Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Citizen surgery"

Today at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in DC, there was a panel discussion, "Digital Media and the Future of Newspapers," recapped at HuffingtonPost. Read it, but let me point out my favorite nugget:
Mossberg got the most appreciative response of the panel during a discussion about citizen journalism — I believe Barry Diller asked Arianna exactly what it was, and Arianna explained that they weren't on assignment nor were they paid. "It's like citizen surgery!" said Mossberg. The crowd of hard-bitten newspaper-people clapped, and there may have been a few cheers.
That's a good lead-in to today's editorial in the Enquirer. The editorial is based on two stories this week: Dan Horn's good story about a convict being sent back to prison though he's been very nearly a model citizen since he was let out, and this tiny story about a drunk driver whose victims agreed to his early release.

The editorial says, "How do we know when someone has been 'punished enough'? When a lawbreaker owes 'a debt to society,' how exactly does society collect on that debt?" Unfortunately, that's the end of the editorial, not the beginning. Again, the editorial board dodges a big question, one that is exactly the type they should be answering.

Instead, the board punts. "Tell us what you think," the editorial asks. The editorial board fancies itself as leader of a "community conversation" on important topics of the day. You can't just ask a question. You have to provide a framework that shapes the issue and helps people to come up up with an answer. The editorial board constantly avoids taking positions on issues, so they don't know how to build that framework. The editorial is so lame it doesn't even provide links to the stories on which it is based.

And it looks like not many people want in on this conversation. By evening, after the editorial had been online all day, only six people had posted their opinions. Apparently, everybody else was busy with surgery.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Better late than never

Props to the Enquirer's editorial board for calling today for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign, and for doing so on the day Gonzales is in town. I'm so stunned to see the Enquirer have an actual opinion on a matter of national importance that I'm not even going to push the point of what took so long. This is the Enquirer's first editorial on the Gonzales mess. Other papers calling for Gonzales's exit: the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Buffalo News, all on March 13; the Philadelphia Daily News on March 14; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Detroit Free Press and the Boston Globe, March 16; the Chicago Sun-Times, March 18; and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 20.

On Monday, the Enquirer took another stand, saying Gov. Strickland should restore funding to teach abstinence in schools. While reprehensible and misguided, the opinion was an opinion, and not a wishy-washy copout like "only time will tell" or "more careful study is required", which is what we're used to from the Enquirer. Could this be the start of something?

Beyond exploitation

And into outright voyeurism. The Enquirer has posted a video of David Carroll and Amy Baker smooching at a check-cashing joint. Why did the Enquirer post this? Not because it adds anything to any debate about the competency of the foster care system. The Enquirer did it for the same reason it published the names and addresses of the jury members -- because it could. The Enquirer's overboard coverage of this case has nothing to do with any concern for Marcus Feisel or anyone else in the foster care system or good journalism. It's all about the three-way between the Carrolls and Baker, and boosting web traffic on the Enquirer's web site. Note before you see the video, you have to watch a Champion window commercial. It's shameful.

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Enquirer didn't win any awards from this year's Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards competition. And why would it?

UPDATE: A commenter points out that the Enquirer's Sharon Coolidge was a finalist for an FOI award in that competition, for "Lead's Dangerous Legacy." Finalists are listed here. Kudos to Sharon.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Champagne all around

Here's an award the Enquirer did win: in the Associated Press Sports Editors competition, third place to Kevin Kelley in explanatory journalism, in the 100,000 to 250,000 circulation group. Any national award is nice. Kudos to Kelley. But there are five awards in each category, and five honorable mentions, so it would be hard for the Enquirer not to win something. Jay Morrison of the Hamilton Journal News won a first-place award for breaking news in the under-100,000 circulation category.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Even if you read the Enquirer, you miss a lot

Monday was the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. Today's story on the front page of the local section (and not on page 1) about a protest on Fountain Square gives first ink to supporters of the war. You don't see a protester quoted until the story jumps to page 5 of the Local section. The editorial board doesn't seem to know the war is going on. Editorials the past three days have covered safe school buses, the Roebling Suspension Bridge and more Marcus Feisel madness. The editorial on what will happen to the seven children in the Carroll household is especially poignant, because editors at the Enquirer are currently refusing to publish stories based on an investigation of the foster care system locally. For your enjoyment, here is what an editorial about the war looks like.

