Axman at the Houston Chronicle and Bank-Robbing Cops

Spaced City

Assessing the fallout from Chron layoffs

It might seem like we harped on the recent round of layoffs at the Houston Chronicle just because we're journalists too ("Hey, how come you don't do ten posts about the layoffs at Schlumberger!!"), but — as we've said before — we perhaps naively hold to the thought that there's a special connection between a daily paper and its city.

But even if there wasn't that ­cosmic connection, the names and bylines of people are public enough that they are the equal of players on a local sports team, targets for discussion.

With that in mind, here's some takes on Bloody Tuesday:

Most Surprising Cut:

Hands down, it's Clifford Pugh from the features section. He's been covering stuff in Houston 4-evah (as we guess they might say in the fashion world he wrote about). He's versatile, witty, productive, took to blogging like he was born to it, even had somewhat of a brand name among the audience. We've got no idea if he was a pain as an employee or was simply overpriced in these grim times, but he still seemed like someone the bold new online Chron world would want onboard.

Most Surprising Reaction to Being Cut:

Fran Blinebury. We're told he was angry and shocked. Which is, to a degree, understandable — he's been with the Chron for more than 20 years, was a star columnist at one point, perhaps thought he had built up some good will. But come on: He had to have seen this coming. He was making columnist dollars, we assume, but had been relegated to being a somewhat celebrated blogger. In this cruel atmosphere, he had a target on his back in Day-Glo colors.

Biggest Reaction to Not Being Cut:

We're agnostic on this issue, never having met the guy, but in the outpouring of bitterness over the "Friends of Jeff" (Chron editor Jeff Cohen) who kept their jobs, one name kept cropping up: Mike Tolson. It'd be unfair to repeat all the invective hurled his way, but let's just say it was a surprisingly common theme among newly-ex-newsroom people. And we're pretty sure there will be, at least for a while, a group of ex-Chronsters keeping an eye on his production, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Hardest Group of Cuts to Defend:

Sticking out like a sore thumb (Do sore thumbs really stick out?) was the axing of three people on the sports desk: the guys who cover UH, Rice and TSU athletics. We have to admit to being unfamiliar with the work of TSU beat reporter Terrance Harris, but Michael Murphy and MK Bower did admirable jobs on the UH and Rice beats, respectively. Richard Justice told a commenter he's "100 percent wrong" for saying the paper looks like it's abandoning covering college sports, but there's no way to argue coverage won't suffer. Sure, there'll be the same game-day coverage, but the middle-of-the-week stuff, the reporting that junkies crave, just can't be the same.

Worst Semi-Abandoned Beats:

Two moves that are inexplicable: the Metro and the NASA beats, for different reasons. On a beat in which the Chronicle often didn't ruffle feathers, Rosanna Ruiz — in her short time covering Metro — showed she could piss off that agency. Which is a good thing. Conspiracy theorists are saying she was cut because Metro is a longtime Chronicle sacred cow; we're not sure we'd go that far. But the coverage won't be the same.

NASA is something different. We don't want to speak ill of the recently gone, but Mark Carreau just seemed to be one of those reporters who'd become too comfortable in his beat: Any scoops critical of NASA came from other papers. But if any newspaper should have the best NASA reporting, it's the Chronicle. Eric Berger would be easily capable of doing it — he's properly skeptical of official explanations, energetic and knowledgeable — but he will be spread incredibly thin, as he's also tasked with overall science coverage and hurricane stories, the latter of which is a big hit-getting beat in the Houston Internet world.

Another Indefensible Cut:

The slashing of the Austin bureau. Hearst had already combined its San Antonio ­Express-News and Chronicle bureaus (because hey, what's the difference?), but now they've decimated them. Clay Robison may not have set many hearts racing with his weekly columns; fair enough. But Janet Elliott is the epitome of what makes a capitol bureau good — a hardworking, solid reporter who covers a ton of issues well and clearly. We're not quite sure whatever UT interns they get to cover the next legislative session will do as well. - RICHARD CONNELLY


Watching the Watchmen
Cop Robs Bank He Moonlights At

You know the expression "Don't shit where you eat?" Well, you could probably add "Don't rob your own employer or you'll be recognized and arrested" to the list.

The FBI and the Conroe Police Department announced that 20-plus-year Conroe PD veteran Sergeant Michael Tindall has been charged in federal court with bank robbery for allegedly stealing $28,672 from the bank where he worked as a security guard in his off time.

Tindall "has been a friend and part of the Conroe Police Department family, and I've enjoyed my relationship with him," Conroe police chief Charlie Ray said during a press conference. "We've had no reason to think bad things about him, and it's just sad."

According to court documents, Tindall entered the First Bank of Conroe on August 11, 2008, wearing gloves, a white motorcycle helmet and aviator sunglasses, vaulted over the teller's counter and demanded money located in the tellers' bottom drawer.

The very next day, a bank official contacted the FBI, which investigates all bank robberies, saying that after watching the security tape, he believed the robber was a Conroe police officer who sometimes worked security at the bank. The bank official said the robber looked like Tindall, and that he seemed to know the bank's layout and in which drawer the money was kept. A teller told the FBI that the robber's voice sounded like Tindall's.

For months, the investigation continued. Then in late November 2008, Chief Ray contacted the FBI to say that after watching the security tape, he too believed the robber was Tindall based on the robber's hand gestures and the way he walked. Additionally, another member of law enforcement said he thought the helmet the robber wore looked the same as the one Tindall had worn while go-karting at a children's festival event years earlier.


The indictment capped off a seven-month-long investigation.

"This has been a difficult thing to do," said Ray. "This is not just a betrayal of the public's trust but also of the ­hardworking, honest officers in our office." - CHRIS VOGEL

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