Cracking Down On Jaywalkers

As I was walking home last night, I saw a blurb on the news crawl on the facade of the Columbus Dispatch building about Columbus police cracking down on downtown area jaywalkers.  Oh, great, I thought: another questionable allocation of police resources to address a negligible problem when more pressing issues need attention.  It reminded me of an incident that occurred many years ago, in which a lawyer hot-footed it into our firm to avoid being ticketed for jaywalking by a policeman.

But when I read the Dispatch article on the effort, I saw that the effort is far more nuanced than the blurb indicated, and I actually support what the police are doing.

The underlying problem is the recent time change, which means that Columbus is plunged into darkness in the middle of the evening rush hour.  The statistics show that deaths from car-pedestrian collisions increase during the fall, so there is a real problem to be addressed.  And, according to the Dispatch report, the enforcement effort is both even-handed — police are looking for jaywalkers and for drivers who make illegal turns or fail to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way — and is designed to focus on reminding people of their legal obligations, by having yellow-jacketed motorcycle cops stationed at key downtown intersections to talk to pedestrians and look for drivers who don’t yield, and representatives of city organizations handing out leaflets about the traffic laws near bus stops.

As I’ve noted recently, if drivers are inattentive, being a pedestrian can be very dangerous.  And if Columbus police are going to target drivers who fail to yield, it’s only fair to cite pedestrians who fail to comply with traffic laws, too.  We’re all sharing the streets and crosswalks of downtown Columbus together.  (And while we’re at it, looking for cyclists who ignore the rules of the road would be a good idea, too.)

I always cross at crosswalks, anyway, and while I like to make good time on my daily journey to and from work I’ll gladly restrain myself from crossing too early in exchange for police efforts to remind drivers about keeping an eye out for the pedestrians among us.

Without Dispatch

An era is ending in Columbus.  The Dispatch Printing Company is selling the Columbus Dispatch, our local daily newspaper, to the New Media Investment Group, a holding company that is headquartered in New York City.

The Dispatch has long been identified with the Wolfes, an influential Columbus-based family that has owned and published the newspaper for more than 100 years.  Indeed, the Wolfes are so associated with the Dispatch that when the sale was announced this week the current publisher, John F. Wolfe, wrote a letter to the community explaining why the family would part with their flagship publication.

Wolfe’s stated reasons are familiar to anyone who follows the newspaper business:  he believes that independent, locally owned newspapers cannot realistically compete in an era where media conglomerates have the advantage of economies of scale.  Such economies are crucial in a business where the costs of acquiring, printing, and distributing a hard copy newspaper — to say nothing of providing it with content — put the daily newspaper delivered to your doorstep at a clear disadvantage compared to digital outlets that don’t have to buy paper and ink, maintain printing presses, and pay printers and delivery people.  When you combine the cost disadvantage with overall national trends of falling subscription numbers and declining advertising revenue, you produce a witches’ brew that ultimately has been fatal to many independent dailies.  The Dispatch has tried to cut costs, by shrinking the physical size of the newspaper among other steps, but ultimately it, too, succumbed to the inexorable forces of the marketplace and the reading habits of the American public.

The Wolfe family has been a central force in Columbus forever, and whether you agreed or disagreed with the Dispatch‘s editorial positions or approach to the news you at least knew that their hearts were here, in Columbus, and their focus was on their newspaper.  Now the Dispatch will be operated by a faraway conglomerate that owns 126 dailies in 32 states.  For those of us in Columbus for whom the Dispatch has been synonymous with the Wolfe family, it is a stunning development — and now we will see what those economies of scale will look like, and how being one newspaper in a corporate stable of more than 100 newspapers will affect news coverage, content, and the focus of local reporting.  We can safely predict that Columbus will never be the same.

The Obit Writer (II)

Here’s the latest work of the Webner family obit writer:  Mom’s obituary, which was published today in the Columbus Dispatch and in the Akron Beacon Journal, Mom’s old hometown newspaperMom hasn’t lived in Akron for 40 years, but we know she still has good friends there who would want to know about her passing.

IMG_5049The on-line versions of the obits appear on legacy.com, which must be a kind of national clearinghouse for obituaries.  The website versions of Mom’s obit also include links to an on-line “guest book” where people can give their condolences and share their memories, and directions to the funeral home where we will be having calling hours later this week.

The website also offers a link to ancestry.com and information about how many Webners were recorded in the 1920 census and fought on the Union side in the Civil War.  Other links provide information on funeral etiquette, such as helpful advice that you shouldn’t wear flip flops or glittery clothing to a memorial service.  It all shows how news websites are far more flexible — and provide far more advertising opportunities — than print newspapers.  People die, but the wheels of internet commerce roll ever onward.

Our family would like to thank everyone who has shared words of encouragement and support and kind thoughts about Mom.  They are all much appreciated.

Learning About The House That Chic (And Howard) Built

Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe, is one of the most famous football stadiums in the land.  But who built that cavernous concrete edifice on the banks of the Olentangy River — literally and figuratively?

IMG_1827If you are a Buckeyes fan, you probably know the name of the figurative architect.  It’s Charles William “Chic” Harley, the great player who put Ohio State on the national gridiron map and started the quasi-religion that is Ohio State football.  Harley could run, pass, punt, and kick field goals and extra points, and he led Ohio State to its first undefeated season in 1916.  With Harley leading the way, Ohio State football became so popular that the Buckeyes outgrew their existing field and needed to look at a new — and much larger — home.

