Monday, October 22, 2007

Jury Duty

There’s a whole different kind of jury duty than the one people try to get out of. That’s the one prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, witnesses and interested parties like the press are involved in. Namely waiting for a jury to come back with verdicts in a case.

Witness for example the recent Ben Mercer case involving the former Fond du Lac City Human Resources Director accused of viewing child porn on a work computer. As a reporter you can try and sweet talk your way into getting someone to call you to let you know when the jury has decided and is returning. That can be risky business.

Most of the time you just sit and wait swapping stories. Some of these might be termed war stories. The question arises, “What’s the longest jury trial you ever worked?” A cameraman from Channel 26 won this time talking about a trial in the mid-80s that went more than five months. The Ben Mercer trial is the longest of my particular time as a reporter. The nine days it lasted edged out an eight-day trial I covered in Dodge County for a baby-shaking case. The infant died and the jury acquitted the veteran baby sitter who was charged in the baby girl’s death.

We also talked about a jury trial in Outagamie County that was running parallel to the Mercer case involving a former teacher who was accused of sexually assaulting a student and former student. He was acquitted and earned mention in USA Today by fainting during the course of the trial.

Most of us starved in the lobby of the second floor of the City-County Government Center while the jury was treated to fresh pizza brought in no doubt just in time to reenergize them during their deliberations. One reporter munched on a homemade sandwich she claimed wasn’t tasty at all and was only outdone by the stale all-natural boxed snack she switched off on. I starved and settled for water.

I actually got a break during the seven hours of deliberation to go to a doctor’s appointment that went longer than I’d hoped. Good old reliable Wade Bates of our sports department sat in and swapped stories with the Assistant State Attorney General and two others during that time. The Channel 26 reporter and cameraman left to cover some white powder found in an envelope in Oshkosh and severe weather. The weather never materialized, but did set a dramatic scene outside that second floor window.

Although the future of a person hinges on the jury’s decision it almost seems anti-climatic after a long trial and deliberation. Unlike television and the movies there’s no music to heighten the mood or quick quip to go with the announcement of the decision. For the jury however there is a little bonding with other jury members during the trial and a sense of relief. Unlike others they were chosen to serve and did the job very well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

State Budget

Even when you report the news sometimes you get a little frustrated with a story. That’s how I feel about the impasse over Wisconsin’s state budget. Insiders say they aren’t that far apart except for on a few key issues. Both sides are blaming each other for not being willing to compromise. It’s like an old-fashioned duel in which the two participants are given single-shot pistols and miss each other.

It is costing people already as property tax levies are being set for December tax bills and state employees realize they may soon be unemployed. My sister Kathy works for the state of Michigan’s Correction Department. At the end of last month she was informed that she was being laid off and not to bother filing for unemployment because there wasn’t any money for that either. Fortunately Michigan passed a 30-day extension of their budget and she and other state employees went back to work.

I’m told that couldn’t happen in Wisconsin because the state’s old budget just continues in such cases. However something has got to give. This morning we got a report from the Associated Press the eight state legislators working on the budget compromise committee had earned $34,000 in per diem payments and travel money since July first. That’s simply not fair. If there were any justice no state legislator would be paid including the Governor, one of those budget proposals is his, until the budget were passed.

My first radio job out of college an automobile repair shop owner held my car hostage because he didn’t think I could pay my tab. When he found out who my boss was, she had a reputation for robbing Peter and paying Paul, he took pity on me. He got half my paycheck anyway and I had to go without some things for a few months.

I don’t blame state employees for gathering at the State Capitol to protest the budget impasse. In the end that old boss of mine spent five years in prison because she shorted the wrong person. Chances are nobody’s going to prison for failing to pass the state budget. Then again if they did imagine the wonderful treatment they’d get from those state employees. Provided of course there’s money available to man the prison.

Monday, October 08, 2007

We Are Marshall

When it comes to sports movies I guess I’m a real sap. I enjoyed “We are Marshall.” Part of that was due to the fact that it was based on a real incident. To tell you the truth I thought Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the new head coach of the Marshall University football team in the wake of a tragic plane crash was a little over the top, but it seemed to fit in with the role. What was eerie was seeing the players in their letter jackets. Honest to goodness they look just like mine when I was playing high school football. I recommended the movie to one of the women in our front office and she liked it. She is a family-oriented “happy ending” person. It has a good cast. I’m not going to say anything more about it in case you wanted to see a football movie that demonstrates how life and death is so much more important than a game and yet how important a game can be to help us cope with loss.

