By Jessica James
The Morning Journal
In a city where industry has shuttered and crime rates are sky-high, watchdog journalism in Lorain, Ohio couldn’t be more important.
When I received a call from disgruntled Hamilton Avenue resident, Myron Watchorn, I could tell this man was extremely upset about the disturbing behavior taking place across the street at an elementary school playground. At first I was skeptical, but after talking with my editors I decided to visit Mr. Watchorn’s home to see for myself.
Just a few days earlier, I went to the same playground for an arson attempt. The fire department told me a cigarette sparked the fire and the odds of finding a suspect were slim to none.
I remember walking up to Mr. Watchorn’s porch, knocking on the door, looking across the street and seeing a playground in ruins. I watched small children play within feet of melted plastic slides and broken swings. Mr. Watchorn opened the door and looked at me like I was his last hope. When I asked about the fire, he told me that was only part of the problem.
I was skeptical the behavior was as bad as Mr. Watchorn claimed but as our conversation continued, I couldn’t believe what I heard.
“I’ve seen grown men urinate on playground equipment, people having sex on the slides, smoking pot and who knows whatever else,” Watchorn said. “There are basketball games that go on till all hours of the night, drug deals; terrible language; it goes on constantly.”
We sat on his porch talking about the playground problems and how the police were seemingly useless.
I found out Mr. Watchorn had contacted school officials, but no one could do anything because “the playground was built for community use.”
Mr. Watchorn proposed a simple solution; take down the basketball hoops and the behavior would stop.
After my article ran in The Morning Journal, the response from the community was tremendous. It seemed people from all parts of the neighborhood said they witnessed the same behavior at the playground.
Lorain City Schools superintendent was quite cavalier during our first conversation, but after a slew of phone calls from angry residents, he decided to hold a community forum addressing the problem. Nearly 70 people crammed into the elementary school gym, just a few feet from the damaged playground equipment. It seemed the community agreed taking down the basketball hoops was the most effective way to stop the behavior.
By using my company issued iPhone, I decided to utilize Scribble Live, a Twitter feed linking readers directly to The Morning Journal’s website from the meeting.
The next day I had a call on my voicemail from Mr. Watchorn saying the basketball hoops were taken down that morning.
The days that followed were dedicated to finding out what steps the community was taking to make sure the playground problems were ultimately resolved.
A community neighborhood watch group sprung up near Mr. Watchorn’s home, with more than 60 members agreeing to report any suspicious behavior to the police.
This story wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the passionate readers of The Morning Journal. They had faith in me to fix a problem in the city and to exercise the power of the pen.