Dispatch building

Never a responsible, reliable, or honest newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, Ohio’s only mass—if declining by the day—circulation, no longer daily and no longer news-paper, no longer resembles a legitimate element of the media. Other than gross profiteering, it no longer has a reason to exist. I strongly suggest that it closes its doors, refund its subscribers, and compensate the remaining 70 of its recent 200 employees.

Let’s count the reasons:

1. It is part of the monopolistic, profiteering, unadmitted right-wing, and anti-news USA Today/Gannett chain of more than 230 no longer daily newspapers plus many other online sites. It no longer has any editorial, contents, copy, layout, or website independence.

Chaotic page and section layout is done in Austin, Texas.

Selection of articles and some opinion essays is done by USA Today/Gannett. Thus, readers are not permitted to comment on selected right-wing essays that come from such operations as Heritage Foundation, one of USA Today’s funders and a holder of a seat of its Board of Directors.

This results often in the same news being printed twice in the same edition, once from USA Today or Associated Press, once from Dispatch’s declining number of reporters. Caveat lector.

No one know who manages—or mismanages—the website, or from what location--not the editor-in-chief, others editors, or the “community engagement” manager who responded to readers’ questions before they fled the sinking ship (to Kansas City, a terminated 31-year leading reporter tells me).

3. It is no longer a daily newspaper. Under orders from corporate, like all other USA Today/Gannett non-dailies, it does not print or deliver on Saturday or holidays—that is, when it delivers at all.

4. Despite many subscribers’ requests, it refused to extend prepaid subscriptions appropriately and fairly when it reduced the number of issues by almost 60 per year, thus elevating the price per copy. As the contents of each edition shorten and weaken, and delivery problems worsen, price of subscriptions mount. At the same time, reports of numbers of subscribers and estimates of readers steadily decline. Can anyone explain these disconnections to me?

5. When it reduced delivery, it cut payments to carriers.

6. Delivery remains erratic. Subscribers can no longer reach a human by telephone or email. Many subscribers like me do not receive their New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or other national newspapers that are delivered by Dispatch carriers. The New York Times as well as I have tried to reach them. They have no interest. In fact, the only way to contact a human being by telephone is to threaten to cancel.

7. USA Today/Gannett forbids its affiliates to employ copy-editors. That unprofessional breach of basic journalistic standards compromises the non-daily, non-newspaper at every turn. Just look at any issue (if it is delivered).

The print and online editors are littered with never-corrected spelling, grammatical, factual, and logical errors. A notorious case, attributed to an editor’s error, in 2021, used racial and ethnic disparaging language. Then editor Alan Miller muddled his apology, never taking responsibility himself, and promoting his after-the-fact corporate “sensitivity training” agent rather than dealing with the problem itself. Miller was preparing to retire in the face of pending termination.

Similarly, and astonishingly, headlines include misspellings and other typographical errors.

The basic points of articles and their headlines often contradict each other.

This is not only the refusal to copy-edit like a legitimate newspaper but also the lack of any editing at all. I have no ideas what Dispatch editors actually do. They do not response to readers. Do they live the non-“mobile newsroom”?

8. Unlike reputable newspapers, it is impossible to report errors and demand corrections. I can count on one hand the number of times that a notice of error has been printed, and always trivial one. I personally reported significant factual errors to Alan Miller and to a number for reporters who authored the articles. No one replies. Other newspapers print at least some corrections regularly. I see no evidence that anyone at the Dispatch actually reads the paper. The degree of both repetition and reporters’ ignorance of the relevant contents of other printed information is against all odds.

9. Less than a handful of the best reporters respond to emails from knowledgeable readers. Those few initiate continuing relationships and solicit input. Almost all reporters and editors ignore comments, suggestions, leads, and questions. One statehouse reporter responded to me memorably, asking me not to bother her again: “doing research would only interfere with my objectivity.” A journalism graduate? Unimaginable.

10. The quality of reporting was never high. But it steadily declines. In summer 2021, before the new stream of terminations to reduce costs, one of the best reporters was a Northwestern University Journalism School summer intern. Many reporters are ignorant of their beats. This appears especially with food, the arts, sports, politics, education, and most glaringly business.

For most of its history, the Dispatch breached journalistic ethics and conflict of interest laws by never differentiating between uncontrolled city boosterism and actual journalism to the detriment of the latter. The Wolfe family illegitimately combined the city’s daily with their real estate empire. The sale of the paper has changed this little. It marks political and large institutional reporting—an almost guaranteed pass regardless of actions and evidence. It is worst on the business page where leading reporters reprint corporate press releases as if they are documented reports. Some even admit to doing this.

