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Learning to Use the Phone

By Margo Pierce · July 5th, 2006 · All The News That Fits
Three voice mail messages -- WOO HOO!

Yes, it seems a bit much to get excited about, but there's a reason. Not long before getting those messages the news staff at CityBeat was once again pondering the question we so often do: Is it just us? Has the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) singled out CityBeat as the one and only evil, out-to-get-cops media outlet?

An unexpected answer came in the form of a conversation with Jay Hanselman, news reporter for WVXU (91.7 FM), explaining his effort to gain access to CPD's voice messaging system for announcing press conferences and other information.

"It was right after Kabaka (Oba) was shot," Hanselman says. "I won't say we missed a press conference, but I'll say we found out about it by accident. The evening he was shot, I just happened to call the PIO (public information officer) at 10 after 7 and said, 'Do you have any update?'

"He said, 'We sent out a message. Didn't you get it?' I said, 'We never have been able to figure out how to sign up for that,' " Hanselman says.

The next day Hanselman called Fran Cihon with the PIO office to ask how to get into the system. He was given a phone number at Cincinnati Bell.

"The number that I called was actually a maintenance number," he says. "Of course, they had no idea what I was talking about."

After several transfers, Hanselman reached "the guy" who knew about the system, the Octel Voice Messaging system which hasn't been used by Cincinnati Bell for more than a year.

"He gave me a number and said, 'Now you need to call this number at the police department and they'll be able to set you up," Hanselman says. "The number was a voice mail for the administrative assistant for the police chief.

"I called Fran back and said, 'Fran, all I did was make one gigantic circle. They don't know what I'm talking about.' I just dropped it after that because I wasn't getting anywhere."

Enter the June 14 edition of CityBeat and the "All the News That Fits column." A WVXU staffer gave it to Hanselman, saying, "You should read this because it sounds like they're having just as much fun with the police department as you are.' You got farther than I did because I couldn't even find out how much it costs," Hanselman says.

Much like CityBeat, WVXU can't figure out why it's so difficult for CPD to disseminate pertinent information.

"We're across the street from the stinkin' place," Hanselman says. "Literally, I could throw a rock and hit the front of their building but we can't communicate with them."

Now, for just $14.20 plus tax each month, CityBeat receives messages from the cops.

The last comment on this process came in the form of an e-mail from Cihon, who copied Lt. Tom Lanter; Jason Barron, communications director for the mayor; and Gregory Flannery, CityBeat news editor.

"Shall we look for Mr. Flannery to update your readership and inform them that any and all delays in adding CityBeat to CPD's voice messaging group were caused by miscommunication between and among Cincinnati Bell and your agency?" Cihon wrote.

Sorry, Fran. No passing the buck allowed. Not all of the delays in this process were caused by Cincinnati Bell but by CPD. We highly recommend you call Bell to find out about your own voice messaging system to avoid giving yet another news outlet more fodder.

If you need help, we have a name and number that doesn't go to the maintenance department.

All The News That Fits: Leads, entrails and tales we couldn't get to.


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