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Tuned In: KDKA reporter, news director relate role in police standoff

Saturday, March 02, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It doesn't happen in Pittsburgh often, but every now and then a reporter gets drawn into a story he or she is covering.

Last Wednesday during the standoff between a suspect and police in Homewood, the suspect asked to talk to a reporter. Police summoned KDKA's Ralph Iannotti, an excellent reporter.

But should Iannotti have agreed to talk to the suspect in an effort to end the standoff? As a journalist, you don't want to get into the middle of a story; you want to maintain your impartiality and integrity. As a person, you want to do the humane thing; you want to help.

Iannotti said he never thought twice about not following the cops when they sought him out.

"It didn't enter my mind," he said. "I didn't try to get involved; they asked me. I don't know many reporters who would have said, 'I'm not going to get involved. I'll do my job from three blocks away.' My job is to get the story."

Iannotti, who said he didn't contact anyone at the station throughout his involvement, waited about 40 minutes before entering the house to talk with the suspect.

KDKA news director Al Blinke said he was comfortable with Iannotti's decision.

"Am I concerned about his safety? Yeah. My goal for these people is that they'll never be in a situation where their life is in danger," Blinke said.

He said Iannotti got "partially involved" in the story in a way any other reporter would have.

"There's a real difference between Geraldo Rivera making himself part of the story and what happened with Ralph on Wednesday," Blinke said. "Ralph was just following his reporter instinct."

Bob Steele, director of ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., has written guidelines that set a high threshold for reporter involvement: "Fight the urge to become a player in any standoff, hostage situation or terrorist incident. Journalists should become personally involved only as a last resort and with the explicit approval of top news management and the consultation of trained hostage negotiators on the scene."

Steele said a reporter's primary professional obligation is to work as a journalist, but he acknowledged a need to honor the value of human life, too.

"In exceptionally rare situations we may be called upon to put our journalist's tools aside and function in a life-saving role," Steele said. "But for a journalist to take that step to become an active player in a news story requires considerable ethical decision-making."

New assignments

A few changes over at WTAE: With the departure of morning anchor Sam Merrill, anchor/reporter Wendy Bell, noon co-anchor and consumer reporter, has taken his place at the anchor desk alongside Kelly Frey.

WTAE's Bob Longo said no decision about a permanent replacement has been made.

Expect to see fewer of Bell's consumer reports in the 5 p.m. news, although she'll continue to tape some reports for that newscast.

WTAE's Bob Mayo is now the Washington/Fayette bureau reporter, replacing Chris Glorioso, who is now a daytime reporter working out of Channel 4's Ardmore Boulevard headquarters. Daytime reporter Emily Ryan has taken over for Bob Mayo as morning news reporter.

The pregnancy report

WTAE had its rash of stork visits, and now it's WPXI's turn.

Weekend morning anchor Stacia Erdos recently returned from maternity leave. Now Channel 11 morning anchor Newlin Archinal is pregnant and due to give birth in mid-April, and weekend anchor Jodine Costanzo will follow her into maternity leave the first week of May.

It will be a first child for both of them and both plan to return to the air after their time off.

Just a coincidence

The recent Bravo reality series "The It Factor" followed 12 actors as they attempted to land jobs. One actress won a part in a Canadian television series called "Patti Burns."

Actress Miranda Burns, who plays the character, described her as "sort of a loser," which set off some alarm bells. Are our neighbors to the north mocking the beloved Pittsburgh newscaster?

Fortunately, no.

"That's ironic ... that was not the inspiration for the title of the film," wrote creator Mike Souther in an e-mail. " 'Burns' in the title is actually a verb, as in Patti is burning because she set her house on fire."

Press notes describe the character as "a quirky but sexy, newly urbanized misfit living on the fringe of society, navigating daily life trying to fit in. She has an unyielding zest for life and a naive boldness that often gets her into trouble."

Souther said the series, based on a movie called "Patti Burns" but re-titled "Patti" for television, has not yet found a home on American TV.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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