Today's Chiquita story is a fairly comprehensive review of what happened on Monday, but the Enquirer still hasn't looked hard at what Chiquita did, and why. From the story:
But Chiquita spokesman Mike Mitchell emphasized that no current or former Chiquita executives, including the unidentified ones listed in the charges, are being charged with a crime at this time. He would not comment on the possibility of future charges.

Representatives of Carl Lindner, chairman of Chiquita when the payments started, according to the charges, would not comment. But it does not appear that Lindner has been questioned in the investigation.
The Enquirer does not explain why it believes Lindner has not been questioned. It seems relevant to mention that Lindner is a major contributor to Republican causes.

The top five officers at Chiquita in 1998, after the payments to the terrorist organization began, were Carl Lindner (chairman), son Keith Lindner (vice chairman), Steven Warshaw (president and chief operating officer), Robert Kistinger (president of the Chiquita Banana Group), and Robert Olson (general counsel). In 2003, when Chiquita went into bankruptcy, the top officers were Cyrus F. Freidheim (chairman, president and chief executive officer), Kistinger, Olson, James B. Riley (chief financial officer), and David J. Ockleshaw (president of Chiquita Processed Foods). Frieidheim has already acknowledged his connection to the case. This was reported Saturday, but not acknowledged by the Enquirer until today's story. Kistinger is still an officer with Chiquita.

Can you ever justify paying money to terrorists to protect the lives of your employees? That's the central question here, and seems to be a perfect subject for an editorial. It's apparently too big for the minds occupying the Enquirer's editorial board.

Lastly, I've said in the past that if something happens over the weekend, the Enquirer often won't report the story until the Tuesday after. I waited until today's paper to see if the Enquirer would write something substantial about the federal court decision Friday that went against the Enquirer virtually ignored Friday's federal court decision that went against Cintas and its anti-union effort. The Enquirer ran a one-paragraph "Business Brief" about the decision, but hasn't written a word since. Cintas has been in trouble the past few years, most recently because a worker was killed at a plant in Tulsa. The Enquirer has barely touched that story. It seems relevant to mention that Cintas Chairman Richard Farmer is a major contributor to Republican causes.

Friday, March 16, 2007

March mudiness

Nowhere in the Enquirer are the standards lower than in opinion writing. Today's editorial and Paul Daugherty's column exemplify that.

All you need to know about the editorial is in the last sentence. "Only time will tell" is not an opinion. It's a cop-out and it's lazy. As they say on the basketball court, don't bring that weak shit.

Doc's big idea is to rename the Ohio State Buckeyes the "Mattas". Otherwise, the column is nothing but a game recap. Deadlines were strained because the game ended so late, but that's not an excuse for a lame column. If you can't write something good, don't write anything.

I guess I ought to end it right there.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A stroll down memory lane

Ah, Chiquita! Just the sound of that name is enough to make any Enquirer employee's shoulders droop. Give the Enquirer credit for not burying today's story, about how Chiquita paid $1.7 million in protection money in Colombia to a terrorist organization known as AUC from 1997 to 2004. They even provided a link to the court document describing the violations, and it's worth reading.

The Enquirer followed the letter of the law, so to speak, about this story. They assigned a reporter to cover it, and stripped the story across the top of the front page. There's little original reporting, however. It says the payments began when Carl Lindner and his family controlled Chiquita, but as for AUC, the story only lifts a few lines from an Associated Press story saying AUC "has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia's civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country's cocaine exports." In 2001, when Chiquita was paying AUC,
(T)he AUC killed at least 1,015 civilians, a statistic that greatly surpasses the 197 civilians killed by the FARC. The AUC also committed over 100 massacres in 2001, a typical terror tactic used to displace large portions of the peasant population in order to better control major coca-growing territories. Indeed, the U.S. State Department noted that the AUC was responsible for about 43 percent of Colombia's internally displaced people in 2001. (Source)
The Enquirer should do a story about the AUC. This is an evil group, and Cincinnati should know what kind of vicious terrorists a Lindner-run Chiquita was paying money to. Does anyone want to take bets on when this story might appear?

