Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's Happened to Accountability Journalism in NE Ohio?


This past January, former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie Jr. stressed to students at the Campus Coverage Project held at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism the importance of accountability journalism.   Journalism is not blogging, it's not about rumors, it's not promotion, advertising or public relations.   Journalism has an essential and crucial function in any democratic society.   Journalists must hold institutions and the powerful accountable for their actions or lack of action.

Kent State student reporter Doug Brown has done a superb job digging out information on how Kent State University was planning to name its basketball arena after Jason M. Cope, a man who had to pay millions in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission.   Apparently, Kent State president Lester Lefton withheld that information from the Board before it voted to approve the name change.   Apparently, athletic director Joel Nielsen withheld that information from the Board before it voted to approve the name change.  Apparently, the Board whose job it is to provide oversight, provided absolutely none.   Pop the name Jason M. Cope into Google and hit the button and on the first page there's a litigation release from the SEC.

What's of greater concern, however, is the lack of accountability journalism by the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Record Courier, Cleveland television, NPR, ESPN Radio (yes, sports reporters can be reporters) and Kent's student radio & television stations.

As a country, we've witnessed the serious consequences of rubber-stamp boards.   Here, there's not just a question about the lack of board oversight.  Both Lefton and Nielsen need to be asked why they withheld crucial information from the Board.

One thing is certain.   Any communication professional would know that Cope's history would come out.   Someone sitting in the stands would wonder, even though apparently Board members did not, who is Jason M. Cope?   One  3-second Google search provides the answer.   That's fine.   Any communication professional would take advantage of this incredible opportunity in a way that maximizes positive publicity for Kent State.

Any communication professional would have planned and coordinated with Cope how to present this in a highly favorable and positive fashion for Kent State.   Considering the way Kent State has handled this, it appears it did not have a strategic communications plan.   How is that possible?  Once again, why is there no accountability journalism?

Ohio's high school student population is projected to fall year after year so the current boom in applications all state universities are seeing will not continue without a first-rate marketing/communications effort.   What does the apparent lack of a strategic communications plan in this instance say about the level of competence in Kent State's marketing & communications?   Why aren't local news organizations doing the accountability journalism required to answer that question?

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