By Lew Moores · December 3rd, 2003 · Media, Myself & I
The Post devoted two full inside pages of stories and photos to the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. The pages continued from two page-one stories that transported readers back in time 40 years, when word reached the ears and eyes of Cincinnatians old enough to remember, and picked the memories of those who could recall earlier visits the candidate and president made here. The coverage was extensive, the individual stories poignant and the reporting both exhaustive and resourceful.
It was telling for any number of reasons. The Post correctly decided the event had enough resonance, even among those not yet born, to merit the coverage. On the other hand, The Cincinnati Enquirer lamely ran that day a couple of small stories inside, on page two, that pointed out most Americans didn't believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, with a handful of real bizarre theories that included JFK engineering the assassination himself. Huh? The other was a 13-paragraph local story that merely recounted what the paper had reported 40 years ago.
More to the point, the coverage in The Post was telling because it was a reminder that there's still a lot of fight in a newspaper that's lost circulation, cut back on reporters and had to make critical decisions on coverage because of limited resources. The Post is still a newspaper very much worth paying attention to and reading.
It's a paper whose roster of reporters still delivers a punch, still offers some damn fine writing, reading and storytelling and deftly weaves perspective and analysis into the stories they choose to pursue.
It can be traced to Barry M. Horstman, technically the paper's city editor, who wrote the JFK retrospective, as well as a stable of other writers -- Kimball Perry, Rick Bird, sports columnist Lonnie Wheeler, local columnist David Wecker, among others -- who rarely write as if they're read by a diminishing audience.
And the audience is sinking. Fast. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures have The Post's Monday-Friday circulation at 42,219 and Saturday at 57,543. That's half of the paper's circulation in 1995 (84,147 on weekdays and 116,442 on Saturday).
For a newspaper that's a mere shadow, circulation-wise, of its morning competitor, it simply refuses a second-class status.
"The Post is no longer in a position of covering every single thing," says Horstman, who joined the paper in 1976, left for the Washington bureau in 1978, left for The Los Angeles Times in 1980 and returned to his hometown and The Post in 1993. "We have to be a little more selective. We can pick and choose. We will not be the paper of record on every single story. The mantra here is we will do a better job on the big stories. On the stories that people are talking about, we're certainly holding our own."
That they've done, whether covering politics, the Hamilton County Courthouse, the county government or Cincinnati City Hall. If you were in search of the most cogent analysis of city politics and the recent city council race, for instance, Horstman and The Post were where you'd find it.
"If I were to start a newspaper, Barry would be the first guy I would hire," says Robert Kraft, former managing editor of The Post. "He works incredibly hard, he knows everybody, he has an incredible sense of the history of the place. He loves the big story. He always wanted to be around the big story. I'm a big fan."
With added editor responsibilities, Horstman will find himself working 70-75 hours a week, partly out of deference to being asked to take on the role of city editor and as a nod to his knowledge of the community.
"This was a solution born more of necessity than my wanting it," he says.
Yet, reporting is what he has done his entire career; it's his narcotic.
"I still have the thrill of the chase in my blood," he says.
The JFK retrospective was not the biggest story of the year, nor did it have anything to do with uncovering corruption or shining a light on those who exercise bad judgment. But it sent a message -- The Post is plugged in, mindful of history and its reach. (More than 3 million people each year visit the grave site of President Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery.)
Stories like this connect new readers and re-connect older ones with the past, especially when there are those who can tell personal stories of reaction and involvement. It speaks to the course of history and historical connections -- the Cold War, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the role of television in politics and popular culture and political campaigning. It has something to say, distantly, about the riots here in April 2001.
All that had antecedents. TV recognized that with its extensive coverage of the anniversary two weeks ago. So did The Post.
Horstman was able to track down a number of people here -- getting names by poring through old newspapers and combing old phone books at the public library -- whose memories are still vivid: Tom Luken, former Cincinnati mayor and congressman whose career was "kick-started'' by the Kennedy administration; Bill Geoghegan, who served in the Justice Department under Robert Kennedy; Sue Bill, a high school student in 1960 who literally bumped into the candidate during the campaign; and Louise Dumler, a high school editor who interviewed Kennedy during a 1959 visit.
"To me it was very important to talk to people who have firsthand recollections and experiences," Horstman says. "By the 50th anniversary, we'll have lost more of them. As a reporter, the challenge is to always get as close to the source as possible. So I'd much rather talk to people who have firsthand brushes with history.
"It's akin to oral history, and it's one of the most valuable things we can do as reporters -- get out there and talk to people who were there. To me, that gives the story a vibrancy."
And a story that appears in a newspaper that still gives Cincinnati a vibrancy.
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