Interview

Kevin Osborne - News Editor of CityBeat

Shawn Braley
AltOhio: I wanted to open by asking how you became interested in journalism?

Kevin Osborne: When I first got into college I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I was actually an art major for the first year because I did do a lot of sketching and painting. It was a hobby of mine. But really I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did know what I was interested in though- I love writing. I also like psychology and political science. After my first year in school, through taking different courses and whatnot, I discovered that journalism more or less combined all these interests in one; instead of being an English major or a Political Science major, I was able to use both of those skill sets and it let me write.

AO: Where did you go to school?

KO: Wright State.

AO: After you left Wright State, did you get a job right away?

KO: No, I didn’t. In fact it took me almost a year to find a job in my field so take heart all you young graduates. I spent most of that year managing a video store, which doesn’t exist anymore. I eventually got hired at a chain of small community daily newspapers but I don’t think those exist anymore either, which really dates me.

AO: And how long have you worked for CityBeat?

KO: I’ve worked for CityBeat 5 years this spring. Before that I was a City Hall reporter for the Cincinnati Post, which no longer exists anymore either, so there we go, 3 for 3. But I did that job for 7 or 8 years, it was a lot of fun. That’s how I got my feet wet in Cincinnati. On the average day I would write 2 to 3 stories. Looking back on that that pace is crazy, but from the weekly perspective I don’t know how I did it. But I really enjoyed the Post a lot. It was inevitable for the Post to end though. It was known inside the business, there was a date the Post was scheduled to go out of business. It was a joint operating agreement with the Enquirer, which was a 30-year agreement. So for much of those 30 years people didn’t really think about it, but then, come 21st century and that date is getting closer and closer I knew I needed to be planning for the future. The owners of the Post offered buyouts to many of their reporters to reduce costs and save money. Two years before the Post was scheduled to close I accepted a buyout because at that time the news staff was dwindled to a bare amount. After accepting the buyout I started considering my options, which is when I began talking to John Fox, the editor of CityBeat, about opportunities there, and I eventually wore him down. He first hired me as a reporter and then I’ve since become News Editor.

The transition was interesting because it wasn’t only the pace of it, from a daily to a weekly, but the overall vibe was different. To go from a slightly corporate type environment, that in some ways is very rigid, to a very loose environment that perhaps could use a little more order. (laughs)

But I actually think people your age are in a good position because in another 5 to 10 years the industry will have shaken out and figured out how to make money using the Internet model, which it really hasn’t done yet. Frankly, I think most print papers will have faded away so by then there will be more opportunities. It’s people in my age group that are kind of in limbo.

AO: Do you think you’ll be able to work in that kind of environment?

KO: I think I’ve adapted pretty well. I will say that the first year I worked for CityBeat, because it’s a slightly different type of journalism, was an adjustment because when you work at old school daily newspapers, there’s a style of writing involved. They also don’t want any sort of personality or opinion to seep into the writing. Whereas with an altweekly or a magazine, like Rolling Stone, they always make sure there’s a point of view expressed. At first it was hard for me to make that transition.

AO: So you had to go from being totally unbiased in your writing…

KO: Yeah, which I don’t want to say that I’m not biased because this is one thing I did want to establish once I became News Editor at CityBeat, in the actual news section I try to make sure that if we’re writing about any given topic, both sides of the issue are heard, which I don’t think was always the case at CityBeat. There wore their bias on their sleeve and really on most issues it’s really a case of reinforcement. So I wanted to give people an opportunity from the other side to express their viewpoint and basically make their argument to the readers. That was the hardest hurdle, as a reporter for CityBeat, because there were certain people in the community, particularly Republicans and Conservatives, when I was trying to get comments for stories, they were very weary of talking to CityBeat because of it’s reputation. Now, we also have an opinion section called “Voices”, which I also lay out my arguments there, so I try to not just spout off opinion [in the news section]. I try to then lay out facts and statistics to back up the writing. But then again, I think you can write with an attitude journalistically in the news section and even have a point of view and be fair. That to me has been my biggest thing as a reporter.

AO: Do you think that’s how all news should be?

KO: I think no matter what I think that’s the way it’s going because younger people today like that [opinion in their news] and they’re used to it because they were raised on the internet or whatever. They like news with an attitude. I also think that any news media, if they’re going to survive and prosper in this new media world are going to have to distinguish themselves somehow. How they can do that is by having a particular point of view and I believe that’s the way things are going.

