Monday, February 26, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The American Society of Newspaper Editors awards for distinguished writing and photography.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Expecting a good apology? Sorry

Random thoughts on Enquirer editor Tom Callinan's apology for publishing the names of the jurors in the Liz Carroll case:
  • Callinan says: "So how did this decision to publish all the jurors’ names happen? All I can say is that we lost our perspective." Let's just say he misspoke. What he really means is "all I am willing to say is ..." or "the truth is really too embarrassing to say, so ...." Accountability is a cornerstone of good journalism. Good journalists demand it of the powerful people they cover. But the Enquirer does very little of this type of journalism, so it's no wonder Callinan doesn't understand that or that the Enquirer doesn't come clean on this decision.
  • "The horrific story galvanized Ohio...." That's an exaggeration, in which Callinan tries to justify the Enquirer's overboard coverage. The name Marcus Fiesel appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer just once, in the Akron Beacon Journal just twice, the Columbus Dispatch just five times, the Toledo Blade never. The Dayton Daily News assigned a reporter to the case, probably due to the Butler County connection. Callinan is out of touch.
  • "It has attracted national attention, including a recent series on National Public Radio." I challenge Callinan to prove that. Which media? Which publications? I searched for "marcus fiesel" and got no hits.
  • The apology probably killed any slim chance the Enquirer had of winning awards for its coverage of the case.

Why did Callinan apologize? Because he couldn't do the other thing, which was to justify publishing the names. If he could have explained that decision cogently, he would have stuck by it, and often great journalism emerges when newspapers stick to their convictions even as everyone else is telling them to back off. The truth is probably that the decision to publish the names was such a clusterfuck that Callinan is embarrassed to expose the Enquirer's slipshod editorial process.

Maybe, after all, Callinan is ashamed of the Enquirer.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guilty of exploitation

Who is Tristan Bowman? He was a 1-year-old who died Oct. 20 in Kenton County from massive swelling of his brain. His mother and her boyfriend have been indicted in his death. You may not have heard of this case, because the Enquirer has only written two brief stories about his death.

Who is Cartier Denson? He was an 8-month-old from Colerain Township, who died February 5. His mother was charged in the death, and charges were being considered against her boyfriend -- as of the last time the Enquirer wrote about the case on February 6. The Enquirer has written all of 242 words in two briefs about this case.

Who is Christopher Beck? The one-year-old was beaten to death in September 2005, By Enquirer standards, he was luckier. They wrote three stories about him, and one brief, when his mother's boyfriend was convicted in his death.

The Enquirer didn't cover Beck's killer's trial, to try to answer the question of what on earth would possess a 19-year-old man-boy to pummel a one-year-old to death. So it's hard for me to understand why the death of Marcus Fiesel rates more than 160 stories in the Enquirer since he disappeared in August.

My favorite story so far is "Marcus' story got no national play" on August 30, where the Enquirer seemed to ask the rest of the media what the hell was wrong with them, that they wouldn't cover this. (Call Howard Stern and ask him. He is, after all, the king of all media.) My favorite duh! headline was " 'Who did it?' key for Carroll jury" February 16, as if the headline writer had never seen "Law and Order".

Though the Enquirer somehow saw fit to question why the rest of the media world didn't rush to Cincinnati to cover this, they've not seen fit to explain why they've gone so far overboard on this death.

There's no question this story has had some unusual elements -- the early reports that he wandered away from a playground, the dozens and dozens of volunteers who searched through the night for him, Liz Carroll's pleas for his return, and then the bizarre circumstances of his death. I found myself checking the Enquirer's web site often to see if he'd been found. I think tens of thousands of other people did the same thing, and it's those numbers that continue to drive the Enquirer's obsession with this case.

But that was August. I don't see that the Enquirer's coverage for the past few months has been is too concerned with making sure justice is done here, or that whatever flaws there were in the foster-care system that led to Marcus' death are repaired. This huge February 11 story weighed in at more than 5,000 words. Enquirer editor Tom Callinan hates long stories. You have to go back to a series in 2002 about care for Ohio's mentally retarded and the riot coverage in 2001 to find anything in the Enquirer as long as that.

