Dayton Daily News' Ideas & Voices: "Balance" is Not "Equal"

Saturday, July 12, 2014
After reviewing items over a recent 4-week period, the evidence shows that liberal bias does not exist on the paper's editorial pages and, in fact, it shows quite the opposite (perhaps due to a lack of oversight).

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you will know that my local newspaper, The Dayton Daily News, and opinion writing/columnists have been the subjects of several of my entries during its run. So it would not come as a complete surprise to see a confluence of the two in order to answer a long-standing question I've had over the years: just how liberal is this paper? Although the graphic above foreshadows my conclusion, I would hope that you continue reading after the break for a short overview of the genesis of this marketing ploy and to see how I was able to make that determination (I also voice some strongly held opinions on my local opinion pages).


Vice President Spiro Agnew formally initiated the "war on media bias" during a 1969 speech in Des Moines, Iowa. (graphic courtesy of EmersonKent.com)

Since the first year of the Nixon administration (when Vice President Spiro Agnew delivered a speech in Des Moines, Iowa that pointed out biases by the then three television networks and their nightly news commentators against his boss), the topic of ideology based bias encroaching into the process of news reporting has taken up residence in the public square. In fact, with the addition of cable news outlets in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the internet, that discussion has only gotten more vociferous and continuous as the years have gone by. With today's plethora of news choices, consumers can get their daily information from one or more that are more congruent with their own political point-of-view and shun those that they believe contradict with their closely held values. The Fox News Channel initially--and insidiously--branded itself as a "fair and balanced" outlet to convey a measure of ideological oversight and impartiality but that facade quickly changed to a full-fledged sponsorship of conservative ideology, causes and positions in the day-to-day presentation of news. Although not established as a purveyor of politics, MSNBC recognized a void with left-leaning viewers and, through shows like Hardball and Countdown (and their hosts Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, respectively), were able to build sizable audiences when compared to the pioneering (and centrist staking) CNN but still considerably smaller than those flocking to the right-leaning outlet.

In the lead-up to one of the most influential careers in filmmaking history, Stanley Kubrick dabbled in photography and captured this scene on a New York City subway car in 1946 that shows the near universal access and acceptance of newspapers as the public's primary method of acquiring information. (photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

This struggle was also witnessed in the newspaper world. Once the nation's preeminent provider of information to its literate masses, their supremacy was significantly impacted by the increasing reliance of people to get their news more quickly and efficiently from their television sets from the 1960s onward and their fortunes have waned in the decades hence. Almost every medium-sized town and larger had at least two daily periodicals on morning and afternoon delivery schedules to keep their readerships informed on current events and other perishable information. Often times, those subscription choices were based upon the political ideology of the paper's owner or publisher within the confines of their opinion/editorial, or op/ed, pages (and, in the case of William Randolph Hearst, in its primary reporting through "yellow journalism" techniques). When facing the new realities of the newspaper business, many of the medium-sized markets (and almost all of the smaller ones) witnessed mergers of those former rivals and consolidations of holdings to ensure the survival of at least one daily to maintain a local news--and advertising--presence.

James M. Cox, owner of The Dayton Daily News, campaigns in that city with future president Franklin D. Roosevelt during their unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1920. (NARA photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

Such was the fate of The Dayton Daily News. Purchased in 1898 by future Ohio governor, US representative and Democratic presidential candidate James M. Cox, it was the city's liberal afternoon paper while The Journal-Herald--also owned by Cox from 1948 until its demise in 1987--was its conservative morning edition (both operated out of the same downtown Dayton building but had separate newsrooms on different floors). Due to those aforementioned industry-wide conditions, the two publications merged into the newspaper that currently has (depending upon the date or source of the data) either the fourth or fifth largest circulation in Ohio.

