CLEVELAND JOURNALISM SUFFERS ANOTHER LOSS

Submitted by Roldo on Tue, 03/31/2009 - 13:05.

 One of the unsung heroes of Cleveland journalism quietly ended a long broadcast career here last week with no fanfare.

 
The city’s news business lost another dedicated newsman whose long and distinguished service – back to the 1970s - went more or less generally unobserved.
 
Mark DeMarino – the reporter, legman and researcher for Fox Ch. 8’s I-Team – shared in numerous awards, including the coveted Alfred I. DuPont/Columbia Journalism Award for broadcast excellence. It’s comparable to the print journalism’s Pulitzer Prize.
 
DeMarino typically served as the behind-the-scenes man in these projects.
 
The silver baton that goes with the award went to the on-air reporter, Tom Merriman. It is inscribed with Edward R. Murrow’s observation of television: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”
 
The award was made for an expose of the Cleveland school system’s bus operation. DeMarino, in a undercover operation, filmed school bus drivers sitting around the station, using school buses to pick up girl friends and to do personal shopping. It also uncovered school district reporting of inflated numbers of school children who were never transported. It came at a time when school teachers were being laid off. It was estimated that the discovery resulted in $4 million in savings by the Cleveland schools.
 
The same team investigation won a prestigious Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) national award for “exposing millions of dollar in waste, gross mismanagement and cover-up in the Cleveland Municipal School District.”
 
DeMarino shared in the Alfred J. DuPont 2006 award. DeMarino tracked school bus riders who operated buses for personal errands, to pick up of girl friends and other non-school uses. The investigation also revealed that the Cleveland School board was fudging its figures on the numbers of school children it was transporting.
 
He also won an IRE (Investigative Reporters & Editors) National award for the investigation.
 
The inventory of DeMarino investigative reports is too long to list over a long career starting in Cleveland in 1977 at WERE-Radio when it was an all-news station. Most people today don’t realize how much news Clevelanders got back then when two newspapers, numerous radio stations and TV stations fought to break and develop news for the public.  
 
He left Cleveland for Raleigh, N. C. but returned to WGAR two years later. He spent some 10 years at WGAR, moving to WUAB, then Ch. 43 for a year before joining WJW-TV, where he has been for the last 16 years.
 
DeMarino, tired of the decline in television news, took a buyout and left the station last Friday.
 
WJW-TV Channel 8 didn’t even make mention of DeMarino’s 16 years of service when he left. News director Sonya Thompson didn’t have the decency to even acknowledge DeMarino’s departure at the daily news meeting on his last day. Other reporters did comment on his long service as the meeting ended.
 
His treatment at the end symbolizes the indifference TV station management has for dedicated employees. Television news standards have declined badly from not-so-high to disgusting. Soft non-news has deteriorated to mostly nonsense combined with a slapstick degrading of its task of informing the public.
 
It broke DeMarino’s heart to experience the decline in broadcast news. You could sense the disappointment in his voice in recent months as his duties became less relevant and news oriented and more menial.
 
His work, though nearly invisible to the viewing public, was appreciated by other news people.
 
Investigative reporter Carl Monday, now with CBS 19 Action News, worked both in radio and television with DeMarino back to college days at Kent State University. He became Monday’s researcher with the Ch. 8 I-Team in 1993.
 
In an e-mail, Monday reminisced about DeMarino.
 
“When it came to corruption, social injustice or consumer fraud, Mark could always ‘smell a rat.’ But on one occasion he did so literally.”
 
Visiting a Subway restaurant, DeMarino spotted a live rat roaming the restaurant. He quickly went back to the TV station, got a hidden camera and returned to the eatery. He filmed the roaming rat. The story ran. Mark lost his appetite but the station lost revenue. More than “a $100,000 of commercial time,” wrote Monday, was cancelled as a result.
 
Mark takes golf seriously says Monday but once on the way to the golf course he saw a police scene he couldn’t ignore. He checked it out and though off duty, went to the scene. He filed a report of a car bombing.
 
“Mark and his golfing partner then proceeded to play nine holes. The bombing? Oh, yeah, you may remember the victim. A guy named Danny Greene,” wrote Monday.
 
“His connections, insight and institutional memory and historical background will be missed,” according to a competitor, Tom Beres, WKYC Ch. 3 senior political correspondent. His valuable talents are “grossly underappreciated” in the business today, said Beres. “An absolute tragedy,” he said.
 
Julius Ciaccia, executive director of the North East Ohio Sewer District and former Cleveland Public Utilities Director, has known DeMarino since his radio days with WERE during the Kucinich administration.
 
 
“He was the kind of reporter or investigator that was straight up and didn’t sandbag me. We had a healthy respect of each other’s job… He was one of those guys who every time he busted some of my employees I would enjoy saying, ‘See you next time,’” said Ciaccia resignedly.
 
Many years ago, DeMarino, along with other reporters, including me, and often politicians and their staffers shared a lunch table at the old Colonnade cafeteria in the Leader Building at the corner of E. 6th and Superior. Politics and political gossip dominated the conversations. The informal conversations helped the flow of information from City Hall and other places.
 
Today it would be hard to find someone who took his tasks as seriously as DeMarino. He was a no-nonsense, determined reporter. Television news today veers toward celebrity and freak quickies, in quick bites offered too fast to even appreciate their stupidity. Or overly dramatized or sensational crime news that makes it seem we are being given important information.
 
While WJW loudly proclaims its I-team type prowess – now really a name without product - DeMarino, a long-time radio and television reporter left the station with little evidence there or in the journalist community of his long service to the community.
 
 
Mark was one of those dogged behind the scenes reporters who helped people like Carl Monday and Tom Merriman look good and win awards. He was the leg-man. He did the surveillance and dug into records to uncover, if not crimes, certainly misconduct.
 
 
He became part of the story - and the city’s political history - during Dennis Kucinich’s administration in the late 1970s.
 
Demarino became the central figure in an incident that led to the indictment and conviction (later overturned) of a high official of the Kucinich Administration.
 
It was during a highly emotional news conference by Mayor Kucinich. It took place the day after Kucinich’s dramatic withdrawal of his personal bank account with Cleveland Trust. At the same time, Kucinich’s brother was robbing another Cleveland bank setting the stage for a media frenzy.
 
WERE-Radio decided to broadcast the press conference live from City Hall. DeMarino was the reporter feeding the live broadcast to the station.
 
Bob Weissman, Kucinich’s chief advisor, brazenly broke the live broadcast by stepping on a telephone used to feed the conference directly to the station via DeMarino’s tape recorder. Weismann’s act silenced the station.
 
DeMarino found another telephone to alert listeners why the station went silent. Weissman eventually allowed the broadcast to continue.
 
The incident made news on both television and in the newspapers. The interference with a broadcast was illegal. WERE lodged an official complaint and the disturbance went to trial.
 
DeMarino is a Vietnam vet. His son, Tony, has served in Iraq. He and his wife, Maureen, and teenaged son, Frank, are visiting Tony in Florida this week.
 
DeMarino, as many news people these days, is unemployed. Hopefully, only temporarily. There are rare assets we can’t afford to lose.
 
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Wonderful report, Roldo. Thank you Mr. DeMarino!

I will be very interested to follow DeMarino's future career - thank you for the informative and heartfelt perspectives.

Thank you Mr. DeMarino for your years of service to the community. We look forward to many more - please don't give up on the region... you know how we need your investigations still!

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lots of work to be done

There's certainly enough work to be done around here. The trick is, to be paid for it.

That will become clear

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