In media you have to feed the beast. When people want something, you have to give it to them. You can say, "they're only trying to sell newspapers," and you'd be 100% correct, because newspapers are for-profit businesses and they have to make money. There's nothing wrong with that.

But 160-plus stories looks like exploitation. 20,000 words in one week on this case? The Enquirer has lost all perspective. There are bigger stories in the region that haven't received this level of coverage -- the stagnant economy, the flight of population from the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the crumbling public schools, the high infant mortality rate. If Tom Callinan had to explain to Tristan Bowman, Cartier Denson and Christopher Beck why their deaths received so little coverage, he'd probably say, "sorry, kids, but your numbers sucked. You're just not box-office." It's shameful, but I've said before, Enquirer editors have no shame.

UPDATE: Do you need any more evidence that the Enquirer has lost all sense of right and wrong, up and down, left and right? Tom Callinan never explains how the decision was made, who made it, or his own role and responsibility in the decision to publish the names of jurors. If he really wants to make this right, somebody had better lose their job over this, or his apology is worthless.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cheating is cheating, plain and simple

Did anyone else think Paul Daugherty's column on Sunday was odd? Under the headline "Rules crowding out rogues," Daugherty seems to say cheating is OK in NASCAR. Last week, before the Daytona 500, NASCAR came down hard on four teams for cheating. Daugherty wrote:
Driver Jeff Burton said: "We've given the perception that we're a bunch of manipulative guys that are out there trying to screw everybody out of a win. That's just not good for our sport."


Why not?

And he continued:
As we admire the high-tech, high speeds from Daytona today, we also should offer a moment of silence for a lost age of racin'.

NASCAR has character now. What it lacks is characters.

What does Daugherty want? The Bengals have characters. In June, writing about the Bengals' character issues, Daugherty wrote, "You could wonder how a person who is a problem away from work can magically be a good citizen on company time. The answer usually is, he can't." On May 28, he said this about Chris Henry: "There is a fine line between stupid and sad when it comes to the bad behavior of professional athletes. Henry is tiptoeing it like a ballerina."

About steroid use by professional athletes and its influence on teenagers, Daugherty wrote in March 2005:
Here's what a doctor and researcher told The New York Times: "You are left with low testosterone levels, which can affect chemical levels in the brain, which control mood, and these people very often can become very depressed and suicidal. I've had a number of steroid-using adolescents who have experienced suicidal thoughts."

That ought to be enough to send any parent of a high school jock running to the kid's medicine cabinet or beneath his mattress. And it ought to be enough to activate Baseball's dormant conscience and get its people to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Once, we rifled through our kids' private stuff seeking dope or cigarettes. Now, we look for vials and syringes and the telltale black acne on their backs and shoulders.

How do you pretend to abhor character issues in one sport, and decry cheating in another sport because it's a bad influence on young people, and then say NASCAR shouldn't be too hard on cheating because it's chasing all the good ol' boys away? There are plenty of kids who follow NASCAR. Is the message sent to them by Michael Waltrip's team's cheating any different than that sent by Rafael Palmiero's steroid use? It's as if Daugherty thinks rednecks and their lax morals are cute and entertaining. It's bigoted and it's wrong. What's lax are Daugherty's ethics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Vagina monologues

[ I've decided to take this post down because one of the commenters was right. It was vulgar. My indignation got the better of me. I won't do that again. I left the comments where they were, and I'll get back to the Carroll trial coverage in a little bit. ]

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The George Polk Awards are very pretigious, though less well known than the Pulitzers. Big newspapers won awards here, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. But small papers won as well: The Hartford Courant for military reporting (the Enquirer has yet to send any member of its staff to Iraq or Afghanistan), the Baltimore Sun for medical reporting, the Portland Oregonian for national reporting, even the free weekly Lakefront Outlook near Chicago for local reporting and the High Country News in Colorado for political reporting. The Enquirer simply has no tradition of aggressive go-get-'em reporting. It has never won a Polk. The only Pulitzer in its 150-plus year history went to cartoonist Jim Borgman in 1991. Borgman has also been a finalist three times.