Sports competes with business for most ignorant and biased. Readers interested in anything other than OSU football, and to a lesser extent OSU basketball and local high school football, need other sources of information. The Columbus Crew and Blue Jackets can do little harm no matter how often they lose.

On Oct. 25, a feature story about a former OSU football player led the front page. Overly long and poorly written, it should have been on second page of the sport section. On Sat., Oct. 22, the only afternoon additions to the webpage were the day’s OSU football game. No real news is fit to print or post.

11. Local reporting for a city of 900,000 is inadequate. It is all but a joke: a “mobile newsroom” sitting beside a branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library largely waiting for an unrepresentative few locals who long to see their names in print is not local news reporting. Northland is not Columbus. Major parts of the city never appear. The bus needs a driver with a city map.

12. Among the fundamental problems are editorial ignorance, bias, and lack of familiarity with Columbus. Editors are known to obstruct investigative reporting that is proposed by readers and also experienced reporters. Far too many reporters, both old and new, lack basic knowledge including practical journalistic skills and clear grammatical writing. They are unaware of Spellcheck or GrammarCheck on their word processing programs. Many are “cubs” and interns.

13. Inseparable is the management’s decimation of the employee base of the enterprise. Within a relatively short period, the full-time base fell from 200 to 70. Some of the most experienced and talented were terminated summarily. The reason is uncontrolled, uncoordinated budget-cutting.

There is no regard for adequate news coverage or basic journalistic standards. There is no regard or respect for readers or subscribers. Falling levels of subscriptions and measures of declining readership are seldom acknowledged.

14. Beyond the disaster of Texas-based page layout, paid advertisements including the larger-type death notices overflow. There is no fact-checking to protect readers from frequent false claims. Against pubic interests but for profit-making, gun ads soil the sports page, and unconstitutional Hobby Lobby is featured with a Sunday full page. Page design is poor.

An exceptionally small business model, dictated by USA Today/Gannett rules the smaller and smaller roost. Even the chickens have deserted the farm, along with the once-daily television listings. Even that is too difficult for today’s bare shadow of a newspaper.

15. As readers’ comments confirm, the lowest of the low is the uncorralled, anti-journalistic ethics Opinion page. The then-new editor loudly foreshadowed her disdain for truth and honesty especially in OpEds when she announced her emphasis. She never mentioned factual accuracy or honesty.

That shows daily. Any politician gets his or occasionally her say even when their poorly expressed message is an obvious pack of outright lies and distortions. This is paralleled by advertisements for businesses and products pretending very poorly to be “opinion essays.” They are not. Opinion is not synonymous with a string of falsehoods.

Readers and especially Opinion “engagement editor” should review both national and other local newspapers—the fact-checked essays and letters in the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a nearby example, to see the unmistakable differences. I often ask myself: do the authors, interest groups, political parties, and corporations pay for this space, with no warnings to readers?

Letter to the editor are little different.

Overall, the now non-daily Opinion page reads as if no one at the Dispatch readers the submissions. One from column a) vaguely “liberal;” column b) “muddled middle;” column c) radical right wing, which now unconstitutionally dominates the state of Ohio.

16. Inseparable from Opinion is the never-moderated readers’ comments online site. Much more than, for example, New York Times which is moderated by humans, and the Washington Post, commenters make racist, sexist, radically ignorant and sometimes threatening verbal attacks on each other. There is no mechanical or human oversight. Regularly reporting such comments as “offensive” or otherwise breaching the announced but unenforced “standards” has no effect.

On the other hand, I am banned from publishing Opinion essays and letters to the editor, which I had done regularly, because I referred to the contents of the page as “muddled” and “uninformed” on the readers’ comment site.

Neither the Opinion and general editor, nor relevant USA Today/Gannett official recognize my First Amendment rights or the contents of their own weak statement of journalistic standards and ethics.

I can only assume that they acknowledge that none of them or their outlets practice journalism as normatively, historically, and legally defined.

17. None of the editors responds to readers or subscribers.

What purpose does our “major” non-daily, non-newspaper serve today? None other than perhaps its advertisers, and its owners for whom their own profits are all that matter. Oh, a space for the editors to post frequent poorly written and unresearched “guest essays” with their photos.

I call on this sad excuse for a newspaper to close its doors, repay its dwindling number of subscribers, compensate its few remaining employees, and serve Columbus’ publics for the first time its history. I strongly suspect that its non-editing editors have their gold parachutes.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current; Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in August. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming.