Business News

‘Black Wednesday’ hits Cincinnati hard

Black Wednesday brought massive cutbacks at Cincinnati’s last “local” daily newspaper. The reason I put “local” in quotations is because following each one of these waves the newspaper becomes less local, less intimate and more out of touch with reality as the industry deals with cutbacks in a corporate manner.

There is an estimated 100 people being laid off at the Enquirer with 30 of those being reporters. CiN Weekly is going away, but being “rebranded” into Metromix. Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan tweeted, “Need to clarify: CiN in print and online will continue with Metromix as dominant brand…”

While that is true the CiN Weekly folks are still out of a job, and Cincinnati is seeing one of its weekly entertainment guides be replaced by a template-style national entertainment guide known as Metromix in 37 different cities/regions nationwide.

These layoffs are extraordinarily sad, but at the same time seem to be reflective of an industry that is slowly dying. Yesterday Paul Wilham commented,

Blogs will replace newspapers in the next 10 years. I think you will see a growing professionalism especially among bloggers who cover specific areas.

Currently you can get the vast majority of what is “really” going on in Cincinnnati by folowing 20 or so bloggers, Business news, zoning issues, sports, restaurant reviews, neighborhood news and more.

The first person who can consolidate all that content into a daily digest and can find a way to monetize it with local advertisement and pay the bloggers for their content will put the Enquirer out of business. The Enquirer knows this too!

The thing is that I have never considered myself or my blog as being in competition with a news source like the Enquirer, but what seemed to happen over the years is that newspapers have grown more towards the blog end of things to try to keep up – this is the problem.

People like myself and others are not full-time reporters…heck that’s not even my professional training. Many of the bloggers are doing this as a passion and can not afford to pay themselves to do investigative reporting, extended feature stories and so on. This is where the newspapers should have focused. Instead they went to smaller stories, republication of press releases and a reduced grassroots/local emphasis. It’s not the physical form, but rather then reduced content that has damned the newspaper industry.

We saw the first wave of amazing bloggers born when newspapers began laying off Dining/Food review sections. We now have amazing food bloggers all across the nation and the amazing urbanspoon site that ties it all together in a way the newspapers will never be able to compete with again.

The Enquirer barely boasts a business section as is, and the local urban-focused blog scene is as strong as it is because the Enquirer fails on that front as well. These niches open up as a result of the newspaper letting it happen…they reduce their content and that content goes elsewhere.

The print newspapers around the nation need to start focusing on a new business model that is reflective of the changes taking place in our society…things are more local, more cutting-edge, more focused and more timely. I hope they get it together, because I love reading the newspaper every day. That will not happen by continuing to make cuts and get rid of those who make the newspaper the information source that it once was.

Image (source): Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post who helped break the Watergate Scandal to the public.

Is the Cincinnati Enquirer being controlled?

Is it possible that our local newspaper is being controlled in their coverage and commentary? Your first reaction would be to think absolutely not, but one must wonder given the recent trend of the Cincinnati Enquirer and its editorial board.

It is no secret that the newspaper industry is struggling and that a struggling enterprise will do just about anything to stay relevant. So when the majority of your consumers are those that live in suburbia you might just “tell them the stories they want to hear” as a former editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer described to me and my class at the University of Cincinnati.

The response was to a question of mine about their negative slant towards inner-city stories and their positive slant towards suburban stories. I asked why the most mundane stories about suburbia are portrayed as being the next greatest thing for the region, and how stories of greater magnitude are not even covered when they are located in the city.

This was several years ago and at the time I was somewhat shocked to hear the candid response that took little to no effort to regurgitate, and as I have continued my involvement I have seen this trend develop even further.

The most recent and obvious examples have to deal with the modern Cincinnati Streetcar proposal and the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment that has been put forth by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).

Within the past week the Enquirer ran a story announcing that the NAACP/COAST coalition had gained enough signatures to put the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment on the ballot (nothing wrong there). As a result of the campaign kicking off to a certain degree, several individuals and organizations opposed to that Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment requested that the Enquirer use correct terminology and data in their articles relating to the issue.

Two items in particular were the cost/scope of the proposed streetcar project, and the scope and terminology of the proposed City Charter amendment. While reporters had consistently referred to the project as being $185 million (which would be far beyond a streetcar running through Downtown and OTR, and is not what was approved by City Council for the streetcars funding plan – that number is $128 million for a Downtown/OTR circulator with an Uptown connector), it seemed as though some of the Enquirer’s columnists did not get the memo as $200 million (a number made up by those pushing the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment) was cited in a recent column.

