Main Body

May 23 – 29: What’s Goin’ On and What’s Comin’ Off?

Monday, May 23

After a rather predictable staff meeting at 8:00 a.m., at which I learned that the Press had the first break on two major international news stories, Israeli Prime Minister Begin’s heart attack and the Moluccan terrorist incident in the Netherlands, and after an uneventful half-hour at the City Desk (during which Hilbert Black and I spoke about the almost derisive and decidedly negative coverage which the Plain Dealer gave to the successful “C’mon Down” weekend), I joined Jim Marino, court reporter, at his City Room desk. I planned to accompany him on his day’s beat, which includes sixteen judges of the Common Pleas court, the Probation court, and the Sheriff’s office as well. Jim came into the City Room at 8:30 a.m. and explained that it wasn’t necessary to be at the courthouse until about 9:30, by which time most judges are in their chambers. We passed most of the hour as Jim explained to me some things about his beat as court reporter.

Jim explained that his day began by calling each of his sixteen judges to discover the day’s trial schedule. As like as not, he would talk to the bailiff of the particular judge, since the bailiff is responsible for setting trial dates. Jim generally follows up the calls with a personal visit to several of the judges’ chambers. By these visits he often learns things which he would not be told over the phone for reasons of privacy, confidence, or other considerations. In an aside, Jim commented on the political nature of most of the county judges. They are often interested in publicity for themselves, and often give him information in a light which is not reestablished by some of his other contacts. Thus by necessity, the court reporter must talk to more people than the judges alone. Jim relies on conversations with the court’s contingent of deputy sheriffs to get leads on certain trials which the judges themselves might not readily reveal. The court reporter cultivates rapport with several strata of the official employees at the Justice Center.

After talking with the judges, Jim checks on new indictments by the Grand Jury, if any have been handed down. Since the official indictments are rather terse, often the reporter must do some research into the facts of the indictment to get any leads for possible stories. A talk with the prosecutor who turned in the indictment is usually the best way to find out the necessary pertinent information. All the evidence to be used in a trial must be available to both sides in advance (so no secret clincher witnesses), thus a reporter can see just about how a trial will unfold even when he talks to the prosecutor about the original indictment.

Jim commented on a few other areas of court practice and procedure on which he has come to have opinions. He described the Ohio Revised Code (1974) which sets standard criteria for sentencing, indicating a range of possible minimum and maximum limits for the sentence prescribed. An accused criminal suspect can register a plea which often very significantly affects his trial and sentence, and even whether he has a trial at all. Marino is very critical of the general leniency of the Common Pleas judges, whom he believes often put publicity considerations before judicial responsibilities. He cites Albert Porter’s case as an example, a man who over a period of twenty years in effect extorted millions of dollars from the paychecks of his employees, affecting innumerable families, never served a day in jail and got little more than a reprimand, for “health reasons.”

News stories from beats such as Marino’s are by nature competitive, and the editors back in the City Room must discriminate among the stories which street reporters call in. Thus each reporter develops criteria for news on his beat, by which he judges events “newsworthy,” of interest to his editors and the public. One such standard which Jim employs in covering civil cases is never to cover cases involving settlements of less than $35,000. Anything less than that simply does not attract a reader’s interest. When a reporter gets a story, his responsibility is two-fold for his coverage. He must be both reporter and critic. He must report the news and be able to respond to it. This is especially true of reporters covering public officials. They must reveal the blunders and weaknesses of which the public may often be unaware. Marino, for example, must cover how the judges act, and try to discover why they act as they do as well. Beat reporters, who are close to the news itself, must guide the response of the editorial staff to their (supposedly) objective reporting. A reporter’s influence is great, and his responsibility corresponds to his influence.

A reporter must be an independent individual. He must ride above personal considerations, above friendships and preferences. He must cover what is newsworthy, get the story he is assigned, disregard friends if need be to get the story, and disregard personal recognition in leaving all final copy decisions to his editors. Yet since the reporter is close to the streets, he must never hesitate to advise those who handle the news he has reported. He must be flexible on assignments, too, regardless of his specialty, for “every reporter is a general assignment reporter first and a beat reporter second.” Jim told me this after describing how he had been pulled from the Justice Center a few days earlier to handle all the incoming calls from reporters covering John Nardi’s bombing death. A reporter’s ethics are what the situation requires.

