News media in the Cincinnati area are changing dramatically. The U.S. Justice Department raised no objection to Gannett — owner of The Cincinnati Enquirer and CiN Weekly — buying most of the region's community weeklies.
WGUC (90.9 FM), which no longer is owned by the University of Cincinnati, is buying WVXU (91.7 FM), which no longer will be owned by Xavier University. Only Northern Kentucky's WNKU (89.7 FM) and Miami's WMUB (88.5 FM) will be National Public Radio (NPR) stations owned by Cincinnati-area universities whose call letters they use.
We are in the waning months of the joint operating agreement that has kept the declining Cincinnati Post alive for decades on both sides of the Ohio River. It ends Dec. 31, 2007, and neither the Cincinnati nor Kentucky Post is likely to survive into 2008 without new infusions of cash.
Of all of these shifts, we are likeliest to influence the direction of WVXU and its news operation. By adding WVXU as its news/talk station, WGUC will concentrate on Classical music, consistent with its origin and traditions.
Moving All Things Considered to WVXU in the afternoon means WVXU will carry it as well as Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. Those NPR programs are the gold standard for American news broadcasting.
Moreover, with BBC World Service at midnight, WVXU has nudged the idol of parochialism at which so many Cincinnatians worship. Let's hope that WGUC's music mavens and bean counters retain that gem. BBC remains the world's gold standard for news.
And recall what WVXU alone has done for local audiences. On 9/11, it canceled the semiannual fund drive and went 'round the clock with news. When President Bush invaded Iraq two years ago, WVXU canceled regular programming and went with news 24/7 for days, using all of its employees and network resources (NPR, BBC, Associated Press).
But what about local news? In 2002, WVXU expanded its regular local coverage when nearly everyone else was maintaining status quo, cutting back or eliminating local news. Now WVXU broadcasts local news at noon, 1:04, 2:04 and 3:04 p.m. plus an eight-minute local/regional newscast at 6 p.m. and local/regional reports during Morning Edition.
WVXU was host to debates on local/regional issues and political races, including an hour debate on the proposed (and successful) repeal of anti-gay Article 12 of the Cincinnati City Charter. WVXU gave airtime to Cincinnati School Board candidates for one-or two-minute pitches.
Granted, Steve Hirschberg, once omnipresent at major events, is going into the field less but his reports from the Hamilton County Board of Elections offer staying power and context that most broadcasters do not.
Will WGUC be wise enough to build on this? By that, I don't mean asking the same people to do more, following the industry trend of spreading existing staff and news over more broadcasts. Lots of talented broadcasters would be delighted to join the region's best radio newsroom with its links to NPR.
There might be no better way to retain and enhance listener support than to make WVXU the omnipresent alternative to the "If it bleeds, it leads" formula on AM radio and local TV.
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Now, about a new newspaper.
Mark and Sue Ann Painter plan to start a free fortnightly tabloid, The Cincinnati Times, in October for Uptown communities Clifton Heights, Corryville, Mount Auburn, University Heights and Clifton. "Everybody wants to do a newspaper or a bar and I've done the bar already," says Painter, a judge on the Hamilton County's First District Court of Appeals and former owner of Murphy's Pub.
The initial 15,000 copies will be available from about 130 blue boxes. The Painters, residents of Fairview, opted to publish when the purchase of The Downtowner fell through. A Web site designed by Rick Hines of Cincynation.com and joint ad sales with The Downtowner are possibilities, Painter says.
Painter is mastering computer-based layout; Sue Ann Painter will be the editor. They hope to hire a managing editor, the sole full-time salaried employee, to oversee content. Freelancers and journalism interns will help fill the news columns. Painter says they can sustain the twice-monthly Times for a year. If it prospers, they might go weekly.
Painter calls the target communities "the heart of Cincinnati" with 55,000 workers (UC, hospitals, etc.) and 50,000 residents. No one covers those communities now, he says.
"It really does fulfill a need (and) I've got the gumption to do it," he says.
Painter says judicial ethics allow family-owned businesses, and there will be no outside investors.
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· No less an authority on missions and evangelicalism than the magazine Christianity Today makes a point often missing in local feel-good news stories about religiously inspired aid abroad: Food and clothing rarely are scarce in impoverished or disaster-stricken countries, and dollars spent on shipping donated goods would be better spent on food, clothing and medicine available there. Cash donated to and spent by reputable aid or disaster relief agencies after initial, emergency lifesaving efforts can rebuild communities faster than air-freighted toys, T-shirts and running shoes that often were made in the affected regions.
· What was the point of The Enquirer's page-one blowout on the Underground Railroad Freedom Center? Given the center's sour history with the news media in general but historic ties to Enquirer management, is this the first step in a joint public relations campaign for a tax levy to support the center?
· If more CEO bonuses landed on page one, we might be less eager to bet our social security on them; they get richer even when stockholders lose. Jon Newberry's page-one story in The Post was a model of this reporting.
· BBC rejected complaints about its broadcast of expletive-rich Jerry Springer — The Opera. It should be praised for not succumbing to religious demands to protect the dimmest viewers. Only the Program Complaint Committee's Christian activist sided with critics, saying religious references "would have been considered literal portrayal of holy figures by many people." The committee dismissed 55,000 apparently orchestrated e-mails before the broadcast because writers had not seen it. Considering the 8,000 complaints after the broadcast, the committee decided 4-1 that the "outstanding artistic significance" outweighed unavoidable offense to traditional Christian beliefs including "a bit gay" Jesus who wore a diaper and a description of Mary as being "raped by an angel, raped by God."
· Why did reporters death-watching the pope call him "Holy Father"? That's an honorific among Catholics only. Reporters for secular media should eschew such religiously partisan and divisive language.
Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.