Ohio University Post and J-School take a turn for the worse, stay the course for three years

By Damon Krane
February 24, 2013
Blog Exclusive

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What sucks about The Post and OU’s J-school doesn’t apply to every person who’s ever been affiliated with either institution, but it is still worth writing about.

Nevertheless, I feel the need to preface my criticism with three important caveats.

First, The Post has never been homogenous. Even when the paper was at its worst, it still managed to feature the work of solid journalists — news reporters and commentators alike. Several of my fellow progressive campus activists wrote columns for The Post over the years, including Danny Burridge, Steve Kehnel, Erin Senff, Toby Fallsgraff and Ben Mendelsohn. Readers of my website will notice that I too worked for The Post as a weekly columnist in the fall of 2002. Meanwhile The Post has published the work of such excellent reporters as Stephanie V. Siek, Dusica Sue Malesevic, Erin Senff and probably many more I’m forgetting. (Indeed, as I write this I’m remembering people I know who wrote for the Athens News and/or other local publications but perhaps not The Post. And I’m likely forgetting more good Post columnists, too. So I’ll just apologize in advance.) Plus, being a student newspaper, The Post’s leadership and the rest of its staff changes substantially from year to year.

During my time in Athens, between 1999 and 2009, I think The Post was at its best – with regard to its reporting and editorial content – from 2002 through 2003. Indeed, OU’s student newspaper probably reached its peak during this time with the March 20, 2003 edition — an over-sized issue of the paper that provided extensive and varied context on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. If I remember correctly, it was also during this time that one of the newspaper’s sports writers (Tim Pappa?) did some investigative work that was serious enough to garner The Post a libel lawsuit.

Second, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism is not homogenous either. Above, I mentioned a few Scripps students who did excellent work for The Post. As production coordinator/editor in chief for The InterActivist magazine from 2005 through 2008, I had the pleasure to working with many more Scripps students who were also solid journalists.

When it comes to Scripps professors, I would assume some are better than others. It’s just hard to tell since they don’t come out of their cave very often. That in itself is a significant point of my criticism. The abysmal journalistic practices of some of their students — particularly, those who ran The Post from 2005 through 2008 — is another. Add to that the fact that, during this sad period, the professorial cave-dwellers never journeyed out into the light of day to clean up some of their students’ messes. My biggest problem, however, is that all of this occurred at a school so highly regarded by the journalism industry. Thus when Scripps turns out bad students, the U.S. media, Americans and the rest of the world suffer to no small extent.

My third and final caveat is that I know several excellent working journalists right now who got their degrees from Scripps. Likely, those degrees helped these journalists land current and past jobs. I suspect, however, that these journalists’ skills are less a reflection of Scripps and more a reflection of the talent and dedication of these journalists themselves. Regardless, I think it would be silly for any of these people to take offense at my criticism of their alma mater.

That said, The Post’s November 1, 2005 editorial assault on a local anti-war effort marked the beginning of a shameful three year period for The Post and OU’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. My following pieces address various highlights from this period.

“World Can’t Wait… for decent journalism”
November 6, 2005

OU students unite! You have nothing to gain but civic responsibility!
November 8, 2005

“Responding to more J-school non-sense about counter-recruitment…”
November 10, 2005

“Media bias demonstrates need for citizen journalism”
February 10, 2006

“Is this supposed to be a lesson in media ethics?”
April 10, 2006

“Latino group discusses conflict with Ohio University student newspaper”
October 15, 2007

“Ohio University Post goes from laughing off genocide to openly advocating it”
September 18, 2007

And so it was that The Post fell into a deep, dark pit of right-wing commentary, extreme racism, biased news reporting, a near-total disregard for fact-checking, and poor comprehension of both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and basic English grammar. Furthermore, during this shameful period, the faculty of the Scripps School of Journalism mostly stood by idly, as its star pupils sowed confusion and discontent among the populations of OU and Athens. The only exception to my knowledge, as I note below, is when one Scripps professor exited his cave of seclusion to defend The Post against one of its critics — namely me. (See “Is this supposed to be a lesson in media ethics?” above.)

Also, in 2008, shortly after I had published two pieces — “Ohio University newspaper goes from laughing off genocide to openly advocating it,” The Post, 9/18/07 and “Latino group discusses conflict with Ohio University newspaper,” The InterActivist, October 2007 — both of which were harshly critical of racism within The Post (and, albeit to a lesser extent, critical of Scripps as well), another journalism professor joined with one of his students who was a member of The InterActivist’s 2007/2008 staff in an unsuccessful attempt to have me removed from my position as Executive Director of People Might (then The InterActivist magazine’s lead publisher) and as Project Coordinator/Editor-in-Chief of The InterActivist itself.

Although The InterActivist and People Might were both characterized by formal, open, democratic processes, the professor and his student chose to circumvent all of that. They met privately with a single board member of People Might, to voice false accusations about me, to which I could not respond directly since I was not present. Then the board member brought these matters to the rest of People Might’s board, which thankfully dismissed them as irrelevant and likely unfounded.

It was an ugly episode, regardless of the motives of those involved. I suspect the effort may have been a reaction to my criticism of The Post and Scripps (all of which, in contrast, was very public), but there is no way for me to know for sure.

