The Cincinnati Post-Enquirer? Or a new life?

As a reporter at The Cincinnati Post – and a freelancer at that – my eyes get a little wet thinking about its likely impending demise. But every so often I get a glimmer of hope when I hear someone tell me how much they have appreciated The Post over the years. It happens a lot – and by well-known people and everyday citizens. It’s been remarkable and something – whether its nostalgia or honest-to-goodness heartfelt truth – I rarely ever heard reporting for any other paper.

Not that I have anything against The Cincinnati Enquirer. I loved and am thankful for the many years and many times I got to work for and with my colleagues there. I learned a lot about journalism from the copy editors and reporters I pestered incessantly in my days as a copy boy/news aide, geez, starting back in 1998. I am thankful for the internship I had there in 2000 that helped me get jump-started in this profession. In fact, I have some great friends who work there and even more people I do not know well but greatly respect who also work there. I know, as a public, we like to criticize that paper (and that’s a good thing), but so many journalists there are true professionals.

But something happens when a town goes to just one daily newspaper. News cycles tend to follow the newspapers. By their own admission, TV, radio and, well, the hyper-critical Bloggers-know-best cacophony of local Bloggers and aggregate news Web sites follow suit. And with that, one viewpoint. One idea of what’s news. It’s dangerous in our democracy. And now we know, unlike what some predicted the Internet would help solve, the world could still use a few professional journalists carrying the torch.

And, some would rightly say, for the most part, in Cincinnati single-sided news has already happened, despite the fact that The Post is still publishing, albeit with a diet-sized reporting staff.

Next year, The Cincinnati Post’s 30-year-old joint operating agreement with The Cincinnati Enquirer will end. And some would rightly say, so would The Post. Gannett officials informed Scripps executives they have no intention of continuing the agreement. Why would they? Their dunk-and-drown, pillow-over-the-face smothering of The Post has just about done the trick and is nearly complete. (Did you know when the agreement was signed in 1977, The Post had a higher circulation than the Enquirer?)

Hold the press a second. Something is afoot, something rather remarkable. Local newspapers around the country are being bought up by… holy crap!…locals. It has not happened here, like its happening in Los Angeles and Baltimore and elsewhere.

But could it? Maybe.

First, a reporter from the Enquirer came up to me at a news scene and asked whether The Post would be buying The Enquirer. Cute, I thought. But not very funny. Turns out, he was serious – and maybe on to something.

Then, a prominent former politician – just a few weeks later – told me the same thing and added, “I’m helping some Scripps investors accomplish this.” A few weeks later, I confirmed discussions were happening with the Scripps family and Scripps executives and Gannett officials about this very deal. Scripps owns both The Cincinnati Post and The Kentucky Post and WCPO-TV locally, plus own a wide array of successful cable networks such as DIY Television, The Food Network and Home & Garden Television, along with a bunch of others.

Scripps analysts hate the newspaper business. But they love that cable operation. Scripps family stockholders love the newspaper business and, I would assume, love the money, but maybe aren’t so thrilled with the cable business, or so I am told. Hmmm.

Things got more interesting when another, different prominent local politician said a group of business people are working to buy The Post when the JOA ends. They would like to run The Post head-to-head in the morning against the Enquirer. I like that idea even more.

Is it a long shot? Probably. Impossible? Not at all. Profitable? Tough to say. But, for now, the talk is good news all around. Especially with the information that people around the country – those with the capabilities to do so – are buying up newspapers for the common good. Stay tuned. Or, ahem, keep reading…

All the paralysis one can stand – literally

I absolutely love stories like this. People never cease to amaze me and occasionally, while doing it, make me chuckle pretty hard. The woman in this story was one of ’em.

Reminded me of a story I was telling today, actually. Those of you who knew me then, might remember it. When I was a resident advisor in Calhoun Hall at the University of Cincinnati back in 1996 I had a student on my floor who had conned a nice, innocent wannabe-popular kid into buying him a whole entertainment system – just for the promise of repayment, and his friendship.

When the bill came due, the con refused to pay. I had to call UC police to quell the arguments and fights that broke out after that.

When police came and started talking over the incident with the student they got suspicious and ran a warrant check on him. Turns out he was wanted in a couple states for defrauding people and businesses, including a several-thousand dollar vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. that he somehow had talked his way into not paying for until he left, which he didn’t do.

