Yet they continue to demand advance payment and bill regularly
Old Dispatch building

I have received and read a daily printed newspaper since I was learning to read more than 70 years ago. I grew up with the print edition of the Sunday New York Times, and the daily morning Pittsburgh Post Gazette and afternoon Pittsburgh Press. When I moved to Evanston, Illinois for college, there was the daily delivered Chicago Sun Times as well as the New York Times. And the equivalent in Toronto (Globe and Mail, Star), Dallas (Morning News, Times Herald), and San Antonio (Express-News).

And then we moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2004. Delivery was not a major issue until the right-wing-Heritage Foundation-supported and influenced, anti-editing and ideological USA Today/Gannett purchased the failing Columbus Dispatch from the Wolfe family. The Wolfes bled it into the red in part by never distinguishing between their own private development interests and owning the city’s only major daily newspaper.

During its long, often politically and private economic developmentally influential history, the Dispatch refused civic responsibility, service to the city’s increasingly diverse publics (plural), informed social, cultural, or political criticism, and any degree of responsible self-criticism. That is not The Columbus Way in any daily media. It worsens constantly. Journalistic acumen is weak at best. All are “pay-for-play” with advertisers and powers-that-be.

After its sale, the never strong Columbus Dispatch collapsed as an organ of even semi-reputable journalism. Indeed, it is very difficult to place the Dispatch and what was once called “legitimate” or “reputable” journalism in the same sentence.

The full-time staff was reduced from more than 200 to less than 40. One of the very best reporters, Darryl Rowland, was fired summarily—that is, with no notice--after more than 30 years. Those remaining have no defined regular assignments or “beats”; they fear for their jobs.

The daily paper frequently is more than 40% paid ads (which now include oversized obituaries, no longer a public service). By comparison, the New York Times averages no more than 10 percent. (Thanks to retired engineer Ed Efsic for these data.)

The Columbus Dispatch is for sale for delivery, that is, to everyone except paid print subscribers.

I have written about this previously. (See references below) The recently terminated Editor in Chief (whose departure has not been announced after weeks) and Opinion editor have little relevant experience, continually exhibit biases, violate even USA Today’s thin codes of standards and ethics, uncontrollably seek attention, and write poorly and unknowledgeably.

This goes hand in hand with USA Today’s corporate refusal to employ copy editors. With no review of any items before printing, this leads immediately to uncontrolled spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Headlines and reports on the same story often contradict each other.

Typographical errors are rampant, even in headlines. At least one-half dozen regular writers specialize in this. I have to ask: do they expect that no one will read them? How can such professional incompetence and neglect be explained?

The Columbus Dispatch is an extreme case. Other USA Today outlets, the Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, do not have the same frequency of errors. Inexplicably, Dispatch writers appear to be ignorant of the spell- and grammar-check programs on their electronic devices. They seem not to have been taught to proofread in college and in some cases the journalism degree programs that they claim. Perhaps they have a special, secret pact or portion of their contracts to attack standard English expression?

Is this among the many reasons why the Columbus Dispatch has no way of reporting errors for corrections and has never in the almost 20 years I have read it reported and corrected its frequent errors of fact as well as understanding? I recall only one partial apology for offensive language. That was during Alan Miller’s tenure as editor. Miller and other editors blamed it on everyone else. Along with other Columbus enterprises, no one is ever in charge or personally responsible. Never.

Does any of this actually matter? The Columbus Dispatch has given up all pretenses to be either or both a daily newspaper or even a printed paper with daily news. For example, I saw read only one local news report during the long Thanksgiving Day 2023 period. There were none on Christmas day.

Consider this: 1) Columbus Dispatch ends its coverage each day “goes to bed,” as it is known in the trade, 5 hours earlier than the national edition of the New York Times. Yet both the Dispatch and Times are printed out of town and delivered to Columbus.

2) When the paper changed publication from 7 to 6 days each week, subscription prices were not reduced nor were terms extended. Carriers’ pay was cut. The Dispatch refused to answer my direct questions about that.

3) Unlike other newspapers, the datedness of items in print, and on the website (which is maintained at an unknown out of town location for all USA Today outlets) is in a league of its own.

