With only two weeks left in the year, everyone at work is in full holiday mode. That means lots of people on vacation, and the people who are at work really need time to sample all the goodies brought in by people from other departments. Basically, when the newsroom is in holiday mode, the actual news is supposed to be in holiday mode, too.
Not so this week. Monday, as I recall was pretty quiet. But, Tuesday, Wednesday and today have been intense. We've had several big stories, any of which could have led a newscast had not another big story come along to trump it.
Tuesday morning brought the arrests of two young men and four Shenandoah police officers on Federal charges. The young men are accused of hate crimes in connection with the July 2008 beating death of a Mexican immigrant. The young men are almost finished serving the time they got after being convicted of lesser charges at the county level. But, the Federal charges carry potential life sentences, so I'm guessing the guys won't be released on probation any time soon.
Three of the police officers, including the chief, are accused of obstructing the investigation into the death. The fourth officer, along with the chief, is accused of extorting money from illegal gambling operations (video poker) in the borough.
Tuesday's arrests in Shenadoah required coverage in the borough and also in Wilkes-Barre, where the police officers were arraigned in Federal court. In all, three reporters worked the story on Tuesday. That topped the one reporter we assigned to the recall of 800,000 doses of H1N1 flu vaccine by the manufacturer which is based - where else? - in the Poconos. It also topped the arrest of a powerful state lawmaker, his aide, and a former lawmaker/current Revenue Secretary in the so-called "Bonusgate" scandal. We sent a reporter to Harrisburg to cover that story.
Wednesday brought more developments as we sent two more reporters to Shenandoah for follow-ups and a third reporter to Federal court, where the four police officers (who were held in jail overnight) appeared for bail hearings. The timing of the hearings added extra pressure as they ended pretty much as our 5 pm news began.
Once again, the Shenandoah story trumped a story that could have led a newscast on any other day - a hearing for a man accused of trying to make off with millions of dollars worth of artwork done by his famous father. The museum is in the Poconos, and the fact that the son used a backhoe to break into the gallery last week adds extra spice to the story. At the hearing, the son talked on camera to our reporter and claimed to have notarized evidence that his father gave him permission to get the artwork "by any means possible." We also had two guilty pleas by suspects in the on-going corruption scandal in Luzerne County. Their guilty pleas happened in late morning. A reporter covered the pleas live at noon but, by the evening newscasts, each plea only rated a 20 second vo.
Had enough? I had. But then Thursday rolled around and so did more big stories. We sent a reporter back to Shenandoah, where he learned that the chief and three officers (more than half of the borough's seven-member force) had been suspended without pay. But, the really big news came out of Luzerne County where a commissioner long-suspected of being caught up in the corruption scandal resigned. It's also where money may be missing from a county office, and where county officials abruptly took down the manger/menorah display at the courthouse after threats of a lawsuit from the ACLU. You know things are bad in Luzerne County when even the baby Jesus gets the boot.
So, we had one reporter on the manger story, which broke in the morning. Word of the commissioner's resignation started surfacing in the early afternoon and ultimately required coverage by three reporters to handle the various and late-breaking aspects of the story.
What will Friday bring? I'm not sure if we'll be in Shenandoah yet again, but I'm sure we'll be able to find a couple, two, tree follow-ups in Luzerne County. And central PA's been awfully quiet. Maybe too quiet. We'll see.