by Ben L. Kaufman
Media musings on Cincinnati and beyond
Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn’s recent note to
readers assures us that the continually shrinking page will elicit
readers’ joyous cries of “new and improved!”
Don’t hold your breath.
The 10-1/2 x 14-2/3 page — about the size of the Business
Courier — will be printed in Columbus on the Dispatch’s new press. The
tabloid should given designers greater freedom to fill the news hole
with large photos, graphics and headlines. The local section is so small
now that I’m almost inured to diminishing returns on my rising
Page size isn’t the issue; what’s on them is what matters.
I’ve worked on tabloid-format dailies in three countries. Today, few
papers are sold on the street and huge headlines to grab passersby are
wasted space. “Headless Body in Topless Bar” and “Ford to City: Drop
Dead” were perfect in New York but not here. We need smart, patient
reporting. That requires space in the paper. Whether we get it has
nothing to do with page size.
• Publisher Margaret Buchanan’s
subsequent page 1 note to readers last Sunday was hardly reassuring. It
repeats much of editor Carolyn Washburn’s memo (above) and reinforces my
fears: “The pages will be organized with fewer jumps so you
don’t have to turn pages to continue reading the same story. Headlines
will be bolder. The print edition will be more colorful with larger
photos and graphics to help tell the stories. Most importantly, we’ll
continue to provide unique in-depth news stories ..."
Buchanan comes from the advertising/business side of
Gannett journalism, so maybe she isn’t troubled by the contradiction in
her assurances: short stories burdened by big headlines, photos and
graphics on tabloid pages can’t be “in-depth” unless they jump from page
to page. And she’s promising “fewer jumps.” Is the next innovation with
purpose a shift from “readers” to “viewers”?
• Does the Enquirer have a policy about naming juveniles
accused of crimes or is it an adhocracy among editors? When Avondale
kids wanted for shoplifting fled in a car, they were named in the first
story. When a suburban high school student was accused of a central role
in a major drug ring, the first story didn’t name him and said that
discretion was Enquirer policy. “Avondale” long has been code for black
at the paper. “Suburban” or identifying with a suburban high school
means white even if that is no longer a reasonable assumption in many
• Last Sunday, WVXU carried a fine conversation between
Enquirer sports reporter and author John Erardi and WVXU politics
reporter (and lifelong Reds fan) Howard Wilkinson. They talked about
Barry Larkin and why he was being inducted into the Baseball Hall of
Fame. They know their stuff, they obviously enjoy each other’s company,
not least because Wilkinson also spent decades at the Enquirer writing
about politics and on rare occasion, Reds baseball.
I enjoyed their insights and storytelling even though I’m
not a baseball fan. I think I’ve been to three, maybe four Reds games
in as many decades. Blame my parents. The Twins didn’t exist when I was a
kid; it was Minneapolis Millers v. St. Paul Saints at Nicollet Park in
Minneapolis and I don’t remember seeing them. We didn’t have modern
Vikings either and the Lakers left town. No way to nurture a fan.
• I wish I wasn’t eating when I read Dan Horn’s recent
encyclopedia update on water quality in the Ohio River. His Enquirer
report was well done. The photos were marvelous. My upset was personal:
When we moved to Cincinnati in 1967, we moored our boat at
Elmer & Jenny’s Yacht Club downriver in Bromley, Ky. Wonderful
people, but “yacht club”? I don’t think so.
in the river, aware of its water quality but
in denial; it’s hard to give up the one sport I enjoyed from childhood
... in Minnesota. I only swam in the Ohio to put on or retrieve skies
or to drop the rope and wait for my wife to pick me up. I didn’t
I don’t remember infections or gastro-intestinal problems
from Ohio River water. After all, I had skied for years in the St.
Croix between Minnesota and Wisconsin, in the industrial Upper
Mississippi at the Twin Cities and downriver to the the two rivers
merged. God knows what was in those pre-EPA waters then but maybe I
brought immunities to the Ohio.
After three years, we left Elmer & Jenny’s Yacht Club
for Rocky Fork Lake near Hillsboro in Highland County. We sought fresher
breezes and a ski zone free of barge tows and increasingly wild,
mindless boaters in the Ohio’s Cincinnati basin. Cleaner water was a
bonus. I still didn’t swallow.