As a kid I read a number of biographies, autobiographies and some ghostwritten autobiographies. Lately I’ve gone through a period of watching DVDs and movies based on real life events. “Zodiac,” about the Zodiac killer of the late 1960s was disturbing in more ways than one. It’s about the obsession both police investigating the killings and those writing or reporting about them get caught up in. For some it cost them their jobs, health and marriages. Officially the killer wasn’t caught, but the film points toward a likely suspect.

I recently picked up a copy of “World Trade Center.” I watched it the weekend after the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. I have to give credit to Oliver Stone that he didn’t go overboard as he is apt to do, but am convinced from watching it that the 9/11 attacks are something I will never be able to fully think about without feeling a sense of loss. It tells the story of two of the New York Port Authority policemen who were trapped in the rubble at Ground Zero and survived. Usually I’ll watch a movie several times to see if I like it. I haven’t been able to watch it a second time yet, even though for the officers it had a happy ending.

On television sometime over the last few months I watched Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” a take on the Son of Sam murders. Not really a fan of Brooklyn or the Bronx I found some of the 1999 film downright stupid and or funny. Like when the dog talks to David Berkowitz. Then there’s Spike Lee playing a reporter. I’m not sure if he was going for the best wooden performance award or if he was poking fun at himself, but there was a funny bit where some of the bystanders verbally attack him (the reporter) for the job he is doing.

Sadly Hollywood at its best can’t substitute for real-life drama or tragedy. Witness for example the shootings in Crandon, Wisconsin early Sunday morning A 20-year-old off-duty Forest County Sheriff’s Deputy shot and killed six people, another person is in critical condition. I lived and worked in Northern Wisconsin for six years. I’d travel through Crandon at least three times each year and back to go see family in Michigan’s U.P. I always thought of it as a nice quiet community. Residents living there now probably wish it still were.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Customer Service

Customer service sure isn’t what it used to be. I think part of that is due to the fact that a lot is no longer done face-to-face. The words convenient, new, and automated phone service should never be used together. Take for example my recent efforts to just find out if my doctor is covered under our new insurance carrier.

I spent the better part of an hour going through their automated toll-free number before by shear luck I got a hold of a real person who gave me a short cut through the new convenient system. Yes my doctor is part of the plan, which I thought I could easily find out through their website. Alas my insurance card had two types of plans listed on it. That’s why I was trying to reach a real person in the first place. I found out one shouldn’t have been listed and actually creates a lot of questions for them. I wonder how many of those questions are as easily answered.

Many businesses go with automated phone service now. I’ve run into that with the State Patrol, school districts, businesses, etc. We even have one at our radio stations offices. It’s on after hours. Granted that’s not an easy system for some people. In checking for weather cancellations one morning I stumbled across messages from a man who wanted to get a birthday on the air. Of course we do that live on KFIZ six mornings a week and take them ahead of time during business hours as well. Still it was inconvenient for him.

With the Internet a lot more inquiries are being done on line. I sometimes do that, but still prefer doing it over the phone or in person. Shopping is still a feel good experience for me although every once in a while you are going to have a bad experience. How mad does it make you to see an item in a flyer and then be told when you get to the store that they were only allowed to carry a certain number or that their particular store wasn’t allowed to stock that item? Buyer beware!

We are coming up on that time of year when Christmas shopping has us scrutinizing our purchases a little more carefully. I can’t tell you how much I agonize about the amount of time I want to spend in a crowded store. Add a little short temperedness of some shoppers and overworked clerks and you have the recipe for Bah Humbug. Remembering the reason for the season helps me get through it.

Generally the bigger the company the more lax the customer service seems to be. Recently a part in our central printer broke down. One of our ladies in the front office spent an hour and eight minutes on hold waiting for a real person to help her out. A couple more such calls and the better part of a week later our printer, which everyones' computers in the building are linked to, was up and running again. And you wonder why the corporate company that makes that printer went through a boardroom scandal in the past year?

Now for something nice to say! My experiences with local companies have been first rate. I call quite a few in connection with news stories. So my thanks to Mercury Marine, G & L, BCI Burke, Quad Graphics, Mid States Aluminum and a host of others. I don’t know how they treat their customers, but if they are as kind and courteous to them as they have been to this reporter, they’re being treated like royalty.