Media competition for city news is still stiff in Cleveland, but the nature of the competition is not what it once was. Now the struggle to get news is greatest between the newspapers and the television reporters, rather than between competing newspapers. The deadlines of the Plain Dealer and the Press are so different that their contents are usually quite different as well, but all local TV newsmen compete with Press reporters for breaking stories. It often happens that a story run in the first edition of the Press will be reported in almost exactly the same way on the noon news programs. This kind of thing really irks Jim, who believes that “the news is everyone’s, but a reporter’s style is his own,” and it has often been his experience to hear a TV news report on a trial he has covered in which his reporting is read word-for-word by some air-coiffed professional face. Jim gives a half-smile of wry resignation, as if he likes to hear his words on the airwaves, but . . .

At 9:30 a.m., Jim and I walked over to the old Press room in the Lakeside Courthouse building, which now houses the Domestic Relations and Probate courtrooms, among others. He planned to work his way through his sixteen-judge call sheet to figure out his schedule for the day. Each morning begins with these calls, although Jim doesn’t rely on the judgment of the bailiffs he talks to in determining newsworthy cases. He has to trust them at least until he can get up to talk to someone in person, though. The morning’s round of calls alert Jim to the present situation in the courthouse — he learns of stories with immediate impact that require his earliest attention. Jim mentioned the “reporter’s pride” which is stirred by the pressure of striving to meet deadlines with up-to-the-minute called-in stories. After a few short calls, Jim told me glumly that all he was getting were “CCW” cases — carrying a concealed weapon — which are the lowest felony category prosecuted in the Common Pleas Court, and of absolutely no news interest. Jim lifted the receiver and in a few seconds said “What’s happenin’ . . . ?” From the other end of the pressroom I heard a kindred “What’s goin’ on and what’s comin’ off?” The universal newsman’s query. It was Bus Bergen.

Upon being introduced to him, I found Bus to be the archetypal, crusty old reporter, blunt as the chewed end of a pungent cigar. He is the court reporter who covers the remaining Common Pleas judges, and several other aspects of the county judicial system. Bergen prefers to cover civil cases while Marino enjoys criminal cases, so they often trade off assignments and have a good working relationship. Bergen seems to have faith in nothing, trust in no one, and a universal low opinion of the miracle of existence in all its manifestations. He enjoys exposing his feelings, too, as I discovered. From the moment he heard my name, he called me nothing but “Wolf,” or “kid,” as if at last I had discovered the wise sage who would reveal to greenhorn me the deepest secrets of the newspaper business, and I’d better damn well respect him.

Bergen shares Marino’s belief in the self-serving nature of judges, but he expresses his thoughts in much saltier language. He considers the county judges to be “politicians first, jurists second.” His opinion of their ability in either category is uniformly low. He believes that many of the judges are guys who couldn’t make it on the street in any other position, so they sought the safety of the bench. Such men, Bergen says, have “feet of clay and heads to match.” One such judge who arouses Bergen’s venomous ire is Judge James Kilcoyne, who borrowed a book from Bergen several months ago and has not yet returned it. He earns the epithet, “that bastard Kilcoyne.” Bergen admits that his judgments of men have mellowed with age, and the “guys I call pricks now are probably nice guys,” but his ability to spot and expose myths (which judges, for example, sometimes set themselves up as). He admonished me, “in the newspaper business, you get in awe of a few myths yourself, Wolf — don’t ever forget it.”

Bergen is an affable if pugnacious Cornell grad, former athlete, World War II veteran (and apparently something of a hero) of whom Marino says, “mention the paratroopers and you’ll be his friend forever.” He has an apparently endless supply of stories and gruff aphorisms, and is reputedly an excellent reporter with a notable career and reputation. He is known for endless verification of a story, getting his facts from as many different sources as possible, and coming down hard on those whom he discovers in an attempt to mislead him. Lawyers joke that he has “never checked on any fact he ever printed,” a comment which I take to be respectful, since the very top lawyers in Cleveland are Bergen’s intimate friends. Bergen was once a very heavy drinker, and his drinking still wins a tone of respectful disbelief from those who speak of it. He is undoubtedly a man now past his prime, a man hanging to some degree to the thing which has been his whole life. Yet he is a sage, not the butt of the younger reporters’ surreptitious jokes.

Bergen reiterated Marino’s point that the people from whom a reporter gets his story most often have their own self-interest in mind. He warns that a reporter must not become a “cat’s paw,” a champion of particular causes or individuals. A reporter must be aloof from the newsmakers and detached from the news. While on the subject of his beat, he also bemoaned the low quality of the County Prosecutor’s office. A county prosecutor’s pay is low — less than $15,000 annually — and not attractive to talented young attorneys. The best young lawyers often work in the County Prosecutor’s office for a year or two, then drop out, using their experience as background for lucrative private practice. So Bergen’s pessimistic evaluation of life continues.

After my lengthy introduction to Bergen, Jim and I walked over to the Justice Center across the street to find out what was going on that day. Jim’s first stop was the headquarters of the Deputy Sheriffs on the 18th floor. A Deputy Sheriff is present at all trials, and the deputies are willing to tell Jim things that judges or bailiffs might ignore or conceal from him. For this reason, Jim has cultivated real friendships with the deputies and he knows them all well. This morning, though, those we talked to had nothing of note to say. We descended to the third floor to check on new indictments, and discovered that the Grand Jury had acted on nothing since last Thursday. This information was followed by an interesting conversation about the pay for testifying as a witness — inflation!

Our next stop was the Sheriff’s Department where we spoke with Inspector of Detectives Peter Becker, who had been a detective in homicide himself for thirty years, and had investigated more than two thousand cases. He spoke to us about the Arthur Noske case off the record, discussing the use of a psychic to locate the body, of which he was skeptical, and his own speculation about the location of the body. He also described some of the methods used by detectives in investigating a murder case in which the body is missing. After we left Becker’s office, Jim said that although he hadn’t really learned anything that he could use, his talk with Inspector Becker was worth its weight in gold. He had established a certain rapport with Becker and had been taken into his confidence to some extent (as had I), two things which would surely be in his favor when he was actually going after specific information for some future story.

On the trip up to the 23rd floor to check out the courtrooms and judges’ chambers, I noticed a rather incongruous sign stuck on the recessed paneling on the ceiling of the elevator. It read: “Free Ashby Leach.” Puzzling over the placement of this message and its obvious intent, we walked along the gallery of courtrooms and found no trials of any interest. We did run into Judge Richard McMonagle (the younger) who advised Jim of two upcoming trials of which he hadn’t heard before.

As we walked down the corridor, Jim was suddenly collared by a Deputy Sheriff with malicious aspect but playful intent. He asked Jim why he was stirring up so much trouble for the deputies. The Deputy Sheriffs are asking for higher pay and getting opposition from Sheriff Gerald McFaul, and Jim has taken their side in the paper. His use of quotes in articles on the subject has led to some friction between the deputies and their boss. They are asking for a 25% to 30% rise in pay, which has remained at the same level for five years. Jim, whom they recognize as a friend, said that he believed the articles would help them by demonstrating to McFaul that their demands are serious. The two deputies we talked to in the hall ended up by concurring with Jim, though they seemed to have their misgivings about the matter.

We left to go to lunch at about 1:00 p.m., treated with a Press expense account which Jim had been given for the day. Though the morning had revealed no news leads or worthwhile stories, Jim was optimistic about the value of developing relationships in casual hallway encounters, as he had done that morning with every level from the deputy sheriffs to the judges of his beat. Back in the Press room at Lakeside, we
found Bergen talking with his good friend Eddie Stillman, who Marino told me is considered the top defense attorney for civil cases in the city. Our lunch was at Stouffer’s, and over it we talked about my ideas about journalism, my evaluation of the Press, and the old style of reporting, which Jim knew about through his father.

At 2:30 p.m. we again reached the 23rd floor, and entered the chambers of Judge Lloyd Brown, whom Jim told me was the first Black judge on the bench and had a very good reputation. Judge Brown was not in, but Jim spoke to his bailiff, and I met Jerry Gold, reputed to be the top defense attorney for criminal litigation in the city. We left Judge Brown’s chambers and entered a trial in progress across the way, in the courtroom of Judge Harry Jaffe, who is “close to 70 but acts 40.” The process of voir dire, or choosing jurors, was going on as we entered. The crime was obviously a felony, as the defense attorney was asking prospective jurors whether discussions about a weapon might possibly affect their impartiality. Once the twelve jurors and an alternate were chosen, Judge Jaffe called a recess and we were able to talk to him in his chambers. He explained the process of voir dire, the standards for sentencing, and some other court matters, and asked us to sit in on a sentencing if we liked, in a case involving five counts of armed robbery. We did.

A tall, thickly speaking Black man, 20 years old, cuffed and guarded, had been convicted on five counts of second-degree aggravated robbery. He was later to stand trial in a federal court for the additional crime of shooting at a federal marshall. As he stood mute before the bench, Jaffe sentenced him to two 7-25 year jail terms, to be served concurrently, minimum and maximum limits determined by the standards mandated for a second-degree felony of that nature. The federal crime could bring as stiff an additional sentence on conviction. The only question the man had, as possibly fifty years of his life were being erased before his eyes, was whether the federal sentence was likely to be concurrent as well. He will be eligible for parole in three and a half years. His eyes look dead as he turns and walks from the courtroom.

