Friday, May 3, 2013

Stranger than fiction, or, how to fake your own death for eleven years

Every once in awhile I get an assignment that is truly bizarre. In this case, I've been working for Inside Edition on a story about that Pennsylvania woman who disappeared eleven years ago and was presumed dead until she turned up in Florida.

Turns out going off the grid is as easy as writing a novel.

In this case, Brenda Heist (and you gotta love the irony of the last name) simply re-invented herself as a cleaning woman in Pensacola, Florida. Yesterday we spent a lot of time with one of her clients, a kind-hearted woman named Sondra who took her in when she said she needed to get out of an abusive relationship. She said her name was Lovie Smith (yeah, same name as the Chicago Bears coach, but Sondra didn't follow football.) She paid everything in cash, bought cars with cash, covered her tracks, developed trust with clients in the community. Even though she left a husband and children behind she told Sondra she was a widow and had no kids. Sondra became close friends with her and had no inkling she was being conned.

This is a wild story and if you get a chance check it out on Thursday's episode of Inside Edition. I'll post the link here after it airs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Entry level job hunting is a lot like the NFL draft

While I'm a NFL junkie and go into my fall Sunday coma with the NFL Sunday Ticket, I don't watch college football at all. So when the draft rolls around, I'll watch even though I have no idea which players might be good. I want to see who the Giants pick and enjoy the high comedy that is the New York Jets, who are the football version of a dysfunctional newsroom.

The analysts discuss all sorts of positives and negatives. Can a quarterback throw deep? Is the receiver shy about going over the middle? Is the person a team player? You'll hear them talk about a player with a good work ethic, or one who has a "motor" which means he never quits or takes a play off.

Then there are those "red flags" that can send players dropping off a cliff. Drug use, arrests, and, in the case of a certain Notre Dame linebacker, nonexistent dead girlfriends. (By the way, I don't buy it that anyone could be that gullible.)

Every summer after May sweeps, News Directors who hire entry level people have their own version of the draft. They're looking mostly for potential, because work done in college rarely simulates that done in a real newsroom. But they also look for the following:

-Experience: Has the applicant done an internship, or worked in a college station? Or simply learned journalism theory out of a book?

-Industry knowledge: Does the person know how to edit, how to put a story together?

-Versatility: Can the applicant do more than one thing, such as news and sports, or news and weather?

-Attitude: How does the applicant interview? Willing to learn, or already knows everything there is to know?

-References: What do people say about the applicant, especially those who worked with the person during an internship?

-Red flags: Does the person's social media sites indicate any alcohol or drug problems? Are there very opinionated or offensive comments on the Internet? (Trust me, every ND will check your electronic footprint, and most will do a background check.)

So how would you rank? First round draft choice? Middle of the pack? Undrafted free agent?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unless you have the power to read minds or contact the dead, speculation makes you look stupid

Over the past two weeks the news business has apparently acquired a whole bunch of reporters with paranormal powers. Incredibly, these people are not only able to see into the mind of the captured Boston bomber, but are able to act as mediums and contact the dead one as well. These supernatural skill sets allow them to tell the general public exactly what the bombers were thinking, what their mindset was, and what they were or were not planning to do next.

They were going to New York. No, they weren't. They acted alone. Nope, they had help.

I continue to be amazed at journalists who simply spout these theories as if they are facts. And let's face it, they're theories. Just because they've interrogated the captured bomber doesn't mean he told the truth. (Why would he lie? Uh, I don't know... he just killed and maimed a bunch of people, so let's trust him.) Just because they've looked into the history of the dead bomber doesn't mean they had any idea what made him set off bombs or what he planned to do next.

We've already seen some incredibly embarrassing, and yes, amateurish coverage during the week of the bombing. How bad was it? The President had this line over the weekend:

"I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate."

A funny joke, but a sad commentary on what the news business has become.

Meanwhile, now that corrections have been issued, it's apparently time to speculate.

And of course, let's speculate by injecting some political bias into the argument.

There's an old newsroom joke that goes like this: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

It's not a joke anymore. It's fact.

Unless you have hard facts, don't speculate. It makes you look stupid. And it makes me change the channel.