4) The website’s ever-shifting, confusing but always disorderly is bewildering, Compare it to other newspapers, both in print and online. There is no coordination between online and print versions. Readers are billed but not served reliably or responsibly.

Few employees are aware of USA Today operations or are concerned with the product or quality issues including website or delivery—almost no reporters with whom I have spoken know or care. They are not familiar with the contents of their paper. Thus, reports often contradict each other. The lack of editing and coordination is damning.

Practice—perhaps policy—dictates interviewing unknowledgeable persons who are quite often self-interested and even politically or ideologically biased. Questions are consistently leading, not cross-examining or clarifying. Follow-ups and fact-checking, let alone, second-opinions and reviewing original documents, seem to be prohibited.

With reporters in short supply, knowledge of specific beats or any degree of expertise or experience-based specialization is lost. City of Columbus and education reporting show this daily.

No one in Customer Service has an interest in serving paying customers. They are all based in the Philippines, India, or other distant and disconnected places. None will identify themselves. None follow through on promises of investigating complaints and resolving problems.

In fact, the only way to speak to a live human being is to push “6” Cancel Subscription—for any issue at all. (Thanks to Bill Lyons for that information.) It is impossible to speak to anyone in delivery or customer services in Columbus or the United States.

Only by talking with former employees did I learn that the out-of-control layout for both online and print is done USA Today network-wide in Austin, Texas. As noted, no one knows who controls or where the website(s) are based.

If it is AI, it needs a renewed dose of intelligence. The never-monitored or rules-enforced online readers’ comment site disappeared without notice. Only after I asked a veteran reporter about that—he was unaware if its removal—was it announced in the “newspaper” itself. Neither USA Today nor Columbus Dispatch could maintain it. Unmediated readers’ responses ended.

The handful of editors do not edit. They hand out assignments apparently randomly and with little advance notice regardless of reporters’—experienced or cubs—areas of specialization and background. The so-called reporting, typically at extremely short notice, shows this daily. There is no relationship between areas of experience or knowledge, and assignments.

Neither traditional journalistic nor dictionary definitions apply to the Columbus Dispatch. Between the advertisements and double-size printed, paid obituaries primarily are press releases from local businesses and government agencies, reprinted as news without quotation marks. The Dispatch forbids asking questions or fact-checking. That is its redefinition, that is, decimation of once “legitimate journalism.”

Misinformation, distortion, and outright lies overflow. Nothing—nothing—is ever fact-checked. In addition to ignorance of spell- and grammar-check, reporters are apparently unaware that they actually can do a moderate amount of careful checking via online searching on reputable sites. But they do not. Do they not know how, or are they not permitted?

Many days, the Columbus Dispatch seems to confuse itself with an odd combination of People and Vogue magazines. Or a high school student weekly or monthly. Any odd survey or poll is reprinted without question especially if it purports to reflect favorably on Columbus or Ohio.

Presentation of personalities outweighs “news” and information. Never even a glance at the legitimacy of the polling agency, sample size, or the questions themselves which substantially influence the responses. The contradictions within its decreasing number of pages are confusing to anyone familiar with the history of newspapers and other established forms of journalism.

Columbus’ not quite daily newspaper is a trivia, private development, and both paid and unpaid advertising agency. It is neither daily, nor news or increasingly paper.

The limited amount of daily local coverage for a “metropolitan daily” is inexcusable. The residents and the physical city are unimportant to the owners and editors of the Columbus Dispatch. Documented leads are ignored without acknowledgement.

The people who live here, a declining number of whom subscribe to and read the non-news-limited paper do not pay the piper. There is neither commitment nor interest in the city itself.

How much did the State of Ohio pay the Dispatch to present an interview with Gov. Mike DeWine exaggerating and misleading the public about the State’s possibly illegal and certainly unethical purchase of Intel’s choice of Licking County as the site of its still undefined number of “fabs” and employees? To present an interview with no questioning or fact-checking as front page “news”? To do unlimited environmental damage? Not to prepare in any way for housing, feeding, and otherwise accommodate both construction and permanent labor force? Not to publicize the fact that Intel is unlikely to build all that it promoted but never programmed or funded? Not to do the simple arithmetic about the relatively limited numbers of 4-, 5-, and 6-year degreed engineers who may be hired. This is not rocket or computer science.