Which brings us to the literal architect, whose name was Howard Dwight Smith.  He not only designed Ohio Stadium, and won a gold medal for public building design from the American Institute of Architects in the process, he also oversaw the construction of St. John Arena and French Field House, which are other, well-known campus landmarks.

Want to learn more about these two legends of the Ohio State campus?  You can get ready for the Ohio State football season by signing up for a timely On the Road with Ohioana presentation on August 17.  The program will feature a tour of these and other campus landmarks, including the newly restored William Oxley Thompson Library, as well as remarks from OSU professor emeritus Raimond Goerler and Columbus Dispatch sportswriter Bob Hunter, the author of Chic and other books about Ohio State.  I’m pumped about the chance to learn a little bit more about my alma mater and my team and to support the Ohioana Library Association in the process.  If you’re interested in joining me, you can sign up here.  At only $35 for a four-hour tour and program, it’s a real Buckeye Bargain!

Goodbye Gordon Gee

According to the Columbus Dispatch and other news reports, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee has announced that he is retiring, effective July 1.

Gee’s retirement comes on the heels of some ill-advised comments about Catholics that were intended as humor but struck many people as disparaging.  Gee insists that he is not retiring because of the comments, but rather because of his age and the University’s need for long-term planning.  Whatever the real reason might be, it’s clear that Gee’s jibes about Catholics — and some of the other curious comments he has made in recent years — have not been well-received by some members of the University community.  His most recent remarks were criticized by the President of the Board of Trustees and he was put on a remediation plan that sought to change his behavior.

Gee, 69, served twice as the University’s President.  My guess is that most people believe that — gaffes notwithstanding — he has left the University stronger and better positioned than it was when he first took office.  He has been a tireless fundraiser, and with his bow tie and constant public appearances he became something of a celebrity.  Speaking as an OSU alum, I wish President Gee well, but I’m also interested in seeing who will be hired to replace him and whether they might take a different approach to what is a very big job.  In Ohio, the President of The Ohio State University can and should be a very significant and influential figure in the statewide community, and it will be a huge challenge to find and hire the right person for a very important position.

Is Mitt Romney Rising Or Falling In Ohio?

At yesterday’s Ohio State home game a Mitt Romney for President blimp circled Ohio Stadium and its vast tailgating areas and drew lots of comments from people favoring and opposing the Republican candidate.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a presidential campaign blimp at an OSU game.

The blimp is an apt metaphor for the overriding question about Battleground Ohio:  is Mitt Romney rising, or deflating?

As always seems to be the case in this unpredictable swing state, the signs are decidedly mixed.  Romney held a huge rally Friday night north of Cincinnati, attracting thousands of people who patiently stood outside listening to speeches on a cold evening.  On the other hand, the final Columbus Dispatch mail poll of Ohio voters, released just this morning, has President Obama up by two points, 50-48.  However, that lead is well within the poll’s 2.2 % margin of error and represents a huge comeback for Romney since the last Dispatch poll, taken before the debates, in which Romney trailed by nine points.  But, the poll shows that Obama has a huge lead among people who have already voted.  On the other hand, the poll is based upon the statements of those who returned it, who represent only 15% of the ballots that were sent out in the first place.

Get the picture?  It’s whisker-close here in the Buckeye State.

My unscientific sense is that the Hurricane Sandy episode helped President Obama stem the Romney momentum that had built since the first debate.  One hurricane, however, isn’t going to be decisive.  From talking to fans craning their necks at that Romney blimp, I think most people have made up their minds.  There may be undecideds ruminating on how to cast their ballot on Tuesday, but the vast majority of Ohioans are ready to be done with this election.  That means that the outcome will hinge on turnout, and the “ground games” we’ve heard so much about over the past few months.  Not coincidentally, both candidates and their proxies are here today and tomorrow, hoping to whip their supporters into a turnout frenzy.

The forecast for Tuesday, incidentally, is for clear skies and temperatures in the 40s — and no storms to discourage people from going to the polls.

Neck And Neck In The Buckeye State Battleground

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was in town on Saturday.  He did some campaigning before he went to the first quarter of the Ohio State-Miami RedHawks game — Miami being his alma mater — and then he jetted off to some other battleground state.  Ryan’s been in Ohio multiple times already, as have President Obama, Mitt Romney, and Vice President Biden. The New York Times reports that Ryan even carries a lucky Buckeye in his pocket.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of them all in the days ahead.

The campaigns are treating Ohio as a toss-up right now, and according to polling data, it is.  The most recent look at Ohio, a pre-Republican convention poll by the Columbus Dispatch, had the presidential race tied, 45-45, and also had the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel tied, 44-44.  What better definition of a battleground state than one where contests are not just within the margin of error, but literally tied?  The airwaves are full of ads for and against various candidates, and the campaigns seem to be scientifically targeting certain areas — even certain suburbs — as they look for votes.

It feels like a close race here, too.  In 2008, there was a remarkable outpouring of support in Ohio for President Obama.  You saw it in unlikely places like Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb that traditionally has been a Republican stronghold.  The President won Ohio by nearly 5 percentage points.

This year I haven’t seen that same level of buzz for the President.  Activists and the professional pols are trying hard to drum up excitement, but many people seem to have backed away from politics a bit, perhaps because they believe the President hasn’t delivered the change he promised in 2008.  Whether they re-engage with the political process now that Labor Day has passed, the Republican ticket is set, and the traditional campaign season has arrived will tell us a lot about which way Ohio, the quintessential swing state, will swing this time around.