On 40th Anniversary Of WCPO Hostage Situation, SPJ To Discuss Coping With Stress

Oct 13, 2020

The 40th anniversary of WCPO-TV hostages held at gunpoint in the newsroom will be marked Thursday with a virtual discussion about "Journalists & Stress: Coping Mechanisms in Unusual Times" by the Greater Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists.

Retired reporter Tom McKee, one of the nine employees held at gunpoint by James Hoskins at 2 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1980, will moderate the Zoom session about mental health for journalists and first responders 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday.

"The focus is on the stress level, and how police and journalists cope with stress on the job," says McKee, who has taught broadcast journalism at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music since leaving Channel 9 in December 2018.

WCPO-TV's downtown headquarters at 500 Central Ave. was torn down in 2004 for the convention center expansion.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Dealing with stress in 1980, or in 2020 with COVID-19 and protests for racial justice, "is a very real concern for media organizations, police and firefighters," says the SPJ release.

McKee and his coworkers were held at gunpoint by Hoskins, who was armed with five guns and 600 rounds of ammunition. Hoskins, 41, gained entry after approaching reporter Elaine Green and photographer John Ehrhart with a semi-automatic rifle in the parking lot about 2 a.m., as they returned from working on a medical story.  

Once inside, Hoskins wanted to make a statement on live television. Green instead offered to videotape him. Hoskins said during the taped interview that he had murdered girlfriend Melanie Finlay, 30, in their 12th Street apartment earlier that night. Green's 14-minute interview at gunpoint won a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award.

About 12 hours later, police finally entered the station and found Hoskins dead on the newsroom floor from a self-inflicted gunshot at 1:45 p.m.

McKee will play about three minutes of Hoskins' interview during the Zoom chat. Don't expect him to talk much about that night.

Tom McKee retired from Channel 9 in 2018.
Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

"Most people today don't know about it, and I don't want to talk about it. I talked about it so much when it happened that it didn't really linger in my mind. But when people find out (I was there), they ask me about it," he says.  "For me, it's so far in the past, that when I look at the video tape, it's like I'm an observer, like it's something that is happening to someone else."

The panelists are:

--Dale Menkhaus, a 50-year law enforcement veteran who was Cincinnati Police SWAT team commander and negotiator by phone with Hoskins at WCPO-TV,  Fifth Street and Central Avenue, across from Cincinnati Fire Department headquarters. (The station was torn down in 2004 for convention center expansion.)

--Dr. Kathleen Chard, director of both the UC Mental Health Institute and the VA Medical Center Mental Health Center.

--TV news directors Mike Canan (WCPO-TV) and Tim Geraghty (WKRC-TV).

--WKRC-TV reporter Duane Pohlman, who has reported from the Middle East war, the Bosnia peace mission and Central America human rights issues.

--Cara Owsley, Enquirer photography director.

The Zoom discussion is open to the public. When you register on EventBrite here, a link to the Zoom session will be emailed to you.