Tuesday, November 13, 2018
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Journalism when leadership falters

Published: 2/4/18 @ 12:00


By Todd Franko (Contact)


This week, Michigan continued to buckle under the weight of so many institutions that failed in the protection of its young daughters.

Michigan State University leadership, school athletics officials, law enforcement, medical leaders, local sports academies and even parents.

All had to hear a second- consecutive week of young women – more than 260 now – offer tales of a doctor gone wrong; their youth robbed.

What brought this false trust to its knees was local journalism.

One Michigan victim – with no other institution to turn to for justice – turned to local journalism.

The past two weeks was the result.

While this was happening and with America watching our northern neighbor, I had the task of evaluating Ohio journalism First Amendment award entries.

Go to sleep tonight knowing that the institutional failings in Michigan are not unique to that state. They are everywhere, including Ohio.

Below are excerpts from local newspapers in Ohio, summarizing what local journalism accomplished just in 2017:

In Chillicothe, former Ohio Principal of the Year Jeff Fisher was under investigation for inappropriate relationships with students. There hasn’t been a records request we’ve made thus far to the district that hasn’t led to getting our attorney involved or shown evidence of the district withholding records.

The district steadfastly declined to say which employee was “working from home” and avoided direct questions about Fisher’s identity as we began our investigation. The district finally complied in November – the day before Fisher’s indictment. He stands trial in 2018.

In Lancaster, former mayor Brian Kuhn’s gambling habits and questionable past business practices changed the city and shook up its political system.

Newspaper work resulted in the mayor resigning and the public questioning the local GOP, which rules the local political arena. Kuhn is the fourth Republican elected official convicted of a crime in Fairfield County in less than 20 years. Local GOP officials denied they knew anything about his problems before the election.

In Columbus, the Dispatch investigated top state information-technology officials who were steering millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to favored consultants, including one employing several of their former state co-workers.

For seven months, from its initial records request to the eve of publication, The Dispatch had to fight, and fight hard, to obtain every record it requested – records that proved over-priced, no-bid contracts were improperly routed to certain consultants.

The Ohio Department of Administrative Services denied and delayed records access. The state agency was ultimately unsuccessful in its bid to cover up its misconduct. State officials are now overhauling contract procedures.

In Sandusky County, a grand jury indicted a former Sandusky County sheriff’s detective. It was a continuation of newspaper reporting that, in 2016, led to the arrest and imprisonment of the former sheriff, Kyle Overmyer.

(This case goes deeper into even alleging mishandling of this case by the Ohio attorney general – the man who wants to be governor.)

This is the work of local journalism in one year in Ohio, and it was squarely against officials entrusted by the public to do public good.

These weren’t even all the award entries. Nor did all institutional failure events in Ohio rise up to legal battles such as these, as shown by our own Judge Diane Vettori case.

Congratulations to the Columbus Dispatch, the Sandusky Register, the Chillicothe Gazette and the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette – who all managed the above work.

This is a small amount of public officials. It’s not the majority, and that is reassuring.

But what this trail shows is that many of our trusted institutions are flawed. What it shows more is that even the best in our institutional leadership around these flaws are often powerless or disinterested in getting in the way.

Michigan shows this.

Ohio shows this.

Washington shows this.

Thankfully, local journalism shows this, too.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on V00indy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


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