“To me it’s a prioritization problem more than a resource problem,” Cook wrote. “Newspapers spend a lot of time covering and writing about events or meetings that readers could attend themselves. But ultimately it’s up to the individual reporter to dig and ask hard questions, and to use their experience covering government to draw connections and tell stories that have no other way of being told.”
The emphasis on priorities, too, is a valid point. The Blade may be too much of a hike from North Canton for the sort of down-the-road pursuit that unearthed the investigation, but more local papers like The Repository and Beacon Journal could have added this story to their “tickler file” and checked for periodic updates. As journalists are wont to say, this didn’t pass the smell test, so odds seemed high it might pique some kind of law enforcement interest.
Since they didn’t, it suggests that these papers have focused their remaining resources on narrowly local stories—a choice that has costs, but also in many ways makes sense in the current media landscape. Meanwhile, the fact that MacGillis uncovered the Ohio investigation and sparked a round of local coverage is a sign that for all of the industry turmoil, national political reporting remains pretty robust, and at times capable of reaching beyond the Beltway. (The New Republic in particular is now on firmer footing, and even looking to expand.) And we shouldn’t forget that the story that apparently prompted the investigation came from The Blade, which, like The Plain Dealer and a few others in Ohio, is a local paper that continues to provide strong politics coverage.
So while there are certainly worrying gaps and holes in contemporary politics coverage—and, as Oplinger of the Beacon Journal acknowledged, many newspapers are still “working through” how to make the most of their remaining resources—there are some silver linings to be found here. In the coming months, it will be up to reporters in the Buckeye State to make the most of what works in the current media landscape. An avalanche of money is coming our way, and the press is going to have to work hard—and work together—to sift through this heavily-funded bombast and help the public learn who these candidates really are.