A lively and influential voice in the Cincinnati region for more than a century already is a ghost of its former self as the final deadline looms for The Post.
Daily circulation less than a tenth of its peak numbers, newsroom staff less than a third of its former size, the afternoon newspaper that once dispatched reporters to cover Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in Florida, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the collapse of the Soviet Union now struggles to cover the city and northern Kentucky communities it helped change.
With The Cincinnati Post and its sister Kentucky Post set to close Dec. 31, the some 50 remaining employees carry out their usual work while also deciding what to toss and what to take. The stacks of boxes full of files, documents and belongings grow.
“It’s starting to hit home a little more now,” said Luke Saladin, a Post reporter for nearly seven years. “But people knew it was coming. To me, The Post that people have historically known has already been gone for a few years.”
There’s been little doubt about the fate of The Post, which increasingly looked like a journalistic Alamo battling powerful trends: first, the rise of the suburbs and changing lifestyles that pulled readers away from afternoon newspapers, then the rapid expansion of television news, and the Internet age that offers myriad sources for information and new advertising outlets.
As recently as 1960, The Post’s daily circulation was more than 270,000 and the nation had 1,459 afternoon newspapers. That was down to 614 by 2006, according to trade publication Editor & Publisher, and Post weekday circulation is about 27,000. Multiple newspapers in U.S. cities have also been disappearing. Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio’s two larger cities, lost an afternoon paper decades ago.
“It’s the relatively rare community that does have two papers anymore,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. Joint operating agreements under the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, which allow newspapers to merge business operations when one is facing financial failure, have only slowed the trends.
“There’s been pretty much a thinning of the herd on those as well,” Edmonds said.
Gannett Co., which owns The Cincinnati Enquirer, notified The Post three years ago it would not renew its 1977 agreement when it expired Dec. 31. For Post owner E.W. Scripps Co., there was study of possible ways to maintain a daily newspaper in the media company’s corporate home, then a decision that it wasn’t financially feasible.
“It had to come down to what’s realistic,” said Rich Boehne, a former Post reporter who’s now Scripps’ chief operating officer.
On July 17, Boehne walked the few blocks from his office to The Post to tell employees about Scripps’ decision.
“There was no surprise. It was just really sad that it was finally official,” Boehne said. “What you’re telling people is here is a definite date when you’ll lay down your arms and be done.”
For editor Mike Philipps, a 30-year Post veteran, a last mission is to go out in style with the Dec. 31 editions.
“The upside of knowing you’re going to die is you get to do some planning,” Philipps said. “The downside … is you get to do some planning.”
The long goodbye at times seems a little like Tom Sawyer watching his own funeral as tributes to The Post have rolled in, including in “Post-Mortem” columns by former staffers.
“We don’t want to get all sentimental and sappy about this. We’re all newspeople,” said Nick Clooney, a longtime columnist for The Post and former TV anchorman who’s also the father of actor George Clooney. “But the truth is, in a very basic way what is happening here is the loss of a voice, of an attitude, of a different opinion on the way things are going to be dealt with in our community.”
In some ways, the disappearance of another daily newspaper is less noticeable in today’s era of multimedia news outlets.
“There’s no question there have been a lot of things to come in and replace the vacuum when a second newspaper closes,” said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
“But when you’re talking about a newspaper, don’t just think about the physical product, think about the army of journalists covering your city. Losing those professional journalists on the ground, how many stories is that that don’t get written, how many scandals is that that government gets away with?”
Kunkel, a former Post reporter himself, also talks about the loss of “an incubator of journalistic talent.” Ex-Post reporters and editors populate newsrooms across the country, and work in a range of communications, public relations and education roles.
At a recent gathering at Scotti’s Italian Restaurant, a favorite place for Post reporters to lunch while planning the next day’s stories, former staffers recalled newsroom characters such as Michael Kelly, the Post reporter who moved on as a writer and editor for national magazines (he’s played by actor Hank Azaria in the 2003 movie “Shattered Glass”) before he was killed covering the war in Iraq.
Lisa Warren, now editor of daily newspapers in nearby Hamilton and Middletown owned by Cox Newspapers Inc., laughed about the time Kelly left a company car stuck in the mud and hitchhiked some 20 miles back to the newsroom to file his story on the controversy over a uranium processing plant. There were also tales of loud newsroom arguments, blue language, gallows humor, and mainly, the dedication and spirit of Post journalists.
“We all just loved it,” said Lisa Popyk, now global employee communications manager for Procter & Gamble Co., who covered the fall of the Soviet Union for The Post.
Boehne said Scripps plans to maintain a strong local news presence in the Cincinnati region on television and online through its WCPO-TV station, an ABC affiliate.
“I would be very surprised if you don’t see that continue to expand,” he said.
The Enquirer said it also has plans to offset The Post’s end.