I hope the Columbus Dispatch is well paid to mislead voters, local residents, students, and families. I am sorry for all the students rushing to complete degrees in engineering, and very critical of all the universities rushing to award those degrees in return for enrollment dollars. There is no doubt that the region will have more graduate engineers than jobs opportunities within 3-4 years. I have predicted that whoever is governor will have to establish a special State unemployment compensation program for them.

The unchecked promotion of Downtown Columbus—which I renamed Colemanville in 2021—is no different. All private corporate, Downtown Development Commission, and City Council presses release are reprinted without quotations marks or any checking. Each item is reported in isolation as if there is no there there.

Also unreported is the simple fact that the declining in quality of businesses and services Short North is not and never was an “arts district.” It is a bar, restaurant, handful of boutiques, and empty storefront district. It is also the only area in Columbus with excessive policing, to the visible neglect of the rest of the unsafe city. One will never read that in the Columbus Dispatch.

Failure to report responsibility for lack of policing, crime, and violence in the city and region itself amounts to a criminal offense to the community. Columbus’ single printed daily continues, even exacerbating its historical tradition of civic neglect and private over public. Questioning City Hall, city council, or “mayor” is closely rationed.

That the Columbus Dispatch does not ever look critically at the Ginther corrupt and ignorant undemocratic Democratic politician machine, and the visible power of former mayor Michael Coleman is unusually irresponsible “journalism.” The evidence is clear. City Hall coverage never reaches obvious, logical, and empirical conclusions. Criticism is withheld until the final paragraph or two, if at all. This cannot be accidental.

Coverage of the latest mayor’s and city council election campaigns is a notorious case in point. Why did the Dispatch report so very little about mayor challenger Joe Motil who garnered more than one third of votes despite a nearly complete lack of media coverage and the incumbent outspending him 100 to 1 with outrageously dishonest advertising? The Columbus Dispatch mentioned this once, briefly, in passing. Obviously, that was not in the city’s “major [i.e.., only] daily newspaper.”

The city council challengers were barely mentioned. This is gross irresponsibility and journalistic failure. Follow the money: that’s the Columbus Way past, present, and almost certainly future given the lack of local professional or objective reporting. The offense to the community is incalculable.

These practices used to be dictatorial mainly in the so-called Business section which now overflows to every other area. But it has infected all other coverage, first creeping, then strangling. It is especially glaring and an affront to readers on education especially The Ohio State University, city and state politics, “cultural” events, and of course local sports, also dominated by The OSU. Every page of the Columbus Dispatch is either or both directly or indirectly paid advertising.

During my almost 20 years of residence in Columbus, I have collaborated at least briefly with a number of paid writers for the Columbus Dispatch. Some were fired in unannounced, unpublicized cost-cutting layoffs. Some left of their own accord. Some remain, now reporting haphazardly across unfamiliar subject areas.

With few exceptions, I see little commitment to genuine journalism, interest in working with experts, and in learning. Asking questions, fact-checking, engaging in legitimate, even compelling questioning is absent. Almost none acknowledge any communications, including major documented leads. Unprofessionalism and disinformation in their subjects and the city in which they live is shocking. And I am not an idealist.

A number approached me for my expertise on education and cities. But they had no sense of professional relationships, cooperation, or collegiality. Any critical comments or questions—including asking for an explanation of why they violated their words to me--almost automatically resulted in sudden end of all communications.

For these and others, I was only a useful immediate source, like a library book, lost and forgotten. They are paid to play but they do not pay others with professional or common courtesy. The rudeness and unprofessionalism contrast with my relationships with the media in a number of other cities, including Dallas and San Antonio, Texas, as well as national media.

The not-“news” and unchecked, unedited “Opinion” pages are, in technical terms, special “cash cows.” It is not hard to compare paid ads—for example, from the City of Columbus, State of Ohio, OSU, professional sports teams, Columbus Metropolitan Club (which collaborates much too closely with the Opinion editor), on the one hand, and the private powers that be, OSU, and many private developers and corporations, on the other hand, for anyone concerned with objectivity and ethics, with so-called news content.

