Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back to Basics, Enquirer-Style

The Enquirer's revenues are down. It's doing everything it can to remedy the situation: laying off veteran reporters and columnists; furloughing the folks left behind; making the paper smaller; plastering ads right on the front page of sections of the paper; and withholding stories from its online edition to keep us nefarious bloggers from "stealing" the paper's content (interesting how the paper doesn't mind taking stories from the pages of, for instance, CityBeat or KRM (here and here, respectively)). In tough economic times, however, the Enquirer has decided to return to a time-tested method of increasing readership in conservative southwest Ohio: Democrat-bashing.

Today's Enquirer carries a lengthy story on how documents "shed light" on Laketa Cole's hiring as chief of reliability and service analysis for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The story contains all sorts of innuendo, obviously meant to suggest that Cole was offered the job only as an enticement to stay out of the race for the Ohio House seat left vacant by Tyrone Yates's appointment to the bench. A reader has to make it to the article's twentieth paragraph to learn:

According to state personnel records, Cole will replace John D. Williams, who was promoted to director of PUCO's Service Monitoring and Enforcement Department on Feb. 28. The department employs 83 people. Williams was named acting director Jan. 3.
Cole's annual salary will total about $15,700 less than Williams got before his promotion and $5,000-a-year pay raise.
In other words, Cole isn't being offered a position that's been created for her. This is a real job, filled by a real human being until quite recently. And while I have not always agreed with Cole's positions or tactics on Council, any reasonable person has to agree that she is appropriately credentialed for the job. If I really wanted to make trouble, I'd ask why Cole, an African-American female, will be making less than 85% of the salary of the white male who previously had the job. (This, of course, is a question the Enquirer does not address.)

In an editorial yesterday, the Enquirer suggests the "Cole deal" is "arrogant." (Notice a very strange thing about the piece: apparently, after it was initially posted, a letter-writer commented on it. The Enquirer then updated the editorial to reference the letter. So now the editorial references the letter and the letter references the editorial.) The Enquirer goes so far as to suggest "a Mark Painter to William Mallory to Nadine Allen to Tyrone Yates to Alicia Reece quintuple play." Really? Does the Enquirer really believe that the Democrats arranged for Mark Painter (formerly a Republican-endorsed judge) to get a position with a UN appellate court so that Alicia Reece could have a job?

Maybe, though, the editorial staff just thinks that once Judge Painter's seat on the First District Court of Appeals became vacant, a grand scheme emerged, like so many dominoes in a line. Not likely. Probably not even possibly. Each appointment had its own process. And those of us who toil in the courthouse know that for a while, a new rumor swirled each day about who would take Judge Painter's seat. Then a new rumor swirled each day about who would fill Judge Mallory's seat. And then a new rumor was floated every day about who would fill Judge Allen's seat. If there was a conspiracy to create a line of succession all the way down to Alicia Reece, it's the best-kept secret in courthouse history. And let's not forget, no one gets a free pass: Mallory, Allen, and Reece must all stand for election this November. Yates, I believe, will appear on the 2011 ballot.

It's good to know, though, that some things (like political editorials masquerading as news stories) never change.

An extra note: I'm glad I'm not in the newspaper business. These are tough times. And in all fairness, there is, actually, lots of good reporting going on at the Enquirer, and some really talented young reporters getting a chance to write stories that, just five years ago, might have gone to more senior (but less enthusiastic) staff. Tom Callinan is doing some good things; the "Vanishing Cincinnati" series is but one example. But these lots-of-smoke-without-discernible-fire stories aren't worthy of a paper struggling to retain its readers and remain relevant in the new decade.

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