Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Newspaper circulation keeps dropping

Here's a story you won't read in today's Enquirer: Newspaper circulation dropped 2.8 percent in the six months ended Sept. 30. This is not good news for newspapers, of course, because what they can charge for advertising depends on circulation.

There's not a word of this in the Enquirer this morning, which means they haven't said what their circulation situation is. They're being cagey about this. You can see the circulation reports of many many big newspapers here, but Enquirer isn't one of them right now. That site says the latest report for Cincinnati is "in process." The last report, from August 2004, is linked from this page; compared to the February report, paid daily circulation was down about 4%. Also, the percentage of households receiving the paper declined in that time from 31% to 29%. The numbers on Sundays showed slight improvement.

If you find the Enquirer's current circulation numbers, mail them to me at newsache@yahoo.com.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Another dies in Iraq, and the Enquirer doesn't care

The Department of Defense announced Saturday that 1st Sgt. Ricky McGinnis of Hamilton died Thursday from injuries suffered when an IED blew up near him in Muqdadiyah, Iraq.

On Sunday, the Enquirer had not a word about it. You'd think by now the Enquirer could have somebody look at http://www.defenselink.mil about once a day to check the postings of military deaths.

My paper this morning carried a 52-word blurb on the Local page -- not even the front page -- about the death. On the web site tonight is this story, which I suppose will find some level of prominence in Tuesday's paper. Remember what I said in this post? If something big happens on the weekend, the Enquirer will finally make a big story of it on Tuesday, because they're so understaffed on weekends they can't find anyone to write the story till Monday.

It's sad they don't respect our servicemen enough to report their deaths in a timely manner. It's practically unpatriotic.

UPDATE: The story about 1st Sgt. McGinnis ran in my paper at the bottom of page 2 of the Local section.

Setting the record straight

The Census Bureau revised its earlier estimate that said the City of Cincinnati was shrinking. Read this morning's story, then go back and read how the Enquirer went overboard in reporting the original estimate ("Cincinnati shrinking, and fast" was the headline, as the Enquirer said the Census estimate portrayed the city as the fastest-shrinking city in America). The Enquirer's original story was an embarrassment. Census estimates are just that -- estimates. You cannot accept that they are exact down to each person and each tenth of a percentage point. (Don't miss an Enquirer front-page classic -- "Census has people talking", where they ask the man-in-the-street for his thoughts. Enquirer editors consider this to be real reporting.)

Today's story asks all the questions about how the estimates were constructed that the Enquirer should have asked when the estimates were first released in June. But the editors were so aroused by the potential of a we're-No.1 headline that they couldn't be skeptical enough to check out the numbers. Still, in setting the record straight today (and even including criticism of its coverage from a UC professor), they still couldn't help themselves: They say Census now says the city grew by 27 people -- a number that can't be believed since (as the story says) there's a 4% margin of error.

Ineffective endorsements

In endorsing Schmidt and rejecting Chabot, the Enquirer tosses around the word "effective" while barely explaining what they mean. "Chabot has served with honor, but his effectiveness seems to have peaked. It is time for him to come home." What on earth does that mean? And they reject Wulsin with the line, "One wonders how effective she could be no matter which party controls the House next year."

Do they really think an embarrassing nut like Schmidt will be effective if the Democrats control the House? The Enquirer last week praised Dewine for his bipartisanship, yet endorsed someone who labeled the Democrats cowards.

The worst part, though, is that the Enquirer sets up a standard like "effectiveness" without ever explaining what it means to be an effective congressman. Does it mean they pass legislation? Does it mean they focus on helping constituents (a job, by the way, that has more to do with the quality of the staff the congressman hires than the congressman him/herself)? Does it mean they bring home the pork? The Enquirer doesn't say.