Review which restaurants are listed in “news”, and which are actually among Columbus’ best. The correlations are poor. Chain restaurants, advertisers, and steak houses dominate listings among which authenticity and quality of cuisines and service matter much less than advertising and other forms of self- and other promotion. Why do steak houses dominate lists of “fine dining” and chains over independent, independently-owned, local establishments?

One recent example of the Columbus Way’s Columbus Dispatch’s “pay to play” is the book sales promotion and Columbus Metropolitan Club free advertising for the biased, anti-affirmative action activist, non-scholar Richard Kahlenberg’s then upcoming appearance. Not only is the CMC a regular advertiser but it formally works with the Dispatch and features its editors prominently. (See Mark Ferenchik, “Author says ‘snob zoning’ in some Greater Columbus communities prevent affordable housing,” Nov. 28, 2023)

Note the grammatical error in Ferenchik’s report’s title. The advance includes quotations from Kahlenberg presented as if Ferenchik had interviewed him. Yet the same quotations appear in Brent Warren, “Is ‘Snob Zoning’ Part of the Problem in Central Ohio?” Columbus Underground, Nov. 22, a full week before the Dispatch promo puff piece.

Neither “reporter” seems to be familiar with the ridiculously, offensively titled book, which is not focused on Columbus or Central Ohio. There is no such thing as “snob zoning.” The quotations from Kahlenberg that appear in both stories are factually wrong. Both writers claim to know about zoning issues. Neither demonstrates that in their writing.

Why did this promotion appear—online and in print—on the Business page and not the Metro section? We know the answer, don’t we?

Online only Columbus Underground promotes itself as “Columbus’ Number One Source for Civic News.” In fact, it is primarily an ad vehicle whose coverage is dictated by just that. It is not written or edited by professional journalists. It spams subscribers incessantly with advertising, almost nonstop with fake “coffee festivals,” in other words, paid ads for certain establishments. (For my own very brief experience with them, see my “Columbus’ identity crisis and its media,” Columbus Underground, July 23, 2021, and “Response to Columbus Alive, ‘The list: Reasons that Columbus Underground opinion piece is trash,’ by Andy Downing and Joel Oliphint, Columbus Alive, July 26: A visit to journalism fantasy land,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 7, 2021)

The wild, almost certainly pay for play Opinion page is in a league of its own nationally and even among USA Today/Gannett operators. Fact-based no longer is a criterion for any US newspaper’s “guest essays” or letters to editors today, Columbus’ own is exceptional. In my own recent experience, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Washington Post, and New York Times have asked me for links to published evidence to support my arguments before going to print. Although this does not hold for the national daily’s regular paid columnists, it holds for no one on the Columbus Dispatch’s page.

Certainly not for editor Amelia Robinson who desperately needs her own editor and copyeditor. No other Opinion editor in any newspaper with which I am familiar self-publishes so frequently, often signing herself for the “Editorial Board.” She sometimes identifies herself contradictorily as “guest columnist” in her own pages.

Truth, honesty, objectivity, knowledge, even basic familiarity with the purported subject are irrelevant to Robinson’s pages of “yellow journalism,” as bias was long called, beginning in the late nineteenth century. Any old or young politician is free to lie brazenly as well as slander all others. Journalistic ethics and even legal questions are irrelevant to these pages and their editor. She does not know the significant difference between “opinion” versus outright lies and falsehoods. That constitutes a breach of publishing ethics and a betrayal of her, and her employer’s, responsibilities to their readers.

Any corporate executive can sell their product under the guise of a “guest essay” or column on the Opinion page. And Robinson’s regular buddies can write frequently anything about anything without any familiarity with the subject. Some writers appear week after week, whereas most newspapers have either 30- or 60-day limits for each column or letter. That’s not the Columbus Dispatch way. The hell with journalistic standards or ethics or basic fairness.

Robinson is prejudiced, confused, and chaotic. Anything goes but truth, knowledge, coherence, and clarity. This holds for letters as well as essays. It is unique in my 70 years of reading daily newspapers. I speculate, indeed wager that most letters and columns are not actually read closely or at all. If there are guidelines, it can be no more than one from Column A, reactionary and incoherent; Column B, muddled middle; and Column C, vaguely but unclearly “progressive” or some such thing. Are there other explanations?

