An Icon of Sports Broadcasting Passes Away

Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, who also spent time in Baltimore, has died at 92. Harwell spent 55 years in broadcasting, joining Mel Allen, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and others among the game’s most famous play-by-play voices.

He announced Detroit games on radio from 1960-1991, again in 1993 and from 1999-2002. He broadcast games on over-the-air and cable television from 1960-64 and 1994-98.

Harwell retired in 2002 and spent his final years in Michigan. The legendary broadcaster died after a battle with cancer.

PRODUCER HAT: The first question in breaking news– who do you want to get on-air to comment? Three places to always search:

1) Archives: Who commented on similiar stories in the past? In this case, we had some good resources from when Harry Kalas died a few years ago.
2) Media Guides: All major sports have media guides, including baseball. They have several home phone numbers for people who cover each team, including Detroit.
3) Books: Did anyone ever write a book about Ernie Harwell? Yup, Tom Keegan co-wrote his autobiography.

I have to give all the credit to my anchors. You call the play, then your guys execute it. And they did it flawlessly.

Take a listen!

WTOP’s Nathan Roberts speaks to Detroit News Sports Columnist Lynn Henning:
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WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis speaks to sports broadcasting historian Curt Smith:
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Questions or Comments? Feel free to E-Mail Ari , post a comment on this blog, or send a message on Facebook or LinkedIn .

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Are You Prepared for the Next Supreme Court Nomination?

If you aren’t ready, why not? Remember the old Boy Scouts motto: “Always be prepared”. Nothing could be more true for a producer. If you can’t be prepared for what you know is coming, then you’ll be lost when the unexpected hits. And trust me, it will happen!

If the past is any indicator, President Obama will name his nominee around mid-May, so you should begin your homework now.

Who’s on the President’s list? Here’s a list I’ve compiled from several news outlets:

1) Elena Kagan, Solicitor General

2) Judge Diane Wood ot the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

3) Judge Merrick Garland of the DC Court of Appeals.

4) Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan

Those four are considered the frontrunners.  Does that mean you prepare for only these four?  NO!  Like a Professor who provides 8 essay questions and says 4 will show up on the final exam, you could “guess” and prepare for 6.  But, what happens if you’re wrong? The A+ student is ready for all 8 options. The A+ producer is the same.

Here are the other “less likely” names on the list: Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Cass Sunstein, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

HOW DO YOU PREPARE?

Very good question. There are several categories of people you can target.

1) Supreme Court Watchers: These people are often either lawyers who argue before the Court frequently. It’s up to you to do the homework, but here’s one freebie: Thomas Goldstein. He’s a Supreme Court specialist at Akin-Gump in Washington DC and he runs SCOTUSBlog.com. He’s a highly sought after guest and he’s always insightful into Supreme Court matters.

2) Constitutional Scholars: These are people who follow constitutional issues, not necessarily the Courts. They comment on the key issues and how someone reads the Constitution. Law school professors often call this “Constitutional Interpretation” and some categories include: Literalism, Normative, Original Intent.

3) Professors of Law: These people teach law, teach the Court and follow current events. Two schools with great resources are Georgetown and Stanford Universities. In fact, Stanford has it’s own Supreme Court Litigation Clinic with several great professors who follow the courts.

4) Think Tanks: Many of them have constitutional law guys. But do your research! Several think-tanks have specific political tints.

5) Journalists: There’s good news-bad news here. Journalists who follow the Court will not give you a partisan analysis, but there will not likely be much analysis either. Reporters don’t state their opinion, they just state the facts. Nonetheless, Joan Biskupic covers the Court for USA Today and Linda Greenhouse at Yale University use to cover it for the New York Times.

6) Former Clerks: Lots of these former clerks are now lawyers and Professors, but I separate them here because every one of these potential nominees have had clerks. Who knows Merrick Garlan or Diane Wood better than a former clerk who worked for them? 

WHERE CAN I FIND THESE SOURCES?