One last point -- neither editorial discusses Iraq. It's the 800-pound gorilla that somehow the Enquirer editorial board found a way to ignore.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Enquirer polls voters, and we know how painful that can be

On Sunday, the Enquirer led the front page with a story that tries to get you thinking about who would make a better Ohio First Lady, Rosa Blackwell or Frances Strickland. They even post a worthless web poll asking who would make a better first lady. Two Sundays before the election, I can't think of a dumber story to run. The Enquirer acts as if this "issue" is something you need to consider before voting. It's like something out of the 1950s. What a joke.

Here's what other political stories other big Ohio newspapers had on their front pages:
Not all of this is award winning political journalism, but nothing sinks to the level of irrrelevance like the Enquirer's first lady story.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

Two categories: First, for environmental reporting. Winners include the Columbus Dispatch and the Canton Repository.

Second, the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards, which are national awards given by the University of Missouri. The Cleveland Plain Dealer won two big awards and was a finalist in a third category.

Online profits thin for newspapers

This article on the Editor and Publisher web site says it all: "It could take as long as 30 years for online revenue to represent at least 50% of a newspaper’s bottom line, according to a new report issued by Merrill Lynch on Tuesday. " This is what the Enquirer and Gannett need to think about when they let the web site drive the newspaper.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Man bites dog!

Stop the presses: Kids are suspended from school! Ten whole days! Sorry, make that, "Kids are suspended from school in a rich white suburb." Kids are suspended from school every day, but it's only news when it happens in a rich white suburb.

This is what passes for news in the new age of the Enquirer. That story was the top headline on the Enquirer's web site at 1:38 p.m. There's little of substance anymore. News stories in this newspaper are down to a formula or two. Like, "cover an event and write what they say." Or, "read a report and talk to three people."

Consider what the Enquirer's doing, and where it seems to be headed, and then read this.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Throw darts

Today's paper was dull, and the reason is there's no original reporting. Every story the Enquirer wrote for its front page -- "Charter school founder indicted," the eighth-grade car thief who was shot to death, or the death of the owner of a restaurant in Norwood -- results from some event, or something official happening. The only story in the paper today that could be considered original reporting is the result of an Enquirer reporter throwing darts at the telephone book.

The only thing resembling original reporting on the front page in the past week was this story about the lack of mental health insurance coverage -- an OK story, but nothing groundbreaking.

Right now, I can't see the Enquirer producing anything like this story from the Lexington Herald Leader, about the money Sen. Mitch McConnell has raised. Or this story from the Los Angeles Times, about poor monitoring of organ transplants.

Reporters at the Enquirer apparently don't have time to do this kind of work. Read this -- what the editor of the Enquirer told a blogger -- and you might get an idea why. The Enquirer is looking at what's most popular on the web site, and then assigning reporters to write more stories like that. That doesn't leave much time for investigations.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

Enquirer editor speaks

This is interesting: I've noted before that the Enquirer doesn't do two things that many major papers do. First, they don't employ an ombudsman. Second, the editor -- in this case Tom Callinan -- doesn't write any sort of column to shed light on how the Enquirer makes decisions about what gets into the newspaper. He had a blog a while back, but he shut it down because he was getting flamed so terribly.

But for some reason, Callinan decided to jump into Andrew Warner's blog, responding to Warner's disgust at the way the Enquirer played up Blackwell's attack on Strickland on the front page. While I encourage you to read the blog on this topic here, I'll include Callinan's remarks. First:
I am Callinan and, yes Andrew you are correct that I don't have the time or inclination to blog these days. But I respect your respectful challenges of mainstream media and I will respond. We make hundreds of decisions each day and while the blogosphere may want to pick each to shreds and dig for hidden agendas....sometimes we just have to publish the news and hold our noses and wish for the good old days when public discourse was more dignified. This story disgusted many...including me. But the facts are the facts, distasteful as they may be. Several editors agonized over the play of this story...and I imagine they come from all spectrums of "agendas." In the end, news is news. End of story.
Obviously, this wasn't the end of the story, because Callinan came back with this:
I don't mean this as a defense of our decision. Perhaps it's just a commentary on our culture, for better or worse. But I checked the online traffic this morning and the governor's race turns ugly story led with 33,071 page views. Next was the gatorade bottle story with 12,278. The nude prosecuter got 7,708. Way down was a traditional high interest story....the Ohio AP football poll with 2,711.

As much as we may cringe at seeing these smarmy political stories unfold, it'd be pretty difficult for us to downplay them.

Thought you'd be interested in those numbers.

This says two things to me. First, Enquirer editors are either too stupid or too lazy or too gutless to make tough decisions. As Al Franken says, intellectual sloth is not a virtue. "Sometimes we just have to publish the news and hold our noses," he says. No, you never have to do this; you can always do something different, something better, something courageous, something smart. Callinan never says why the Enquirer put the Blackwell news in the most prime position on the front page three days in a row, when you can look at other newspapers and see the other choices that were available to him.

Second, his second entry reveals something I've suspected, that web traffic drives decisions about what goes on the front page. I don't think anyone argues that the Enquirer should not have reported what Blackwell said about Strickland. It's the prominence of the story in the Enquirer that was so troublesome, and Callinan seems to try to justify this by pointing out the web traffic. Hell, by that reasoning, the Enquirer should publish pictures of a naked Lindsay Lohan -- no doubt that would be the most popular thing on the Enquirer's web site, and thus justify the lead position on the front page. Right now on Yahoo News, the most emailed story is about a man accused of having sex with a dog. Will we see that on the Enquirer's front page Tuesday?

This is very discouraging, and I can't see it getting any better.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Blackwell for governor

The Enquirer couldn't help itself, and endorsed Ken Blackwell for governor, ignoring the story on the front page about the sleazy tactics used by some politicians during their campaigns -- a story no doubt inspired by Blackwell's sordid attack on Strickland last week. So that's the kind of governor Ohio needs, the Enquirer believes. Here's the Enquirer's reason:
What Ohio needs is a governor with strong ideas to increase Ohio employment, improve Ohio education and stem the flow of Ohioans seeking better opportunities elsewhere. In our view, Blackwell is offering those ideas, while Strickland is not.
A social reactionary in the governor's mansion will only encourage more young people to leave the state, not keep them here. And the Enquirer never talks about Blackwell's inane flat tax plan; also not discussed is the lousy job Blackwell did running elections in this state. My suspicion is that this is the Powers That Be rammed this down the throat of the editorial board. The board would never not have endorsed a Republican Cincinnati boy, even if he'd suggested solving the education problem by grinding all our children into a thick paste. You gotta stick up for your own, no matter how repulsive they might be.

Friday, October 20, 2006

War, Blackwell, and war

The Enquirer comes in today with a generous five-paragraph story on Iraq on its front page, a story 400% longer than anything else they've had on the front page about Iraq in October. I think this is the full story from the New York Times, that with deaths rising in Baghdad, the U.S. is considering a new strategy. Even more surprising is that the Enquirer editorial board has something to say, and it's a real show-stopper: "Rising casualties in Iraq raise questions". No kidding! Ya think? The editorial board is expert at figuring out when questions have been raised, but not much good at answering them. Here, the board urges our good generals to come up with a new strategy, which the Times says they're already doing.

Yet again, the Enquirer puts Blackwell in the lead position on the front page, with the headline "Blackwell turns up heat at rally". Heat? You mean, "rhetoric"? Turning up the heat would mean Blackwell is closing Strickland's double-digit lead in the polls, something the story never asserts. (And which is it: were there 200 people at the rally, as the story says? Or 100, as the Enquirer's politics blog says?)

