What's new with the Columbus Dispatch?

The news is old at the former "Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper." The late afternoon deadline imposed to accommodate the closing of the Columbus printing plant and its shift to Indianapolis means that much that happens on Tuesday gets in Thursday's paper.

The content of the print product is becoming more feature stories and

and less news coverage. We journalism professors define "news" as matters that readers need to know and that affect their lives and "features" as stuff to entertain and amuse.

The Dispatch is publishing more articles from its sister newspaper USA Today and labels them and locally generated content as from the "USA Today Network." If the paper is trying to cut its print circulation and push people to its digital product, it is succeeding in the former. An Oct. 1 legal advertisement showed print copies sold had dropped nearly one third in a year, from about 78,000 daily to about 504,000.

More content from USA Today is appearing on the Dispatch's editorial page, which apparently is being defanged, according to a recent column by Dispatch editor Alan Miller. He wrote that the editorial page editor Mary Yost and writers Mary Edwards and Herb Grant were all taking retirement packages.

He did not announce plans for replacing them but did announce that the newspaper itself would take fewer, if any, editorial stands, apparently bringing to an end candidate endorsements that had virtually disappeared anyway. The only persons the Dispatch endorsed this fall were two Ohio Supreme Court candidates. Both lost.

Miller said he would rely on advice from the Dispatch Editorial Board, partly made up of local citizens, and that opinions published would be in the form of signed columns and reprints of editorials from other newspapers.

What Miller is codifying is the growing irrelevance of newspapers to Ohio's body politic. Instead of newspapers doing investigative reporting and uncovering wrongdoing, it has been left to U.S. attorneys to investigate and bring charges against the likes of State Rep. Larry Householder.

Despite coverage of the forced departures of two of the last four Speakers of the Ohio House, both Republicans, and the charter school scandals, Ohio voters ignored the Dispatch and other newspapers and have elected Republicans in growing proportions in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Covering scandals online does not seem to have the bite with readers that print exposes do.

Householder, whose district lies 40 miles east of Columbus, well within the Dispatch's coverage area, was re-elected by a landslide last month.

What is the future of the Democratic Party in Ohio?

Bleak. I confess I took offense at the notion that Ohio had become a red state after Donald Trump won the presidency by 8 percent in 2016 and Mike DeWine won the governorship by 4 percent in 2018.

I was wrong. Richard Cordray's campaign manager Michael Halle was right when he proclaimed Ohio as red, though I do not think he did a bang up job on Cordray's gubernatorial race and was trying to deflect blame.

The proof is Trump's repeat 8 percent win margin in 2020 and the overall trashing Democrats took in lesser races.

So what is the matter with Ohio?

If you got off the freeways and took the state routes through rural and small town Ohio this fall, you quickly knew you were in Trump Country. Many residents made their own Trump signs to proclaim their preferences. Biden signs were badly outnumbered. A month before the election, pro-life signs and billboards sprung up on Trump's behalf to remind folks that Trump had appointed three pro-life Supreme Court justices.

One commentator blamed the Democrats' demise on the fact that many folks in struggling Midwestern states like Ohio are "culturally uncomfortable." That is an inoffensive way of saying that residents in the 70-some rural counties in Ohio do not like the changes society has undergone. They prefer the white, paternalistic, religious, and conservative ways of the past.

In other words, they are not comfortable with anybody who deviates from their norms, such as:




Other minorities




In other words, they are culturally uncomfortable with Democrats, the party of change.

I call rural Ohio, from whence I came, the land that time forgot. People yearn for the old days. They resent the wholesale changes in society over the past 50 years and they blame the Democrats.

Some people are saying that for the Democratic Party to win again in Ohio, a better job must be done of recruiting minorities. Certainly that should be done, but there are not enough minority voters to carry the day in Ohio. Minorities and moderate to progressive whites must find a common agenda that a majority of Ohio voters can agree on. Then we must develop a campaign communication apparatus – not depending on defanged newspapers like the Dispatch – to take the message to the hinterlands.

What is the Democrats' best lineup of candidates for 2022?

I remain committed to last month's column's suggestion that Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval run for governor and former Ohio Health Director Amy Acton run for lieutenant governor and again be put in charge of the Health Department.

I still back Steve Dettelbach of Cleveland for attorney general and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein for auditor. However, I now propose Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes for secretary of state, replacing Kathleen Clyde, who lost her race to return as Portage County Commissioner and needs to recharge. And I suggest former State Rep. Connie Pillich for state treasurer, replacing my original pick, Sykes.

Last month I passed on proposing an opponent to take on Rabid Rob Portman in the U.S. Senate race. Portman is cratering before our eyes as he bounces back and forth between loyalty to the defeated Trump and a responsible course of action. All he has going for him right now is lots of money in his campaign fund.

I believe our best candidate for U.S. Senate is Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. She most resembles Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a dynamite communicator who has knocked the Republicans off their game in the Wolverine State.

As to David Pepper, who is resigning as Ohio Democratic Party chair and who has run statewide unsuccessfully twice, I suggest a return home to Cincinnati and a run for mayor. The Queen City is drowning in corruption and needs a man of David's integrity to clean it up.


– Local radio stations are advertising a product called Poop Fix. It shares graphic descriptions of "poop" that are offensive. Time to flush Poop Fix from the airwaves.

– Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, charged with investigating Statehouse lawbreaking, has been accused of going easy on his GOP brethren. Gary Tyack. a Democrat and retired judge, knocked off O'Brien on Nov. 3. I expect no more free passes for Republican officeholders and bureaucrats from the genial but tough Tyack.

– The OSU secrecy game reached new heights when no information was released about the players available for the Illinois football game, ostensibly because the game was cancelled. Thus OSU's cloistered athletic department was able to cover up the extent of the COVID-19 infestation that sent head coach Ryan Day into isolation.

(Please send your comments and suggestions for future columns to John K. Hartman, ColumbusMediaInsider@gmail.com)  

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