Sunday, December 30, 2007

Welcome to the future

Go back 10 years, 15 to be safe: The Kentucky Post owned Northern Kentucky. The Enquirer's commitment to Northern Kentucky was so weak and distrusted that at one point in the late 1980s, the Enquirer closed its bureau there. The Kentucky Post was a franchise: a dominant readership in a growing area. At the Enquirer, there was speculation that when the JOA ended, the Kentucky Post would be kept alive as Northern Kentucky's newspaper.

That didn't happen, obviously. Did the Kentucky Post wither away because Gannett, which ran the Joint Operating Agreement, did next to nothing to sell it? Did it fail because E.W. Scripps, satisfied with its split of JOA profits, saw no point in spending a nickel to preserve the franchise?

Today's whitewash of history by the Enquirer doesn't bother to probe those and many other questions about the death of the Post. It accepts conventional wisdom that afternoon newspapers were doomed without ever examining whether everything was done to keep the paper alive. It devotes one quote to the widely held belief that Gannett did very little to improve circulation and advertising for the Post. For Chrissakes, it relies on Bill fucking Cunningham to say that the Post, in the end, could have done nothing to save itself.

Joint Operating Agreement? More like Joint Mismanagement Agreement. Nowhere in the package of stories are there any details of the mechanics of the JOA, how it provided no incentives to Gannett or Scripps to keep the local newspaper market healthy. Needless to say, both companies did everything they could to live down to the spirit of the JOA. Gannett just sucked advertising dollars out of Cincinnati but did almost nothing to build circulation. Scripps grew lazy over its split of profits.

We get a teary eyed reminiscence of the Post's journalism but no examination of its demise. What's odd about the stories is how small a role the Enquirer plays in the tale. Reporter Mike Rutledge describes the Post as "feisty and independent." Since the Post occupied that niche, it must mean the Enquirer dominates the niche for a flaccid and beholden newspaper in the Cincinnati market.

There's much said about the "Friends of Joe" stories. The Enquirer actually broke that story, sort of. David Wells wrote how Indian Hill homeowners had gotten their homes classified as farms, allowing them to pay lower property taxes. It was good reporting, but as usual -- as it had with the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire and the Carrolton bus crash -- the Enquirer fumbled the follow-up and missed the better, richer "FOJ" story.

This look back at the Post's journalism makes it look as though the death of the Post is a failure of journalism, and not a business failure. Today's package of stories contains no interviews with Gannett or Enquirer executives, past or present, about the death of the Post. When it comes time to question Scripps, we get the explanation that it would have been too expensive to build a newspaper operation from scratch to keep the Post alive, but Rich Boehne isn't asked "at what point did Scripps actually give up on the Post?"

The death of the Post was almost certainly inevitable, but that doesn't mean it couldn't have been healthier at the end, leaving something that might have been worth preserving. That would have saved jobs and maybe saved an independent voice in this town.

What we're left with is there in today's Enquirer, in black and white -- flaccid and beholden journalism. The hard questions aren't asked, the people responsible aren't held accountable. The end of the Post is an opportunity to make a lot of people uncomfortable, and given the sorry state of newspapers today, a lot of people should be uncomfortable. But what we get instead are tales of the good things that happened during the Post's history. Read this package carefully, because this is the only kind of journalism we'll get in a one-newspaper Cincinnati. Welcome to the future.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember, according to Tom Callinan and the vested real estate interests in Over the Rhine, the riots never happened.

The future is the past, sadly.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous rms said...

This from an average Joe who loved the Post and its writers: I spent all of Satuday morning trying to find a copy of the Saturday Post. ALL morning. Store to store, box to box.
Came home empty-handed...
I will continue the search today, Sunday.

Does ANYTHING else need to be said as to why the Post died?
It didn't die, it was murdered.

Rick Singel
Hyde Park

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's sad to think that new generations of news junkies growing up in Cincinnati, in print or Web, will never see first-hand the power of journalism unless they happen to be one of the growing legion of people getting the New York Times.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous mr. whig said...

And with this, the Times-Star is officially dead, I guess. Oh, if only the T-S had succeeded in buying the Enquirer in the 50s. It all might have been different.
You're absolutely right about the Kentucky Post though. It looked absolutely invincible. It would have been great for Northern Kentucky to have its own newspaper, since once you cross the river you feel like you're somewhere else - instead all it gets is a warmed-over daily shopper.
I'd rather remember The Post as it was in the 80s and 90s, nipping away at the Enquirer's heels, rather than what I saw recently, a thin, gaunt, weak old friend.

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Warmed-over daily shopper.... sounds like the Enquirer.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scripps should have bought the Community Press a few years ago as the combination of those two entities would have delivered far more benefits to Cincinnati than what it has to choose from today.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today, the Post arrived. Tomorrow, we'll miss it, forever.

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re the Community Press: As I understand it, the aging owner of those papers called Gannett to sell. He had clusters of papers here and in Detroit, where Gannett also has papers, and he figured they'd find it a natural fit. There was no chance for Scripps to bid. That is a shame, because you have to wonder if this would have played out any differently had Scripps grabbed N.Ky.'s weeklies.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scripps looked at the Community Press. Unfortunately, Gannett needed them more.

If Scripps bought it, then there would have clearly been a far different outcome than what is in existense today. And, they would have easily had the upper hand in NKY.

4:16 PM  

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