No other Ohio paper I could find put this on its front page. In fact, Columbus, Toledo and Cleveland all had the Dewine-Brown debate on their front pages, something the Enquirer buried at the bottom the Page 2 of the Local section. Going further, the Columbus Dispatch condemned Blackwell's behavior in an editorial Thursday, and the Findlay Courier did something I don't think I've ever seen before -- it withdrew its endorsement of Blackwell, based on his conduct. The slow-witted Enquirer editorial board is still fingering its naval over this one. When the story has been so big on the Enquirer's front page for three days now, why hasn't the editorial page come up with something to say?

Lastly, I don't like to criticize stories about WW II vets, since we can't honor them enough and they're dying off too quickly. But today's "Iwo Jima never forgotten" on the front page was all too predictable and a dull read. The Enquirer asked veterans about Iwo Jima and guess what? It was awful. There were bullets, there were bombs. They saw men die. Some of them were wounded themselves. And most important, they'll never forget it. Reporters are supposed to ask hard questions: Why did you do this? Did you kill anyone? How has that battle changed your life? And since we happen to be at war right now, what are your thoughts about Iraq? Pains are taken to tie the story to Flags of Our Fathers, the new Clint Eastwood movie, but not to a war we happen to be fighting right now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Links added

I'm still figuring out blogging, and I've added a few links to the right. One category will be Enquirer links, and I'll expand those soon. I'll also list local blogs. Only two so far, including the Cincinnati Beacon, because the Dean has been so very, very nice to me. I'll be happy to list local blogs, be they red or blue, except for really crappy ones. Email them to me at newsache@yahoo.com.

11 is not enough

Today's front page of the Enquirer goes back to the well on Strickland-Blackwell, has a story about some kid getting hit with a bottle of Gatorade, a discredited threat to NFL stadiums, and even finds room for a photo of Jerry Springer dancing. Stories promoted down the left side of the front page touch on Grey's Anatomy, the NBA, NASCAR, Comair and Fountain Square.

But there is no room for the biggest ongoing story, Iraq. The Pentagon reported on Wednesday that 11 American soldiers died on Tuesday, a huge one-day total. October is on pace to be the deadliest month for American soldiers since Fallujah two years ago. The Enquirer found room for 14 paragraphs about this on Page 2 of the paper. Compare this to the 20 paragraphs devoted to MLB funeral urns in the Business section on Page 12.

The carnage in Iraq was the lead story in both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times didn't lead with it, but had two stories on their front page about Iraq, and the deaths are a part of one of those stories on a page inside.

I can't find the words to describe how I feel about this. The Enquirer editors chose Gatorade over American lives, they chose Dancing with the Stars over American lives. Iraq is the biggest thing going right now. It is completely shaping the election -- and not things like Blackwell's desperate charges -- but gets almost no space on the front page.

I went through my stack of newspapers: So far in the month of October, Iraq has gotten one mention -- that's just one -- in the left-hand column on the front page. To compare, Jerry Springer's progress on Dancing with the Stars has gotten three stories and one left-hand mention on the front page. I can't imagine what's driving the choice of stories on the front page of the Enquirer. It's not common sense, and it's not any sense that there's a larger world outside of Greater Cincinnati. This is small-town thinking at its worst. If Enquirer editors were normal human beings they'd be ashamed the paper they're putting out there every day, but I can't see they have any sense of shame.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Enquirer's front page turns ugly

Okay, I'll give them credit: The Enquirer ran the Nikki Giovanni non-apology story in nearly the same place they ran 3CDC's disavowal on Tuesday morning, though Nikki gets a smaller headline. (On the web site, however, today's Giovanni story was quickly kicked out of a prime spot on the home page.)

It's the lead story in today's paper, however, that raises today's questions on the Enquirer's judgement. "Governor's race turns ugly" involved Ken Blackwell's insinuation on Monday that Ted Strickland is a gay sex offender, a charge even my Republican friends say was a desperation move on Blackwell's part.

My problem with it is that Blackwell did this for attention, and the Enquirer played right into it, giving this charge as much attention as they could. Since the Giovanni story is, at a very basic level, a Ken Blackwell story, Blackwell gets two stories today in the top half of the Enquirer's front page. He can't buy that kind of play in the paper.

Since Oct. 1, the governor's race has made it to the front page three times -- this past Sunday's look at each man's motivations (Blackwell here, Strickland here; tell me if you can find in the Blackwell story any explanation of what drove him to become a conservative, and does the Strickland story ever raise the question of his sexuality? And this little chart is as much as the Enquirer could devote to the issues that day); an Oct. 5 report on the debate in Cincinnati, which essentially focused on the names each called the other; and an Oct. 2 report on Ohio's economy, which didn't get the play today's "ugly" story received.

The play today's story received is just stupid. Prove me wrong: This is the biggest play any story on the governor's race has received in the Enquirer, and they only did it because it was sensational. I didn't find another Ohio paper that covered these charges this way (both the Toledo Blade and the Columbus Dispatch had front-page stories about Ohio wages not keeping pace with health care costs, a story I saw nowhere in the Enquirer). The Enquirer editors played right into Blackwell's hands. They took the easy way out, considering stories about namecalling and unsubstantiated allegations to be the way to cover an important election.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I am not a son of a bitch

Does the whole Nikki Giovanni thing really amount to a hill of beans? It was certainly questionable behavior on her part, but nobody died, and nobody lost money. So why, four days after the fact, is it the lead story in the paper?

This follows the Enquirer's usual pattern: If something really big happens late Friday or Saturday, it will almost certainly be the lead story on the paper on Tuesday. This is because the paper is so short staffed on the weekend that they can't find anybody to cover the story till Monday, so it becomes a big story on Tuesday. Better 72 hours late than never, I always say. The Enquirer did a decent job covering Giovanni's remarks the first time around Sunday morning, and coming back Tuesday with a lead story is (to borrow a phrase from their coverage) inappropriate.

This would also have been a primo opportunity to run the text of the poem again, but the Enquirer dropped the ball on that one as well. They've never run the true text, having had to rely on a 3CDC recording (doesn't anyone at the Enquirer have their own recorder?) to come up with it the first time. The Enquirer instead published the anonymous complaints of those who disagreed with Giovanni.

Breaking news: Giovanni is unapologetic. Will her non-apology get the same placement in the paper Wednesday as 3CDC's disavowal did on Tuesday?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Out of focus

Take a look at the top of the front page of the Enquirer today. The top third of the page is Bengals stuff, the middle third is directs you to "The Challenge of Autism" way back in the Life section. That's two-thirds of your first impression of the paper eaten up by stuff that's not hard news. Unless you're a hermit in this city you already knew the Bengals lost, and the autism article isn't need-to-know stuff. After that, you get news on the Hawaii quake (check the headline in the paper; I think, by law, you have to say that a quake "rocks") and some tree-eating bugs, written by an "Enquirer contributer" and an Enquirer reporter.

What is it the Enquirer wants you to focus on? The editors who choose these stories are sending you a message, and the message is, if it's hard news, we really don't want to tell you about it. How about the story on Page 3, the one from the New York Times that says the GOP is pulling support from Sen. DeWine? They'd rather serve up a Halloween story, two weeks before Halloween.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Crashing and dancing

This is not to disrespect the late Corey Lidle, who was a decent major league pitcher, but single-engine plane crashes that kill two people happen pretty frequently. That Lidle's plane crashed into an apartment tower in New York (the version published in the Enquirer was only eight paragraphs long) makes it a little more interesting, and that it happened in a city that that five years ago saw two jetliners flown by terrorists take down two skyscrapers and kill nearly 3,000 makes it a little more interesting still. But how it rises to become the main story on the front page of the Enquirer doesn't make sense, especially since this is a story better presented on television. Is there anything you saw in the Enquirer's coverage today that you didn't see on the evening news last night? This is lazy, go-with-the-crowd thinking by Enquirer editors.

