It’s not quite as bad as a pink slip from an unexpected layoff, but the latest action at the troubled Cincinnati Enquirer certainly isn’t good news for its workers.
Mitt Romney was criticized for wanting to “kill Big Bird” due to his proposed cuts to publicly funded media, and now City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. could face similar criticism. In his 2013 budget proposal, Dohoney suggested eliminating $300,000 in support to Media Bridges, an organization that provides public access TV and radio stations in Cincinnati.
Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget. He described dire circumstances in which Ohio originally cut funding to Media Bridges in June 2011, leaving the organization with $198,000 from remaining money in the state fund and $300,000 from Cincinnati’s general fund. The state fund was provided by Time Warner Cable, and lobbying from the cable company is what eventually led to the fund’s elimination. The end of the Time Warner fund cut Media Bridges’ budget by one-third, forcing the organization to change facilities to make ends meet with less space.
With the city manager proposing to cut the city’s $300,000 in funding, Media Bridges is essentially losing $498,000 in 2013. Bishop says that’s about 85 percent of the organization’s budget — a financial gap that would be practically impossible to overcome. “If it’s a complete cut, we’re looking at liquidation,” says Bishop.
When it was notified of the changes a few months ago, Media Bridges gave an alternative plan to the mayor’s office that keeps $300,000 in funding every year after a six-month transition period. But even that plan isn’t ideal, according to Bishop. It would force Media Bridges to cut four staff members, become more dependent on automation and charge $200 a year for memberships with a sliding scale for low-income members.
Media Bridges will be reaching out to the public, mayor and
council members in the coming weeks to draw support in fighting the cuts.
At the government meetings, Bishop will make the plea that public access outlets are important for low-income families. He says it’s true that the Internet and cable television have expanded media options for the public, but, according to the 2010 Greater Cincinnati Survey, more than 40 percent of people in Cincinnati don’t have access to broadband. That’s a large amount of the population that will be left without a way to easily speak out in media if Media Bridges funding is dissolved.
In a world of saturated media, Bishop rhetorically asked why four TV channels that do a public service would need to be targeted: “Does it seem so ridiculous that the people should have a tiny bit of that bandwidth so that they can communicate with the community, share cultural events, share what’s going on in the community and participate politically?”
He added the organization also provides educational access, which allows institutions like the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools and various private schools to reach out to the community.
Media Bridges also sees the cuts as a bit unfair relative to other budget items. Bishop acknowledges “fiscal times are hard,” but he pointed out CitiCable, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other educational services, is getting more than $750,000 in the proposed budget to run one TV channel, while Media Bridges isn't getting $300,000 to run four TV channels and a radio station. He praised CitiCable — “Those guys do a great job over there; they provide a great service” — but he also says the disproportionate cuts are “just not right.”
The cuts to Media Bridges are some of many adjustments in the budget proposal by Dohoney. To balance Cincinnati’s estimated $34 million deficit, Dohoney suggested pursuing privatizing parking services and other cuts, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and a $610,770 reduction to human services funding.
Update (Nov. 30, 3:45 p.m.): Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city manager's office, called back CityBeat after this story was published. She explained Media Bridges was a target for cuts for two reasons: The program was ranked low in importance in public feedback gathered during the priority-driven budget process, and Media Bridges isn't seen as a core city service.
Olberding also said that while some funding does flow through the city to CitiCable, that money has always come from franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner. In the case of Media Bridges, the city was not funding the program until it picked up the tab in 2011. Until that point, Media Bridges was funded through the now-gone Time Warner fund. Only after funding was lost did the city government provide a “one-year reprieve” in the general fund to keep Media Bridges afloat, according to Olberding.
The audit found The Enquirer’s average daily
circulation, which excludes Saturday and Sunday, down to 117,754 from
132,076 between September 2012 and September 2013. Sunday circulation
fell to 235,515 from 262,876. The numbers represent a 10.8 percent decline in average daily circulation and 10.4 percent on Sundays.
The Akron Beacon Journal and Youngstown Vindicator also saw negative trends, with average daily and Sunday circulation dropping.
Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer lost some of its Sunday circulation, but comparable statistics weren’t available for average daily circulation because the newspaper transitioned from daily delivery to three-times-a-week delivery earlier in the year.
But The Toledo Blade and Dayton Daily News actually increased their average daily and Sunday circulation.
The Columbus Dispatch also upped its average daily circulation, but Sunday circulation fell.
For newspapers, dropping circulation coincides with more readers getting their news from the Internet and alternative sources over the past few years. The alternatives have cost newspapers around the country readers and advertising revenue, and many have responded with cutbacks in staff and overall news coverage.
In August, The Enquirer moved and laid off staff from its Kentucky and West Chester offices. The layoffs came as parent company Gannett dismissed more than 400 workers around the country, according to estimates from Gannett Blog.
Other media outlets appear to be taking advantage of the new vacancy. The Business Courier reported on Monday that Cox Media’s Journal-News is increasing its presence in Butler and Warren counties to compete with The Enquirer. The move follows Cox Media’s decision to merge its Hamilton and Middletown newspapers into a single entity that covers both cities and counties.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's parent company is testing a “pay wall” system at three of its newspapers as it attempts to devise a business model that involves users paying for Internet content.
If successful, the model being implemented at the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida, The Greenville News in South Carolina and The Spectrum in St. George, Utah, eventually could be implemented at Cincinnati's only surviving daily newspaper.
If you thought the McCarthy era witch hunts were over, you are sadly mistaken. Welcome back to 1950!
After TV host Glenn Beck’s attack on Van Jones resulted in Jones resigning from the Obama administration, it seems to be open season and now Fox News -- the “fair and balanced” news channel with a political agenda -- kicked its game up a notch this week in its attempts to discredit and destroy more of President Barack Obama’s advisers.
I have to pay more attention to The Enquirer's websites. That’s apparently where the fun is.
Former Cincinnatian Peter Heimlich follows our Sole Surviving Daily online and on his blog, The Sidebar, he noted two photos that suggest web posts don't get the same alert editing as those in print.
One photo this week showed a male Rick Santorum critic holding a sign that defined “santorum” as “a frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter sometimes resulting as a bi-product of anal sex” and telling readers to “Google it.” That leads to the “definition” by sex advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage.
Heimlich said The Enquirer took down the photo when he asked about it.
Another Enquirer photo faux pas was first caught by The Political Daily Download blog. This one involved another anti-Santorum poster, this one held by a woman. It had the former senator and lobbyist’s smiling face and said, “Doesn’t support products made for women’s reproductive organs” and, in much larger print, “IS A DOUCHEBAG.”
A similar photo replaced it online.
After the meeting, Cranley dismissed an offer by major philanthropy organization The Carol
Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation to pay for a study of
streetcar shut-down costs that opponents want to see
come in lower than the
city’s estimates before they vote to completely stop the project. Cranley dismissed
the offer because it also came with a note saying that if the streetcar is canceled the foundation will
reconsider its contributions to Music
Hall, the Smale Riverfront Park and other city projects. Cranley would rather make the city pay for the study than negotiate with terrorists respond to threats.
About seven and a half hours into this debacle of American democracy — which included numerous procedural abnormalities including the mayor asking Council to discuss and vote on ordinances no one had read yet, an hours-long delay and a funding appropriation that leaves the cancellation vote safe from the pro-streetcar-threatened voter referendum (something Cranley railed against when the city administration kept the parking plan safe from referendum) — Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld livened things up with something everyone tired of the streetcar debate can agree is funny: undermining the mayor’s authority by asking fellow council members to overrule him.
The following video published by UrbanCincy shows Cranley denying Sittenfeld an opportunity to speak. Sittenfeld then asks for a vote to overrule Cranley, which the mayor had to approve, and everyone but Kevin Flynn votes to overrule. (Flynn unfortunately had to vote first, leaving him unable to determine which way the vote was likely to go — a tough position for a rookie politician.) Once David Mann and Amy Murray voted to allow Sittenfeld to speak, the rest of the anti-streetcar faction followed suit, knowing Sittenfeld had the necessary votes to overrule Cranley. Then Sittenfeld spent a few minutes going mayoral on Cincinnati's new mayor.