Recalling the Ohio River in the 1960s — aided by Horn’s
detailed story — was the best appetite suppressant I’ve experienced in
• If you’re going to do gotcha journalism, do your
homework. A conservative blogger challenged Cleveland columnist Connie
Schultz, sure she was a liberal who gets too close to leftwing
politicians she covers. “We have found numerous photos of you with Sen.
Sherrod Brown. In one of them, you appear to be hugging him. Care to
Here’s part of Shultz’s response, courtesy of jimromenesko.com:
“He’s really cute. He’s also my husband. You know that, right?” Shultz
told her former employer, the Plain Dealer where she won a Pulitzer
Prize, that she hadn’t named the blogger because she wants him to “pick
better company and do better journalism.”
Romensko said Schultz told him in a telephone interview, “I don’t want to be a bully. I can say he was working for one of the
larger conservative blogs, but that his name is not in the staff
directory. Maybe he’s an intern, maybe an editor was playing a joke on
him or maybe he was trying to get a reaction out of me. But I just want
him to stop hanging around with those people and learn something out of
(see above) also reports that elsewhere in northern Ohio, the Sandusky
Register posted a voice mail message left by Erie County Tom Paul for
reporter Andy Ouriel. Paul said there was a mistake in the previous
day’s edition. Here is part of the relentlessly F-bombing message: “You
don’t know your ass from a fucking hole in the ground. And you know
what? — sorry about that but you make me mad. Give me a call back, 419-357-2985, ya shithead.”
• Louisville’s Courier-Journal chose discretion over valor
by not naming two juveniles convicted of sexually assaulting
17-year-old Kentuckian Savannah Dietrich. Lots of people, however,
already knew despite the judge’s gag order. She tweeted their names to
protest over what she fears will be judicial slaps on their wrists.
Dietrich told the Courier-Journal they assaulted her when she passed out
after drinking at a party. The youths also shared digital images of the
assault with others. After negotiations with prosecutors, the pair pled
guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism.
Dietrich faces up to180 days in jail and a $500 fine if the judge
convicts her of contempt.
• If you’ve followed news stories about the run-up to the
London summer Olympics, you must know that security for the events and
sites is a shambles, even by British standards of bumbling through. The
firm that was paid to provide security failed in every way. The
government minister responsible for domestic security failed to respond
promptly or adequately. The badly stretched Army — already being
dramatically reduced in strength and losing historic regiments — is
filling roles designed for civilian rent-a-cops and ushers. One cartoon
expressed its contempt for the organizers with soldiers being told
they’ll be able to return to Afghanistan after the Olympics. Be grateful
that Cincinnati’s bid for this colossal money pit was rejected.
• Here’s a question I haven’t seen asked by the national
press: Do we want a president as detached as Romney says he was from his
responsibilities as owner and CEO of Bain? He says he didn’t know if
his subordinates were shipping jobs overseas. The screwed up Salt Lake
City Olympics — which he did help save — were more important. I believe
him. But how does that salvage his claim to being a keen businessman
who can sort out our country’s economy?
• Get over it. With more than 300 million citizens and
immigrants and almost as many firearms, Americans have nut jobs and a
few will be violent. So I wouldn’t be unhappy if our mainstream news
media suffered massacre fatigue. Maybe the latest Colorado shootings
will speed that process. Similar fatigue already is evident in
diminished foreign/war news.
It isn’t a question of whether to focus on the victims or
the shooter or a search for “reasons.” You don’t ask mass killers for
reasons. Given the utter inadequacy of mental health services and our
easy access to firearms, our rational response is to accept the risk
that someone else will die in irrational mass shootings. That’s a price
the NRA and its pusillanimous legislative allies find acceptable if the
alternative is more effective firearm regulation.