And then, dear God, there's a Jerry Springer "Dancing With The Stars" story at the bottom of the front page. How sick is that? A better story would have been the one squeezed in above an ad on Page 3 revealing the Pentagon plans to keep troops in Iraq through 2010, but the Enquirer refuses to put any Iraq news on the front page.

Other thoughts:
  • The Business page is too quick to call the Fountain Square redevelopment a "catalyst" for further development. The stadiums weren't catalysts, Tower Place wasn't a catalyst, the Aronoff Center wasn't a catalyst, the Underground Railroad Museum wasn't a catalyst. Believe me, this lousy $43 million investment in Fountain Square won't be a catalyst either, but since Enquirer publisher Margaret Buchanan is on the 3CDC board, we should expect this kind of cheerleading.
  • Remember the Enquirer's lame profile of Tony Snow, a Cincinnati native, when he was named White House spokesman in April? (I don't blame you if you don't.) The big sin was saying that friends recall him as very liberal as a teenager, but then not explaining how his politics evolved to become more conservative. The Washington Post has a good piece today on Snow's performance as spokesman. You won't read it in the Enquirer because, first, it's long, and the Enquirer won't run a story that goes more than about 10 paragraphs. Second, the Enquirer doesn't run Washington Post stories because to save money, the Enquirer dumped the Post wire months ago.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Polls are not news

The Enquirer leads today with "Poll finds Ohio ripe for change", which reports on the results of a University of Akron poll asking how people stand on the many and various issues Ohioans will vote on this year.

First and foremost, polls are not news, or at least not front-page news. The Enquirer loves to tell you, the reader, what you think, but I just don't see how a public-opinion poll passes any test of what should be in the lead position of the front page of a major-city daily.

Second, this doesn't look like the greatest of polls. It was conducted, according to the small text under the pie charts, over a 40-day span (Aug. 20 to Sept. 29; I guess that's about 40 days), so it's hardly any kind of snapshot of public opinion. And think how much more information was available to voters on Sept. 29 compared to Aug. 20.

And I'm confused here: The second paragraph of the story says 1,073 Ohioans were polled, but the small text under the charts say it was 477. Which is it? There's also a 4.5 percent margin of error, which means the 47.7% who said "yes" on "Ban smoking without exception" could actually be as low as 43.2%, and the 43.9% who said "no" could actually be as high as 48.4%, which would put the "no" voters into the lead.

So, the poll reveals less than the Enquirer would like you to believe. But since the Enquirer wants to believe these results (if they didn't believe them, would they have put the story in such a prominent position in the paper?), they think you should, too.

Friday, October 06, 2006

This is too hard

I should blog more often about the Enquirer and the sins of journalism it commits every single day. But I didn't realize how big a job that would be. Reading the Enquirer more closely than I ever have, I see more and more that this newspaper does so poorly.

Take today: The Tall Stacks "Day 3 Planner" doesn't anticipate the rising river levels that have caused suspension of river cruises this morning. All you have to do is go to this weather page and you can check river levels and projections. Wouldn't you think that would be important in anything called a "planner"?

There's today's nonsensical editorial about God knows what. The Editorial page of the Enquirer is 95% irrelevant, almost never touching on the big issues of the day. It's nice to know, however, that they think we should respect the forces of nature.

There's today's story about St. X's 175th anniversary, which is nice enough, but it notes parenthetically that it's also Woodward High School's 175th. Why doesn't Woodward get the St. X treatment? Do I have to say it out loud?

Then there's what not printed: One of the great court cases of the day is occurring right here in Cincinnati, and that's whether the Bush Administration's warrentless wiretaps are constitutional. There was this result on this week, but you won't read it in the Enquirer, because it doesn't cover the federal courts here.

Many newspapers -- and almost all good newspapers -- have an ombudsman who explains how news decisions are made. At many others, the editor will often write a regular column explaining the news process. But not the Enquirer, which -- if forced to explain itself -- would expose its own stupidity.