The building at the corner of 4th and Ludlow Streets depicted on the left was the home of The Dayton Daily News (and The Journal-Herald from 1948 to 1987) from 1910 until moving to their new headquarters location, pictured on the right, on South Main Street in 2007. (graphics courtesy of Wikipedia and The Dayton Daily News)

Along with the adoption of the liberal paper's name came the claims of maintaining that political bias in that new publication. I first became aware of their overt attempts to extol the "fairness" of their op/ed pages about eight years ago. Former DDN editor Ellen Belcher was constantly bombarded with charges of bias towards her choices for liberal columnists and she figuratively bent over backwards to show otherwise (she provided page space for reader rebuttals to her own editorials and a listing of 17 opiners that were approved by a "credibility roundtable" to appear in the paper). These actions were necessitated by the steady drop in circulation numbers and Ms. Belcher, along with her longtime editorial ally Martin Gottleib, was eventually shown the door in 2011 and Ron Rollins was elevated to associate editor. This move also signaled a visible change on the op/ed pages because Rollins (along with Michael Williams, Kevin Aldridge and most recently Connie Post) now serves as a "moderator" instead of an editor in the traditional sense. This transformation into a non-confrontational editorial staff was cemented in 2012 when the paper refused to endorse any political candidates in that year's election cycles (one of my unfinished/unpublished posts here revolved around their abdication of oversight by the "fourth estate" over the American version of Europe's "Estates of the Realm" social order system).

An annotated image of The Dayton Daily News' Ideas & Voices page layout for July 8th.

What you see when you turn to The Dayton Daily News' Ideas & Voices section depends upon the day of the week. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, you would be greeted with a one-page production that is roughly divided into two distinct areas (and there is a grey boundary line accentuating that division). Beside the page banner, the top section usually includes comments by the moderator du jour (no one does that on Thursdays and Sundays), comments by readers via a variety of sources and at least one political cartoon (on several days during my survey, four cartoons were featured in that space). The bottom section hosts the dueling ideologies "Balanced Views" by syndicated columnists (labeled "From the Left" and "From the Right"--I added the hues of our post-2000 political color scheme above to better delineate those exact locations). The Thursday, Friday and Sunday versions run two pages and those additional areas vary from the format depicted above.

The DDN's weekly lineup for the "Balanced Views" section of their Ideas & Voices page.

Much like those previous selectees that were vetted for inclusion into the paper, there are now 14--seven from each "side" of the political spectrum--who are scheduled to appear every week on specific days (the most recent chart is provided above). The Dayton Daily News' long-time lineup was changed in April of this year by the inclusion of columnists Paul Krugman, David Brooks and Ross Douthat from The New York Times, Mary Sanchez of The Kansas City Star (and the Tribune Content Agency) and Mona Charen, a widely syndicated conservative columnist and political analyst (Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, and Thomas Friedman were removed but, as you will see below, they and others often get to make "guest" appearances in the Thursday and Friday two-page versions). I do have some reservations about the "left" labels for Sanchez, Reich and Pitts due to their own syndicator identifying them as "independents" but, for the sake of accounting, I will apply the same ideology/slant that the paper does.

Although the section overview no longer appears on the page, the DDN still offers promises of openness, balance and investigation to its Ideas & Voices readership.

The one additional item I wanted to talk about from the page layout graphic above is the "promises" area (I reposted them immediately above with an overview of the "Balanced Views" section that is, unfortunately, no longer displayed on the page). In a move to demonstrate their fidelity to the principles of openness, balance and investigation, a three-bullet declaration is embedded in the page banner for all readers to see. With some time on my hands, I decided to check them on their word and I did a thorough (but potentially subjective) review of all syndicated opinion-related materials printed in the Ideas & Voices sections for a 28-day period (starting on a Monday, June 8th, and ending on a Sunday, July 6th) to give me four separate weeks for my observation.

Before I can report my results, the content providers must be categorized based upon their recognized political leanings. During the observation period, I counted a total of 112 items from 30 contributors (11 cartoonists and 19 columnists) that broke out the follow way:

From the Left (4 cartoonists, 7 columnists, 41 total items):


ContributionContributor# of Items
CartoonWalt Handelsman1

Mike Luckovich8

Mike Peters2

Marshall Ramsey2
ColumnGail Collins4

E.J. Dionne Jr.4

Paul Krugman4

Clarence Page3

Leonard Pitts Jr.6

Robert Reich4

Mary Sanchez3


Independents (1 cartoonist, 3 columnists, 9 total items):


ContributionContributor# of Items
CartoonPaul Combs1
ColumnThomas Friedman1

John Kass3

Thomas Suddes4


From the Right (6 cartoonists, 9 columnists, 62 total items):


ContributionContributor# of Items
CartoonSteve Benson9

Chip Bok3

John Deering5

Bob Gorrell6

Michael Ramirez6

Dana Summers1
ColumnDavid Brooks4

Mona Charon4

Ross Douthat4

Jonah Goldberg5

Charles Krauthammer3

Rachel Marsden3

Kathleen Parker1

Thomas Sowell4

George F. Will4


To make all of this a little easier to digest, I accumulated the overall data into one convenient table:



Cartoons% of TotalColumns% of TotalTotal Items% of Total
Left1329.52841.14136.7
Independent12.3811.898.0
Right3068.23247.16255.3
Totals4410068100112100

Surprised by the results? Where should I begin?