Next in Jaffe’s court are the opening statements of the felonious assault trial of which we observed the voir dire process. The defendant was being tried for shooting at a man’s house four times with a shotgun and doing considerable property damage, though causing no personal injuries. The prosecutor, a young Cuban lawyer on his first case, was up against a defense attorney named Zimmerman, a tremendous fleshy and cotton-voiced man whom Marino characterized as an “asshole.” I already had this impression as I watched him bully prospective jurors during voir dire. He seemed to have a tremendous sense of his own importance, and Jim added that he usually lunched on several martinis.

The first witness called by the prosecution was the man who owned the house that had been damaged. His testimony was assertive but confused; he had some trouble under the slurred and rumbling examination by Zimmerman. He was the owner of a private janitorial service, and apparently his wife was the source of quite a bit of trouble on the street: she once shot at the leg of another woman in her home, trying to drive her out of the house. The testifying witness said that he didn’t know what his wife did, since he was gone most of the day. He admitted to her unusual behavior but brushed it aside. In other testimony, he had the defendant shooting him while wearing beige pants, then walking down the street twenty minutes later wearing blue pants. He couldn’t recall the actual date or day of the crime, identifying it as “the day the police came,” though he knew the time of the shooting down to the minute. The testimony continued like this, and we left at about three-thirty.

I was impressed with Jim Marino and the aspects of his beat that he showed me. I was also struck by the amount of information and knowledge of legal matters that the court reporter must have control of. Jim said that he enjoyed being court reporter, because although there are certain things he must learn, once these things are learned they are retained, and the same principles arise in all legal proceedings. He prefers his beat to the labor beat, for example, for once he has a handle on the legal jargon and procedures, he can apply it to everything he has to cover. The labor beat is responsible for all the labor unions in Cleveland and all aspects of labor relations, the demands and aims of each union. Jim doesn’t envy the labor beat. But he is very competent in his own beat, and I enjoyed my day with him. Justice is a good deal more than law books.

Tuesday, May 24

The morning was spent on a photo assignment with photographer Tony Tomsic and general assignment reporter Barbara Weiss. We were to cover the hydrofracturing of Cleveland Well #3 in Warrensville Heights, though none of us had a very clear idea of just what that meant. Members of the press had been invited to this event by the City of Cleveland and Mayor Ralph Perk, since the hydrofracturing was to take place on city property and for the benefit of the city. Apparently there was supposed to be a rather spectacular gusher from the well which would be appropriate for media coverage. In anticipation of this, Tony, Barbara, and I drove in Tony’s new car to the Warrensville site at 8:45 a.m. While driving, we became acquainted a little bit, and Tony talked about the days when Mr. (Richard D.) Peters was the chief editorial writer for the Press. At that time, he said, the paper had a sense of humor. He talked about the paper then, describing Peters as “the kind of guy who looks like he means ‘no comment’ just standing there.”

We got to Warrensville Heights and the site on Harvard Road, parked in the Hope Camp lot, and were ferried to the well site in a van presumably driven by someone on the City payroll. We reached the site across the road, and found it to be roughly cleared of trees and brush, muddy and damp. A tent stood on a hillside above the well, and inside (or rather, under) was coffee, sweet rolls, and several heated containers of catered food. The well itself, down a short steep slope, resembled an elongated fire hydrant with four outlet pipes, and it was surrounded by impressive-looking trucks and machinery. A tank truck with a load of liquid nitrogen steamed away mysteriously, and several grimy workers strode about, checking valves and looking important. A city sign described the scene: Cleveland Well #3, City of Cleveland Self-Help Program. Mayor Perk’s signature made the sign official.

When we arrived at nearly 9:30 a.m., there was already a sizable crowd at the site. Many looked monied; perhaps these people lent money for the project. I had the impression that they were energy investors when I noticed cowboy boots with leisure suits. Many spoke with a Texan drawl, and their wives all seemed to have smug, fatuous expressions. It did not take long to locate the kingpins of the project; the others
gravitated about them and listened to simplified explanations of the geologic and mechanical machinations involved in the day’s event.