The best resources available come from newspapers, radio and TV. Go into the archives for the Washington Post, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and see who they quote in Supreme Court articles. You can similiarly go into the archives for CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, PBS, ABC. Go to their websites. Or consider Lexis-Nexis. It’s a paid service and it’s not cheap, but you’ll get access to more data than you can handle. If you don’t want to pay, don’t worry. Lexis-Nexis offers free access to TV Transcripts for the major news outlets. Surf around the ‘Net and you’ll find some good stuff. The same applies to radio outlets like CBS, CNN, ABC, and Fox News.   Or, go the library and do some digging. Go back to your college roots.

My home always has a huge stack of newspapers, transcripts and lists piled up. That’s how my Rolodex has 2,500 names and growing!

HOW DO I TRACK THESE PEOPLE DOWN

Three places are the best way to track down phone numbers for any topic: Google, USSearch.com, White Pages. Lets say you want to find me: Ari Ashe. Where is WTOP? Washington D.C. Google it and you find my work number is 202-895-5000. How about where I live? Go to USSearch.com and type my name in. You’ll find me. And then go to the White Pages, type in my name and city. You’ll find me. Not every source will have their number listed, but many do.

GOOD LUCK AND GET TO WORK!

Questions or Comments? Feel free to E-Mail Ari , post a comment on this blog, or send a message on Facebook or LinkedIn .

DC School Principal Killed: The Inside Story You Don’t Know

If you live in the Washington DC Metro region, you’ve probably read that a DC School Principal was killed last night, and sources are saying it looks like murder. Brian Betts was a long-time Montgomery County Public School official, who moved to Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson about 18 months ago after Michelle Rhee personally lobbied for him. A colleague found him dead inside his home around 8pm last night.

You can read more at WTOP.com , but here’s the “BEHIND THE SCENES” story inside the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center.

WHEN DID WTOP LEARN ABOUT THIS STORY: I received a newstip around 11:45pm last night over e-mail about a murder on Columbia Boulevard in the same home where Erika Smith was killed. I started to GOOGLE around to confirm the address she provided on e-mail was as the 2002 murder. Just as I confirmed that, I received a second call about Mr. Betts around 12:05am.

This woman, whom I’ve chosen not to identify publicly, told me her husband works in the Montgomery County Public School system and he was at the home of a school official who is dead. She told me his name was Brian Betts and he was the Principal at Shaw Middle School (she mistakenly thought it was in MoCo). She told me her husband’s name and said WTOP’s Kate Ryan (a former public school teacher) would want to call him. I spoke this woman for about 10 minutes and took detailed notes.

KNOWING YOUR REPORTERS: A good producer knows his/her reporters. Some hate working off the clock and others understand that BREAKING NEWS isn’t a 9a-5p term. Kate Ryan is a pro’s pro and she left the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center less than an hour earlier. I knew she’d still be awake at 12:15am and she’d want to know about a potential breaking story on her Maryland beat. She picked up and I shared with her all the information I obtained. I gave her the Montgomery County Public School official’s cell phone and she called him, while I spoke to the Police Public Information Officer (aka media relations person) on duty.

We reconvened about 15 minutes later at 12:30am. Police wouldn’t confirm anything other than a death on Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring. This officer would not confirm any identity, motive, murder or an exact address to match to Erika Smith’s old home. Kate Ryan spoke to the MoCo School Official and told me that Betts was found dead inside the home. She also told me Betts spent many decades in Montgomery County and then Michelle Rhee lured him away to work at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson about 18 months ago. This school official was too emotional and didn’t want to be quoted.

So I asked Kate, “You tell me, ‘Do you think we have enough to go on-air?'”

She replied, “No, not without police confirmation. Neal Augenstein should look into it at 4am.”

She also said I should call another higher-up officer at Montgomery County Police.

TALKING TO POLICE- WHAT TO ASK AND HOW TO ASK IT: When I got off with Kate, I called this Montgomery County Police officer on his cell phone. After apologizing for calling so late, I brought him up to date on what I knew so far. He told me there was a “suspicious death” at 9337 Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring, Maryland. This was confirmation that it took place in the same home as Erika Smith’s murder in 2002. That’s a story in-and-of itself. He also said he was not releasing any identities because next-of-kin had not been notified yet.