While the "Balanced Views" columns is the area that The Dayton Daily News promised to provide "balance", it appears that there was a noticeable advantage for opinions from the conservative side of the political spectrum in this particular sampling (32 from the right versus 28 from the right--53.3 to 46.7 percent--or a 6.6 percent difference in a direct comparison). These figures do depend upon how to categorize the other three contributors in that 28-day period. Friedman, Kass and Suddes appear to me to be centrist/independent enough to avoid those other two categories (although the NYT columnist was one of The Dayton Daily News' "on the left" contributors prior to the April line-up change). Even if his one piece was moved over to that slant's totals, it would only increase their direct comparison percentage to 42.6 of the overall total and still have them trailing their counterparts by 4.4 percent.

Even "leftie" cartoonists are jumping on the anti-administration bandwagon (Walt Handelsman cartoon, left, courtesy of GoComics.com;  Mike Peters cartoon, right, courtesy of Grimmy.com)

What skews the overall totals towards the right is the staff's greater than 2-to-1 preponderance (30 versus 13) of using conservative cartoons instead of liberal ones to populate the remaining allotted page space. On many days during this survey period, only right-leaning graphics would be seen on the Ideas & Voices pages, leaving the mandatory "from the left" column as the only representation from that particular ideological slant (on June 9th, there were comics by Benson, Bok, Deering and Ramirez plus the regular Brooks column which were countered by Krugman's submission). Such "piling on" was prevalent during this survey with 18 of the 28 days--64.3 percent--displaying a prevalence of right-leaning information but only 6 of those 28--21.4 percent--favoring the left (4 days, or 14.2 percent of that period reflected equal numbers of items). Even when they were included, several of the "leftie" submissions had anti-administration tones to them (the two examples provided in the graphic above, in my opinion, cannot be considered pro-Obama) but I didn't judge based on individual content.

I can already hear the staff's rebuttals to this data:

- we DO provide "balance" in our views--we have at least one columnist from the two major slants in our paper every day (although they do find room to squeeze in an extra conservative submission--usually Thomas Sowell--in a "guest" role on Thursdays).

- we do NOT include political/editorial cartoons into our "promise" (even though they are probably the most viewed items on those pages and, based upon the age-old adage of "a picture is worth a thousand words", transfer as much--or even more information to a less-nuanced audience--than the columns situated below them)

- "balance" is NOT "equality"--opposing views are represented on a daily basis although we never specifically said what those proportions would be. Here's where I need to introduce a definition (screen capture courtesy of Google):


While I kept this rather simple and brought in the top two entries for the noun and verb versions of this word, the first two displayed above immediately caught my eye. "An even distribution" and "equal or in the correct proportions" indicate a condition of equality should be met to satisfy the conditions of that promise. Such "even-handedness" is implied by their overt delineations of the space on the page reserved for the columns so one would naturally assume that such a rigid paradigm would be carried over to the rest of that section's areas as well. Unfortunately, as my data above indicates, that is not the case (I did notice attempts by the moderation staff to "even out" reader submissions when they were published).

A recent cartoon by Steve Sack succinctly highlights the Republicans' long-held strategy of opposing anything Obama likes and the obvious "optics" problems associated with adhering to such a restrictive stance. (graphic courtesy of The Star Tribune)

While not an attempt to bail the paper out of its "balance" obligation, recent news (the Bowe Bergdahl release, increased violence in Iraq, the growing humanitarian/immigration crisis on the US's southern border) has not been favorable to this White House or its current occupant (or has been "spun" to ridiculous conclusions by their detractors). President Obama's overall approval ratings have been mired in the low 40s and these results would put criticism of him or his positions in a superior position when compared to praise. As the country's leader, many things are fairly or unfairly attributed to his leadership (or lack of it); however, there are numerous levels of nuance that more astute observers of politics and current events recognize when formulating their approval appraisals (for example, their relativity to the current abysmal favorability ratings of the US Congress). As I showed above with the Peters cartoon, there are people who are to the left of Obama who oppose some of his policies (i.e. his use of drones as a substitute for ground troops to continue prosecuting wars they don't believe in) but still give him their overall support in spite of those differences. These occasional "spats" stand in stark contrast to cartoonists and columnists who have opposed the president since the day he took office and, hypothetically, would vehemently announce that the sun rose in the west if Obama said it did so from the east (the Sack cartoon above cuts right to the chase about the almost grade school-like mentality of their opposition policy--I couldn't find one that featured "cooties").

