The Columbus Dispatch

Paul Pierce, Le Bron James

The LeBron beat: Reporter stops covering Ohio’s governor, starts covering its king

Joe Vardon just started covering the most important man in Ohio. No, not the governor —  that was his old gig.

On Sept. 17, Vardon officially began reporting on LeBron James for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, leaving his previous job covering Ohio Gov. John Kasich for The Columbus Dispatch.

On Wednesday, he closed the sale of his old house in the suburbs of Columbus. On Friday, he plans to finalize the purchase of a new home outside of Cleveland. Sunday, the Cavaliers play their first pre-season game. And on Tuesday, James — and Vardon — are flying to Brazil for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason matchup against the Miami Heat.

Fortunately Vardon is used to life on the road, having driven up and down the state repeatedly during the last few years to cover politics. In fact, long hours and travel is one of many similarities between covering Ohio’s governor and reporting on its king.

What else is the same? For one thing, both the governor and James are high-profile subjects that are only available at key moments, Vardon said via phone on his way to a Cavaliers scrimmage. To cover these figures effectively, a reporter needs to become familiar with the web of connections surrounding them. For Kasich, that meant getting to know his administration, cabinet and political operation. In James’ case, it means familiarizing himself with his teammates, his coaches and officials in the front office. He also has to stay up-to-date on James’ burgeoning television career, his charitable foundation and marketing firm.

“Whether it’s a high-profile political figure or a high-profile athlete, you have the figure themselves, and you have to cover them and ask them questions and know where they are,” Vardon said. “But to do the job right, you have to understand the people around them, because to know the subject is to understand the people close to him.”

This isn’t Vardon’s first hitch covering James. Vardon attended James’ first NBA game in Madison Square Garden while working for the Wooster (Ohio) Daily Record and Dix Communications Newspapers. He reported on James through the 2006 playoffs and in August took a job with The (Toledo, Ohio) Blade covering everything from county government to University of Michigan football. After reporting on the 2010 gubernatorial election as special projects editor at The Blade, the Dispatch hired him away to cover Kasich.

Vardon says covering politics and working as an investigative journalist has made him a better sports reporter. During his stints at The Blade and the Dispatch, he sharpened his FOIA skills, got better at asking tough questions and improved his writing. The idea of meeting prominent figures — he once shook Joe Biden’s hand and fist-bumped Jay-Z — is less intimidating now than it was when he covered James in his 20s, Vardon said.

“You just get to a point where that kind of thing doesn’t get to you anymore,” Vardon said. “When you’re 25, which I was, it’s one thing. But when you’re 34 and covering people who move in these circles, it becomes part of the job.”

But for all the similarities between the two beats, there are some big differences, Vardon said. For one thing, there is more demand for information about James worldwide, which means more competition for his attention. For another, Kasich is bound by office and public records laws to be transparent. Not so with an employee of a privately owned NBA franchise. And the nuances of governing are perhaps less applicable to the basketball court as they are to the political beat.

So why was Vardon willing to move houses, change jobs and spend much of the interminable NBA season away from home? Vardon sees James’ quest to win a championship for his hometown as a special assignment, he said.

“It’s just one of the most unique jobs in the country,” he said. “There aren’t many like it.” Read more


Columbus’ Other Paper will close later this month

The Other Paper
Columbus, Ohio, alt-weekly The Other Paper will close at the end of January. It’s owned by the Dispatch Printing Company, which publishes the Columbus Dispatch, as well as an A&E paper called Alive!

“In viewing the research of who reads the two publications, and after hearing from the local advertising community, it became more and more obvious that one publication would better serve our readers and advertisers,” said Michael Fiorile, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Dispatch Printing Co.

The Other Paper was sold to the Dispatch Printing Company in 2011.

