Ohio Print Editors Cry to AP Over Rates, Vow to Share Content

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: Ohio blog site DaytonOS posted a link to a story by Editor & Publisher about how the Buckeye State's top newspapers, looking for an alternative to the high rates the Associated Press (AP) charges for its stories, pictures and graphics, have inked an agreement share content amongst themselves.

Although Ohio’s seven major newspapers – The (Toledo) Blade, The Columbus Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Canton Repository and The Youngstown Vindicator – have enjoyed and benefited from decades of dominance.

As recently as this January, reporters representing several of Ohio’s major newspapers who serve as board members of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association, the group that accredits Statehouse media, rejected three OhioNews Bureau reporters seeking membership. While only one of the majors covered the decision, and only in a fleeting way, the bias reporters have for bloggers was embedded in the lone headline: "Reporters say no to bloggers."

The OhioNews Bureau, which was contacted by the ACLU Ohio Foundation about this situation, has been in discussions with ACLU Ohio over various issues related to being rejected by OLCA. These include possible violations of the First Amendment and other issues related to the relationship between the Statehouse press corps and the Ohio General Assembly, who created it and to whom it is beholden for its free space in the Statehouse and who represents the final decider of which news group or reporter is in or out of OLCA. ACLU Ohio and OhioNews Bureau continue this conversation.

2043: YEAR OF THE LAST NEWSPAPER

As we learn in this article by Eric Alterman in The New Yorker, the dominance newspapers held in society as the unequaled arbiters of what constitutes news and who is qualified to make it no longer exists.

And in another spot-on article from Jay Rosen at the Huffington Post about how our "neutered newsrooms are a poor example to the rest of the world," the rise of the blogosphere, which has enabled a pattern-changing, upstart-news collaborative like ePluribus Media and its vanguard state-news outpost, OhioNews Bureau, is causing its share of journalistic dyspepsia among the "thundering herd" that is the mainstream media.

The days of being fat cat media tycoons, made possible by revenues from paid subscriptions, advertising and classified ads that flowed like a swollen river, are clearly ebbing. Readers no longer have to wait for the paper to be tossed on their front porch or for the evening news hour on the family TV. With the arrival of the new kids on the media block – bloggers and new media news cooperatives like ePluribus Media and its OhioNews Bureau – news addicts can get their fix tens time over and for free from a variety of digital sources 24/7.

The big boys laughed at the rise of bloggers and citizen journalists, cyberspace creatures they saw as inherently inferior to their legacy reporters, based on false assertions that only their reporters adhered to standards of journalism and because the upstarts didn’t do the kind of original reporting only print reporters could do. They described bloggers as operating in an echo chamber, where the path of least resistance lead to daisy chaining off each other, regardless of whether posts were thoughtful, vetted and fact-checked or slapdashed together for the sake of expedience.

While the growing band of bloggers derived strength from each other, the seven majors, giants in their own geographic area, only competed among themselves from afar, never fearing any real close-in fighting.
But the evolving media rules of the Internet tell us that geography is irrelevant, and that the lamb can beat the lion.

Bill Sloat, a former seasoned reporter for the Plain Dealer who is purveyor of his own eclectic blog, The Daily Bellwether, reads the tea leaves of the editor’s memo and comes up with his own take on it:

”My own supposition is that this is more about the Web and getting news material online rather than in print. Newsholes are shrunken -- with fewer pages and smaller page sizes -- and space for large numbers of stories is not available in the ad-thin print newspapers of today. Meanwhile, staffs are smaller because of downsizing, buyouts and hiring freezes. So there are fewer reporters around Ohio producing news stories. The editors are trying to adjust by picking up content from other newsroom staffs to cover what they cannot get to. The editors also want readers to recognize that the work was produced by a journalist on the payroll of a newspaper. This is a sea change, because it signals an effort, at the highest levels, to downplay and partially bury journalism-rooted jealousies and rivalries in existence for generations, the ethos of the scoop. The Plain Dealer staff has always taken great joy in kicking the ass of the Columbus Dispatch on a big story, and vice versa. But soon Dispatch news will be appearing under The Plain Dealer nameplate. Unthinkable just a few years ago.” [Bill Sloat, Daily Bellwether]

The editor’s memo reflected the concern for costs that Ohio newspapers, and others around the nation, are facing as declining revenues lead to buyouts and downsizing. The editors didn’t mince words when sniping to the AP on their rates, as we see from this passage:

"we pay nearly $4 million annually to the AP. That's a hefty sum even during the best of times -- and we all would certainly agree that these are not the best of times…all of us are struck by the fact that, at a time when our revenues are declining, AP is presenting a new cost structure that, best we can tell, holds our costs constant or near constant…If we were in a flat revenue environment, this might work. But as you know, this is not the case. The environment now is extremely challenging and the new structure seems not to acknowledge the current reality." [Editor’s memo to AP]

In addition to the issue of rates, the editors also complained about the AP’s delay in moving breaking stories on the wire, failing to credit newspapers for some stories and denying requests for coverage of state events.

"We want basic coverage of news events, including such things as state legislative hearings and committees," the letter stated. "We have increasingly difficulty in securing your agreement to do that; instead, you are focusing on what we'd rather do ourselves - enterprise." [Editor’s memo to AP]

In early February, Sloat, who now lives in southwest Ohio and regular beats on The Cincinnati Enquirer like it was a dirty rug in need of constant spring cleaning, showed how Ohio’s majors fared in online visits.

Cincinnati Enquirer -- 1. Ohio; 30. US; 1.034 million unique visitors per month.
Cleveland Plain Dealer -- 2. Ohio; 32. US; 989,000 per month.
Columbus Dispatch -- 3. Ohio; 65. US; 547,000 per month.
Akron Beacon Journal -- 4. Ohio; 75. US; 415,00 per month.
Toledo Blade -- 5. Ohio; 90. US; 315,000 per month.

The 2007 BurrellesLuce listing of the nation’s top 100 newspapers as measured by daily and Sunday circulation figures, identifies five Ohio newspapers:

19th – The Plain Dealer (344,704 daily/442482 Sunday)
40th – The Columbus Dispatch (218,940daily/343,616 Sunday)
46th – The Cincinnati Enquirer (206,320 daily/290,500 Sunday)
79th – The Blade (125,956 daily/154,566 Sunday)
82nd – Dayton Daily News (121,574 dailey/166,066 Sunday).

So as bloggers, omnipresent with wide ranging networks who now know to contact them to break stories or get information newspapers are reticent to post for reasons of space, politics or wariness, step up their reporting, Ohio’s print papers should expect to face increased head winds as their former formidable fortresses are besieged by wave upon new wave of citizen journalists who will climb over, go around or tunnel under their walls to establish their presence and credibility in the brave new world of online news and information.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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