Furthermore, the Enquirer was consistently referring to the proposed amendment that would prohibit the City from spending “any monies for right-of-way, acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation” as the “streetcar issue” or “streetcar amendment.” As Brad Thomas pointed out:

“It is inaccurate and misleading for the Enquirer to call the ballot initiative the “Streetcar Issue” when it would permanently affect all passenger rail. A ballot initiative that affected all highways would not be called the “Norwood Lateral Issue,” nor would an initiative that affected all parks be called the “Eden Park Issue.”

The response from the Enquirer was deafening. Over the weekend the editorial board decided to run a story on the Riverfront Transit Center as being a “waste of money” (an item first brought up by Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment backer Tom Luken). In the story the Enquirer spoke with someone from COAST and Metro. In a non-subjective article they should have also requested comment from someone with a pro-transit agenda to counterbalance the opinions of COAST who also opposed the 2002 regional transit plan. Metro was able to provide the raw data on the matter and correct the false numbers that COAST was using to define the capital costs of the Transit Center (sound familiar).

This was followed up by a piece that incorrectly cited the streetcar would operate with a $3.5 million annual deficit. This number is of course assuming that there would be zero dollars in fares generated and is also a talking point used by the NAACP/COAST coalition to spread falsehoods and mislead people about this one project that would be affected by the all-encompassing Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment.

Normally I would not draw a correlation here given my “viciously optimistic” outlook on life, but a couple recent Cincinnati Enquirer actions made me feel differently.

On Thursday, July 3 I tweeted that Enquirer Editor & Vice President of Content and Audience Development, Tom Callinan, blocked me from following his account – a move specifically taken towards me and specifically initiated by Callinan or whoever he has running his Twitter account. But why?

Well earlier in the week I responded to what I considered a column that used reckless disregard for the truth regarding the streetcar proposal. I sent an email to Mr. Peter Bronson and pointed out what I found to be intentionally false and asked him to adhere to Gannett’s (owner of Cincinnati Enquirer) stated Code of Ethics when it comes to writing columns. His response was rather callous and it was obvious that I struck a chord.

In the end what we are dealing with here is an amendment to the City Charter (City’s equivalent to the Constitution) that would prohibit the City from spending any money on ANY passenger rail project. That would include the proposed 3-C Corridor high-speed rail plan that would have Ohioans riding from Cincinnati, to Dayton, to Columbus, to Cleveland with stops in between at 110mph within 5 years and the larger Midwest Rail Initiative that would do the same but also connect Cincinnati to Indianapolis, Chicago and beyond. It would also include the proposed Eastern Corridor Project that would provide a rail link between Cincinnati’s eastern suburbs with the Central Business District.

You do not have to like the Cincinnati Streetcar project to dislike this Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment for several reasons, and that is why it has a bipartisan coalition of opponents including 16 of 18 endorsed candidates running for City Council (Democrats, Republicans and Charterites), the Mayor, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance for Regional Transit, Cincinnatians For Progress and All Aboard Ohio to name a few.

I do not have a problem with dissent, what I have a problem with is misleading the public. The Enquirer has a responsibility to cover the news subjectively and to provide the most accurate information possible to their roughly 200,000+ daily readers and nearly 300,000 Sunday readers. When disregard for the truth is employed by the media, then we have very little else to rely on when it comes to informing the electorate. It is not a fair game when you have the cards stacked against you like that and I hope that the Enquirer takes this opportunity to right the ship and start using accurate information with equal representation from both parties revolving around this Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment Cincinnatians will be voting on this November.

Additional reading:
More lies from Jason Gloyd and COAST by The Phony Coney

Business News Transportation

Ridership down on Metro

It is with unfortunate news that Cincinnati’s Metro has reported a 4.3% drop in ridership from January-September 2007 versus the same time frame in 2008, despite higher gasoline prices. This is in sharp contrast to the The American Public Transportation Association’s figures that present a large gain for the vast majority of the mass transit networks nationwide.

Of course, what the Cincinnati Enquirer article fails to mention, is that long-distance commuting is up 18% in October compared with last year. A sizable increase was also reported in August, but both did not make the Enquirer’s radar.

What’s also missing is the University of Cincinnati’s partnership with Metro that has been overwhelmingly successful. Aimed at easing notoriously painful traffic congestion in the Uptown locale, and reduce the need for parking, nearly 2,000 University of Cincinnati students and faculty members take advantage of the free rides that is funded by the university’s Student Government. Nine routes are currently enrolled in the program, and all that is required is a student identification card.

It should be noted that the Cincinnati Enquirer should not be used as a point-of-reference for these local developments. When an article is a cut-and-paste job with a clear bias, and a lack of moderation in their user comments section, one has to wonder what the Enquirer’s real priorities are. Let’s hope that they report on the uptick in ridership by Metro when the figures are released for December 2008.