The Enquirer may be a little timid when it comes to writing critically about Carl Lindner. Let's review:
The biggest part of the Chiquita debacle is that Gannett gave in to Lindner so quickly. With an owner so spineless, the Enquirer won't ever have the stomach to take on someone like Lindner ever again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. The Wall Street Journal continues to collect prizes for its work on backdated stock options. The Enquirer is not among the finalists. Surprised? Read the list of past winners and you'll see it's not impossible for a paper the size of the Enquirer to win this award.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Monday mediocrity

Who's in charge of the Enquirer on weekends, and what were they smoking when they put together Monday's newspaper? It's predictable that the most prominent space on the front page is devoted to the NCAA tournament, but in the main above-the-fold photo, Xavier players Justin Doellman and Justin Cage look like somebody just kicked their dogs. Front-page photos need to have some electricity in them, so it's a terrible and lifeless choice, but a worse choice is the story next to it. How in the world did "Malls keeping longer hours" make to the top of the front page? It blows my mind. I am speechless. The news is that Kenwood Towne Centre is open one extra hour on Friday, and also on Saturday. The same at Florence Mall. And that's it. I pity the reporter who actually had to go to the mall late Friday to talk to people about this.

It doesn't end there. We also get a sleep-inducing profile of the weatherman on the fourth-rated news station in Cincinnati. The big revelation: He plays the piano real good. The editorial page, not to be outdone in this orgy of banality, opines that we all just have to stop eating so god damn much. The editorial has the nerve to include this line: "we are now inundated with free food just about everywhere we go." This should be great news to all those folks waiting in line in the cold at the Free Store. Somebody on the editorial page has a serious food fetish, because we keep getting editorials about how our kids are fat and out of shape, but today's editorial is just insensitive.

You wonder why there isn't more hard-hitting and impactful news in the Enquirer. It's a circular game spun by bad decisions and low expectations. Editors decide to put things like today's mall hours story on the front page, and reporters begin to think that's the kind of crap the editors want out there, so they deliver it. It's easy and it's painless and at the end of the week you still get a paycheck. There's nothing wrong with today's profile of the weatherman, but it wasn't good enough to be the lead story in the Life section. Somebody has to stand up and say we're going to do better than this. But sometimes when you stand up, your head gets shot off, so it's easier to keep your head down and deliver mediocrity.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The 73rd annual National Headliner Awards; the first name in each category is the winner, and the other names are finalists. The Lexington Herald-Leader won in the spot news category for its coverage of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in August (a story that the Enquirer attempted to cover), and also won for sports photography. The Cleveland Plain Dealer won for illustrative graphics and was a finalist in two photography categories and for health/medical/science writing. The Louisville Courier-Journal was a finalist for business coverage, the Dayton Daily News was a finalist for illustrative graphics. The Enquirer, of course, got goose eggs. Note also that the competition is open to TV and radio, and no local station won any awards.

Monday, March 05, 2007

(This space intentionally left blank)

I never agree with anyone who says journalists are lazy and overpaid, but today I'll make an exception. Today's editorial page in the Enquirer doesn't have an editorial. It has a "featured letter." No editorial.

Most decent newspapers have two or three editorials a day. In Chattanooga, Tenn., the Times Free Press has two editorial boards and two editorial pages every day. The Enquirer most days has one, maybe two editorials, and today, zero. There are five writers on the editorial board, and they apparently can't produce seven opinions in a week. Jim Borgman by himself produces five cartoons a week, and does the Zits comic strip as well. This makes the editorial board look lazy, and if you're an editorial writer who's just shuffling readers' letters not writing editorials, then you're overpaid.

