By Jacqueline Soteropoulos
Jacqueline Soteropoulos is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
TELEVISION REPORTER Steve Andrews has spent most of his career chasing down people for interviews. But when he found the body of Harry Lee Coe III, it was Andrews who was wanted for interviews--both by Tampa homicide detectives and by fellow journalists.
Andrews, who came within 10 feet of Coe, could have told other journalists how the state attorney was wearing a dress shirt and tie, but was without the owlish glasses that always framed his face. A gun cleaning kit lay next to the fastidious prosecutor╣s side.
But Dan Bradley, the station's vice president/news director, told other television and print reporters that Andrews would not be available for interviews.
"We were frustrated that they were keeping him [Andrews] under wraps," says Sue Carlton, a St. Petersburg Times reporter. "We wanted to talk with him...like we would want to talk to any major witness."
Bradley says he doubts the Times, or any other news media, would've made their reporter available for interviews had they found the body. "I felt a need for separation in how we handled that. Maybe, in retrospect, we should have made him available. [But] I felt a need to protect him," Bradley says. "At the moment, that's what my internal mechanisms told me to do."
Lack of access to Andrews caused considerable complaints in the Tampa Tribune's newsroom, one floor above WFLA. The newspaper and the television station are both owned by Media General, and have been forging a path of cooperative reporting and shared resources in a new multimedia building.
Instead of arranging time with Andrews, Bradley met with several Tribune reporters and editors.
Bradley "proceeded to try to answer our questions and he did as well as he could, but he didn't know the key details," says Douglas Pardue, then a Tribune senior editor for projects and enterprise, who now works at USA Today. "He couldn't answer many of the basic questions that any reporter looking at the scene would know."
Says Tribune investigative reporter Michael Fechter: "Steve Andrews was a part of that story. To shield the public from that person's knowledge is pretty unacceptable. I don't think we would have accepted that from anyone in public life, and yet we had to accept it from our own media partner."
Andrews, however, says other reporters never contacted him directly via voice mail or e-mail to request an interview the day he found Coe's body. If they had, Andrews says, he probably would have agreed.
"I'm a big boy. I don't have anything to hide," he says. "If I had received a phone call asking me to sit and talk, I would've sat and talked. I didn't receive a phone call.
"If I'm after a story and I want to talk to somebody, I'm not going to just call once," he says. "I don't think we mishandled it. If others are frustrated...there are other ways to go about getting a comment from me than going through a third party."