A different rational response might be a news media
campaign for a costly, annual federal tax stamp for every high-capacity
magazine for every firearm to which they can be fitted. This wouldn’t
disarm hunters in any way. Semi-automatic hunting rifles and shotguns
don’t have or require 20 or 30 cartridges to put venison or duck on the
The tax would include the stick-like magazines for
semi-automatic pistols and submachineguns and the familiar curved
magazines for civilian versions of the AK47 and its kin. Drum magazines -
like that found at the Aurora theater - can hold scores of rounds and
be fitted to some military and military-style weapons as well as the
Thompson submachinegun and its descendants. Drums would be covered,
This tax wouldn’t take away anyone’s firearm or
testosterone-enhancing firepower. It doesn’t limit the number of rounds
shooters can load into their weapons the way the extinct Clinton-era
10-shot limit did. The sole function of high-capacity magazines is to
make it easier to kill lots of people. That’s why real military weapons
like the AK47, the M16 or even the World War II Browning Automatic Rifle — the famous BAR — had high-capacity clips.
The tax would not be a Second Amendment issue ... or
shouldn’t be. It copies the longstanding $200 federal tax required for
fully automatic weapons owned by civilians. Americans buy those firearms
and pay the tax.
• Americans own more handguns, shotguns and rifles every
year and reported violent crime has sharply declined. Coincidence?
Absolutely. Second Amendment? When’s the last time you heard about
someone with a licensed concealed firearm and an extra-high-capacity
magazine stopping a crazed gunman? Believe me, the news media would be
full of such a story or NRA complaints about liberal suppression of a
I’m talking about a news media campaign to make it harder
to kill lots of people in a few seconds or minutes. However, that
throws us into the confused world of acceptable risks. There isn’t a
chance in Columbine of doing more than taxing high-capacity magazines
when Americans also accept as normal the thousands of daily deaths from
drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, obesity, medical errors, etc.
• There’s still another related, rational response for the
news media to the Batman killings: Give less prominence to nut cases
worrying whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a sleeper agent at
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s right elbow, or that less than a
20- or 30-round magazine will allow Mongolian mercenaries in UN blue
helmets and black helicopters to enslave us to a world government. On
the other hand, while the GOP and its crazier allies promote distrust,
fear and hatred of government, don’t expect such courage from the news
media. That could risk being seen as partisan.
CONTACT BEN KAUFMAN: email@example.com
0 Comments · Tuesday, April 17, 2012
WVXU’s decision to hire retiring Enquirer politics reporter Howard Wilkinson is the rare bright spot in the increasingly constricted world of local news gathering. Adding him to WVXU’s reporting staff
scored a twofer for news director Maryanne Zeleznik. In addition to his
sense of local and state politics, Howard is as passionate and
knowledgable about the Reds.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I finally watched the 30-minute online video, Kony 2012, calling for the capture or killing of African terrorist Joseph Kony this year. With an estimated 100 million views so
far, it’s an interesting example of manipulation of social media.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I had a chance to be the proud stage mama of Cincinnati dining recently. Since I love showing off the wonderful, unique aspects of our local cuisine, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the morning driving and dining with Michael Stern who, with Jane Stern, explores America's regional food and comments for 'The Splendid Table,' heard locally on WVXU-FM.
0 Comments · Monday, September 13, 2010
Next Wednesday I'll pursue a favorite past time: introducing a class of University of Cincinnati undergraduates to the ambiguities of journalism ethics. We'll talk about virtues and vices, standards and seducers. Our first session probably will include the threatened burning of the Qur'an by a Florida pastor. And in October I'll teach a similar class for UC's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. It's freewheeling — no text, exams or grades.
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Let's make this column local local or, as the new conventional wisdom sometimes puts it, hyperlocal: How much would you pay to read The Enquirer online if it quit being free? Or, if the main news section remains free online, which features would you pay for: Op-ed columnists? Tweets? Blogs? Moms? Are you willing to give The Enquirer your credit card and let them nick you for every article you pull from behind the pay-to-read wall? Lots of other dailies are gingerly sticking their toes in the roiled water of paid online content.
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Monday through Friday, WVXU News Director Maryanne Zeleznik cheerily announces it's a minute before 5 a.m. and leads into NPR's 'Morning Edition' and local programming. No spouse or roommate could be so chipper, and she doesn't flag audibly during the next five hours. It's not the perkiness of an ingenue but the confident sound of a village Wise Woman who enjoys her special knowledge and role.