As many readers know, I was banned from Robinson’s page after months as a frequent contributor because I commented on the Dispatch’s former online “readers’ comments site” that I found the Opinion page to be “muddled and uninformed.” Robinson immediately banned me, contradicting both USA Today’s own Code of Standards and Ethics and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. More recently, I was banned by their sister Cincinnati Enquirer’s Opinion editor because I had the temerity to ask why my Opinion essay accepted in mid-August had not been printed in almost two months.

My friends tell me that I should wear both bannings among my “badges of honor.” I do not argue with them. Other Ohio and national newspapers have no such problems even if I criticize them, sometimes in their own pages.

Despite taking my print subscription dollars well in advance, in mid-November 2023, the Dispatch completely stopped delivering my newspaper 7 days each week instead of only on Saturdays. This means that I did not receive my daily New York Times. For 15 days, I reported non-delivery and claimed credits. I spoke to whichever “Customer Service” agent I could. They were always in India, the Philippines, or equally far away. Never were they sympathetic or apologetic. Never would or could they connect me with any manager in the US or Columbus.

Each one made empty promises, apparently reading from a script. I had to argue vehemently to ensure that I would receive full credit for undelivered print copies for which I was required to pay well in advance so they could earn interest on my payments. Of course, they credited no subscribers for our canceled Saturday and some but not all holiday missed papers.

After 15 days of not one Columbus Dispatch daily delivery and only two apparently random New York Times deliveries (one on Thanksgiving Day when the Dispatch did not deliver at all), I was forced to take an action that I had never contemplated. As I mentioned at the beginning, I grew up and lived my entire life with daily print newspapers. They are a fundamental part of my life, part of my morning regimen.

On Nov. 28, I canceled my print subscriptions. I fought for considerable time on the telephone to ensure full credit of undelivered copies and remaining prepaid copies to be credited toward a digital only subscription. To me, this is no solution in my mind. It is forced accommodation. Of course, I am still awaiting the email confirmation promised within 24 hours—days ago. It will never come. The online account site does not operate.

Columbus has no daily newspaper. No one at the Columbus Dispatch or USA Today/Gannett gives a damn. Yet they continue to demand advance payment and bill regularly.

That is the Columbus Way: private profits over public rights and public service, even as the business dies under absentee ownership (like more and more local development).


References: Related Essays by Harvey J. Graff

“Columbus’ identity crisis and its media,” Columbus Underground, July 23, 2021

“Response to Columbus Alive, ‘The list: Reasons that Columbus Underground opinion piece is trash,’ by Andy Downing and Joel Oliphint, Columbus Alive, July 26: A visit to journalism fantasy land,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 7, 2021

“Media misconceptions and the ten minute historical memory,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec. 29, 2021

“The Columbus Dispatch: The decline of a metropolitan daily newspaper,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 20, 2022

“The disappearance of journalistic standards in opinion essays as they replace the news,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 30, 2022

“Columbus’ major ‘news media’ against democratic politics and the public,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 10, 2022

“I call on the Columbus Dispatch, aka Dishpan or Dishrag, to do the city a public service and close up shop,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 5, 2022

“Columbus 2023 Mayor’s and City Council Elections: If you can’t do your job and be re-elected fairly, then lie, cheat, and steal the election. The Anti-democratic Columbus Way,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 8, 2023

“Nov. 7, 2023 confirms the continuing reign of anti-democratic Columbus,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 10 , 2023

“The City of Columbus continues to prove itself incapable of learning: The contradiction and corruption of ever-expanding public subsidies for private development ‘tax abatements,’” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 26, 2023

“Exposing the Obvious: Columbus City Council Commits Fraud with its Fake District Representative Deceptive Marketing Scheme,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press,


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History, inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and Academy Professor, Ohio State University. Author of many books on literacy, children and youth, cities, and interdisciplinarity, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies (2022). My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress. He is also editing Changing Paths of Academic Lives: Revising How We Understand Higher Education/Universities, 1960s to 2020s and Beyond, a collection of original essays.