June 25, 2022

Choosing front page stories based on news, not making political statements: Letter from the Editor

We do not choose the stories we play on the front page of The Plain Dealer or the home page of cleveland.com to make political statements.

I’ve been hearing from people who think we should.

What’s driving it this time around is the January 6 Committee, which has shown in clear, undeniable detail how a sitting U.S. president, Donald Trump, conspired to destroy our system of government by stealing the election from the rightfully elected president, Joe Biden.

Some people watching the hearings are frightened by what they’ve heard. They say they fear that the people running for office this year who have campaigned on the fiction that Donald Trump won the 2020 election imperil the republic, and they say we should trumpet that message every day on our front pages. They call on us to use our front page to save our democracy.

We’re well aware in our newsroom of how close Donald Trump came to destroying what we hold so dear. The evidence has been clear for more than a year. We wish more people would take an honest look at the evidence and halt the nonsense of claiming the election was stolen. The most dangerous person in Ohio right now is J.D. Vance, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who continues to peddle the fiction.

But our front pages are not campaign tools. The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com are news platforms, and our specialty, as a major regional newsroom, is providing local and Ohio news that our readers cannot find elsewhere.

There was a time when The Plain Dealer was the sole source of news for large swaths of our audience. Today, however, Americans have more sources of national and international news than ever before. Many of those sources have big teams to report the national and international news, meaning they can do it much more effectively than we can. Fortunately, we have access to their reporting through our wire services.

The team that puts together our wire report sifts through all of the available stories each day for the richest examples, which we include inside The Plain Dealer and publish on cleveland.com. Our front page, however, remains a place where, largely, we publish the best stories from our team. No one else covers a lot of what we report on, so we want to make sure our readers see it.

For example, you’ve been able to find many dozens of stories about the Jan. 6 Commitee elsewhere, but no one else brings you news about how the Cuyahoga County Council is squandering $66 million in slush funds they have set up with federal stimulus dollars. No one else is reporting they are using these precious dollars on such frivolities as a golf course clubhouse. No one else is reporting on how the council created the slush fund program without ever discussing it in public. The Ohio Sunshine Law requires public bodies to make their decisions in public. The council communicated privately to establish the $66 million in funds. The only reason Northeast Ohio knows this is because of our reporting, on our front pages.

We do, rarely, put national or international stories on our front pages. In such cases the enormity of the news demands that we break from a practice of highlighting local news. Recent examples include the Ukraine invasion and, yes, the opening of the Jan. 6 hearings. These hearings are as big as Watergate hearings nearly 50 years ago, so as they were starting, we trumpeted them on the front page.

But not for political reasons. It was the scope of the news.

One last thing. Because I’m tackling this topic, I feel certain I will receive emails from some people ripping me for rejecting claims that Biden stole the election. Please don’t bother. And, maybe, take a month away from watching Fox News. They’re lying to you. Use the month to look at the evidence and judge it for yourself, using your own powers of independent judgment, without Tucker Carlson in your head. Any objective review of the cold hard facts makes clear that Trump tried to subvert our treasured form of government to stay in power. That’s how dictatorships are born. If we deal only in facts – honestly — there is no other conclusion to be made. We should all be standing together to ensure it never happens again.

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