Barbara got her explanation of the process from Bill Frysinger, dressed as though he had just walked out of a Marlboro ad. Bill represented Gem Drilling Co., contracted by Monarch Oil Co. of Warren, and his men and machines labored under the hazy sun to crack a layer of Clinton sandstone beneath our feet through which the oil would flow. He described the process of hydrofracturing. The several red tank trucks which were in an array below us were pumping quantities of water under high pressure into the well. The water and the pressure it transmitted would crack the stone in the layer of Clinton sandstone in which the oil was contained. When the stone fractured, sand carried in the water would collect in the cracks and hold them open. The newly formed channels in the rock would permit gas and oil to flow down to the well opening. The pressure of the gas and oil flow would force the water (and injected chemicals) high into the air out of the well head. This is what we hoped to see. The sand which permits all this to happen is called a “propping agent.” We, on the surface, would feel none of these underground fractures. We would continue to sip the City’s punch as if nothing had happened at all.

Soon after we arrived, the affair was joined by Mayor Perk and several suited attendants. I got a chance to talk to the sagging-featured Perk as he was sipping a gratis cup of orange juice. He had quite a bit to say about the city’s gas wells. One city well (Well #2) is already producing gas and oil, said the mayor. He expected that this new well would produce a total of nearly 80,000 barrels of oil and a daily yield of 200,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The cost of the two wells now in operating stage had been $250,000, funded by private investors, some of whom were present at the hydrofracturing today.

Perk emphasized that Cleveland was the country’s first city to drill in such a way for its own energy supply. This reminded me of a similar statement I once heard on the subject of a metric track. In any case, the mayor conceded that the financial return from the well’s production would be insignificant. He added that the important aspect of the project is the additional energy which will be made available to the city in case of future shortage situations such as we experienced last winter.

In addition to these sites in Warrensville Heights, the city is considering several other possible drilling sites, including city land on the shore of Lake Erie. Perk is unsure of the possibilities for these locations because he does not believe that the city owns the mineral rights for the land in question. He mentioned that one option may be drilling on the city’s Burke Lakefront Airport on the ground between runways. One problem which prevents immediate exploration of the Burke site is the presence of great underground salt deposits under the lake and shoreline areas. Apparently this makes drilling difficult. One of Perk’s guests at the affair today is the mayor of Youngstown, a personal friend of Perk’s and in fact the man who suggested the drilling project. He is an amateur geologist of sorts, and he advised Perk that the sandstone deposits in the Warrensville Heights area were the kind that often contained oil. He encouraged the exploratory operations that were culminating today.

I later overheard some unguarded comments by Mayor Perk as he discussed the sale of the Muny Light plant with one of his suited friends. He felt the sale should have been made soon after the November election. He accused (City Council President) George Forbes of purposely stalling the sale, with the result of a loss of several million dollars for the city (since Muny Light operated at a loss during that interim period). The result of the sale now is not what it might have been, but certainly better than the terms of receivership, Perk added. He indicated his judgment that Council President Forbes is primarily a showman. Forbes waited until external pressures to sell were greatest before backing and advocating for the sale of Muny Light. As a result, the city stands to lose $4 to $5 million on the present terms of the sale.

As the din continued below us and the workers scurried about and twisted dials, Tony and Barbara talked about working at the Press. They both complained of the lack of communication between the decision-making editors and the beat and general assignment reporters. The reporters should have more say on the admission of copy into the paper. They are on the street and can see how the news is falling together, they are aware of the impact certain reported events are having on the world. Apparently there is substantial resentment between reporters and the editorial staff. I would guess that it has always existed to some extent, but Tony and Barbara cited this friction as the greatest problem at the Press today. Both said they remembered times when the advice of reporters was sought by the editors and generally respected, even if not adhered to. Now the editors seem isolated from other aspects of the paper and uninterested in the reporters’ ideas and opinions. The vital editor-reporter exchange is missing today, and so is some of the life of the paper.

At 11:00 a.m. we were informed that a $1.50 electronic part was missing from the control panel on the Airco tank truck pumping liquid nitrogen into the well. Until the needed part could be produced, perhaps an hour hence, the final blow-off of the well would be delayed. In the meantime, the crowd settled back with a collective sigh and ate the catered lunch. I met and talked to (University School classmates) Tom
Weidenkopf and Dale Coy, who had come to the site with the mayor’s secretary. I also conversed with Mr. G.E. Campbell with East Ohio Gas Co. He described the drilling operation and the result of hydrofracturing, as well as the financial aspects of energy production. He happened to be at the big event today because East Ohio owns the gas line that the wells will tie into. East Ohio will have control of a rather substantial percentage of the gas production that is finally realized.

By 1:00 p.m. nothing had happened, though there was much activity and high-pressure noise below us. At last the activity ceased and the many connections of pipe and hose were unfastened by workmen. Mayor Perk made an impromptu speech in which he introduced the President of Monarch Energy Co., as well as the Mayor of Youngstown. He ended by saying, “and I have some bad news. The release of pressure from the well will not take place for at least another 45 minutes, so just sit back and relax.” After this final note in a series of delays, Tony was furious, and besides it was now too late to publish a picture in any of the day’s editions of the paper. We left the site and headed back to the office empty-handed.

Thursday, May 26

Today Mr. Tanner dropped me in front of the Cleveland Police station at 21st Street and Payne, and left to my own devices to locate Police reporter Jerry Kvet, who would be in charge of me for the day. I stepped into the well-worn but still-imposing building and was not long in finding the pressroom, hidden at the end of a corridor market by a sign reading “Women” (though I looked around and could not find any), past the inevitable blind vendor’s concession stand. In the cubbyhole I discovered at last, I met the animated Paul Weber with a pudgy, almost childlike face. He is Jerry’s fellow police reporter and companion in the pressroom during the day.

The tiny pressroom in the station was dominated by three long aluminum desks. An old cabinet containing worn, numbered notebooks stood beside one desk. A large and ancient-looking radio set stood on a shelf on the wall directly across from the door; it was tuned to the police band. On another wall, next to the window, was a smaller set tuned to the fire reports band. One faded drape hung over this set. Maps of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County were affixed to two walls, and a third wall was covered with lists of public officials. Numerous faded memos and messages were Scotch-taped to the walls, and penciled graffiti adorned the remaining open wall space (I thought graffiti was a misdemeanor).

Jerry Kvet arrived at the pressroom about ten minutes after I got in. Jerry is a big man with heavy Eastern European features. He explained the several shifts that make a police reporter available twenty-four hours each day. Jerry and Paul Weber work in the pressroom from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and compile reports and information from telephone calls and reports on the radio instead of composing firsthand accounts. An evening man (Tony Prusha) is in the police pressroom from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and he has a car at his disposal. He writes what is called “second-day news,” or previews of things which should take place during the next day. He does this instead of straight reporting because the Plain Dealer gets the first shot at publishing stories of events that take place before 11:00 p.m. Finally, there is an 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. man who also has a car at his disposal and who is expected to get first-hand accounts of big crime stories breaking during the wee hours.

Since no big stories were underway and Jerry had no immediate responsibilities, he decided that he would explain his daily routine and show me what kind of recorded information is available to the police reporter and how this information is used. Jerry explained that the notebooks in the cabinet contained police clippings dating back to 1927, which were available as one possible resource for background on stories. Apparently the notebooks are complete except for three volumes containing all the clippings pertaining to the Sam Sheppard murder case, which someone had apparently stolen. Jerry also commented on the current crime-in-vogue, the theft of leaded and stained glass. One or two such thefts occur daily right now. He said that while this is a rather insignificant crime in each individual case, cumulative copy can be the starting point for a feature story on the subject.

Kvet’s first job of the day is to review the copy turned in by the overnight reporters. He establishes an order of priority among the articles and rewrites them as he thinks they may appear in the day’s paper. Jerry has certain criteria by which he judges the newsworthiness of police stories. He will not report on a fire unless damage in excess of $10,000 is incurred. He looks for the atypical angle which makes the commonplace story unusual. The identity of the victim can create reader interest in an otherwise unremarkable crime. The process of establishing such criteria is subjective and comes with experience.

Several tremendous directories are used by police reporters to find the locations of significant crimes or fires by a process called “criss-cross.” One of these is the Haines Directory, like the phone book except that it is organized by addresses rather than names. If a fire is reported at a particular address, the police reporter can find out who lives at that address using the Haines book. The City Directory, and several suburban versions, lists the names and occupations of city residents. It is organized alphabetically by last names. In addition to these, there are east and west suburban directories arranged and organized in a variety of ways.

The police reporter of the Press is responsible not only for the city of Cleveland but for all of northeast Ohio. All the state patrol offices are called regularly for information and reports. In addition, the police departments of all the suburbs are called each day. Sometimes the police department of one suburb will give a lead on an event in another suburb which is not revealed by the suburb in question. Supplementary calls complete the information that the police reporter can compile on a particular crime. He may call hospitals in the vicinity of the crime to find news of victims being treated, or he may call neighbors of the house in which a crime has taken place to get an interesting lead.

When a crime is committed, the initial report is filed by the patrolman in the zone car that handles the call. There are several zones assigned to cover the Cleveland area, and particular assignments are made by the police dispatcher at police headquarters. He gives cars in each zone the address of the location where a crime is reported to be in progress. All these things are heard by the police reporters over their radios. Following the initial zone car report, an inquiry is made by the detectives, a more in-depth follow-up is written. This final report may be general or it may be handled by specialized departments, depending on the nature of the crime being handled.

The records room of the police department is on the first floor, in fact it is the first room one encounters upon entering the department, for it also serves as the information desk. In this room, initial reports from the zone cars are called in, typed and copied, then condensed on the teletype using a special code. The originals and teletype copies are filed by the title of the crime and the number assigned. Jerry reviews these incoming reports every two to three hours. As we stood at the records desk and Jerry explained the system to me, an old homicide detective named Carl Roberts walked up and spoke to Jerry. Apparently he had been a detective for many years, and had retired from the detective bureau. Now he had been given a new desk job with the department. Jerry later told me that Carl had been one of the best homicide detectives in the department.

One of the case transcripts we examined that interested Jerry was an aggravated burglary case involving a 93-year-old man. The man was cut up by the burglar, who got away with no more than $12. Jerry said that although the case itself was not very significant, it might be of interest simply because of the age of the victim. Such crimes are on the rise, almost commonplace when so many older people can’t afford to move out of neighborhoods that experience increasing crime. At one time, Jerry said, such a case would be of interest if it involved a woman over 50 or a man over age 60. Now a case like this one with a victim more than ninety years old is hardly notable.

The crime reports are kept available as long as suspects are held by the police: 72 hours. If a writ of habeas corpus is presented, the police must free suspects or present evidence convincing enough to detain them before the 72-hour period is up. The situation for learning fire information is somewhat different. In the case of significant fires, only the chief of the battalion that handles the fire is authorized to give information to the press. Such interviews must be done in person.

Jerry showed me the department’s communication center, where the dispatchers for each zone sit and make their calls. The pressroom has a direct line to the desk of the lieutenant in charge of the communications center, allowing reporters to get immediate verification of reports that they hear over police radio. This is one of the few cases in which the reporters can get information about a crime practically as it is happening. In most cases they rely on several different record bureaus in the department. One of these is the Record and Warrants Bureau, on the second floor of the station. Here the records of misdemeanors and traffic offenses are kept, and arrest warrants are drafted. Also on the second floor of the station are the misdemeanor courts. Before we sat in on one of the court sessions, we spoke with patrolman Robert Helms in the pressroom. Helms spoke about the new min-max sentencing procedure for violent crimes.

We returned to the second floor and the court of Judge Lillian Burke. The suspects in last night’s arrests were making their first court appearances. Most were in on charges of disorderly conduct, generally meaning “drunk.” For most of these appearances on the first docket, the judge ruled one of three things. She either set the date for a preliminary hearing for felony charges, set a date for the accused to enter a plea, or granted a continuance to permit the suspect time to contact a lawyer. For felony charges, she might have also set the amount of the bond and the date for appearance before a Grand Jury. In general, these court sessions are of little interest to the police reporter, but it is his job to know what is going on in all phases of police department operation.

Jerry listed for me the criteria for creating a story in crime reporting. In general he is interested primarily in major crimes, but he will also consider minor or common crimes including unusual circumstances. Commonplace crimes often become newsworthy when they involve some well-known personality. Another consideration is time priorities, especially considering competition with stories reported by the Plain Dealer. Today, it so happened that Jerry had a feature article printed in Column One of the Press, and his story involved crime only indirectly. He wrote a column about Police Memorial Day, Friday, May 20, which went almost entirely unnoticed by the public. He deplored the lack of recognition that police get for the service they perform, made so obvious to the wives and relatives of policemen killed on duty, whom the day honors.

I ate lunch with Jerry and the “lunch bunch,” a group of writers who meet for the noon meal. Among the group of seven or eight were investigative reporter Walter Jones, arts critic Tony Mastroionni, reporter Stephanie Nano, education reporter Peter Almond, etc. We ate at Barrister’s little storefront grill. The conversation ran more to softball than to the newspaper business.

After lunch we visited the Fraud Unit and talked with a couple of the officers there, including one lieutenant who informed Jerry that nearly everything he knew about the promotion ceremony to take place that afternoon such as numbers, people involved, and location, was incorrect. He wouldn’t enlighten us, either. We moved on to the Arrest Records department and reviewed the records of those suspects being detained for 72 hours, kept in an open file.

We had an interesting talk with a woman in the arrest records department about a child prostitution case. A man had been caught and indicted by a Grand Jury for luring children between the ages of 8 and 21 into sexual favors by paying them large sums of money. Pictures had been taken and several parents had recognized their children, but it was unclear how the case against the suspect would be handled. Jerry discussed how difficult coverage of such a case is, because of the situation of the families involved and the mental condition of the suspect, etc. I left considering this rather delicate dilemma after spending the day learning all the cold and factual information available to the police reporter and how he might use it. I had not thought of the role judgment and social discretion might play in police reporting.