When it came to The Post itself, the paper’s editorial staff between 2005 and 2008 bears most of the responsibility.

According to the fine print in the bottom left corner of The Post’s November 1, 2005 edition, “Editorials represent the majority opinion of the executive editors.” The newspaper follows this with a list of staff members. While the newspaper does not differentiate “executive editors,” it does list the following people as “editors”: Editor-in- Chief Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor Chrissy Lane, Associate Editor Dan Rinderle, Assistant Managing Editor Brittany Kress, City Editor Matt Zapatosky, Campus Editor Matt Burns, Culture Editor Ellie Behling, Sports Editor Mark Shugar, Photo Editor All Toffle, Design Editor Amy Lauer, Contributing Editors Chris Deville, Janet Nester and Michelle Simakis, Copy Chief Kristen Perry, Editorial Writers Joe Vance and Caitlin Perry, General Assignment Editor Carolyn Casey and Web Editor Sean Gaffney.

Of these staff members, it was Kyle Kondik who defended his newspaper’s news coverage of a November 2, 2005 anti-war demonstration against a slew of criticism from demonstrators.

First, The Post’s coverage was criticized because, unlike the two other newspaper’s front page articles of the November 2 demonstration, The Post managed to quote zero of the roughly 200 demonstration participants but seven demonstration opponents, some of whom were not even present at the demonstration. In other words, the “news article,” co-authored by The Post’s contributing editor Chris Deville, managed to quote only people who agreed with the newspaper’s own editorial stance on the demonstration.

What’s more, the other author of the Post article, Emily Vance, admitted at a November 3rd press conference that she had reported a piece of unverified hearsay as her own firsthand observation – specifically that demonstrators “tried to move” the lone counter-protester away from the recruitment center. When the Athens Can’t Wait Coalition demanded that The Post correct its false reporting and acknowledge its biased distortion of the event, Kondik refused.

With regard to The Post’s failure to quote a single demonstration supporter, Kondik falsely claimed that most demonstrators wore masks while others refused to give their names. With regard to the false report that demonstrators “tried to move” the counter-protester, Kondik claimed to be in possession of unpublished photos which supported his paper’s account, but when asked to share these photos with the ACAC, Kondik refused.

(For a full discussion of this controversy, see “Media bias demonstrates need for citizen journalism” above.)

It is also worth noting that one of the two people presumably responsible for writing The Post’s November 1 editorial was Editorial Writer Joe Vance, who as one of The Post’s weekly columnists in 2007 wrote a column for The Post advocating the U.S. carry out genocide against Iraqis and the indiscriminate slaughter of Middle Eastern civilians in general. (I have been unable to learn whether Joe Vance is related to Emily Vance, the other author of The Post’s news article on the November 2, 2005 counter-recruitment demonstration.)

Prior to Vance’s 2007 column, the Latino Student Union had already launched a campaign against racism in The Post after weekly columnist Chris Yonker had printed a column belittling the genocide of Native Americans and referring to Latino and Caribbean immigrants as “scum.” Other students outside the LSU also organized a demonstration against The Post for the same reasons.

At the time of this controversy, fall quarter of 2007, The Post’s Editor-in-Chief was Matt Zapatosky, who, in November 2005 was listed as the newspaper’s City Editor. As it turned out, Zapatosky had decided to hire overtly racist columnists to write for his paper three out of five weekdays the quarter of this controversy.

Among these writers was columnist Jesse Hathaway, who attempted to misconstrue the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as protecting his colleagues from public criticism so that, in effect, all of its critics were opposed to free speech. Not a single faculty member from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism stepped in to clear up any of this mess for the public, and it was up to Athens News editor Terry Smith to write a column reviewing the actual nature of the First Amendment.

But when it was all said and done, The Post had refused all of its critic’s demands, including that the paper’s staff undergo racial sensitivity training. (For a full discussion of this controversy and links to every piece mentioned, see “Latino Group discusses conflict with Ohio University newspaper” above.)

Thus The Post’s performance with regard to the Athens Can’t Wait Coalition’s November 2, 2005 demonstration marked the beginning of an abysmal three-year period for the newspaper and certainly for the prestigious E.W. Scripps faculty as well.

I am not aware of any journalism faculty member commenting publicly on The Post’s racial controversy of 2007/2008. However, as I mentioned earlier, one faculty member, Bernhard Debatin, did comment publicly on The Post’s handling of the November 2, 2005 demonstration – to defend it. In doing so, I believe Debatin – ironically, a critic of the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq – was not only defending his students, but defending himself and his colleagues, too. As I believe my analysis of the 2005/2006 and 2007/2008 controversies clearly demonstrates, Debatin’s defense was entirely without merit in 2005, and all the more troubling in light of his students’ and colleagues’ subsequent performances in 2007/2008. (See “Is this supposed to be a lesson in media ethics” above.)

Sadly, there is even more unfortunate news about The Ohio University Post and E.W. Scripps School of Journalism – both before and after the period I’ve addressed here. But that is for a future essay.

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2 Responses to Ohio University Post and J-School take a turn for the worse, stay the course for three years

  1. Pingback: 10 Years Later: Anti-War Writings, Old & New | Damon Krane

  2. Pingback: Interview with Former InterActivist Editor Damon Krane | Damon Krane

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