Cover Story: The Final Year

What would you do if you ran The Post and had a year to live?

Feb 21, 2007 at 2:06 pm
J. Patrick Moynahan

Click here for The Post's full operations timeline. Deadlines are the great motivator of the newsroom. Reporters and editors live by them. Now The Cincinnati Post faces its last and most important deadline: What to do with the final year of publication?

We asked top journalists — some of them former Post staffers — what they would do if they had the opportunity to steer the newspaper in its last year.

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, worked at The Post from 1973 to 1997 as copy aide, reporter, business reporter and business editor.

"I'd try something else. With input from the staff, I would decide on a handful of issues to cover in-depth in a way that could make a difference. That could be done even with a minimum staff if you ignore a lot of what everybody else covers. In a newspaper's last year, that becomes a real possibility."

Paul Clark, arts and entertainment editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer, worked at The Post from 1988 to 1995.

"I remember proposing in the '90s that Scripps turn The Post into a laboratory rat for its newspaper group. Immunity from circulation pressures made this the perfect specimen. The idea was to create an aggressive Web entity while rethinking every aspect of the print edition from Page 1 to the comics. Seriously, why is a feature as graphics-driven as the comics still designed in Exacto-knife stacks? Could the mix include tryout comics, vintage strips, periodic amateur submissions? What did we have to lose if we tried a tabloid format?

"Post Editor Mike Philipps, who's done a stellar job amid rapidly diminishing resources, needs no advice from me. So I prefer to imagine myself wearing stripes at the Scripps corporate offices, where I'd make sure he had iron support for this exit strategy: Go long. Throw the bomb. Don't worry about all of the paper-of-record stuff. Pull your best people off the grind and do the stories you've dreamed of doing. Let The Post bite the dust with guns blazing."

John Nerone is a professor of media studies at the University of Illinois and co-author of The Form of News: A History.

"The Post and other newspapers in the Scripps chain — the first significant modern newspaper chain — were part of a second wave of cheap popular newspapers, begun in the 1870s. The Scripps newspapers remained populist longer than the others, mostly because they declined to spend the money to become overall market leaders. They continued to publish in the afternoon for a segmented audience of wage earners and, although they were cheap with their own workers, editorially they always supported unions and criticized the 'money power.'

"If The Post is really in its final year, I'd hope it would return to its roots in a concerted way. ... U.S. newspapers have abandoned big sections of their readerships, including the working class. I'd love to see Scripps make a grand gesture and reach out to exactly that class of readers that first made its newspaper properties important — and profitable. Can we expect such bold thinking from the media company that now makes its best money off of its cable TV Home and Garden channel?"

Mark Fitzgerald is editor-at-large of Editor & Publisher.

"The Post has been bled of resources, so it would be hard to go on. On behalf of the chain I was working for, I'd try to convince my corporate masters to engage in some kind of experiment in journalism that either the domestic market has thought about or that you see in Europe. But the JOA partner can veto any of those kinds of attempts. If you want to do something truly radical, maybe go free. I'd spend that last year as an experiment that the rest of the industry could see if it catches fire at all."

Bob Kraft, account executive at Dan Pinger Public Relations, worked at The Post from 1977 to 2001.

"I'd want to make readers think, 'You're gonna miss us when we're gone.' I'd remind the readers of all the talent that came through town. I can name some of that talent in my day, but I'd go back to the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, find some of those names, too. But you're gonna miss us when we're gone.

"I would remind people that Mike Sokolove — currently a contributor to The New York Times Magazine — worked here, that Mike Kelly worked here, that P.J. Bednarski — a very popular and talented TV critic in late '70s and early '80s — worked here, that Walt Friedenberg worked here. I would want to remind people about the role the paper played in exposing Boss Cox and other major stories you could go back and mention."

Bob Mong, executive editor of The Dallas Morning News, worked at The Post from 1972 to 1975.

"If I were editor of The Post in terminus, I'd bring the staff together for a retreat and identify the biggest problem facing the city. Let's say the staff concluded that promised reforms at the police department had stalled or were being covertly sabotaged internally. If that's the case, I'd march over to Scripps corporate headquarters with an ambitious plan that would request money to hire a first-rate consulting firm ... and team my best reporters and best editor with the consultants and go figure out what's been happening, why the reforms aren't working, quantify the operational excellence of the department as compared to comparably sized cities, poll the citizens of Cincinnati about their views of police effectiveness and try to produce a piece of work that is journalistically first-rate, instructive, hard-hitting and in the public good.

"The editorial page would participate, too, and produce a list of actionable recommendations. Think it can't be done in the time left? Think again. Consultants move very fast and very accurately. The reporters would learn a lot in the process, and so would the consultants. Be a hell of a feather for Scripps, too."

Tom Kunkel is dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and president of American Journalism Review. He worked at The Post as a copy editor and assistant features editor from 1978 to 1980.

"I'd have tried to use the unique situation to do something special and original. I'd do something very different, like devote a big chunk of the first page literally every day to something I might call 'The Story of Cincinnati.' I'm fairly confident it would be a real mix of approaches — sometimes historical, sometimes biographical, sometimes photographic, sometimes poetic, sometimes even short stories or maybe a year-long serial — all adding up the life of a city. ... (It would be) the Bible, with five-way chili and Hudy. The last day would be the life and death of The Post."

J. Patrick Moynahan, vice provost of Northern Kentucky University, worked at The Kentucky Post from 1984 to 1991 as city editor and assistant managing editor.

"I'd continue to do what The Post has always done, which is provide very local coverage for as long as possible with the staff resources you have. Do it every day. Keep digging up until the very end."

Henry Holcomb, a business reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, worked at The Post from 1984 to 1991.

"Many years ago while in Cincinnati, a dear friend from the church I attended there, Dr. James Fidler, a kidney transplant surgeon, and I were chatting after dinner one evening about our jobs. He declared that my job was similar to his in that, as city editor, I looked at the community the way he looked at a patient, searching for clues or symptoms of problems that merit a closer look. A good doctor studied symptoms while a less diligent doctor might be tempted to treat symptoms, he suggested. A good reporter or editor, he went on, pursued leads to find out what was really going on, while a lesser journalist just wrote about or used what was on the surface.

"What we both do truly matters to the health of the patient and the community, Jim said as we sipped coffee in his living room. I've thought about that ever since. So wherever I'm on a newspaper, I feel compelled to do my best for the readers every day no matter what is going on at the company that owns it. What we do matters — in the last year, last month, even on the last day. In short, I'd just keep working." ©