Friday, May 27

Today my assignment left me at the copy desk in the city room of the Press, observing Dan Sabol as he was making up the paper at 7:30 a.m., making tentative layout decisions on dummy sheets. Dan was informative when pressed, but more strictly businesslike and less outgoing than most of the others I have spent time with. I felt that I tagged along and participated less today than usual.

It is the responsibility of the editors at the copy desk to write heads for the articles and do the final editing of copy turned in for printing. Stories are brought to the copy desk to be evaluated for placement in the paper based on their content and probable reader interest. The copy editor’s decisions seemed entirely subjective to me. Copy editors also decide on what photos will be printed and how all art will be used — for instance, today Mr. Sabol considered and decided on the use of a map of the city indicating the ten most dangerous intersections. The decisions made on the copy desk are finalized on dummy sheets. These sheets are used as guidelines by the professional layout men who work in the composing room.

Once copy decisions are completed, the copy editors go to the composing room to supervise the final layout of the paper. Mr. Sabol went to the composing room at 8:30 a.m. and advised the man who was laying out the front section of the paper. He was primarily interested in the layout of Page One. The first run of the paper this morning was delayed several minutes by a cutline which was turned in and typeset late. Sabol had a small argument with the city editors about this, and as a result made the first deadline for copy a half-hour earlier than it had been at 8:30 a.m.

When the first edition was being put to bed, there was very little activity at the copy desk. Between the first and second editions, the only changes are for the most part grammatical corrections or small rewrite corrections. During this period of low activity I got a short lesson from one of the proofreaders in the use of the Video Terminal teletype. The teletype, called VDT for short, permits rewrite of wire reports and direct access to the Press computer that does all the typesetting. I watched the rewrite of an offshoot story from the report of the man who had climbed one of the World Trade Center towers the day before, George Willig. The story was coded “Climb” on the computer. Upon instruction from the operator, the entire story is displayed on the video screen of the teletype, and the keys of the console permit the operator to edit the story to his needs and enter the edited form into the computer to be typeset. Any part of the story may be revised, rewritten, amended, deleted, and so on.

The codes used to give directions to the computer are too complex to be learned at first exposure. “Cf 1” codings are used to indicate the typeface in which the article or sections of the article are to be printed. “Cf 2” codings indicate the relative intensity of the headline from light to dark face. These are only the beginning. The final rewritten copy can be entered in one or both of two storage files, a temporary file that permits a story to be retained for several hours and perhaps used in a later edition of the day’s paper, or a permanent file that allows a story to be kept for several weeks and perhaps be expanded into a feature story or a series of articles. The VDT allows access to both the Press’s own copy computer and a computer in New York in which wire stories are filed. This is one component of the communications network that is completely changing the methods and the role of the newspaper and its production.

I talked for about 15 minutes with labor writer Fred (Bucky) Buchstein, a diminutive but outgoing guy who withstands a lot of kidding from the likes of Wally Guenther but who is respected for the job he does handling his difficult beat. He repeated many of the setbacks commonly encountered and methods employed by courts reporter Jim Marino in developing relationships with possible contacts and running up against people who don’t want to say a thing or who are only out to publicize themselves. He said that he was primarily interested in writing “non-traditional” labor stories and working on long-term labor problems and issues. He cited the universal sensitivity of people involved in labor issues, and said that he had “his share of enemies” as a result of stories he had written. Nevertheless he enjoys his beat tremendously; its complexity and significance fascinate him.

By this time, Mr. Sabol was working on changes for the later home editions of the paper: additions and deletions of articles, new copy, and layout changes. For later editions, the pace is leisurely, and he was able to explain the decision-making process to me a little more completely.  Incoming copy is graded A, B, or C by the copy editors. The criterion, Mr. Sabol said, is “what the people are most interested in.” There is no hard and fast policy for grading articles, no set criteria for international, national, and local news other than reader interest.

As far as layout decisions are concerned, “softer” news is printed at the head of Page One. Today the lead article is a study of the ten most dangerous intersections in the city, guaranteed to be of some interest to nearly every reader of the paper. News for Page One is also chosen for its variety; all levels and degrees of news possible are printed, with the intention of having something for everyone. There is no real consistency of layout from one day to the next. Final editing is done and layout is changed practically from minute to minute, it seems, certainly from edition to edition. A daily paper is undeniably dynamic and flexible — but, in the end, also somewhat amorphous.


Share This Book