when something comes up about the case. It was also the story that lowered my opinion and expectations of the competence and accuracy of the national media. A Washington Post story included this bit of hyperbole or something very close to it in the original lede: "In this part of Flint (It was actually Mt. Morris Township) only plastic flowers grow."

33. There were hundreds of fatal car crashes, hundreds of homicides (someday I'll tell the story of "eaten by animals"), drownings, electrocutions (I'll have to write about the "flopping around like fish" quote) and other awful deaths.

34. For about 12 years I wrote a weekly column, first called "Night Beat" and later called "Off Beat," about the quirky and strange things I found on the police beat. Many people told me they liked the column and I handed it off into the capable hands of another reporter who continues the column even today. I invented the column because the stories were not usually of large enough impact for a full story, but I just believed people would like to read them.

35. In my career I worked with great people. In college I worked with people, one who later became executive editor of the Free Press, one who was the editorial editor of the Stamford, Conn. newspaper, another who was an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times and one who I hired at The State News, who was a feature writer at the Flint Journal. He was perhaps the best writer I ever worked with. He has now written two books and we enjoy lunch together every couple of weeks. Many of my colleagues broke stories I wished I had found and broken. "King Boots," the dog who killed the family's grandmother in Oakland County, comes immediately to mind. Michael, another Oakland Press reporter who is now a carpenter, was maybe the best investigative reporter I ever worked with. He knew his way around documents in a time before Google and online resources in a way that I'm still jealous. More on these folks later.

36. Most of all, there were great people, wonderful sources and people who had suffered unspeakable tragedies who instead of slamming up the phone in my ear, or slamming the door in my face gave of their time, even in their grief, to try and make sense of the senseless. While I have forgotten many of their names, I have not forgotten their sad faces and broken voices. Those images will be with me forever and I plan to write of them as I recall them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jim Carty posts Part II of

My hat is off to blogger Jim Carty who has posted a second installment from Richard Deitsch, a Sports Illustrated writer who is currently in Ann Arbor on a fellowship and who attended his second community forum.

Deitsch, a skilled and experienced writer with more of a neutral perspective (as opposed to me, or maybe even Jim Carty) has filed an interesting look at last night's program.

Today I was interviewed by a reporter from Crain's about the "citizen journalism" experiment at the Oakland Press and also my thoughts on the new management at While I was on vacation I was interviewed by a reporter for the Ann Arbor Observer, also about

Both these interviews are a result of this blog.

What I told both of them was that any new "news" organization that is going to rely heavily on bloggers will not be a news organization, but an "opinion" organization.

As one who worked newspaper beats for nearly 30 years and who now blogs, I think I know the difference. What I do here is NOT journalism. I freely admit that. I sit at my keyboard and write what I think. There is not pretense that what I am doing here, is what I did there. (I know a couple editors who might disagree).

I have neither the time or desire to make a lot of calls, do research and confront sources anymore. A lifetime of doing that convinced me that anyone who does that kind of work should make a living wage and get good benefits. It is not tough physical work, but it is mentally tough and taxing work when done right.

Like Mr. Deitsch, I remain curious about the staffing of But here is my opinion, will be worth what they pay for it. I'm already getting comments from reporters who have had their pay severely cut and they are contemplating not working as hard when the cuts take effect.

If they are going to pay pennies on the dollar to what they pay now, they will not succeed. Good journalists deserve to be paid well. Doing this on the cheap will definitely show, and show right away. A bad first impression will be a killer for

As far as I'm concerned, the inept, high schoolish podcast that remains at is already a very bad first impression.

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground, do you think any shipping company, especially Exxon, was willing to put the captain back in charge of any other tanker, or any other ship for that matter.

The answer is no. But in the Newhouse world, you can run aground the Flint Journal and the Ann Arbor News and still get a new and better command while the crew around you is thrown overboard. In other words, at Booth and Advance, the buck stops everywhere, but at the top.

Do yourself a favor and make Jim Carty a pretty regular read.

Two dozen folks show up for

If attendance is any indication, there isn't a lot of interest so far in advising the start-up, Ann Arbor News replacement -

Last night's forum drew 27 people interested in the new site. You can read the entire coverage at the Ann Arbor News.

There's also results from an online survey that drew 400 (including me once) responses. Right at the top of what people want in the new venture - breaking news coverage - there's a big duuuh.

