The publisher and editor of the Columbus Dispatch like to brag about what they consider sterling journalism in the newspaper and about all the awards it has won.
   But when it comes to reporting news about their own shop, they travel the road of self-serving public relations, not journalism.
   After leaving us to read reporter Tom Knox’s articles in Columbus Business First about $10 million in budget cuts and impending layoffs, the Dispatch broke its silence in mid-September with a “news article” and columns by publisher Jim Hopson and editor Alan Miller over a two-day span that disclosed that 63 non-newsroom employees had been laid off and hinted that journalists would be let go (I’ll guess 25) after the first of the year when the Dispatch moves much of its editing and design work to Austin, Texas, where parent GateHouse Media operates a centralized editing and design shop for its many newspapers.

Jobs lost, Governor silent

   One would think that Gov. John Kasich’s JobsOhio money well would be dipped into here to offer incentives to the Dispatch to keep the 63 fired employees and to keep the editing and design jobs in Ohio rather than exporting them to Texas. And one would hope that the governor himself would state his opposition to the addition to the unemployment ranks in Ohio. Kasich, busy out of state running for president, won’t take the Dispatch to the woodpile because it would cost him the sweetheart coverage in the Dispatch that he got under the previous owner and continues to get under the new regime.
   No mention was made by Hopson and Miller of the number of Dispatch reporters, photographers and editors who have accepted buyouts. I’ll guess dozens will be gone by the first of the year and their ranks will include some of the biggest names, most accomplished, and highest paid journalists on the staff. And it will go largely unreported.

Corporate owners gut LA Times newsroom

   I would not be surprised if the Dispatch employs 100 fewer journalists a year from now. The LA Times, once family owned similar to the Dispatch, has cut its newsroom from 1,200 to 500 in recent years with more cuts rumored. Los Angeles billionaires want to buy the paper back from its corporate owners and restore it to its journalistic grandeur. It once rivaled the NY Times, but no more.
   I wonder if a few years from now wealthy Columbus civic leaders will want to buy the Dispatch back from GateHouse because its quality and impact has diminished. Les Wexner could have put up the $47 million to buy the Dispatch with a rounding error on his billions.
   Hopson and Miller proclaimed in their columns that the quality of journalism and scope of coverage in the Dispatch will not be affected by the staff cuts and outsourcing. If you believe that, I have a clear title to a bridge over the Scioto River that I will sell you.
   The gigantic question that bears answering is: How can we trust the Dispatch to cover the news, any news, in a fair, forthright and comprehensive manner when the Dispatch’s top brass cannot cover the news about the paper?

Shabby journalism at the top

   A good editor would fire a reporter for completing articles, even columns, with only two in-house sources – guess who? Dobson and Miller --, with no outside experts interviewed, with only details included that are flattering to the Dispatch and negative details simply left out, and with statements mad about out-competing other Columbus media without asking those other media’s executives for comment.
   It is true that the NY Times and Wall Street Journal have trouble covering themselves. The Times instituted a remedy for this years ago by hiring a public editor. This ombudsperson, distinguished journalist and former Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan, is independent of the Times editorial staff. She writes a Sunday column dissecting the contents of the Times and often takes the Times to task for its shortcomings, occasionally raising the ire of its editor.

Independence would help

   If the Dispatch wants to live up to its rhetoric, restore its credibility and earn respect as a paragon of journalistic virtue, it needs to install an ombudsperson and give said individual a license to criticize through a weekly column in the Sunday Dispatch. For years the Dispatch has needed an ombudsperson to put the paper’s owner, publisher and editor’s feet to the flames for favoring certain politicians (see Kasich reference above) and for rewarding the former publisher’s friends and punishing his enemies.
   Secondly, the Dispatch should employ an independent journalist to cover all the changes at the Dispatch under new owner GateHouse for the next couple years, so we can read in the Dispatch what is going on at the Dispatch, instead of having to depend on Columbus Business First and even yours truly, the ColumbusMediaInsider, for the truth.
   Dear Publisher Hopson and Editor Miller, please spare us the horrible, pandering, public relations-laden publicity releases masquerading as news and columns before we lose all confidence in your journalism and cancel our subscriptions.

No public polls in mayor’s race

   The likely outcome of the red-hot race for mayor of Columbus between Sheriff Zach Scott and Council President Andy Ginther remains a mystery to the public because at this writing six weeks before the election neither the Dispatch, nor Columbus’s Big 3 television news stations, nor any local news organization have bothered to take a public opinion poll and publish the results. The public has no insight on what the salient issues are because of no public polling. It also would be helpful to know how voters are leaning in the city council and school board contests, not to mention the zoo levy. And how are Columbus voters sizing up Issue 3, the statewide marijuana referendum?

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(ColumbusMediaInsider, copyright, 2015, John K. Hartman, All Rights Reserved)

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