(I shared my concerns with Tom Gorman, managing editor at the Sun, and asked about the process that led to the article. Gorman declined to comment. In an email, he wrote to me, “If we break down the back story of one story, and then we’re asked about another, and then another, where would it end?”)
Up in the northern part of the state, the coverage in the Reno Gazette-Journal wasn’t especially strong either; the paper’s account is mostly based on quotes from campaign water-carriers. The story, by Ray Hagar, does include this statement from Bain, which was issued Wednesday, after the Sun’s article was posted. Though it shouldn’t be taken at face value, it’s useful to look at alongside the Obama campaign’s attack:
Under Bain Capital’s ownership of Stage Stores from 1988 to 1997, the company doubled the number of stores, doubled the number of employees and grew revenues by 70%. When the company faced challenging economic times in 2000, Bain Capital had no management control or Board representation, and was only a small public shareholder. Today, Stage Stores remains a successful, publicly traded company, with over $1.5 billion in revenues and more than 14,000 employees.
But by far the best local reporting I saw on this subject this week came not from the Silver State, but from The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. That paper’s Stephen Koff turned in a smart, well-researched take on the Bain story when it first surfaced in January. This week, it was reporter Henry J. Gomez offering a closer look.
Gomez gives the bearers of the Democratic message, including former Gov. Ted Strickland, room to say their piece. Then, he asks: “But is Stage the best example for Obama’s new push against Romney?”
In supporting material released Tuesday, the campaign noted that Stage had more than 600 stores in 24 states before its bankruptcy. According to Stage’s web site, the company now operates more than 800 stores in 40 states. The campaign contends that nearly 6,000 employees lost their jobs during Stage’s bankruptcy. The company today employs more than double that number—about 13,000.
And while the campaign says 26 stores closed in Ohio, Stage’s web site lists 25 locations across the state. The stores operate under the Peebles and Moody’s names—brands acquired in the years following Stage’s 2001 reorganization.
A telephone call to a company spokesman was not returned. It is unclear if any of these stores shuttered amid Stage’s struggles and later reopened.
Regardless, this is hardly a case of thousands of jobs disappearing, never to return—a notion the Obama campaign suggested by, offering reporters a web link to “see where Stage Stores used to be located in Ohio.” Many of the cities marked on the Obama campaign’s map also appear on Stage’s map of current store locations.
Gomez’s story is not, and doesn’t pretend to be, the last word on the Bain-Romney storyline. To really tackle this subject, as CJR’s Mary Winter wrote in January, reporters “will benefit from a solid footing in high finance and venture capitalism, and experience reporting on private equity deals.” Few political desks at local newspapers are going to be able to bring that to bear on a one-day story.
But reporters can bring an appropriate skepticism about the campaigns’ messages of the day, and a readiness to take on those messages when they don’t measure up. With one question—“But is Stage the best example for Obama’s new push against Romney?”—Gomez did that here, separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s a good example to his fellow journalists, who must strive to provide news consumers with more than the simple chaff that the campaigns will continue to serve up in the coming months.