They also want police and court coverage, local political and government coverage and pretty much everything they already get in their delivered at home version.

But yet, they are going to do a more "scientific" study. That is what really bothers me about these new age bosses. They refuse to believe or accept that what people want, what they have always wanted in their newspapers (online or dead tree) is simply "news."

Sure, they don't mind the fluff and features that come with it, but what they really want is their daily fix for news, sports and business.

How's that Sudoku and Crossword puzzle going to work on the online version?

All I can say is 'wow'

Chris sent along this video and I have to tell you I was tired after watching it. I love precision and it doesn't get much better than this. It certainly impressed a crowd of Navy midshipmen and Army cadets.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This is why I always liked Johnny Carson

I loved this, but I also like Abbott and Costello and The Three Stooges.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Maureen on Google and newspapers

A reader sent along this link to a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times.

Never judge a book by its cover. Still true.

I'm probably posting something that everyone has seen, but I just saw it and it was mind blowing. The embed has been disabled, but you can see this amazing singer on Britain's Got Talent on YouTube.

I liked the judge's reaction as much as I enjoyed the singing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

LA Times: Front page story, or ad?

There's a bit of a controversy brewing over a new money-making effort by newspapers with something akin to an advertorial. I know papers need to make money, but ouch!

And in the same online column there's this from the Daily Bruin.

A letter from the editor

The new editor of the three-headed newspapers in Flint, Bay City and Saginaw has weighed in on his thoughts on the new changes from the, in his words "wood paneled (office), with panoramic views." (Hat tip to Inside Out for finding this column)

My favorite line from the editor's column:

"We're taking all that institutional knowledge, all of the equity in these great brands, and building a three-day print product that is as good as anything that's ever rolled off our presses."

Not really, Mr. Editor, you have sent most of that institutional knowledge packing, just ask the many sources who no longer have frequent contact with a beat reporter. Trust us, many of us who have left hear from those sources that no one is coming around anymore.

No blame on the staff left behind either, they are buried in assignments and running from pillar to post trying to cover multiple beats and assignments. I'll be eager to see how often the management team picks up a phone and reaches for a keyboard to help out with covering events.

And the assertion that the print product will be "as good as anything that's ever rolled off our presses" is hyperbole of the 9th order. A combined features section and other combined sections that will try to serve three different communities have no chance of being "as good as anything that's ever rolled off our presses."

That's the kind of quote I would expect from a newly elected politician, not a newspaper editor who should be grounded in reality and truth.

An editor with a good idea

A Minnesota editor has created some traffic with her decision to hold back certain investigative and feature stories from the web until the "paying" customers get to read them first in print.

I'm posting this article because I believe, even if it fails in the end, shows some good thinking about the mix of web and print.

Monday, April 13, 2009

R.I.P., Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

Back in the days when I followed baseball I was pretty much an exclusively National League fan. The LA Dodgers were my team from the time they moved from Brooklyn to LA until the 1990s strike that forever ended my love of baseball. But there was a time in the mid-1970s when even out in California I was aware of one American League player.

Heck every baseball fan knew Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Here's a 1985 interview about the unusual play with a very short career.

Gannett shutters five papers

The once proud Observer and Eccentric chain in Oakland County just got a whole lot smaller.

During my days at the Oakland Press the O&E provided stiff competition for the daily and were a pretty credible weekly newspaper. This is truly another sad turn.

I'm a little late on this, but I've been out overhauling my lawn tractor, which has proved much more difficult than I could ever imagine. It is finally tuned up, new blades installed and ready to go. It only took six hours and three trips to the Sears store.

Small correction

Offline I was contacted to about my assertion that Booth "never" posts promotions. That was a little bit of hyperbole, and as was correctly pointed out to me there have been scattered instances where management positions were posted at certain Booth properties and even a time or two at the Journal.

It is more the exception than the rule, but in the interest of fairness, I will plead guilty to incorrectly using the term "never."

It's all about the 'topics'

Looks like the new watch word at the soon-to-be combined newspapers at Bay City, Saginaw and Flint is 'topic.'

In its reorganization, what was once a sports editor is now a sports 'topic' editor. And see, I didn't think they had a plan. Silly me. It's all about topics.

Read the whole miserable reorganization right here.