Personally, being on the lam from Mickey Mouse is pretty pathetic, I think. Especially if Sheriff Donald Duck makes the arrest.

Ah, the memories. Needless to say, this guy moved out. Never heard from again, but seems there still might be a few out there like the guy. And the ha-has will keep coming.

Kabaka Oba shot outside City Hall

It was a very eventful and sad day Wednesday. On my new City Hall beat for The Cincinnati Post, I’m discovering I’ll never know what might happen. Kabaka Oba – or anyone, for that matter – being shot right in front of City Hall, during a City Council meeting, no less, was not in my Top Ten of things I thought I’d ever see.

I wrote a first person and a main news story about yesterday’s events for The Post. I will likely share more about what happened yesterday here.

For now, though, I am discovering more and more why I love journalism. Not because of what I get to see (though that sometimes is true), but because of what I get to experience in the life of this city, this state, this country, this world – the good, the bad and the ugly.

On a weirdly happier note, Mama was proud this morning. I made The New York Times. Even if is only me, in a photo, on a cell phone, doing my job – and with the sad circumstances unfolding before me.

Campus open records ain’t so open, apparently

I learned about the Ohio University SPJ chapter doing their Ohio public university open records audit last fall and eagerly awaited their results. I had a sneaking suspicion they might find some uncooperative campuses. And geez, did they.

Nearly 60 percent of all records requested by the students were denied, while 24 percent were provided “no questions asked” another 17 percent were handed over after student identified themselves as journalists. Ohio law makes no special provisions for access to documents by journalists as compared to non-journalist citizens.

Gregory Korte, SPJ’s Ohio Freedom of Information co-chairperson, has written about this audit on the Ohio SPJ FOI Web site. It’s also been written about by The Cincinnati Enquirer, among other publications.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for a democracy to work transparency is paramount. Though some documents can and should be sealed by the government, the vast majority should not. The public must have a right to know how their government acts, works and functions – or doesn’t – on their behalf.

Lately there has been a dramatic shift away from open, easily-accessible public records. When in the past federal records, for example, were given away unless there was substantial reasons requiring their secrecy, the exact opposite is now true. It seems to be spilling downward as policy-makers and courts begin to shift away from this transparency.

And what does this mean to non-journalists? It means reporters cannot do their jobs as effectively. In turn, the public knows less about what their government is doing – from police officers to mayors to courts to jailers – it goes on and on. And that, folks, ain’t good any way you slice it.

Read the campus open records audit report.

Veteran journalist Al Salvato dead at 56

Some days just suck. And today, it appears, is going to be one of them. I just learned that my friend, mentor, veteran journalist and all-around good guy Al Salvato died unexpectedly Monday after complications related to his battle with leukemia. I really don’t know what to say. He was supposed to be fine.
Stunned wouldn’t even begin to describe the feelings I’m having right now. In a profession that is sAl Salvato in The News Record newsroom/Photo by Megan McNameso competitive, impersonal and often cutthroat, it’s rare anyone meets someone like Al. It seemed no matter when I popped by campus or phoned him, he was always ready to talk a little shop. He encouraged me to keep plugging away, even when circumstances and my own will seemed determined to get the best of me. After devastating developments in my own professional life last March, I found my way to the chair across from his inside his UC office. He was his usual supportive self, offering to make calls and quickly jotted down a long list of editors he knew that I should call to look for a new job. This was a minor setback, he assured me. It helped give me the strength to go on a bit more, to keep trying, to remain confident in my abilities as a journalist.

In our often long conversations I learned so much about the business and his passion for it. I liked looking at the framed 8-by-10 house ad from The Cincinnati Post he had on top of his bookcase. It was him, sometime in the 1970s, I think, leaning against a wall, with his arms crossed, wearing a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up. The consumate reporter, I would think, looking at the black-and-white re-print. It was obvious he was proud of it, though he’d brush off any references to it. The copy next to the photo spoke of his achievements as a reporter and, subtly, how the readers of The Post should be proud that they get to read Al’s work. It was neat to see.