Related: Two former staffers at Albuquerque, N.M.’s Weekly Alibi start a nonprofit news site after one of them gets laid off (Santa Fe Reporter)

Previously: Sun-Times ownership of Chicago Reader would be unusual in alt-weekly world Read more


Columbus Dispatch editor: Front page errors ‘made me want to vomit’

Here’s one newspaper editor who doesn’t mince words when it comes to mistakes.

Columbus Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison wrote a Sunday column to admit and explain some recent, embarrassing errors in the paper. At the top of the list of regrettable mistakes was the fact the Dispatch twice misspelled the first name of President Barack Obama — and on the front page, to boot. From Marrison:

In the past few weeks we’ve made a series of blunders — each minor — that individually did not ring alarm bells but collectively made me ill.

Thursday’s front page made me want to vomit.

It’s embarrassing to type the next six words, but I must: We misspelled the president’s first name.

And we did it twice.

Granted, Barack Obama’s first name isn’t a simple one, like George or Bill, but we should never misspell that name.

He said the errors were a result of the paper being supplied with Obama photos that had incorrect captions. Dispatch staff failed to notice the misspellings.

Marrison detailed other recent offenses:

If that weren’t bad enough (and it is), in the past few weeks we also misspelled the names of Ohio State basketball player Jared Sullinger in a headline (Sulligner) and auto racer Kurt Busch in a briefs package (Bucsh); had the score wrong in a story about the Gator Bowl (even though it was correct in numerous other places); and made John Edwards the vice president (instead of the Democratic nominee for that job in 2004).

A rough run.

Interestingly, Marrison’s column said the paper sends out daily accuracy surveys to “subjects of news stories” in order to gather feedback. The data from these surveys currently give the paper an “accuracy rate above 99 percent,” according to Marrison.

That number seems unusually high, given the fact that over 70 years of newspaper accuracy research has found that sources reported errors in between roughly 40 and 60 percent of newspaper news articles. The most recent newspaper accuracy study, published in 2005, found an error rate of 59 percent (sixth paragraph).

Still, the Dispatch is rare in making the commitment to send out daily surveys to sources. I emailed Marrison to find out more about the surveys, and will update with any reply. Read more


Columbus Dispatch pulls ‘homeless voice’ video off YouTube

Lost Remote
At the request of The Columbus Dispatch, YouTube has removed an unauthorized copy of its “homeless voice” video after the segment went viral, gaining 12 million views and a new voice-over career for a local homeless man, Ted Williams.

The video gained nationwide attention after someone copied it from The Dispatch’s website and uploaded it to YouTube. Since then, Williams has appeared on the “Today” show and has received voice-over offers from a number of companies.

The Dispatch was completely within its rights to ask YouTube to remove the video, which clearly was a copyright infringement. Of course, new YouTube versions are bound to continue to appear.

But, as Cory Bergman writes, the value in Williams’ story is that it went viral:

“It must be maddening for The Dispatch, but welcome to the new reality of social distribution. For stories that take on a life of their own, the benefit of massive distribution — even if you don’t control it — outweighs the value of walling it off on your own site.”

And Bergman (a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board) adds, “Pulling the clip is like a slap in the face to the community that helped make the story explode.”

He is right. But with some advance preparation, The Dispatch and other media outlets could benefit greatly from this type of unexpected smash hit. A few points to consider:

  • It is impossible to predict what will go viral, but your readers can make it happen if you let them.
  • Nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t make content available when and where viewers expect it, they will post it themselves, and quickly.
  • To that point, YouTube allows for the creation of channels that can highlight and brand your videos.
  • YouTube also offers advertising solutions, which would certainly provide a return on investment from 12 million page views.
  • But if you prefer to keep all of your video on-site, it is still important to allow some amount of social sharing and embedding. (See “vacuum,” above.)
  • And if you are using the right video content management system, even your “shared” videos can still carry your advertising messages.

As Bergman writes, social media is a new force to be reckoned with. But its power can be made to work for you. Just remember, fortune favors the well-prepared. Read more

1 Comment

Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.

Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive: