Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why Is City Hall So Thin-Skinned?

The call comes in Saturday afternoon while I'm watching the PGA Open; why, asks Mark Williamson between Tiger on 13 and 16, would we not cover the Mayor's Friday morning announcement that Keep Akron Beautiful is the clearinghouse for city projects on whether they meet the "green" environmental litmus test but we did cover the Friday afternoon campaigning from challenger Joe Finley?

Here's why: the Mayor's office doesn't bother to tell us what's newsworthy about the third in five days availability and Joe Finley's campaign did. With a month to go before the election both candidates deserve coverage, not just the Mayor, and some of the numbers comparing coverage (see below) are striking. The biggest pure campaign event so far has been the sniping over campaign finance; we ran copy stories from both Finley and Plusquellic.

On Friday the choice came between assigning Larry State to cover the Mayor -- on the tease of something "environmental" at the Zoo -- or keeping his appointment for a tour of Babcock and Wilcox's new $15 million dollar R&D Center in Barberton for a more in-depth look ahead of the official ribbon cutting in Barberton this upcoming week. What's an editor to do? No contest: $15 million versus a 15-second sound bite on an unspecified topic. Next time, Mark, practice a little openness down there on High Street instead of acting as though every cough or burp is Top Secret.

What amazes me is how the Mayor is still so thin-skinned after more than two decades of rule (and it has been rule) to the point where he presumes any mention of an opponent is a personal slight. Just to be on the side of the angels here I did a simple archive search of stories with Plusquellic versus Finley posted to AkronNewsNow; the results:

Joe Finley: 33 stories since April 10, 2007 when his campaign started
Don Plusquellic: 124 stories since January 4, 2007 when he announced

The bulk of the story count since Finley filed: overwhelmingly to the Mayor's column.

It's also important to note the Mayor got plenty of easy passes in that time period; those stories included how he did against Coondog in a hamburger eat-off; the routine observations on the impact of the World Golf Championship in Akron (we call that a "duh" story but do them anyway); the Mayor's cameo in a comic book with Jughead; what concerts are playing at Lock 3 (does Frank Jackson announce concerts in Cleveland?); and support of various charity and public service campaigns such as "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes"...

Coverage also included notice of his divorce; losing his tussle with federal judges over a new building right next door to the Seiberling federal building; support of tax issues for schools; the fate of Highland Square; troubles with the police union; picking a new fire chief; his State of the City; dealing with the University for new hotel space and a new stadium and arena; and that little thing called keeping Goodyear in Akron.

I'd also note we posted stories on how he wasn't available to personally answer one-on-one questions regarding the Vinson police shooting report from Cuyahoga County, opting for a canned audio release we did use; he also wasn't available for the back-down from federal judges when plans to put up a new office building were scrapped.

It's also important to note we were there when he came out of his first meeting with the judges; my extending our Q&A on the plaza gave our friends at WKYC time to come over from their offices across the street, which meant he got play on radio, web and TV.

I also gave him a ride back to City Hall that afternoon -- never did that for Finley, although if he needed to hitch a ride I'd do it for him, too.

I have frequent conversations along these lines with my boss, and I know he gets frequent feedback not only from the Mayor's supporters but also his opponents on just what's fair. Four times the coverage for the incumbent, even considering the power of the office, just might be enough for the challenger to have a legitimate bone to pick with Akron's editors on why they don't think the democratic process is worthy enough for voters to decide for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Ed,
    Well crafted and supported. I can actually hear your voice thundering away as I read this.
    I could debate the difference between covering "Mayor" Plusquellic versus "Candidate" Plusquellic but I think we can save that for another post.
    Still, in reading your blog posting, two thoughts come to mind:

    1. Don't give rides to strangers.
    2. When in doubt, refer to thought number one.