AO: Do you think that the model that Fox News has set up is…

KO: No. Fox News is…this goes back to what we were saying before, you need to buttress your opinion with facts. Obviously it’s been laid out in documentaries and news articles through watchdog groups like Media Matters that Fox plays loose with the facts. Now on the other side you have MSNBC, which is pegging itself as a liberal/progressive network. But I think for the most part that, even when they have their nightly news shows, which are more opinionated, like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, they still back up their opinion with facts. Whereas on Fox they’ll come up with some crazy things and it’s easy to tear apart, so there’s definitely a wide range. MSNBC’s model should be emulated and Fox’s shouldn’t. A conservative version of MSNBC would serve that ideology really well. That’s how conservatism was in the 60’s and 70’s; it wasn’t this wide-eyed fringe movement. It had intellectuals like William F. Buckley who did present these complicated and well thought out cases for their point of view. I didn’t agree with it, but at least it was logically constructed and that’s missing today.

AO: So, the people you spoke of before, who were afraid of talking to CityBeat due to its particular slant, have you gotten those people to trust you now?

KO: For the most part, yes. I was a reporter for CityBeat for 2 years before becoming editor, so eventually during that period I did. But when I became News Editor, I began writing an opinion column and frankly they wanted an opinion column that would press a few buttons and be provocative. So, since I became a columnist, it has been harder because they don’t like being burnt in my opinion column. That’s okay because I don’t do a lot of reporting anymore. I do mostly editing. I usually do 4 or 5 stories a year because they usually want me to write a cover story at some point. Fortunately for me, because I was at the Cincinnati Post for years and years, I built up relationships and I could persuade the Republicans to trust me, so it’s not really been a problem. But, for example, right now, the current chairmen of the Hamilton County Republican party won’t talk to me. But, with that said, there’s also a couple Democratic politicians who won’t talk to me because I ragged them in my column. So, it’s more on a case-by-case basis and based on the individuals actions rather than ideology.

AO: Do you receive a lot of hate mail from both sides then?

KO: Honestly, I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail in the past two years but it’s mostly been from the Tea Party because I was one of the first people to come out against the Tea Party. There was a Tea Party rally held here on Fountain Square and I was just appalled by what I saw when I went down there. It was vicious and mean, slightly racist, using all sorts of hateful rhetoric that had very little basis in reality. What was interesting was that very first rally held on Fountain Square, which was April ’09 or something, the Enquirer’s coverage was just straight down the line, it was just; oh look at this political movement blah blah blah. Well, I wrote something that appeared online that said no, this is highly distressing and this movement could potentially be dangerous and the people who did some of these things should be ashamed of themselves. For example, they threatened a black TV reporter, they were making fun of people on the Square sitting around the sides, that’s just ridiculous and uncalled for. So when I wrote about that, it was right when the Tea Party was first forming, no one knew what they were and I think everyone was treating them as a legitimate political movement.

[My story] created a firestorm of reaction. Tea Partiers hated it, although it turned out that a lot of their threats were put out on video, which was later posted online, and it became such a matter of contention that the Enquirer, on their politics blog, wrote about my article, linked to it, and then they called me up for comment, because some people that agreed with my point of view said they’re reporter missed the story by reporting it as a typical political rally, which it was not. So that got me off to a very shaky start with the Tea Party. Frankly a lot of the media coverage has come around to my way of thinking since then, which is, I suppose, nice. But Tea Partiers hate when I write about them. The funniest one was a voicemail I received about 8 months ago. I wrote a column talking about how the Tea Party is angry, and anger can be a great motivating force, but unless you have more than anger it’s ultimately counterproductive. To me, I didn’t think it was that controversial, but I got a voicemail where a guy said, “The Tea Party weren’t born from anger…” then he dropped quite a few F bombs, then he said, “by the way, I hope you watch your children get hit by a school bus in front of you and that you die alone and homeless under a bridge”, which, at the point I thought, yeah, the Tea Party is not born from anger. (laughs) But ever since that movement has sprung up, I get so much negative feedback.

AO: Do you think there is any legitimacy to the Tea Party’s argument?

