INVESTIGATING NEPA July 1, 2017
THREE DIFFERENT GOOD BYES
Clay LePard left WNEP this week for a reporter position with the CBS TV station in Orlando. He joins our former colleague at WNEP Matt Petrillo, and my former teammate at WTSP in Tampa, Ginger Gadsden.
Clay was at WNEP for about two and a half years, and made his mark. He showed a great deal of insight and leadership in reporting AND helping put together team coverage on that rogue weather blimp that floated across parts of our viewing area in 2015, and the flash flooding in Sullivan and Lycoming counties last year. Those were some of this station’s best days in news, or as a former news director once said, “we made epic television.”
He was an innovator, a unique individual, knew instinctively how to incorporate social media with news, and was the only person I’ve ever worked with that had a prep school education from the North Shore of Massachusetts (like me,) and then a degree from Syracuse University. It is not a reach to say he will make a difference in the Orlando television market which is one of the nation’s most competitive.
While Clay is headed south, videographer Kathleen Lueke is headed north to Elmira, NY which is a smaller TV market, but offers her a full-time job. Kathleen shot a few of my live shots, including a recent one involving medical marijuana grow permit in Scranton, and she was always a joy to work with.
But with me, Kathleen did more to help me learn the nearly infinite ways of our new video editing system, Final Cut Pro X. I spent a couple of days last fall going through the company’s training video, and learned very little. But after Kathleen graciously sat with me as I edited a couple of Newswatch 16 Investigations, my work improved immensely. She also showed me ways to edit faster.
Kathleen is a Susquehanna County native, and it is my gut feeling she will be working in this market, and hopefully this station in the not-to-distant future.
LA Tarone is the hardest good bye. I was a guest on his radio show several times, and it was exciting. He was one of the few local journalists who excelled in radio, newspaper (columnist and reporter), and television (former anchor/reporter WYLN). Talk radio has always been a challenge in NEPA, and Tarone instinctually knew what issues to bring up, and when something wasn’t working, he could nimbly change the conversation to something that did. He handled bad and boring callers with courtesy, skill, and respect. He was also a heck of a nice guy, and had a wicked sense of humor.
LA died last week after a battle with lung cancer, and at 58, he is gone too soon. His passing left me with a feeling of emptiness. Here was a hard-working journalist who worked four decades in the media, and just recently took over the prime spot in talk radio in the region, daytime 3-6PM. He was just starting the job he worked his whole career for, the job he seemed born to do, and in a blink of an eye, it ended before the seat was warm.
I believe that in the coming days, some of his friends and colleagues will honor LA with something like a scholarship fund, something perpetual. If something develops, I will pass it on.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of the future of medical marijuana in the past ten days when the state awarded grow permits, and then dispensary permits. The grow permits were issued to companies that will start operations in Scranton, White Haven, Jersey Shore, and Danville. The dispensaries, the retail outlets, will be in State College, Williamsport, Edwardsville, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and Tobyhanna.
The process may not be smooth. Our Newswatch 16 Investigation into VireoHealth, the Minnesota company whose former officers are charged with smuggling medical marijuana from Minnesota to New York state, because the company’s medical marijuana facility in New York reportedly was not producing enough cannabis oil to meet state-mandated levels. The arrest report paints a picture of an elaborate ruse. It claimed the executives in Minnesota forged paperwork an amount of marijuana oil needed to be destroyed (because all of the product of grow facilities need to be accounted for). But instead of destroying the oil, a half-million dollars worth of the product was loaded into a armored truck, driven by the company’s medical director and head of security to New York State, and delivered there to avoid sanctions and possible the loss of it’s grow license in New York. As a result of the arrest, lawmakers in Minnesota are considering a statute that would allow for fines up to a million dollars for companies that engage in fraud. Maryland has suspended the medical marijuana license to a subsidiary of Vireo Health. Vireo’s responses to Newswatch 16 and everyone else is to say the two executives suspended no longer work for the company. Is that good enough?
I wonder. Our follow up investigation asked if the state would reconsider the license because Vireo, doing business in Pennsylvania as PA Medical Solutions, barely outscored Bright Star Biomedics, a Luzerne-based company that has a plan to build a growing and processing facility in Laurel Run, a Luzerne County community best known for being at the finish line of auto racing’s annual Giant’s Despair Hill Climb. Bright Star has not commented. I believe executives have a tough decision. Does Bright Star sue the state, considering it lost to a company with past executives facing a felony trial for a fraudulent crime? Or does the company wait a year or two, when it is likely more grow permits will be awarded ?
The dispensary side is also interesting. I’m hoping to have a story soon with one of the executives of a company that was awarded a local permit. One of the questions people in local shopping centers had was, “What kind of people will it attract?” In short, very sick people, or people with debilitating conditions. There are 17 conditions for which doctors will prescribe medical marijuana, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. But those people in shopping centers with concerns have a valid point. If marijuana, even in medically processed form, is sitting in a store, what kind of around the clock security must it provide?
