Each year in early January, I review the previous year’s blog posts and assess my reader numbers.
Since most of my media concerns are local, I give-out yearly awards in three categories: worst news story, worst editorial, and worst column.
2019 Worst News Story Award
This category did not have a singular standout even as two worsening trends in the news section of our local papers provided local readers with even less news. The first trend was an increasing reliance on local news from outside the Wheeling area. (See here and here, for examples.) The second trend, an increasing dependence on old PR releases, took-up even more front-page space. (See here and here for examples.) If relevance is a criterion for news, very few in either category met that requirement. (Two of the PR releases, for instance, were 51 days old and it’s a real stretch to argue that a comparison of wedding cookie tables in Youngstown (OH) and Monongahela (PA) has any relevance (or importance) to someone living in Wheeling.)
While both trends are examples of Ogden’s business strategy of “news on the cheap,” neither featured what I was looking for in my worst news story award: inadequate coverage and/or the mishandling of an important local story. That honor goes to not just one story, but the local Ogden papers’ continuing “coverage” of the Bransfield scandal. Here, the stories have ranged from less-than-adequate to non-existent. Contrast that, if you’ve been following the Bransfield saga, with the work done by the Washington Post – a newspaper that’s not even located in the state.
Since it published its first report last summer, the Post's reporters have covered all facets of the scandal. At first, Ogden assigned one of its reporters to summarize the Post’s in-depth coverage but the couple of hundred words she produced did not do justice to the Post’s reporting. In later coverage, the paper sometimes printed the entire Post article. Recently, the locals went back to summarizing and, in one case, plagiarizing some of the Post’s reporting. Last week, they ignored the Post’s most recent investigation entirely -- in all likelihood because it examined the sale of the bishop’s home to the son of our local congressman, David McKinley (an Ogden favorite), at what was quite likely far below its market value. Not surprisingly since it involved the congressman’s son, the announced sale of the property back in September was probably the worst of Ogden’s coverage. At the time, I noted four obvious questions that ought to have been asked about the sale. None were – that had to wait until the Post investigated and reported on that sale last week.
This was and is an important local story and yet our local papers have done little work on their own while ignoring important reporting from the Post.
2019 Worst Editorial
In March, an Ogden editorial, “Ultra-Leftists Gain Control of Party," explained that a neighboring senator, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, had chosen not to run for president because the Democratic Party had become too radical. The editorial cited no evidence probably because Brown had never said it. In fact, Brown had just told a Sunday interview show that he preferred to stay in the Senate; he then contradicted the editorial’s premise by saying:
I think the more important story is how Republicans continue to move to the right. How President Trump betrays workers and utters racist, anti-Semitic rhetoric, and nobody in their party calls him out. They don’t have divisions. They’ve all followed his racist actions and betrayal of workers. They follow it like lemmings off the cliff. That’s the story, not some degrees of differences between and among Democrats. That’s the real story.
I concluded my post:
The Intelligencer editorial lied about what Senator Brown said or didn’t say while pretending that it was really concerned about the future of the Democratic Party which it wasn’t. Does anyone seriously believe that Ogden would endorse or even write nice things about Sherrod Brown if they weren't concern trolling?
2019 Worst Column
This was a competitive category. I finally chose this Mike Myer column on Bransfield from June:
If Bransfield Did All These Things For So Long How Did He Get Away With It?
I first noted that at the top of the Intelligencer’s front page is the paper’s reminder that the Intelligencer claims to have
“stood guard for 166 years against predatory interests which would violate civil rights.”
And then I answered Myer’s question:
because those who had the power and the microphone (the Catholic Church, local media, and law enforcement) chose not to investigate.
Myer rightly questions the diocese but that is as far as he goes. I’m sure he, like anyone in the area who does not live under a rock, has heard rumors about some of Bransfield’s action in the 13 years that Bransfield has served the diocese. But, as one of the few institutions that had the ability to investigate and bring to light the wrongdoing in the Catholic Church, Ogden Newspapers have clearly given Bransfield a free pass.
Yes, Bransfield was the embodiment of “predatory” and yet Ogden papers did nothing. Finally, as I noted earlier in this year-end review, Ogden papers still do little, if any, reporting on this; they’re content to simply regurgitate (if they don’t ignore) what the Washington Post finds.
Google Analytics tells me that around 4,800 separate individuals visited my blog last. That’s down 16% from 2018 but not unexpected – the number in non-election years have always dropped from the previous year. The number of sessions, however, rose from 11,738 to 13,338 – a rise of 14% which probably means readers are returning more often. Additionally, about 28% of my traffic comes from social media sources which is down slightly from last year.
Reader location did bring one unexpected result. Not surprising, 30% of my readers came from West Virginia with the majority from its northern panhandle. What was unexpected was that Ohio was not second as it has been in previous years; Illinois had twice as many readers as Ohio which finished third ahead of Pennsylvania. I also reached every state in the Union except North Dakota.
Most Popular: Most years I can usually guess what is likely to be my most read post. Not this year – it was
Bluefield State College gets an ethically-challenged president (with update)
The post describes how the former West Liberty University president was named interim president at Bluefield State. In addition to lots of Wheeling-area readers (obviously some West Liberty employees), it had a significant concentration of southern West Virginia readers.
2nd Most Popular: Last week’s summary of the most recent Washington Post investigation was next:
The Washington Post continues its Bransfield investigation
The post highlighted the sale of the bishop's home as part of the Post's continuing Bransfield coverage.
3rd Most Popular: Third was a post on how our local newspaper owner, Robert Nutting, runs his baseball team like his local newspapers which, not surprisingly, drew a lot of Pittsburgh-area readers:
Baseball on the cheap: Nutting and the Pittsburgh Pirates
A new year
It’s a presidential and WV governor election year which should provide lots of material.
Additionally, the West Virginia legislature will soon be back in session.
Finally, I want to give a special thanks to those who pass along my posts in social media.