Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Start

The Eric Frein homicide trial in Milford brought back a lot of memories.  I was on the duty the night of the shootings.  It was my job to make sure we had our people in the right places to cover the story.  I produced, wrote and anchored the first newscast after the incident, Newswatch 16 Saturday Morning.  My coworkers stepped up, and I was very proud of our product that weekend.

The trial also reminded me of my first venture into street reporting, and let me tell you what brought back those memories.

My job on opening day of the Frein trial was to do reaction from people in the Milford.  Things like this are few and far between.  The town was filled with media and the curious.  Newswatch 16's Jim Hamill covered the opening arguments.  I was the street guy.

Photographer Bonnie and I surveyed the landscape.  The first few people we approached for interviews turned us down.  We then spied a young woman across the street.  I discovered her name was Brenna Cavallaro.  We talked, on camera.  She said she comes from a law enforcement family, and she was there with the goal of writing something for her high school newspaper at Delaware Valley.  That story is at the top of today's blog entry.

Not only did Brenna provide some interesting comments, she was "the hook."  She wasn't just a random person in the perk.  Brenna had a special reason for being there, and a beyond run of the mill perspective.  I did get another interview, but Brenna was the focus of the story.

As Bonnie and I went back to our truck to write and edit a story for Newswatch 16 at Noon, I handed Brenna a business card.  I asked her to send me a copy of the story if she was successful in getting some space in the paper.  The story was in my WNEP mail box when I made a special trip back to the office, during a vacation, to check.  It's good work, and that's why I'm sharing it here.

I should note that the entire newspaper "Del Aware" looks great and has solid content.  It rivals some college newspapers I've seen.  The students and faculty should be proud.

Now, me.

I was just a pup at WARM 590 in March of 1982, having been on staff for less than a year.  Our news director, the great Jerry Heller thought there was a story in Honesdale we should be covering.  A man was on trial for killing a child.  Jerry asked if a couple days of coverage would fit in to my college schedule.  It did.  He asked me to come to the station, pick up a news car, and then go to Honesdale.  I deferred, saying it would be easier for me to go to the courthouse directly.  I was too embarrassed to say I couldn't drive a car with a standard transmission.  Thanks to coworker Brian Francis Roche, I later learned.  Thank you, Brian.

I arrived at the Wayne County courthouse on that first morning and was totally lost.  This wasn't "Matlock."  It's nothing like what you see on television.  I took notes on the testimony and phoned back an hourly report.  The first ones weren't very good.  The legendary Terry McNulty was doing afternoon news on WARM back then.  He suggested ways to make my reporting better, more clear, and more concise.  Terry got me through, and I owe him a lot.  I still remember and use some of Terry's first day lessons.  Most people remember terry for his zany DJ antics as "The Big Fella."  In my early years at WARM, Terry was one of the afternoon news anchors.  We had disagreements and a battle or two.  You have to give the man credit for knowing how to present a news story with a sense of immediacy and urgency.  I owe Terry a lot.

After a while, I got the hang of it.  I could almost predict when the district attorney and defense attorney would object to something.  Even a newbie like me could see there were some big holes in the case.  Trials move very slowly.  I was able to pick my opportunities to get out of the courtroom to hit the pay phone in the lobby.  Again, it's a skill I use to this day.

I wasn't there for the very end, but the defendant was found "not guilty."  I wasn't surprised.  Simply, it was not a solid case.  Remember that a trial is not a search for the truth.  It's a judgement of evidence.  Also, it's a court of law, not a court of justice.

I should add that the district attorney was Ray Hamill.  I have the pleasure of working with his son, Jim.  Small world.

As I've said here before, It's rewarding to have "the big story."  However, as the years add up, I get just as much satisfaction from seeing young people blossom in to solid journalists and broadcasters.  I have a feeling Brenna Cavallaro will be added to the list.