If you want to see what a real editorial looks like, read Sunday's "Must-Do List" in the New York Times. I don't agree with everything there, but at least the Times' editorial board has the guts to take a stand. The Enquirer's editorial board would rather punt than go for it. Losers punt.

The Enquirer invites you to write in and tell them what you think of today editorial page. "We turned today's Editorial Page over to our readers," they say. Write to them at and tell them to get their lazy asses back to work and come up with something to say.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Blame the women

Forum's examination of why there are so few women in leadership positions in Cincinnati follows the tired formula of "get a report, then ask people what they think." The editorial package is tied to last week's release of a report (Enquirer story here) describing how poorly local companies have promoted women into executive positions. The editorial board got advice from women executives on how to succeed, and talked to teenage girls about their aspirations.

The advice is mostly tired old saws like "be yourself." For instance:
In my family, making and keeping commitments, and always telling the truth no matter how dire the seemingly terrible consequences, was an indelible compact. I applied that belief to my career where it worked to my advantage.
Also, the editorial says: "Closing off that corporate suite to 982,800 Greater Cincinnatians - females who go on to comprise more than 58 percent of the local workforce - doesn't make good sense for anybody." That 982,800 figure is a gross exaggeration, a number that appears to include children, senior citizens beyond working age, and women who don't work. The last census said there are about 300,000 women working full time year-round in the region.

The problem with this package is that there are plenty of women out there who do all that stuff -- be true to their values, tell the truth, etc. -- and still can't get promoted because they can't crack this town's old boys' network. The editorial board doesn't bother to ask the heads of companies like Fifth Third, Procter & Gamble or Cincinnati Financial why they don't have more women running those companies. True to its form, the Enquirer's editorial board doesn't want to offend or anger any of this town's powerful people. It's easier and safer to make it look like it's entirely the women's fault that they're not being promoted, that if they would just "be true to themselves etc." one day they'll becomes CEOs. The editorial board doesn't hold accountable those men responsible for promotion decisions at these companies.

An article in Los Angeles magazine says that to save itself, the Los Angeles Times needs to get tough, real tough. "Does anybody fear the Times these days?" the story asks. "(I)t’s time to have some reporters who are licensed to kill." It's the same with the Enquirer. No one is afraid of the Enquirer, and the paper has no one on staff who can make powerful people answer direct questions. Nobody fears editors Tom Callinan or Hollis Towns, and publisher Margaret Buchanan is in bed with so many of them (that's just a figure of speech) that they know she can be trusted not to stir things up. They're letting Cincinnati down in a big way.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Taking the low road

Somehow the news that six people died is less important than the fact that local people lived. The Enquirer's coverage of the deaths of six people in a bus crash in Georgia reflects terribly an unspoken newspaper adage, that local lives are worth a whole lot more than the lives of people elsewhere. "Bluffton bus crash scares local families"? Why does the Enquirer think it's headline news if families are scared? There are scared families all over Cincinnati. Just go to Children's Hospital any day of the week, or drive through Avondale. The news that six people died is only given below the fold, in small type in the deck, where the Enquirer also finds it necessary to tell us that two other local people didn't make the trip. The story doesn't say six people died until the 11th paragraph. The Enquirer doesn't even tell us on the front page where in Ohio Bluffton University is in relation to Cincinnati. Usually newspapers provide a locater map, but the Enquirer's art staff is so thin they probably didn't have anyone to do it on Friday.

Other newspapers managed to play the news of six deaths more prominently. Note how the Ohio papers used more graphics than the Enquirer:
The Enquirer's approach is parochialism at its worst. What is a reader supposed to think? "It's a shame about those six people, but I sure am glad nobody local was killed." The Enquirer dishonors the families of the dead by taking this angle, and simultaneously plays its readers for fools.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The late late news

You can't spell "news" with out "new". So why did it take the Enquirer five days to report the death of Brian Rowe, chairman emeritus of GE aircraft engines? GE put out a press release on his death on Feb. 22, and the Enquirer didn't print it until Feb. 27. (Thank you to an email tipster for that one.) And the Enquirer reports today that Fifth Third is putting its CEO on the board of directors. Fifth Third put that news out on Tuesday. Note how the Enquirer obscures the date of release by saying "this week."

