John Kiesewetter is back where he started more than a quarter-century ago, reporting on suburban issues and events for The Cincinnati Enquirer, an unfortunate move that leaves the TV/radio beat vacant. Even three months later, the change still generates a buzz among TV and radio executives, as well as current and former staffers at the newspaper.
That The Enquirer has chosen to discontinue TV/radio coverage has left both staffers and media executives scratching their heads: Huh? For 18 years Kiesewetter covered the TV/radio beat, chronicling the comings and goings of media personalities, analyzing the focus of local coverage, criticizing and praising both the inane and superb offerings of network and cable programs.
The Enquirer isn't talking. Sara Pearce, Kiesewetter's editor in the Tempo section, where his stories appeared, referred questions to Tom Callinan, editor and vice president of the paper. Callinan could not be reached.
Others could, both in the newspaper and broadcast business. For his part, Kiesewetter himself isn't saying anything; those still at The Enquirer won't speak for attribution.
The explanation people are hearing — not officially — is that surveys have shown younger audiences aren't interested in TV/radio news, that they want more local news (as if TV and radio aren't) and that the beat was eliminated and Kiesewetter reassigned to Butler County to meet that need. So now we have more zoning stories from a county township, while radio talk show hosts like Lincoln Ware ask, "If Clyde Gray leaves Channel 9 news, who's going to tell us about that? How would we know what happened?"
Kiesewetter, according to The Enquirer Web site, went to the paper in the summer of 1975 as an intern covering suburban issues. He then graduated to assistant city editor, suburban editor and Tempo features editor before he began covering the TV/radio beat in 1985. He followed a long and noble list of TV/radio beat reporters that stretched — in at least the past 30 or more years — back to Marty Hogan, Steve Hoffman, Tom Brinkmoeller at The Enquirer, to Mary Wood, P.J. Bednarski, David Klein, Greg Paeth and Rick Bird at The Cincinnati Post. It was a noble tradition that mirrored the richness of local TV and radio programming in Cincinnati.
"A city the size of Cincinnati, with the media tradition that it has and the excellent coverage that Kiesewetter in particular has provided, is something that is worthy of continuing," says Rich Eiswerth, president and CEO of WGUC. "The Enquirer dropped the ball."
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a longtime radio DJ, is angry about the decision.
"Kiesewetter had an opinion about a lot of things and didn't hesitate to exercise it," Rhodes says. "I thought he did a great job of covering broadcast media. What they replaced him with is canned stuff. I think it's ridiculous. I am disappointed. I think a lot of people are, from what I hear."
Even station executives who don't always appreciate a negative review or criticism of programming decisions are shaking their heads.
Chris Sehring, general manager of WKRC-TV, Channel 12, is among them.
"I'm disappointed," he says. "It's always been a love-hate relationship with TV critics. But I found John Kiesewetter to be a pretty good guy. He had his opinion and we had ours. But wherever I've been, we've always had a local critic, somebody to focus on local media. John did a good job of covering it."
Those still at The Enquirer say the move left morale in a shambles, with staffers wondering who's next but, more importantly, what beat is going to be short-circuited in the future. Some are holding their breath. More than a dozen staffers wore black armbands the day he left the Tempo section for the bureau in Butler County. Some who have talked say Kiesewetter was wounded, even devastated, by what happened. It was a journalistic sucker punch, they say.
In October, Sue MacDonald, who doesn't pull any punches — and who has been gone from the paper since January 2000 — wrote to the publisher.
"If you think that young readers don't need local TV coverage because they don't watch TV, you're sorely mistaken," she wrote. "In my experience — and I'm surrounded by twenty and thirtysomethings here at work — they do not read, period. They don't read newspapers, they don't read magazines, and what news they find, they find on the Internet or on TV. But lordy, they do watch TV. ... These kinds of short-sighted and unfounded decisions will drive even more longtime readers away and give younger readers even fewer reasons to pick up The Enquirer."
MacDonald has more to say.
"To take somebody of John's caliber and his professionalism and his status in the whole TV-radio community and put him back to where he started 27 years ago is a total insult — not only to him, but the readers," MacDonald tells CityBeat.
In fairness, not everyone is of the same mind when it comes to TV/radio news. At least one staffer questioned the wisdom of a full-time TV/radio reporter when readers are demanding more and more local news.
"It was unexpected," the staffer said. "But I can tell you that people want local news — local, local, local."
In a letter addressed to The Enquirer, five public station managers expressed regret of the decision to discontinue the beat and reassign Kiesewetter.
"John's columns have reflected a focus on the entertainment value of television and radio," the letter said. "But they have also shown his thoughtful analysis of the media world we live in. He has earned the gratitude of his readers for his sensitivity to the family and social issues raised by television. And he has earned the respect of his colleagues, as shown by his presidency of the newspaper industry's television critics' association. This region has a rich broadcasting history. Eliminating the radio-TV position disconnects readers from that history and removes The Enquirer from big-league status."
Lew Moores worked 30 years as a reporter for The Cincinnati Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Contact him at [email protected]