KO: Yeah, honestly, one thing I do like about the Tea Party is that they make the establishment afraid, which is good. Our government in Washington is broken, both parties bare some blame for that, mostly Republicans but Democrats too; they are too beholden to their lobbyists and specialists. Money plays a huge factor. I don’t think the average person has as much sway over any politician as businesses and companies. There’s something wrong with that, and the fact that [The Tea Party] make’s Washington insiders nervous with all this anger is good, but I think now, many politicians have gotten savvy and are using the Tea Party for their own interests. But I have no problem with making politicians nervous, I think that’s a good thing.

AO: Is Cincinnati beholden to that ideology?

KO: Yes, for the most part.

AO: I am not too aware of the politics in Cincinnati, can you detail me on them?

KO: Cincinnati is a strange town that for decades has been a very conservative town, but I think the average person in their 20’s and 30’s in Cincinnati is not conservative, but that old guard that is in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and in many cases older, because a lot of the CEO’s in town are older, Carl Linder is in his 80’s or 90’s; they are holding on to power for their life, they just don’t want to let go. So that gives Cincinnati a very conservative image nationally, a lot of which is deserved. I think it will change over time, basically when all these people die. The Cincinnati business community is a huge political player in town and most of them are very old. But I definitely think that in the future Cincinnati will change politically because the average young person in Cincinnati is not conservative.

AO: But don’t you think they’re also not politically active?

KO: I do think that’s true, but it’s true everywhere. One thing I really dislike about the young generation, if I can call it that, is that they’re very apathetic. I mean they’ll come out for a Presidential election, oh, it’s interesting that a black man is running for president yeah okay I’ll go register and vote for him, but then they don’t vote in midterm elections, well guess what? Unless you are constantly paying attention and vigilante, giving that black President a congress he can work with, it’s not going to do any good. Unless you have a very clear case about how it directly impacts people’s lives they don’t really care about politics, and like I said, the US political system is broken a lot of ways, but ignoring it isn’t going to fix the problem.

AO: What do you think has made this younger generation so apathetic to politics? Do you think it’s the cynicism that they feel towards it?

KO: Yeah, I think they grew up in a time that it was obvious that politicians said one thing and did another. That hasn’t always been a view in this country, it became more prevalent after Watergate and heading into the 80’s and 90’s. So there’s a deep cynicism about politicians themselves. I also think we have a lot more distractions today compared to when I was growing up. The world has exploded with options and that can be a good thing but it’s also a bad thing, and it’s hard to grab people’s attention. I think everyone in their 20’s and 30’s has a terminal case of ADHD.

AO: With the Tea Party, at least anyone that I personally know that leans that way, they’re generally not wealthy, usually lower middle class. What do you think has caused them fight against their own interests?

KO: You’re absolutely correct on that. While talking to Tea Partiers, and unfortunately people in my own family, who like that movement, I think it goes back to being afraid or disenfranchised. A lot of people when they become disenfranchised will lash out against anything that’s different. We’ve seen that time and time again in US history. The first wave of US immigrants didn’t want Irish immigrants over here, then they didn’t want Italian immigrants. Then we saw in the 20th century where the labor unions weren’t sure that they supported civil rights because they didn’t want black workers to take their jobs and I think that happens always when people are afraid and feel like they’re losing control.

AO: Which is what’s happening now with Mexicans.

KO: Right, they’re the punching bags right now.

AO: Do you believe the racist elements of the Tea Party came out of having a black President?

KO: People hem and haw around this, but I absolutely think it comes from having a black President. Racism isn’t as in your face as it was in the 50’s, 60’s and even the 70’s, but America has always had a problem with race relations- in fact, I forget which writer said it, but someone wrote that it’s America’s “original sin”. I think there’s a large segment of our population who are psychologically unprepared to have a black President. That’s not the only factor, but all their bile toward Obama, I’d say 90% of it is based on his race.

That said, the Republican Party, on the national level, it’s sole goal is to get into power and stay in power. There was a time in the mid-90’s where there was attack after attack on Bill and Hilary, and some of it was ridiculous. It was said that they were behind all these bizarre conspiracies; Vince Foster, their friend that committed suicide, it was said they had him bumped off; that they were running this drug running thing in Alabama. They would turn out story after story and see what stuck. It’s that whole attack mentality. There’s this whole machine apparatus that does that and I think they’re doing it to Obama as well.