Another question. What can these dispensaries sell? We know medical marijuana is available in creams, oils, pills, gels, and tincture. Tincture? For the record, tincture is medical marijuana in the form of an alcohol rub, or alcoholic beverage. What non-marijuana products can be sold? That’s an answer I will be looking for as well. What cannot be sold: Marijuana in dry leaf form.
I am interested in the business part of this as well. The dispensaries won’t be able to sell any medical marijuana if the grow facilities cannot produce enough pot, and make it into the sellable forms of the medicine. You remember the supply problem in New York State that led to the alleged smuggling operation to meet a quota, there is no guarantees that the growers and processors will grow and process enough product. The other problem is potentially on the demand side. Most medical experts agree that medical marijuana will help a lot of people who need the help, but almost all insurance policies do not cover medical marijuana. Affordability may be an issue. We don’t know the price of medical marijuana products at this time. We only know that Pennsylvania cannot set prices, but can set price caps.
TEN SHOUT OUTS
· My daughters’ many friends at Hazleton Area High School. They put on a home run derby fundraiser to help the family of Justin Pinzaru, who tragically died in a car crash in June. Almost 500 showed up, most of them wearing black T-shirts with the number 13, Justin’s baseball jersey number when he played. I am proud to live in a community where parents and teens show this kind of decency and spirit.
· Summer. You came a little late, but you’re doing great now. I love the hot weather, and will soon be headed to my native Cape Cod to be with family, as I use up the lion’s share of my vacation time in summer.
· Major League Baseball. I’m following you a little closer, and liking the fact that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is meaningful again. But the game is changing in a direction I don’t like. Too many home runs and strikeouts. Not enough stolen bases, and great defensive plays.
· TNT. I don’t invest myself in too many television dramas or sitcoms. But TNT’s new and highly promoted “Will” a drama about Shakespeare is something I am looking forward to. Who knows, it just may make Shakespeare interesting to teens.
· Lazy papers and TV stations. When news broke of the state’s awarding medical marijuana dispensaries, several online versions of newspapers and TV stations around the state showed pictures and ran video of pot plants. The video and pictures should have been of the pills, creams, and oils, etc. that these dispensaries will sell. Showing a picture or video of a pot plant when discussing a dispensary is like showing a dairy farm when you’re doing a story about milk. Lazy, and failing to serve readers/viewers.
· Captain! The best new television ad I saw this week is from Captain Morgan Rum. It features the Captain Morgan walking into a dimly lit bar and greeting pirates, cops, airline pilots, and hockey players with a “C” on their jersey with the phrase, “Captain,” and ordering a “Captain.” Memorable.
· Drink of the Week: Baja Luna. It’s a mix of black raspberry crème liquer infused with tequila. To die for. My wife won a bottle at a recent fundraiser, and she doesn’t like it. My gain.
· Team of the Week: Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA. Adding Paul George and Blake Griffin to a team with Russell Westbrook and a few very good role players, makes them exciting. I also have a place in my heart for small market teams in professional sports. If championships could go to the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabers, San Antonio Spurs, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, I’d be happy.
· Bar of the Week: Chatham Squire. I can already taste the Narragansett on tap, and I will be celebrating a birthday this week with my all-time favorite baseball teammate Craig Andrews. Haven’t seen him since the early 80’s.
· Fourth of July Place of the Week: Montrose, PA. This community in Susquehanna County feels so American. If I am chosen to cover it’s parade July fourth, it will be a great week at work.
GOOD JOURNALISM MUST READ OF THE WEEK.
Great and sad story by the New York Times on former Major League Pitcher turned writer Jim Bouton. He is now suffering from stroke-related dementia. Old age can be cruel. Bouton was a fireballing fastball pitcher with the Yankees in the early 1960’s. After losing zip on the fastball, he extended his career developing a knuckleball and pitched with the awful expansion team, the Seattle Pilots. He wrote about his experiences in “Ball Four” which was the first sports book to pull back the curtain on the wild times and party life of pro athletes. Great book.
Bouton was also a guest speaker one night at Syracuse University. I think it was my sophomore year, and really challenged us college kids to diversify the way we look at things. He criticized people like me who joined fraternities, and hung out with people of similar interests and backgrounds, and challenged everyone to get to know people with vastly different backgrounds. He also said our public education was misplaced because we never teach kids how to manage finances. Great talk, and not what anyone would expect from an ex-baseball pitcher. I wish him well as he endures his travails of old age.
I will be on vacation next week, but will have a blog post from Cape Cod. Be ready for a lot of golf pics, seafood and beer reviews.