Friday, February 17, 2012

"America Has Always Been Fascinated By The Outlaw."

COVERING ORGANIZED CRIME isn't always the most important story of the day, both George Anastasia and Dave Schratwieser admitted yesterday. But there's great drama, like a soap opera. Especially in the modern era of the Philadelphia mafia.

"This is the most dysfunctional time in mob history," Anastasia said. "The Philadelphia mob are like The Simpsons of the underworld."

Anastasia, who graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in French Literature, has been covering the mafia for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than 30 years. Schratwieser has specialized in law enforcement and organized crime coverage for most of his career as well, moving from print to television. He's been at Fox29 since 1994.

The two did a weekly segment on the underworld for several years.
It wasn't easy to get good information in the beginning, Anastasia said. He did what most reporters do - talked to cops and defense lawyers. One day, a guy called him and said that his stories were all wrong.

"He was a typical South Philly guy," Anastasia remembered. "He had to get the last word."

So Anastasia developed a relationship with this character, using his information to balance out the sanitized information from officials. This changed everything - all of the sudden, the stories had a life to them, and more people came forward to talk (albeit anonymously), from within law enforcement and the mob.

Both reporters stressed that they never revealed information to either the cops or underworld figures. In fact, on the day one of the Philly mob guys was picked up by cops, Schratwieser received a phone call from the gangster an hour before the arrest. He thought Schratwieser might know about an impending arrest.

Schratwieser said he knew nothing. But he was actually in a Fox29 vehicle around the corner from the guy's house, behind a row of law enforcement vehicles preparing to move in.

"It can be difficult when developing sources," Anastasia said. "These guys think we're friends."

Occasionally, he has meals with mobsters and they try to pick up the tab.

"A lot of these guys have John Gotti Syndrome," Anastasia joked. "They think, 'What's the point of being a gangster if nobody knows?'"

But he declines their offer and pays his own way.

Both reporters have established positive reputations within law enforcement and the underworld for being fair in their stories. Still, former Philadelphia mob boss John Stanfa put a contract out on Anastasia, which Anastasia learned about from the hitman hired to throw grenades through his window.

"They guy told me and said, 'Nothing personal,'" Anastasia remembered.

Here are a few other things that stood out from their visit:

• Schratwieser landed his first journalism job straight out of college because he had been an intern there until he graduated. He got his first job in television, as a producer, after running into a friend in the subway (he was taking broadcast classes while working as a print reporter). He did his first on-air story assignment because six reporters called out sick one day.
• As a general assignment reporter at Fox29, Schratwieser now turns two stories every day, and often re-packages another for the evening news.
• Anastasia used to be able to spend weeks developing stories without actually printing anything. Because of cutbacks, that luxury to develop sources and dig for information is pretty much gone.
• Much of the great information they get is through these sources, some of whom are angry lawyers, mob enemies, proud cops ... people with a particular agenda.
• If you burn a source - in law enforcement or in the underworld - they will never speak to you again.
• Both have new books out. Schratwieser's is The Hitman; Anastasia's is The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies.

They offered this advice for getting a job in journalism:

• Do an internship.
• Go into the field with reporters and photographers. "You're not going to learn remotely what you want to learn by sitting behind a desk at the station," Schratwieser said.
• Don't rely upon the Internet when reporting. Hit the streets.

What stood out for you?


Kevin said...

The fact that they cover crime is awesome because I'm interested in that kind of thing. Their jobs are too cool to be true. The thing that some people don't realize about "The Sopranos" or "Goodfellas" is that the things that happens in those works are actually feasible within the context of the real-life mafia. I think Anastasia made this clear when he said the Sopranos "had nothing on them" when they were covering the Philly mob in the 90s. Awesome. I was completely jealous.

Olivia Dello Buono said...

While I would never take a job that could end up with a contract for my life, I give my respects to them for dedicating themselves fully to the journalism field. It seems these guys will go to many lengths to get an accurate, in-depth story. It just goes to show that this is not an ordinary job. There are so many different specializations out there.

JustinWagner said...

This was a very interesting lecture concerning crime and journalism, the speakers that visited us are fully immersed onto the grid when it comes to the dangerous world of the mafia here in Philadelphia. My father, being an ex-warden, had heard of this man George Anastasia before and advised me to pay attention to his stories. But the thing that stood out the most to me was the fact that he pointed out that there is a growing organization amongst the Russian community in Philadelphia that I was completely unaware of. Another thing that caught my attention was that many American born mobsters were more concerned with fame than the actual concept of crime. It just shows that these people are willing to be as bold as possible to gain honor and respect to their name, and their egos are usually the factors that get them killed at the end of the day. It

Em DiCicco said...

I found them both to be very engaging. As they mentioned, the mob members and their actions are a topic that have always fascinated individuals; they are lucky to cover such an exciting topic.
They're an amazing example of niche journalism. Because I've played with the idea of going into fashion, their advice on developing good relationships with those that you will be covering will especially salient to me.

Alex Snell said...

I commented this, but for some reason, I don't think it showed up. I can't remember exactly what I had said, but I really enjoyed these two. They provided us with great information, while keeping us very interested. Their stories about the mobs were very gripping, and it was inspiring to hear about their work. Also, I thought it was quite coincidental that they were discussing the paying of the tabs, receiving gifts, etc., since we had just discussed it in class. It stressed that rule, so we all know to strictly follow it. They were great!

Nenayre Keita said...

I personally enjoyed the information that both journalists lectured to us. Often times in school you find that you learn about the ethical side about journalism such as journalism and the law and rights of a journalist and so on and so forth. As students we hear about the journalists who work for magazines or print newspapers and then eventually go on to be editors and such, so getting to get glimpse into the action side of journalism was really intriguing. It's always been know that journalism can prove to be really dangerous but its something that you only experience on television or hear about in the news. To be able to actually engage with journalists who have encountered danger and investigate and report real criminal intent, such as the Philadelphia mob scene, was fascinating.

Leigh Wynn said...

It was great, the information given to us on how and what to do to get a job out of college was really helpful. I know I have worried about the issue about no jobs for graduates and I feel a little more at ease with the information given to me because I know somethings I can do so that won’t happen to me and for that I am really thankful to them. The information about the gangsters was kind of exciting to, it made me even more thrilled to go into journalism. It’s not just some job were you collect information and type it up, it can be life changing and dangerous, so thrilling!

Sakinah Muhammad said...

I never imagined I would meet the reporters who have actually met with the mobsters and wrote stories about them; that’s something that I thought I only see on television and in movies. I thought that they were both fairly intriguing and had some awesome opportunities that only journalist can really say they’ve had. I don’t see myself being able to really play both sides of the fence as good as they seem to have done it, which is probably why I am not a journalist major, but nonetheless it was a topic that I enjoyed listening to for an hour.

sofia pignitor said...

In class we always talk about niche journalism, and this is a perfect example of it. I thought it was neat that they said how some people have a fascination with the mob, to the point where it almost becomes a hobby to follow them. I don't understand how they are still alive, but I'm glad they were able to come speak with our class.