So what does this leave the Enquirer to celebrate? Web traffic! An email to staff last week touted the great traffic on during the storm: "Daily page views at Cincinnati.Com topped more than 3.5 million for a second day in a week! Audiences swarmed to the site to find news and information to help them cope with the snow and/or ice storms on Feb. 6 and Feb. 13. The 3.5 million page views far surpassed the previous record of 2.6 million page views the day after last November’s general election. ... And there’s more: Online users also had submitted 147 winter photos by Wednesday morning, making the snowstorms the most successful solicitation since GP! was introduced on in August 2005. Our previous best was 108 in the December 2005 holiday photo contest - and it had prizes attached. In addition, we passed the 10,000 mark for Get Published! submitters!"

When the Pulitzer or Polk committees start awarding prizes for "best coverage of a snow day," the Enquirer will clean up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does anyone out there have a Nexis account?

And would you be willing to check something for me? Email me please at

Finally ...

The featured story on the Enquirer's web site this morning has to do with a new retail development in West Chester called the Towne Centre. This was on the front page of the Cincinnati Business Courier on January 19. It only took the Enquirer four weeks to catch up. Why didn't the Enquirer have that first? Though the Enquirer emphasizes local coverage, my guess is reporters are too busy chasing ambulances and writing briefs to do much actual reporting. And, the Business staff is spread so thin stories like this are missed.

Next, at midday the Enquirer updated its web site to add this story, about a woman with local roots who was among five people killed at a mall in Salt Lake City. I saw this story last night on Channel 12 news, which means there's no excuse for why the Enquirer didn't have it in this morning's newspaper.

Props to the Enquirer for fighting the testimony of two reporters in the Liz Carroll murder trial. But should the Enquirer have its own reporter cover this aspect of the trial? That's an inherent conflict. Can't they get the Associated Press to do that? [ UPDATE THURSDAY: On Thursday morning the Enquirer published this story about the agreement reached with prosecutors. No byline, and the story was buried deep inside the front section. That's quite an about-face on this issue. ]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No more bankers' hours

Enquirer Business reporters are now being asked to work weekends. This is a very desperate move, being made because the staff is so thin. They're being asked to chip in on regular news coverage. What happens on weekends in Cincinnati besides accidents, fires and crime? The only weekend business news you'll see is about shopping at the malls, and this move will cheat business coverage during the week.

UPDATE: I have to add this because people see this situation as a bunch of business reporters whining about having to work weekends. That's not the point. First, count bylines. Aside from Pat Crowley, Mark Curnutte and John Fay and a select few others, Enquirer business reporters write more stories than anyone in Metro or the rest of the paper. Sharon Coolidge, one of the best and hardest working reporters in Metro, has by my count 238 bylines since the start of 2006. Her husband, business reporter Alexander Coolidge, has 285 bylines. Jon Craig, the Enquirer's statehouse reporter, has 151. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Now the Enquirer wants to take Alex off his Business beat to have him chase ambulances on weekends. Will they allow his byline count to slip? The Enquirer will still expect that same level of productivity, with no excuses, and in fact management is continuing to press for ever greater productivity. Business reporters are already covering stories that should be covered by Metro and even Life. Business reporter Cliff Peale covered the symphony's budget shortfall, for instance, and Coolidge has logged many hours covering Comair's plane crash. And now business reporters have to cover car crashes, too.

The other point is that the Enquirer continues to deemphasize business news. Not long ago management took away Business's daily section front, and buried it inside the front section. That move alone led to one reporter quitting and taking a job with the Columbus Dispatch, and contributed to the eventual resignation of the business editor. Now, business reporters will spend less time on business news.

Business reporters cover how we earn and spend our money, and the Enquirer has taken another step to deemphasize that important territory, if favor of ambulance chasing. Again, this is another move by the Enquirer that won't make it a better paper to read, or a better paper to work for.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If there's no color, the color is red

This might seem trivial, but it means something. Look at the back page of the front section of Tuesday's newspaper. There's a big "Thanks to You" ad, where the Enquirer thanks its readers and advertisers for spending their money with the paper.

