Power of the Internet

December 23, 2008 12:22:58 PM PST
Where do you get your news? It's a simple question -- but your answer presents an oh-so-complicated challenge for us in the news business.

There's no question that the Internet has changed the way people get, and the way we deliver, the news. We've made the decision to expand our website by keeping our main newsgathering engine strong. In other words, our website, 7Online.Com, will grow by maintaining the strength of Eyewitness News.

There are other TV stations that are taking a different approach -- by focusing on the website while letting their mother ship weaken. We don't think that's a good idea. We'll see who fares better.

But in the interim, there's no question there is much interaction we can have between the web and the TV newscasts.

And we saw a good example of it last night. During the 6 p.m. newscast, we reported on the indictments issued in the Deutsche Bank Building fire from August, 2007, when two New York City firefighters were killed trying to put out a blaze in the contaminated building at Ground Zero. It was a calamity of grand proportions -- the Buildings Dept. hadn't inspected the structure during demolition, neither had the Fire Dept. Neither had the contractor. And so when the firefighters walked up 14 flights to battle the fire, they had no way of knowing that the standpipe in the basement had been disconnected. There was no water for their hoses. They were trapped. And two of them died.

Three construction supervisors and a subcontractor were indicted; but no City official and the main contractor -- they weren't charged. At the end of the story, as we were telling people they could get more information about the indictments on our website, I ad-libbed that anyone who wanted to express their opinions about the case should do so and maybe we'd read them on the air.

One of the people who heard me was Linda Graffagnino, who had remained silent about the tragedy that killed her husband -- until last night. She wrote:

"As the widow of Lt. Joseph Graffagnino, I am personally disgusted by these developments! The DA's office really dropped the ball on this one and now Bovis and the City will get away with murder and everyone knows it! My children will still grow up without a father and no justice! I hope they all sleep good at night!"

It was signed, "Linda Graffagnino." We had no way of knowing whether this was indeed the author, so I called her. "I've never spoken about this publicly, she said. "But when I heard you, I wanted to say something."

Saying something, we've have known for a while, can be a cathartic and fulfilling experience for people in mourning. It is a way for them to regain some control over an uncontrollable situation. And it can mean they have a chance to pay tribute to their loved one, and speak up for someone who is no longer capable of doing it himself.

We got other responses, including this, from Martin W. Schwartz, a former Ass't. District Attorney from the Bronx: "Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau misspoke when he claimed that sovereign immunity protected both the city and its officials from criminal liability in the many failures that led to the deaths of two firefighters at the DB Building fire in 2007. Sovereign immunity does prevent the city from being charged with a crime, but in N.Y. State it does not immunize any city official, including commissioners and chiefs, who failed to perform duties imposed upon them by law. Among other possible crimes, such egregious acts are called "official misconduct", and clearly punishable under the Penal Law."

We'll have any new developments on the indictments, tonight at 11.

And as always, we welcome your comments. We especially welcome them this Thursday, Christmas morning, when we will once again read your holiday e-mails on the air, beginning at 5 a.m. We've been doing this since 2001, and it's a great way for you all to express your feelings, your thoughts and wishes to us, and to all the other Eyewitness News viewers.

Send me your messages directly at Bill.S.Ritter@ABC.Com. And I hope you can join us Thursday morning.

And I hope you can join us tonight at 11, for all the news of the night. As an aside, this column will resume on Friday.