Here’s where the school lesson for today comes folks!

I responded by asking, “I will not report any names or motives until next-of-kin is notified and you give me the heads up. I give you WTOP’s word. But later when you release the identity, will you be releasing the name ‘Brian Betts’ and will the investigation lean towards murder?”

He answered, “Let me put it this way, if you went in that direction, you wouldn’t be on the wrong track.”

I followed up, “And if we were to say this was the Principal at Shaw Middle School, would I be mistaken?”

“I’m not up at 1 o’clock in the morning for no reason,” was his repsonse.

That told me everything I need to know. As a producer and reporter, you need to know WHAT to ask and HOW to ask it. What he didn’t tell me was just as important as was he did tell me. Now I had my confirmation, just off the record.

WHAT WILL I REPORT: It’s 12:50am and I have a full story, but can I report all of it? NO! I gave my word to police I wouldn’t release his name until he gave us the nod. All that other information was “off the record” until further notice. This Montgomery County Police officer was writing a press release and all it would say was a “suspicious” death at 9337 Columbia Boulevard. But, my research, talks with Kate Ryan and this officer ALSO told me it was Erika Smith’s home. Those are the only two nuggets I can report. Nothing about Brian Betts or his job.

At 1am, we reported the suspicious death and link to Erika Smith.

TEAMWORK, TEAMWORK, TEAMWORK: You’re probably asking yourself: Wasn’t there already teamwork with Kate Ryan? Yes! But I’m referring to working with our television partners at ABC7. One of their producers called around 1:10am, just minutes after the story aired about the suspicious death. At this point, it’s a “WTOP EXCLUSIVE”, so do I share our information with another news outlet? Yes! They are our partners, we share news content, help each other out and work as a team. Two heads are better than one. I shared our information, both public and private, and we agreed to work together and share any new details with the other. Now WTOP has double the resources than before.

LESSON OF THE DAY: Oh so many we can take from this story for journalists and journalism students. Here they are:

1) Be persistent: Many tips don’t turn out into anything, but you never know when you hit the jackpot. The first email at 1145pm peaked my curiosity. When I got a second call on it, my curiosity became determination. Now I know something has happened and it’s news. If the caller is accurate, it’s a HUGE story.

2) Getting sources: You shouldn’t report stories based on one source. What if that woman was wrong? If I killed off Brian Betts and he turned out to be alive, then I look stupid and WTOP looks stupid. You always want at least two sources who’ll corroborate the same story.

3) Asking the Right Questions: Sometimes sources won’t release information, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. If you think that your information is right, then try asking it in a different way. “Would I be wrong if…” or “When you do release the information, will you be saying…” Make the source comfortable that you won’t report the information until it’s official, and keep your promise! Otherwise sources will remember and be reluctant to help you in the future.

4) Next-of-Kin: If the worst crime in journalism is to convict a suspect on-air before a trial, then number 2 (or even 1a) is to report someone is dead prematurely. If he’s not dead that’s awful and even worse, you don’t want the person’s spouse, child or parent to learn about it from the media. That’s cold and insensitive. The police should be able to let the family know first before it’s splashed across the airwaves.

5) Using Your Resources: I used Kate Ryan, ABC7, Montgomery County Police and a public school official. They told me what I could say and what I couldn’t say. Get the story out there, but only tell the story you can tell.

6) Keep Your Team Informed: Kate Ryan and I spoke multiple times between midnight and 1am. ABC7 and I spoke multiple times between 1a-130am. WTOP’s Morning Drive Producer Mike Jakaitis and I did a full de-brief and I answered all his questions. When I left, Mike knew the full story. I went to sleep knowing this would be a BIG story, the question was just when.

Questions or Comments? Feel free to E-Mail Ari , post a comment on this blog, or send a message on Facebook or LinkedIn .

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 1:35 am  Comments (1)  
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