"Old" newspaper uses video, and a teen violence debate ensues

By Todd Franko

We’re at 450 comments and counting.

That’s where things stood as the week closed at The Vindicator and the story on the fight between a Canfield teen and 14 Cardinal Mooney High School students settled into old news.

But it was a remarkable week made by what, in the end, was an unremarkable teen fight — as teen fights go.

Yet it became top public dialogue around the Valley as it blended violence, audacity, gang mentality, a notable institution and in some sense, privilege.

And it would have gone unnoticed, except for three factors:

A cooperative police agency.

A video.

A newspaper reporter.

Access to the whole event starts with the Canfield police.

Getting public information has become more difficult these days. Some of it stems from the Bush administration and its post-9/11 privacy push in the name of protection.

But separate from, and even before Bush, records were growing increasingly hard to obtain at all levels of government because of what I have sensed was a growing measure of arrogance among the leaders we put in office.

Copy fees, waiting for the boss, technology gaps, reasonable-time responses, ignorance of the law, flat-out breaking the law, etc.

All are examples of the roadblocks many government agencies put in front of media members trying to do their jobs.

The public should feel rewarded that Canfield police deemed it necessary to make our reporter aware of this case.

They were especially expedient, along with the local court, Monday afternoon when we sought the surveillance video.

Were it not for the video, this story would have had one-half to one-quarter the impact.

But with the video, any parent could then put themselves in the place of all parents involved — especially the Malvasi family, whose home was visited by 14 teens at 1 a.m.

In the video, first there are a few kids who show up.

Then a few more.

Another. ... And another.

Then another group, until you have a pack at the door.

Every Vindy.com viewer got to see what it was like to have 14 teens come over who appear to be looking for trouble. It’s not anything anyone would want at that hour.

That the video was the catalyst for driving massive public attention is additionally unique in that we’re a newspaper.

You know, a newspaper — a stodgy, gray, boring, dying, past-its-prime medium.

But, when newspapers die, you do not have this story. Promise.

TV news does not get to Canfield regularly — often only when they see something we do. Radio news can hardly leave their buildings.

Bloggers cater to their own special interests — and rarely pursue general interests such as police reports.

So you have us.

In this case, it was Canfield reporter Elise Franco (no relation; different spelling, thank you) and her editor, Tom Wills.

Elise’s work with Canfield built a bridge that earned her awareness that this incident was coming. Tom’s alertness to the details and to our new online abilities recognized the potential for the video.

So all of this collided into a dramatic couple of days of community dialogue across many, many themes.

And that — in the end — is the positive in this negative.

It is but a miracle that no one among the Malvasi family or the gang of 14 was seriously hurt. In other neighborhoods, that type of mob at that hour would have been greeted with gunfire or baseball bats.

So what we have is a teaching moment for teenagers and families everywhere.

By fluke, it was Mooney kids in the video. Reality is there are packs of teens in schools and neighborhoods throughout the Valley who are capable of such split-second indiscretions.

The penalty from the judge should be for the Mooney kids and the Malvasi family to stage a series of forums about why it is bad to engage in violent behavior.

And like this time, The Vindy would be open to having a role in those episodes, too.

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