Why did the press (The Columbus Dispatch) agree to meet the press on Sept. 26 at a forum sponsored by the Columbus Metropolitan Club?
  The answer was obvious to those of us in attendance. It was all about doing public relations. Yet the Dispatch chose not to cover the event. Columbus Business First did.

  The brass at the Dispatch are afraid that the cuts and changes they are making will be perceived by central Ohioans as cheapening the product and will lead to even more defections by readers (the Dispatch lost 10 percent of its print readers in the past year), and maybe advertisers, too.

  That is why interim publisher Jim Hopson (recently replaced, see below) and editor Alan D. Miller brought their song and dance to the Athletic Club luncheon.

Good journalism promised while leaner

  In his opening remarks, Hopson said that new owner GateHouse wanted to keep good journalism while making the paper “leaner.” He said changes – such as previous announced layoff of 63 workers and buyouts of veteran journalists – were being done “to make (the paper) stable and prosperous for a long time.”

  Hopson said that GateHouse’s ability to save money through bulk purchases of commodities and use of corporate employees such as top designers and web experts would help the Dispatch.

  Miller took a different, less effective tack. He made jokes about complaints from readers.

  The editor confirmed the first layoff of journalists. He said about 25 Dispatch designers and copy editors will be let go in January when the work is shifted to GateHouse’s design and editing hub in Austin, Texas.

  This cost-saving move will result in more visible and obvious mistakes made by overworked and underpaid folks in Texas. Miller said the Dispatch would keep nine copy editors to oversee local copy, which is good news for quality control.

  Next Mike Thompson, news director and host at WOSU radio and TV, asked them some pointed questions.

  Miller whiffed on a question about changes in news coverage policies under GateHouse compared to the former owner, the Wolfe family.

  He said the paper had “lots of freedom” to cover the news under the Wolfes, but even a casual reader could see that the Wolfes used the news columns of the paper to reward his friends and punish their enemies.

Old favorites not always favored   

  To Miller’s credit, the Dispatch under GateHouse is now covering local news more aggressively and more fairly and that includes occasional take downs of Wolfe favorites Governor John Kasich, Mayor Michael Coleman and City Council President and mayoral candidate Andy Ginther.

  If Ginther loses the mayor’s race, it will be largely because the Dispatch has aggressively reported about his shortcomings in dealing with Redflex political contributions and getting OSU football game perks from a Redflex lobbyist.

  Columbus voters are smart enough to know that if Ginther is elected mayor, he will take office under a cloud and face continuing investigations and even the possibility of  indictment. Not exactly a public relations triumph for Ohio’s largest city.

  Thompson brought up the Dispatch’s editorial policy and Miller said there had been “some moderation.”

  Under the Wolfes, the Dispatch adopted a hard right Rush Limbaugh-Fox News Channel-Drudge Report editorial policy. President Barack Obama and most Democrats were devils and Gov. Kasich and most Republicans were angels. The Dispatch did support local Democrats like Coleman and Ginther, but only if they did what they were told regarding big money for downtown projects, gutting Columbus public schools and the supporting the chronic losing Blue Jackets.

Crazy right-wing uncle in the basement

  Little has changed under GateHouse. The Dispatch editorial page policy still reflects “the crazy right-wing uncle in the basement,”

  On Oct. 4, the Dispatch ran an editorial back-handedly endorsing Ginther for mayor. It devoted several hundred words to his involvement in the Redflex and OSU football game scandals and the school data-tampering scandal that began on his watch as a school board member.

  Then the piece said that Ginther had learned his lessons and should be elected because he would “ensure stability and growth in Columbus.” In other words, Ginther will do what the powers to be, such as the Wolfes, tell him to do if elected mayor. I thought they sold the paper.

  His opponent, Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, was criticized by the Dispatch because he continually asks the county commissioners for more money to fight crime. Most citizens would find seeking crime-fighting resources admirable.

Scott’s executive experience overlooked

  The editorial writer ignored that Scott has executive experience running a large government organization. Ginther has little because he has served in an oversight capacity on elected boards, not as an executive in charge.

  A few days later, the Dispatch ran an editorial stating that Ginther had not donated enough money to cover the OSU title game trip, estimated to be worth $750, $500 more than Ginther refunded. In an odd omission, the Dispatch failed to mention that it earlier had endorsed ethically challenged Ginther for mayor.

  Same old, same old. The Wolfes would be proud and GateHouse should be ashamed.

  After Thompson concluded his solid job questioning Hopson and Miller, the public was invited and I got to ask mine.

  Echoing a topic I introduced in my October column in The Columbus Free Press,

I asked why the Dispatch published one-sided press releases to announce changes instead of running well-rounded news articles to announce its layoffs and cutbacks.

  Hobson and Miller essentially declined to answer my question and appeared a bit startled by it, but Miller did comment that he saw my point.

  Hopson had said earlier that his replacement as publisher had been selected and would be announced soon.

Dispatch reporter questions publisher

  On Oct. 16, Bradley Harmon was announced as the new Dispatch Media publisher, effective Oct. 26. A native of Cleveland, he has been a senior executive with GateHouse after a career as a publishing executive with the Gannett and Newhouse chains. Both Gannett and Newhouse have made ham-handed cuts that offended their readers.

  In the Dispatch article, that for a change read more like a news story than a publicity release (shall I take some credit?), reporter Dan Gearino asked Harmon if the Dispatch conservative editorial page would continue under GateHouse. Describing himself as leaning Republican, Harmon said he would be involved in setting opinion policy along with editor Miller and editorial page editor Glenn Sheller.

  At this writing, Miller appears committed to covering the news without fear or favor. Sheller appears to be clinging to the old Wolfe ways of hard-right views, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies. Harmon has his work cut out for him.   


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