This is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Somehow the idea that a sports editor is now a sports topic editor and a features editor is now a features topic editor is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. It means nothing.

My personal favorite is 'content strategist' which was formerly known as a photo editor. Content strategist sounds like a position in the CIA, not a newspaper.

The idea that Flint sports will now be organized and headed by someone in Bay City or Saginaw is ludicrous and readers will soon notice.

I'll take your comments on this as long as they don't get overly personal. It you want to get overly personal, lets put our name on the posts and then I'll consider it. There's plenty to criticize and mock without aiming our personal attacks at individuals.

I've already said that I have, and always will, disagree with Booth's method of promoting people. It rewards those who cozy up to the current leadership and ensures that there is sort of a self-perpetuating incompetence.

To be clear, I'm not blaming those who get the promotions, they simply know how to play the game better than the rest of us. But people who want an organization to grow and improve should demand better and frankly, seek better.

Late add: If you are a Flint subscriber you will want to note that only one, the assistant community editor at the Flint Journal, is even a resident of your subscription area. All the rest of the 'topic' editors live north of the Journal's news coverage area.

New publisher, editor hold court in Flint

The news out of the new publisher (the old publisher's son) and the new editor (the current Bay City editor) is that the Journal will become a morning newspaper when it emerges as a three-day-a-week paper in June.

That's good, just 10 years too late. The same geniuses who kept the paper afternoons have finally decided it is time to go mornings. Sadly, those same geniuses are still around running things.

Once again, Booth leadership is maintaining pretty much the same newsroom structure as was in place during the free fall. The main editor will be gone, but his hand picked (Booth doesn't post promotions) assistant editors simply move up a notch.

Again, no one else was sought to apply for those positions although there are a number of skilled people in the newsroom who could do a superior job of leading that newspaper.

This isn't a knock on the people who hold those positions, it's a knock on Booth which refuses to open the promotion process to find the best people available.

Apparently Booth will never feel the need to hold a competitive process for promotions, too risky for those who hold high positions. And they wonder why they are in the fix they are in. If any other agency or company had a promotion policy this devoid of merit, any good newspaper would write about it as the scandal it is.

The paper is going to reach out (again) to hear what the community wants in a newspaper. I can tell you in a word. News. They want news, the good, the bad and the ugly, but trust me that is not going to happen with the new leadership. We are going to have "themed" newspapers.

I know I held out hope for the new editor, but not after what I heard about last week's meeting.

Reporters were told they will now have to copy edit their own copy on days when no copy editors will be working. OK, copy editors and former copy editors, what do think of that?

Oh, and reporters were told to once again bring their ideas to management. That's what we were told when the previous editor took over and he listened to exactly no one, but those select few who told him what he wanted to hear.

For those of us who gave him an honest assessment of what needed to be done at the paper he simply ignored us. Actually he didn't ignore us, he just gave us that knowing smirk that let you know that he was going to do absolutely nothing about what you told him.

My honest advice to those left behind, do not go to management with your ideas of what needs to be done, at least not if you value your job and future with the company. They simply do not want to hear bad news about how they are running things.

Any good ideas you give them will simply be stolen and credited to someone else anyway.

The results of this meeting was pretty much yada, yada, yada. It's all been heard and said before, it's just now being told to employees who have been told they are on the way out or will soon be working for less, much less.

By the way, when will the editors announce how much of a pay cut they are all taking. It might help morale to know that the editors are sharing in those 25 to 50 percent pay cuts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not even a booga-booga will chase this bird away

A Robin has been ramming himself into our dining room window for the past 24 hours. My wife's answer to this, or to any other annoying cirumstance is to go "booga-booga," which is her unsophisticated way of trying to chase things away.

With the unrelenting attacks, I turned to the Internet and learned that our bird is simply seeing its own reflection and because it doesn't understand the concept of mirrors so it believes another bird has invaded its territory and is trying to drive it away.

What it is doing is driving us nuts. So we're going to put up a sheet to block the outside of the window to discourage the behavior. That's because the "booga-booga" approach did not work. It was pretty funny to watch, however.

Stand By Me - the international version

A little Easter present for y'all. This is a really nice arrangement of "Stand By Me" including musicians from around the world edited into one video.

Besides I have a real affection for street musicians.

Have a Blessed Easter!

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!