4thEstate.net, a stand-alone project of Global News Intelligence, issued a "report card" on the media's coverage of the 2012 presidential election.

While my research is the first that I'm aware of concerning content in The Dayton Daily News, there have been a host of other surveys done to disprove the widely held notion of "liberal media bias". Back in 2006, Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog center issued an initial report detailing the ideologies/parties of the guests appearing on the four broadcast network Sunday "talking heads" programs (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press) from 1997 through 2005 and it showed how these shows were dominated by conservative newsmakers and commentators (they have issued several follow-ups and recently released one that focuses primarily on demographic information--gender, racial/ethnic backgrounds--of those shows and cable news offerings on Sunday morning). 4thEstate.net, a 2012 stand-alone project of Global News Intelligence, did a similar sampling initiative during that year's presidential election and a graphic of some of their results is provided above.

An April 2013 photo showing excessive signage attacking the liberal media's supposed "censorship" at a midtown Manhattan intersection. Coincidently, the glass and steel building at the far left of the shot is the News Corp Building, home for Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post. (photo courtesy of The Daily Kos' Eddie C)

So now with my data added to those two and other similar surveys, what's the next move? Obviously, awareness will be increased when I post this item (several DDN-related labels will be included to enhance its SEO for local searchers). But what will I do personally? Will I boycott the paper until they meet the spirit and intent of their promise? Probably not. As a left-of-center person, it's been my unfortunate burden to simply live with the reality and bear the incessant bias complaints from the right even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I found the above photo doing an online search for this post and it shows the "over-the-top" tactics employed by the right when waging this "war". The hysterical thing about it is that the location of this signage is on the opposite side of the midtown Manhattan city block from where 1211 Avenue of the Americas is situated. If that address doesn't ring a bell, it is also known as the News Corp Building and it serves as the headquarters for Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post--three of the most conservative-biased media outlets on the planet!

President and founder of Media Research Center, Brent Bozell addresses a crowd of protesters in front of The New York Times building on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. Demonstrators at the Tell The Truth Rally, hosted by TeaParty365, intended to send a message that they're fed up with the media's "left-wing bias." (photo and caption courtesy of An Phung)

Perhaps The Dayton Daily News is simply "stretching" their definition of balance to the second one listed under its noun usage above (the "correct proportions" entry).  Maybe conservatives need to see a noticeable advantage in their favor so as not to feel fearful of or challenged by ideas unfamiliar to them. From all of the data examples I cited, it appears that a 20 percent edge (60-40 if only only considering left/right or 55-35 with ~10 percent for the myriad of other points-of-view that exist in this country) might be the "magic" number to prevent on-site demonstrations by protestors (like the 2010 rally held in front of the entrance of The New York Times) or a wholesale desertion of subscribers (this new editorial process was cited as one of the reasons behind an announced increase in their circulation totals back in November 2011)--neither activity being healthy to the paper's "bottom line". If conservatives need that "buffer" and liberals aren't vehemently complaining, then stick with whatever strategy generates the most profit for an industry that desperately needs revenue to remain relevant in the age of instantaneous electronic gratification and information overload.

What else can I do here? I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't offer up some advice to the staff on improving the page...here goes:

Ted Rall, Donna Brazile and Bill Press (from left to right) could provide a much "lefter" opinion than what is currently offered in The Dayton Daily News' weekly opinion columnist lineup.

