Media Musings From Cincinnati and Beyond

Cincinnati thugs threaten and sometimes kill people they fear will testify against them or their buddies. Police and prosecutors often complain about the lack of cooperating witnesses. It’s no secret. The Enquirer reports it.

Cincinnati thugs threaten and sometimes kill people they fear will testify against them or their buddies. Police and prosecutors often complain about the lack of cooperating witnesses.

It’s no secret. The Enquirer reports it.

People who know too much have reason to fear.

So why did the paper run a reporter’s photo and story about seeing the shooter in a fatal OTR encounter?                       

It’s time for the grown-ups to take back the newsroom or someone to risk his or her corporate future by saying, “This is insane!”

I’m not faulting the reporter. I don’t know or care whose idea it was to urge or order her to write a first-person story.

Here’s some of what she wrote (with added emphasis):

“At first, I didn’t even think the sound was gunshots. I have been to a shooting range before and heard shots. But these shots weren’t loud and booming, like what you see in the movies. They were short and high-pitched, a popping noise.

“My split second reaction was that it was fireworks or someone playing with a fake gun. But then I turned around and saw a man with his arm outstretched and a gun in his hand.

She continued a couple graphs later:

“My body immediately went into survival mode. I ducked into a small entryway that was protected from the street. I flattened my back to the glass of the storefront, hoping the man wouldn’t see me. At this point, I finally began to register what had happened and my thoughts began racing. ‘Did the shooter see me?’ ‘Will he try to shoot me?’ ‘I’m trapped in this entryway. What if he comes around the corner?’

“ … I stood there paralyzed for what seemed like eternity, but in reality it was probably only a few seconds. I don’t exactly remember what happened next — I was still in survival mode — but I must have peeked around the corner because I saw the shooter get in his car and U-turn, heading North on Vine Street.”            

Her byline story was displayed below the jump to an inside page; she was not credited in the main story. That honor went to reporters who didn’t see the shooting.

And I won’t even go into the inept copy editing that left out the vital detail in the main story that dominated Page 1 that day: Did the victim live or die?

The headline said “fatal” but the story in my home-delivered Enquirer said only that the victim was “declared” at the hospital. Declared? “Ecce homo?”

Telling the killer the name of a witness, where she works and providing her photo goes beyond the Enquirer’s practice of trying to personalize its reporters. It goes beyond stupid.

Editors put their reporter’s life in danger for a one-day story. The suspected killer was on the run when the story appeared in the paper and online.

The reporter did a good, controlled job of telling us what she saw and, to a lesser degree, how she felt and acted. However, any thoughtful analysis of the cost/benefit imbalance would have argued for a depersonalized contribution to Enquirer coverage of another OTR homicide.

Police say it was a targeted killing. Most are. Few people are killed by stray bullets or nut cases who machine-gun people in a movie theater.

Police arrested and charged a man but he was on the run and probably armed when the reporter’s name, place of employment and photo appeared in print and online.

As the paper noted after a suspect appeared in court, the prosecutor asked for high bail in part because of the possibility of “harm or threatening to witnesses.”

CityBeat scored a coup with publication of the long, deeply reported and clearly written project by students in a UC class on investigative reporting (“Robin Hood in Reverse,” issue of May 6). It exposes and explains how UC and other state universities in Ohio — with the exception of OSU — milk student fees and tuition to support ever more costly varsity sports. That didn’t surprise me, nor did the escalation of sports budgets.

The most valuable part of the story was the way students documented the coincidental and similarly rapid decline in spending on faculty and students.

Jimromenesko.com did a major take on the UC reporting with an illustration of last week’s CityBeat cover. Romensko also quoted Assistant Prof. Craig Flournoy’s explanation why his students didn’t want to publish it in UC’s
The News Record:

“The students decided to go with CityBeat because they liked the idea of it being a cover story and because the weekly could more easily accommodate a 5,200-word story, three charts and photos.”

• WLW’s Bill Cunningham took off on Friday’s Enquirer opinion page where a guest column claimed that disgraced Judge Tracie Hunter is a vendetta victim. However, he was so eager to share his loathing of the paper that he attributed those opinions to the Enquirer rather than to writer Vivian Rodgers.

Willie trades in rage. This time, he sucked in Mike Allen, a former prosecutor who was a guest on the show. Allen needed little prodding to join Cunningham in damning Enquirer editorials.

However, Willie didn’t tell Allen that they were bloviating about a guest column that wasn’t an Enquirer editorial. Didn’t matter. Allen said he hadn’t read it.

• Sunday’s Enquirer updated its perennial coverage of deteriorating Cincinnati streets. Maybe the paper will look into the city’s reimbursement policy for damage done by city streets to passing vehicles. A deep curb lane pothole on MLK broke my tire and the city refused to pay.

I think this is what the rejection letter said: As long as the pothole is fixed in a reasonable period after the city is notified of its existence, there is no obligation to pay. I guess that means by telling the city of the hazard, I ruined my chance of reimbursement.

• Ads pay the journalists who create my morning papers. The more the better. I’ve rarely seen an ad I didn’t like. But the Enquirer maintains a tacky policy of not telling readers when a special section is essentially an ad or an ad disguised as editorial copy.

The latest was Sunday’s “Nursing Now” section produced by the paper’s Specialty Content Department. That’s not the news department. By all means, sell the ads and promise to wrap them in upbeat, positive copy but identify the sections as “promotional” or “advertising” or anything that sets them off from the news.

And please, don’t tell me that different type faces or layout should signal this to readers. Further confusing the reader is the use of respected reporters’ bylines on promotional copy.

• An unending problem is keeping news columns clean of bias and the appearance of bias even as the paper tells readers what its management believes is important.

A classic failure of newsroom discipline is what we used to call “editorializing,” the ethical misstep when a news story takes sides or suggests the reporter’s bias, opinion or preference. It can be overt or subtle.

Either way, editorializing abuses and erodes readers’ trust. For instance, a recent USA Today story reported Obama’s use of the presidential pardon. Based on a USA Today analysis, he’s not giving many, even compared to recent predecessors. But high in the story was this phrase:

“Critics of Obama's lackluster use of the pardon say …”

I’ve added the italic emphasis, but “lackluster” isn’t attributed to anyone. Instead, it’s the reporter’s judgment. It might be valid, but it’s out of place in a news story.  

An editor should have let readers judge whether the facts in the story speak well or ill of Obama’s actions. 

USA Today’s section in a recent Sunday Enquirer tells me that the national paper’s editors need to get a grip on their fantasies. The Page 1 headline was “Baby makes four (4th in line).” That was OK. Below it, the subhed read, “World goes gaga over birth of British princess.” 

Maybe royalists at McClean, Va., headquarters were gaga, ordering commemorative cups and spoons, but for most of the world, this was a) a non-event or b) further evidence of unspeakable wealth and privilege or c) an illustration of medical care and bedside grooming that most of the world cannot imagine or d) more than one of the above.  

Exaggeration is fine in opinion pieces but spare me in so-called news columns. 

• Which brings me to a different kind of fixation at the New York Times. A recent article carried the headline, “Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat Is the Luxury You Won’t Want to Live Without.” Not true.

The demonstrably false headline is further proof that the Times — as in other papers — has differing ethical standards for different sections of the paper. Puffing up a story is commonplace in sections devoted to fashion, home furnishings, etc. Beyond compromising the validity of what is reported, this is lazy writing and permissive editing. If well-crafted paragraphs, rich in detail and facts, can’t make me want a product, find a writer who can report and weave a good tale. 

• Rwanda has lessons Cincinnati could learn on reducing infant deaths. It has halved the toll since 2,000, according to the UN, and the story is available at bbc.co.uk/inquiry. Basically, the government made infant death reduction a national policy and put 45,000 health workers in the field, connected to medical personnel by cell phones. They targeted preventable deaths: malaria, diarrhea, etc. UN officials estimated 590,000 lives were saved. Cincinnati children die from other causes, but the example is clear: This isn’t something we should leave to a nonprofit. Rwanda demonstrates why it takes strategic government commitment and sufficient, ongoing funding. There, black lives matter. 

• Fiat is FIAT: Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. And for anyone who has owned a Fiat, FIAT stands for “Fix It Again Tony.” Now, Fiat owns Chrysler whose products include Jeeps and Dodge vehicles. 

The New York Times reported that, “Auto safety regulators are investigating a recall last year of some 895,000 Jeep and Dodge SUVs with sun visors that can short-circuit and ignite after some of them apparently caught fire even after being repaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received eight reports of fires in vehicles whose electrical wiring had been repaired in a recall started by Fiat Chrysler in July …”


CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]

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