I couldn’t stop telling him how impressed and proud I was that he influenced such dramatic changes at the University of Cincinnati’s student newspaper, The News Record. When I was a student at UC our paper was not really anything to be proud of. I’d tell fellow students back then I worked at the paper and they’d retort, “Oh, you mean The News Retched.” Even as bad as it was, that place whetted my appetite for journalism (and then the night-side staffers at The Cincinnati Enquirer solidified it when I was a news aide there in the late 90s). I struggled to deal with how bad The News Record was and how much I wanted it to be better. Students today do not have to worry about that. They have Al to thank.
Back then the paper was bad, it was corrupt and the people there didn’t care too much. Al came along and changed all that. A few years ago the paper won “Best Student Newspaper” at the Ohio SPJ Awards. It beat out powerhouses like Ohio University’s student newspaper, backed, arguably, by one of the top-three journalism programs in the country. I could not have been prouder, though I had nothing to do with it. Al did, and I could hold my head high and say, “Yeah, I went to that school.” It was a special moment.

Later Al asked me to join the UC Communications Board. The “Comm Board”, as it is known colloquially, was the big Higher Power that could right wrongs and make sweeping changes to the paper. Back when I was a student I always hoped they’d be the ones to save our paper. It seemed the only hope for fixing all the wacky things that were going on. Now, I would sit on this board and help guide the students into making this paper the best it could be. It was and has been a true honor. Al made that happen.

Al and I last spoke Wednesday about his coup, of sorts: landing The New York Times’ Joe Treaster to keynote our upcoming SPJ regional convention. He sounded a little hoarse on the phone, apologizing a few times for coughing, but saying, overall, he was feeling better. He told me and others he expected to be back at work yesterday. Instead, he died.

An avid runner, YMCA volunteer and coordinator of the Flying Pig marathon, he knew what it meant to be a journalist and be active in his community. It’s something we shared (though not the running – he would have kicked my butt there).

It’s been a rough morning, bleeding now into the afternoon. I just spoke to another colleague who said Al’s wife was by his side when he died. It breaks my heart to think about it. I just sent an e-mail out to 1,500 SPJ members and media people. One of the nice things about being a leader in SPJ is I get to hear about things usually first. So, when I send out an e-mail to so many people, some reply their own thoughts. This time replies, as one would expect, have been exceptional and emotional.
Many have echoed my own thoughts about what a warm, kind, caring, professional person he was, but added that they never knew a better editor, a gentler friend and more competent colleague. Some had known him decades, they’ve said.

I liked one response in particular. Bill Sloat, Cincinnati correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote me this: “(Al) is probably chasing a story in heaven right now. Or meeting Mencken and John Peter Zenger. I can imagine Mike Kelley handling the introductions.”

I bet he’s right. Another fine addition to that great newsroom in the sky. God bless you, Al. I couldn’t have written it better myself.

View obituary in The Kentucky Post

View obituary in The Cincinnati Enquirer

View story in The News Record

Former News Record staffers, students and friends remember Al

View Pat Crowley’s column in The Kentucky Enquirer

Al Salvato ’s funeral arrangements (confirmed)

Visitation is 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 2, 2006 at Muehlenkamp-Erschell Funeral Home, 427 S. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, Ky. Get Directions

Mass of Christian Burial is 11 a.m. Friday, March 3, 2006 at St. Catherine of Siena Church, 1803 N. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, Ky. Get Directions

Presidential motor-what?

Here’s something you don’t see everyday in downtown Cincinnati: A presidential motorcade. Realizing that President Bush would likely be traveling down Interstate 75-71 and then along Fort Washington Way and up Interstate 71 to Indian Hill, I decided to perch myself (and my Mom, who came down at the last minute) on top of the Carew Tower to watch it pass by. I brought the camera along.

It was really incredible to see. When I got to the top of the Carew Tower, plopped down my $2 and walked outside, I could see that northbound I-75/71 in Kentucky was shut down. A few minutes later police stopped traffic by Eighth Street on the Ohio side and shortly after that an array of red and blue blinking lights appeared over the Cut-in-the-Hill. Remarkable. It wound its way down to the river, over the Brent Spence Bridge and right beneath us on Fort Washington Way, and on over and up I-71 to the dinner that would net Sen. Mike DeWine some hefty cash. Regardless, cool to see.

The first photo shows the presidential limousine traveling along Fort Washington Way. The second shows a wider view of the whole caravan heading up Interstate 71 just east of downtown Cincinnati. Click on images to enlarge.