- there is more to opining than what appears on the pages of The New York Times. Having three of their columnists in your weekly rotation (and bringing in several others, to include yesterday's column by Maureen Dowd) shows a certain lack of curiosity--and courage--on your part (and as a subscriber to that other paper, I hate to read things twice). You used to carry Michelle Malkin and her peculiar "brand" of writing (and she was a "lightning rod" for reader mail to advocate/refute her perspectives)...why not include similarly passionate writers/creators from the left? How about Ted Rall (who has direct connections to Dayton)? Or Donna Brazile? Or Bill Press? These folks would give you a definite left-of-center perspective and build up your "cred" within circles that currently shun you for playing it "safe". The same goes for cartoonists of that political persuasion. Excessive reliance upon "in-house" talent like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mike Luckovich ignores the talents of Chris Britt, Gary Markstein, Steve Sack, Paul Szep and other syndicated artists who are seen on op/ed pages around the country.


Just a small sampling of the dozens of registered political parties in the United States (the owl is for the Modern Whig Party--yes, I had to look it up myself). (graphic courtesy of Michael Edghill)

- one of the fallacies of living in a country that only has two major political parties is that it suggests that there are only two ways to approach an issue (and they are based upon one's party allegiance). Leif and Eric Fern's 2013 book Content Matters: Social Studies in the Elementary and Middle School specifically calls out the paper's "balance" promise (page 132) because, in their opinion, it only applies to balancing the existing biases and not providing freedom from them. They are 100 percent correct when they stated "there are no Libertarians on the Daily News' list of ... columnists, no socialists, and no independents" who could being additional perspectives from the dozens of other parties on complex controversial issues that require more than an "either/or" option. Such inclusion would cause some concerns with the page designers who now only have to worry about depicting two sides instead of the multitude of actual positions that exist in the real world.

Two recent Prickly City strips show the complete disconnect its creator has with political realities and the over-reliance on ideological caricatures in his daily failing attempts at humor. (graphics courtesy of GoComics)

- I realize that this issue may been discussed to death over the years (I've only lived in these parts since the turn of the century) but the two politics-based comic strips currently running in the Life section (Doonesbury and Prickly City) need to move over to the Ideas & Voices area. While I am OK with cartoonist Gary Trudeau's biting take on real-world events in the former (although we are currently getting a "Flashbacks" run due to other professional commitments), it is the latter's error-filled anthropomorphizing of real-life people and their political positions that demonstrates its creator's (Scott Stantis) utter lack of being firmly grounded in reality and merely catering to caricatures that necessitates their joint move. His most recent story lines involve two rabbits (Kevin and Hunny) who are supposed to be a married deviously political couple (a la Bill and Hillary Clinton) but the male lupine somehow has the right wing's manufactured personality of (and actions taken in office by) Barack Obama instead of his Democratic White House predecessor. A 21st century reincarnation of Walt Kelly and his much-loved politico-centric Pogo strip this is not and, much like another attempt at expressing conservative-based humor on the funny pages (Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore), its continued existence depends more upon abject ideological loyalty rather than the quality of the strip itself (Doonesbury won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975 and was a nominated finalist on three other occasions).

There we go...three suggestions to help improve the quality and atmosphere of the Ideas & Voices section that, predictably, will fall the deaf ears/blind eyes of their staff. I don't believe it's that they don't honestly care about opinions and editorials (causes and intrinsic values are probably the primary reasons most journalists get involved in that profession in the first place). I do believe that Julia Wallace's 2011 Cox Enterprises-blessed actions (serving pink slips to locals Belcher and Gottlieb) signaled a change over to a "Goldilocks" op/ed area--one that is not too hot (controversial) but not too cold (boring) in order to placate as many people as possible and to keep skittish advertisers on board their rickety "ship". The removal of conservative "firebrand" Michelle Malkin earlier this year was most likely due to the amount of negative responses her columns generated from the readership and replacing her with the NYT-approved "RINOs" Brooks and Douthat reinforces that economics-based "tepid porridge" mindset.

Investigative reporter Josh Sweigart discusses the findings he included in his recent reporting on the VA healthcare scandal in The Dayton Daily News.

All in all, I do like the direction that The Dayton Daily News has taken in the way of improving their publication. We are treated to weekly exposés  and investigative reporting on a wide variety of subjects that do directly affect the residents of the greater Dayton area (their recent reporting about improprieties at our local veterans hospital was the genesis for the current national healthcare scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs). I have even grown more accepting of their May 2012 "face lift" changes (or perhaps they've just become more familiar to me).
 
Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) attempts to explain the true levers of international power to television talk show host Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in the 1976 movie Network. (screen grab courtesy of YouTube)

While I can tolerate the constant tweaks and cosmetic changes to its various parts (my experience in the military and the government demand such elevated thresholds), tinkering with the op/ed pages--what I consider to be the "heart and soul" of a newspaper--causes me the most personal anguish. I will spare you from a Ned Beatty-esque rant about meddling with "primal forces" (although that 1976 classic film Network warned us about this kind of journalistic abdication decades ago) but, absent a strong editorial presence, it is getting harder and harder to say that today's newspapers still serve the public interest or attempt to guide their readers through the never-ending maze of "bamboozlement" that attempts to distract them from the truly important issues of our time.  The constant "left versus right" battling does galvanize the staunchest allies of both sides; unfortunately, it also turns off the greater majority from anything that has to do with the system that was established to be their advocate.

HBO's John Oliver demonstrates a "mathematically fair" way to conduct a debate on a subject that has overwhelming evidence on one side's behalf--global warming.

In their heyday, newspaper editors were the "shepherds" that their readers could depend upon to navigate them through that ideological "minefield" and look out for their best interests. Unfortunately, at The Dayton Daily News and at a growing number of other publications, they merely moderate the debate by presenting the two dominant viewpoints of multi-faceted issues and giving them (or at least "promising") equal time--no matter how the facts surrounding the topic discourage such an equitable division of time and resources (and, in the case of newspapers, page space). On a recent episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the host demonstrated a "mathematically fair" way to hold a debate on a subject that has a substantial advantage in terms of measurable evidence or in public polling support. On the topic of acknowledging human causes in observable changes to the earth's climate, there is a 97 percent to 3 percent result in favor of that claim; however, as Oliver pointed out, when the topic is discussed on television, that ratio gets reset to 50-50 with one person (usually Bill Nye) representing that much higher figure and a climate change skeptic standing in for the nearly statistically insignificant minority. To make the discussion more relevant to the actual percentages, the satirist brought out two more "deniers" to join their seated compatriot while also allowing 96 "scientists" (I'm assuming, for the purpose of the demonstration, they were show staffers or hired extras) to stand behind Nye. When faced with such a tangible example of overwhelming support, it's hard to imagine that these naysayers (or their positions) ever get on the air (or in print)--but they do. While not in this country, the British Broadcasting Company has recently taken steps to stop introducing "false balance" or the espousing of widely dismissed viewpoints during their news programming when covering non-contentious issues (with climate change being the first to feel its full effect). One can only hope that this practice will be one that will "cross the pond" in the near future.

Some examples of current fact checking rating scales (The Washington Post's "Pinocchio" system on the left and Politifact's "truth" meters on the right).

After seeing how adherents of some eccentric positions should not garner equal amounts of attention, perhaps "balance" should not be the goal for The Dayton Daily News to strive for. Reasonably, one would expect an established purveyor of news and information to "vet" their sources in order to ensure its accuracy to their readership. According to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, a journalist's first duty is "to seek the truth and report it". "Fact checking", a growing but contentious practice within this industry, tasks individuals to verify information that has been identified as misleading or potentially erroneous. Even where such activities are currently taking place, only degrees of truthfulness are determined (The Washington Post uses a "Pinocchio" system while PolitiFact and other websites employ metered displays to indicate the analyzed material's accuracy and honesty) instead of calling something an outright lie. If the rendered verdict is negative, those evaluations are then subject to scrutiny by supporters and advocates of the questioned material in an attempt to demonstrate--you guessed it--a liberal media bias (although "conservative" might be inserted if done by a right-leaning media outlet like the Media Research Center). Such a journalistic undertaking would be a boon to the paper's overall credibility; however, it require far more backbone to stand firm on a universal principle than it does in making a vague--or empty--marketing promise.

