A good newspaper understands the political sensitivities of the community it serves and reflects that understanding in the newspaper's coverage and opinion-making.
   A newspaper that fails to understand and reflect the nature of its community is bound to lose readers.
   Such is the plight of the Columbus Dispatch that was purchased by GateHouse Media in June.
   The political disconnect between the Dispatch's news and opinion policies and its core readers is likely a key factor  in a one-year drop in circulation of nearly 9 percent. The annual report published in the Dispatch in October stated that the average number of copies sold on the day nearest to the filing date was 127,477, down sharply from 139,696 the average number of copies sold during the previous 12 months.
   A copy of a print newspaper is read by an average of two people, so the Dispatch is reaching about 255,000 people per day.
   A quarter-million readers is a drop in the bucket when you consider that the City of Columbus had 835,000 residents and Franklin County 1,231,000 in the 2014 census and that the metropolitan area (the surrounding counties) adds another 1 million.

   Franklin County 2012 election returns showed that President Barack Obama got 60.53% of the vote for president, but the Dispatch editorial page regularly denigrates Obama.
   More than half of Franklin County voters still view Obama in a favorable light. Why would they want to subscribe to the Dispatch that treats their hero so disrespectfully?
   A recent editorial referred to "half-hearted leadership from the White House." Nothing has changed under the new owners.
   Since GateHouse took over and made Alan D. Miller editor, the news coverage has become somewhat more balanced, better reflecting the nature of the community.
   If new Dispatch publisher Bradley Harmon is truly interested in growing the paper by making it reflect the political views of the community it serves, he will end the Obama hate on the editorial page.

            Dear readers, I urge you to write publisher Harmon and offer to purchase a three-month subscription if he will change the editorial policies and stop the Obama hate. Please copy me your note and his response to ColumbusMediaInsider@gmail.com.

   Harmon found out the walls have ears at the Dispatch. JimRomenesko.com reported that Harmon sent out a memo to all employees urging them to wear OSU colors on Friday Nov. 20, the day before the Michigan State football game.
   Editor Miller quickly sent his own memo to the newsroom, saying "we report the news and cheer for no one" and discouraging the journalists from wearing Buckeye garb.
   Comments on the website included that Dispatch journalists had been known to wear OSU colors in the past and that the Dispatch was in bed with OSU on various business deals, such as photo sales.

   Meanwhile, Harmon must wrestle with the challenge of making money off of  Dispatch digital products to make up for the drop in print revenue caused by the decline in circulation and advertising.
   NetNewsCheck.com reported this summer that Dispatch.com ranked 10th in the market in "social media actions and fans/followers," according to Shareablee, a data firm.
   WBNS-TV, formerly co-owned with the Dispatch, was rated number one with 3.66 million "total actions" and 484,000 "fans/followers." Dispatch.com's comparables were 415,000 and 161,000, respectively. WCMH-TV was second and WSYX-TV a close third, both with about half of WBNS's totals. Radio stations WCOL-FM, WTOH-FM and WCVO-FM held the fourth through sixth positions, according to Shareablee.
  Though corporately separate now, WBNS and the Dispatch still appear to be using the same online system. And both sites have an annoying box that pops up at the bottom asking readers to consent to "cookies," in other words to allow the sites to identify visitors and record their behavior.
   Media sites are trying to build audience as big as possible in the event that someday there is a gold rush of advertisers seeking large online audiences and they can cash in.
   Harmon would make it all worthwhile for his corporate bosses if he can build Dispatch.com's social media presence and cash in.

   Sadly, the Dispatch still has a Kasich Worship problem, apparently left over from the previous owner.
   It is running half-page promotional ads picturing Gov. John Kasich, hands in the air,  and vowing to cover his campaign "every step of the way."
   When Kasich stepped in doo-doo at the last Republican debate, the Dispatch was a day late in reporting him making a fool out of himself.
   I doubt that if Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown were running for president (an excellent idea), he would receive the wall to wall coverage that Kasich is receiving.

   The Dispatch can't bring itself to call the charter school failings/Ohio department of education evaluation and grant application mess a scandal any more than it can bring itself to call the Redflex kickbacks saga a scandal.
   While editor Miller is pursuing some laudatory social issues articles, the education and Redflex scandals (my word) are far more important to Ohioans and particularly central Ohioans and deserve the full resources of the Dispatch investigative journalists brought to bear.

  If you hunger for original reporting and commentary with a liberal bent that complements the Columbus Free Press, I urge you to visit Plunderbund.org regularly. The website celebrated its 10th anniversary  in November. Plunderbund, led by Eric Vessels and Joe Mismas, has filled the gap created by the decline of investigative journalism and commentary in traditional newspapers. In 2014 Plunderbund broke the story of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's chief of staff allegedly falsifying her time sheets, which is now coming to a head.
   John Michael Spinelli provides indispensible political reporting and commentary for Plunderbund. Spinelli so sees through John Kasich, that the irascible one long ago cut off Spinelli's press privileges. Must reading, indeed.

Please send your thoughts and suggestions for future columns to ColumbusMediaInsider@gmail.com

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

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