Presidential limousine

Presidential motorcade

Photos of Mark Mallory’s Union Terminal Swearing In Ceremony

Tonight I headed over to Union Terminal to see a reenactment of today’s earlier swearing-in ceremony for Cincinnati’s new mayor, Mark Mallory. Filled with much more pomp and circumstance than the day’s traditional Oath of Office ceremonies held this afternoon at City Hall (where also City Council members were sworn in), this was more a party than a ceremony, though there was much speech-giving and back-slapping. And I guess deservedly so.
It’s another side of the city that I don’t think many get to (or maybe want to) see. That’s why I’m here. I brought my camera to the occasion and snapped a few photos. Admittedly not my best work (my flash was on the fritz), but I think it still captures the feel of the night (and a lot of the Who’s Who that were there). Enjoy.

PHOTO CAPTIONS: In the first photo, Mayor Mallory was sworn in by his brother, the newly-re-elected William L. Mallory, Jr. In the lower photo a painted portrait of the new mayor is unveiled in front of the audience toward the end of the ceremony.

Scenes from the Hamilton County Board of Elections

No doubt about it. It was an interesting night to be at the Board of Elections.
On an evening when it appears the shape and form of city government was changing right before our very eyes, it was neat to be at the epicenter of all the celebrating and tears and cheering and back slapping and giant bear hugs and happy disbelief among the first-time winners.
Leslie Ghiz saw me as she walked into the press room. I could not help myself and grinned from ear-to-ear. I was so happy for her and we gave each other a big hug and a kiss – not because I was rooting for her necessarily. It was just the moment, and journalist or not – you just feel happy for people who are just so rightfully happy for themselves. It was like few things I have experienced before – and never at the Board of Elections. You could have sliced the good karma in the room and served it up to outsiders like pumpkin pie.
Reporters, print and television alike, chatted among themselves and into TV cameras about how a new day seemed to be dawning in Cincinnati politics. Then you look around the room and see the new faces hugging the incumbents, then they shift quickly and start talking business with serious looks on their faces – staring fervently right into each others eyes, a glaze fixed on the future. You couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful.
There was a sense and chatter about how things look like they are going to be different than they have been in my memory and quite possibly the memory of many people in the room (I didn’t get around to asking Jim Tarbell – he’d know for sure). A new mayor, four new faces on City Council, even a radically different Cincinnati Public Schools school board. Wow. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next.
[I took photos of part of the evening and recorded audio for Friday’s Cincinnati Advance Radio. We’ll be talking about the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Please tune in.]

Second Congressional Results: Moisture caused Clermont County ballots to be delayed

Covering the results for Reuters in the Hackett/Schmidt fight for Ohio’s Second Congressional District Tuesday evening at the Hamilton County Board of Elections turned out to be a later night than most expected. Why? Clermont County couldn’t count their votes.

A Cincinnati Enquirer story neglected to mention why the ballots were late, but quoted Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke as saying he wasn’t sure what the hell happened.

An unused portion of the story I filed for Reuters neglected to mention an explantion put forth by Hamilton County Board of Elections executive director John Williams. Apparently humidity in the air allowed moisture to seep into the Clermont ballots thus making them uncountable until they returned to the ambient room temperature where the machines were located at the Clermont County BOE. Clermont uses an optical-scan method for collecting and tallying votes.

Williams went on to say that he felt that eventually all counties would be required to use this system – and he isn’t happy about it for reasons like Tuesday’s delay. He advocates continued use of the punch-card method and buying an additional device than can electronically check the punch cards for over-voting and hanging chads.

“We’ve used the current system for 30 years,” Williams said. “I bet in another ten years we’ll go back to something like the punch cards.”

Winburn predicts Pepper and himself in general election

I’m not a political reporter. But covering the Hackett/Schmidt results Tuesday evening for Reuters kind of made me one – for one evening anyway. And the radio show has made me a general assignment reporter on all sorts of beats all summer long. I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed exploring other areas through the show, and with my freelancing.

During my time at the Hamilton County Board of Elections I had the opportunity to meet Republican-endorsed mayoral candidate Charlie Winburn. As I worked on my Reuters story on my laptop just feet away, shortly after we met, I heard Winburn predict talking to a group of supporters that after the primary September 13 he’d be in a race for the Mayor’s chair between him and David Pepper.

Pretty interesting, I thought. Guess predictions by candidates aren’t necessarily news, but his confidence is pretty interesting.