Ellen Belcher, former editor of The Dayton Daily News, making remarks at the Dayton Literary Peace Prize dinner in November 2009. (photo courtesy of Media Moments Photography)
If pre-publication verification was actually being done, then you would guess that the material used in sourcing op/ed pieces would be honest and accurate; unfortunately, that job used to be done at The Dayton Daily News by an "old school" editor before items went to print (this simple act of doing her job was tantamount to censorship by some of her critics). And that brings it all back to 2011 when a person who was conducting themselves in such a manner was let go primarily because readers expressing their disapproval of her performance and the fear of losing their wallets and checkbook somehow trumped editorial integrity in the Dayton market. During my last research stint for this piece, I ran across evidence that many of the things I am advocating for have already been done in the paper's past. For example, during the 2008 presidential election campaign, Ellen Belcher and representatives from Cleveland's The Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch conducted "The Sniff Test", an attempt to rate political advertisements on their honesty. After providing the viewer the opportunity to see the ad, they provided their expert analysis and a proboscis-related rating ("on the nose", "whiff of doubt", "stretching the truth"). As many people might not be aware, media outlets cannot edit or reject those commercials and campaign spots due to "political speech" having First Amendment protections (and Ohio's distinction of being "the swingiest of the swing states" subjects its citizens to the quadrennial barrages) so only post-release critiques can be performed. She only got the chance to rate three (two for Barack Obama and one for John McCain) with the Democrat earning two high marks and the Republican getting the "whiff" result which obviously indicated--you guessed it--a definite liberal bias!

Protests depicted in fiction (the 1931 movie Frankenstein) and in real life (the 2010 MRC-sponsored demonstration in front of The New York Times Building)...should the threat of this form of intimidation be allowed to trump editorial integrity? (screen capture, left, courtesy of MisfitRobotDaydream ; photo, right, courtesy of An Phung)

With Belcher's unceremonious departure and the subsequent decision not to endorse candidates, The Dayton Daily News now leaves it up to its readers to make up their own minds based upon what they regularly see on the pages of their daily paper with specific attention to the op/ed page (that's what it is even if you rebrand it otherwise). If I can extrapolate my research data to represent how things might go over the next few months, local voters for the upcoming 2014 midterm congressional elections who are DDN readers will see approximately 6 percent more conservative columns and almost 40 percent more right-leaning political cartoons than their progressive counterparts. In its desire to somehow be impartial and run its Ideas & Voices section like a 60's-era commune ("no rules, man", "equal voices, equal time"), it is influencing (and will continue to influence) political thought within its market area. While it would be a total pipe dream to actually see things balanced out in the next 3+ months, it would be a more realistic accomplishment to bring the conservative advantages down to single digits--unless going below that earlier hypothesized "magic" buffer figure would wreak financial chaos and bring modern-day "pitchfork and torches" protestors to the Cox Media Group Ohio grounds.


[NOTE: this column included a lot more than what I originally wanted to post here but, as I said above, I had an unfinished piece that I felt needed to be incorporated into this one to provide a wider perspective on the initial issue. I hope that I didn't lose you in some of the transitional logic and documentation.

The front page of the July 12, 2014 edition of The Tennessean honoring the passing of longtime reporter, editor, publisher and chairman John Seigenthaler. (graphic courtesy of the Newseum)

Because this took much longer to complete than I initially thought it would, I wanted to include a bit of sad news on the subject of editors. John Seigenthaler, the long-time crusading journalist of the principal newspaper of Nashville, The Tennessean,  passed away yesterday at the age of 86. In addition to his 41-year career as a reporter, editor, publisher and chairman at that publication, he was also the founding editorial director for USA Today, the nation's most widely circulated newspaper (Gannett president Allen Newharth said he was "one of the most thoughtful and respected editors in America"). He had a short stint in government during the Kennedy administration and was severely beaten during a 1961 attack on a "freedom rider" in Montgomery, Alabama while he was there as a civil rights representative of the Justice Department (this advocacy of equality would continue when he returned to journalism). In his later years, he founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University to further the understanding and appreciation of the rights granted in that initial addition to our nation's supreme body of laws. 

The significance of his death, in the context of my posting, is to highlight that "old school" editors like Seigenthaler are going the way afternoon editions and Linotype machines have already gone in today's newspaper world. Love him or hate him (and he had plenty of detractors concerning his positions and causes), he was the day-to-day face of The Tennessean and in that role carried a lot of weight--and responsibility--within the city of Nashville, the state of Tennessee and, with his involvement with USA Today, the entire country.  His name will be forever be associated with the likes of Horace Greeley, Joseph Pulitzer, William Allen White, Walter Lippman, Ben Bradlee and many others who used their journalistic positions and its associated influence to advocate for ideas and principles that benefited the society as a whole. Unfortunately, that will not be the case for the current cadre of "babysitters" who must placate the corporate "bean counters" while their readership grows more politically confused by the day.]


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