The problem is that the Enquirer newsroom simply doesn't have enough people to cover a city this size. If news like this is delayed three to five days, what else is the Enquirer missing? If you can't report news in a timely manner, that's not a formula for getting more people to read the Enquirer.

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Education Writers of America awards. Education is one area the Enquirer seems to stress, but still the paper can't produce award-winning journalism. There is a category for opinion; the Enquirer's mushy editorials, however, didn't make the cut. Both the Akron Beacon Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer won awards in this competition.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The point

cindi andrews, commenting in this February 26 post, said
Congratulations -- you have successfully used technology to turn journalistic angst into a spectator sport. I wonder what it accomplishes, though. Do you think the honchos in Northern Virginia are going to wake up one day, read your words of wisdom and triple the Enquirer's staff?

When you get tired of beating this dead horse, maybe you could try something more productive, like giving us the thoughtful news coverage that the Enquirer lacks, or finding a job that doesn't make you miserable.

But I'm probably missing the point of a blog ...

This blog is my rant. I speak only for myself. I choose not to provide my name because the Enquirer is run by people who are small minded and vindictive, and I don't need the headache.

I'm doing this because few others are calling out the bullshit that the Enquirer considers to be journalism. Lists are not journalism, calendars are not journalism, and Wednesday's clip-and-save guide to Newport on the Levee is not journalism. Newspapers in cities this size don't have to be so crappy. The Enquirer is crappy by choice. I know there are lots of good people who work in the newsroom, and they work hard. But the people who run the Enquirer have set the expectations very low, because it's cheaper that way. The Enquirer is doing Cincinnati a great disservice, and I'm writing this blog to let them know we're smarter than they think we are, and we can see what they're doing. I think most of what I do here is to state the obvious.

I keep tabs on "more awards the Enquirer didn't win" to point out the paper's total lack of ambition. You can't even do good journalism if you're not trying to be great once in a while. I'm sorry, but the Ohio AP awards aren't a big deal. And though the Enquirer won two awards and two honorable mentions in the Associated Press Sports Editors competition, 45 newspapers won awards in their bracket (100,000-250,000 circulation). There were 10 winners in every category, so it's hard not to win something.

Aside from Borgman's Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, the Enquirer has never won or been a finalist for a Pulitzer for its reporting, photography or criticism. It's not impossible for a newspaper in a city like Cincinnati to win. Just since 1980, the Louisville Courier-Journal has won 3 Pulizters and been a finalist 5 times. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Toledo Blade, the Dayton Daily News, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Indianapolis Star and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have all won Pulitzers since 1980. Even the Lorain fucking Journal was a finalist in 1985. Just so you know, they don't give Pulitzers for local reporting. Dayton's 1998 Pulitzer was for National Reporting. The Enquirer has goose eggs, and Cincinnati is not to blame. The Enquirer just doesn't know how to be great, and has no desire to be.

So, read this blog or don't read it, I don't care. Like or don't like it, I don't care. I know Tom Callinan and the boys in Northern Virginia aren't reading this, so I don't harbor any delusions that this blog will somehow make the Enquirer better. You can call me a whiner, call me an arse, tell me this blog has deteriorated from "intelligent criticism," I don't care. This is not a full-time job for me. I write when something moves me and when I have the time. I never promised anyone intelligent criticism. The truth is the Enquirer commits that one great sin of journalism every day -- it's just boring -- and most days there's very little you can say about that.

[ UPDATE: This year there is a Pulitzer category for local reporting, which replaces beat reporting. This article speculates on who will win when the awards are chosen next week. Guess which newspaper isn't mentioned. ]