The back page of the front section is one of the best spots for advertising in the paper. It's a highly-visible full page, with full color available. The Enquirer can make a lot of money on this page, especially when it sells color. The fact that there's a house ad (that's what it's called when a newspaper advertises itself on its own pages) there means the Enquirer couldn't sell it. That's not good. The Enquirer has been selling this page less often recently:
  • Week of Jan 14 -- six times (Sunday included)
  • Week of Jan 21 -- three times (Sunday included)
  • Week of Jan 28 -- two (one is black and white, Sunday not sold)
  • Week of Feb 4 -- one (on Monday, black and white, Sunday not sold)
Most of these are Dillard ads. Monday's ad was a black and white ad for a real estate expo, and the Enquirer makes less money on black and white ads. Last Tuesday was another black-and-white ad for the Better Business Bureau Foundation, from more than a dozen featured advertisers, notably Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati Bell and Fifth Third. Note that the list of advertisers included the Business Courier and Channel 12, but not the Enquirer. I don't think the Enquirer made a whole lot of money on what was basically a public service ad.

This isn't as cut and dried as it used to be, because the Enquirer can print ads in color inside most sections -- as it did today, with the big "Gear Up" ad on page 5, or the Kroger double-truck on pages 8-9. This decline might be seasonal but the fact that the Enquirer doesn't fill this space regularly says the newspaper doesn't have enough demand for what should be a prime advertising spot in the newspaper. And what happens when you don't sell enough ads?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gannett vs. Google

This is an entirely apt comparison because they're in the same business: selling advertising. Doubt me? Here's how Google describes its business, in its SEC documents: "We generate revenue primarily by delivering relevant, cost-effective online advertising." Gannett, which owns the Enquirer, gets 65% of its revenue from newspaper advertising.

Gannett was founded in 1906, and it is one big fucking company. In the U.S. it owns 90 daily newspapers (including the Enquirer), nearly 1,000 non-daily publications, and 23 TV stations. Plus it owns nearly 300 titles in the UK, including 17 daily newspapers. It has 52,000 employees.

Google was founded in 1998. At the end of 2005 it had less than 5,700 employees.

And Google is kicking Gannett's ass. Both companies put out fourth-quarter results this week. See Google's here, and Gannett's here.

Google had revenues of $3.21 billion in the fourth quarter, an increase of 67% from last year. Gannett's fourth quarter revenues were $2.21 billion, an increase of 7% from last year.

Google saw a profit of $1.06 billion in the fourth quarter, an increase of 176 percent from last year. Gannett's profit was $353 million, an increase of only 3%.

So, the biggest seller of newspaper advertising is getting blown away by the biggest seller of online advertising. Gannett's increase in revenue came from its TV stations, which sold lots of time for political advertising last year. That's not going to happen in 2007, so how much more is Gannett going to demand that its newspapers cut costs, so it can make Wall Street happy? Gannett can't hope to catch up in selling online advertising unless it makes big investments in its web sites; setting up more boring blogs won't do it. And there's no hope Gannett will invest more in the Enquirer anytime soon.

As of 2 p.m., the Enquirer didn't have anything on its web site about Gannett's earnings.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Disorder in the court

The Enquirer noticed that an important legal case is being argued in federal district court in Cincinnati, but its story was flat and colorless. Stories in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are better, and the Times even had an op-ed article on Wednesday morning. The Enquirer lacks the kind of pride that insists its articles about local events be better than those by out-of-town media. Any intern could have written what the Enquirer published.

  • The Dean of Cincinnati has a nice bit about the Enquirer's lack of concern for journalism ethics. The paper earned national notoriety last year when its "Grandma in Iraq" blog turned out to be written an Army PR employee. The Dean came up with documents that the Enquirer knew all along the woman's occupation. The Enquirer never contended it was unaware of her job, or that it tried to conceal her job. It's just that the editors were too dense to understand that it mattered. The Dean's documents show just how deeply the Enquirer disregarded any kind of ethical standard in this endeavor.

  • The Enquirer editorial board keeps finding new ways not to say anything. Tuesday's editorial offered no concrete suggestion on helping the city's freezing homeless, and today's editorial repeats that sin. It hard to argue with a plea to help these people, but please, just take a god-damn stand and tell the city what you want done. Is the Enquirer letting the homeless take shelter in its lobby? I don't think so.