Every paper gets them. People call to yak about a story they dislike, declare they're part of a growing revolt against your paper, and say they'll [insert method of economic revenge] if you don't [insert unreasonable demand].
The wise editor usually appeases such callers with a tone of false sincerity -- the better to dispatch said nuisance, so he or she can return to an editor's chief duties, which largely consist of lunching.
But this call seemed different. It came June 21, the day Scene's story on deposed Avon Lake Mayor Vince Urbin ("The Mayor Who Thought He Was King," by Sarah Fenske) hit the streets. The caller, one "Tim Smith," said he represented a group of Avon Lake residents that would remove all copies of Scene from that fair 'burb until Fenske is fired. He also said -- just before he hung up -- that we should find out whom Ms. Fenske is sleeping with.
To The Edge's keen journalistic snout, something smelled fishy. First, this is Cleveland. Everyone here has names like Castelluccio, Piotrowski, and McDaniel. No one's actually named Tim Smith. And under withering interrogation, Fenske remained steadfast in her claims of marital fidelity.
Fortunately, Mr. Smith never heard of caller I.D. The number he phoned from -- 440-933-9115 -- is listed to Tom-Car Foods, an Avon Lake convenience store. An employee answering the phone said no one named Tim Smith worked there. But the store just so happens to be owned by -- surprise! -- Dan Urbin, Vince's brother.
You may remember Dan from previous episodes. He used to manage the Fountain Bleau, a party center that received illegal city business under Vince -- deals that eventually led to the mayor's downfall. A year ago, he was indicted for three counts of complicity to unlawful interest in a public contract and two counts of liquor violations -- one at Fountain Bleau, another at Tom-Car. He goes to trial August 6.
Dan swore he wasn't "Tim Smith." Of course, he had heard of a groundswell against Scene, but when pressed for names, said, "That's none of your business."
Word among Avon Lake businesspeople is that, after the article appeared, Dan was seen scouring the city to gobble up copies of our fine rag, lest they fall into the hands of unsuspecting residents. But Urbin would admit only to swiping a stack of Scenes from a Tops. The Edge had more questions for Dan, like why he didn't use a more elusive alias, such as John Q. Public. But he abruptly ended our chat. "I have nothing to say to you." Click.
Fortunately, Avon Lake residents who missed our story can still check it out online at clevescene.com. And for you kids out there planning lucrative careers as spokesmen for fictitious community uprisings, always remember this valuable lesson: Newspapers have caller I.D.
At HomeTeam 19/43, the TV stations losing in ratings but leading in ulcers, management has finally coughed up a union contract worth signing, marking the end to a 15-month negotiation that featured plenty of one-fingered salutes.
The big winners are production assistants who make a princely $17,000 a year. They get 5.5 percent raises, which puts them in the penthouse district of poverty. Most others get 4.5 percent, and salaried workers who were providing free overtime will now be paid for their troubles. Naturally, the 401(k) is miserable, and the staff is still light years away from being paid market rate -- some $20,000 to $30,000 behind what similar jobs pay at other stations. But, according to one exhausted union steward, "This is the best we could get."
Just a week before, owner Raycom Media was summoning production staff from other stations to teach them how to run the controls -- the better to have a pool of scabs in case workers struck. "It sent the message that they're ready to replace us if we walk out," says one union worker.
The contract expires after 2003, at which time the union expects another war.