AO: When having discussions and presenting facts to someone who agrees with the Tea Party, they never seem to understand or take heart anything I’m saying. They will merely deny or grow impassioned and rely on some talking point.

KO: Passion will always overwhelm intellect unfortunately and that’s a bad thing ultimately. Really, I think what progressives or Democrats need is someone who can stir people’s passions, but for the right causes. I think for a while, some progressives thought they had that in Obama, but that went away as soon as he was elected into office. He makes a good speech but he does really poor on policy.

AO: But isn’t that true for a lot of democrats?

KO: It’s completely true. There was an interesting interview this week, I forget which paper, with Richard Luger who is a long time Republican senator who is really well respected among Republicans and Democrats because he’s a guy who just tries to get things done and doesn’t demonize his opponents, but the Tea Party hates him. He said in his interview, and he’s an elderly gentleman, “the thing I don’t like about the Tea Party is that they know they’re mad but they can’t move past the cliché’s.” It’s like, you want to cut spending but what do you want to cut specifically? They don’t really, when it comes down to it, offer any viable solutions. You can see that at a lot of these town hall meetings that they held about healthcare where they’d have signs that say, “Keep your hands off my Medicare”, so are you in favor of government run healthcare or not? It’s simply about protecting what they have and not losing it.

I think one of the worst things that’s happened to the American political landscape is the proliferation of these 24 hour news networks because they have all this airtime and there’s really not enough content to fill all that airtime, and if you get into in depth discussions about issues, that’s kind of boring, so they fill it with hot air and things that are going to stir up emotions. It’s counterintuitive. You’d think that having all these 24-hour news networks would make the public more informed but it’s the exact opposite.

AO: So what do you think about Jon Stewart and Colbert and what they’re doing?

KO: It’s great. It does appeal to that 20-something and 30-something crowd that is apathetic about politics so basically it’s almost like tricking them by giving them a little spoonful of sugar with their medicine. They’re lured in by comedy and those guys are great with their comedy, especially Colbert. In the context of doing [comedy] they’re providing information. I will tell you that if you compare The Daily Show and Colbert Report to the major broadcast networks, I think you’re more likely to get more accurate and useful information from these comedy shows.

AO: So you’re not a detractor that’s saying it’s a bad thing that that’s where young people are getting their news?

KO: No, not at all. It’s been here just in different forms over the years. In the 1800’s there were satirists who wrote novels that were funny and used characters that were basically allegories for political figures so this is just to me a modern example.

AO: But isn’t that also what Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh do?

KO: Do they share similarities? Yes. But here is the difference; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s primary goal when they have a person on is to get information out of them. I think Glenn Beck’s primary goal is to build up or buttress his worldview and ideology. He’s not going to dig deep for facts that don’t support his ideology and when they do pop up it’s to crush them down and exploit them. When they happens on The Daily Show or Colbert Report, they’re going to ask follow up questions and pursue that line of questioning. I don’t really think Stewart and Colbert’s primary goal is to support any one ideology.

AO: So if Fox News is faulted for their particular ideology, don’t you think MSNBC also relies to heavily on their own ideology?

KO: A little bit. Honestly, I like Keith Olbermann overall, but I think he’s become too much of a blow hard and someone who likes to hear himself talk a lot. I don’t necessarily like the way it was handled and the fact that it came right after Comcast bought NBC, but getting rid of him as a host was in their best interests. I think if you compare Olbermann’s show to Maddow and O’Donnell’s you can sense a shift in tone. Olbermann would just have on guest who technically would parrot his point of view, while Maddow and O’Donnell definitely make that overture to people on the the other side of the issue to come on. Now, the same problem I have with CityBeat, they don’t always respond, but they were reaching out and they want to hear what these people have to say, which I don’t see at Fox News.

AO: Do you think that if politicians weren’t so afraid of the media and they could honestly respond to people on the other side that there could be some type of understanding?

KO: Yeah, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen because politicians have always been afraid of the media, it’s just more obvious now. They don’t like giving up control of the message and when you’re talking to reporters you’re giving up some control because that person’s going to focus on whatever they want and lead the conversation where they feel it should go. Unfortunately for politicians it’s all about message control and staying on message.

AO: How do we fight against this? I know I often have trouble knowing whom to believe and I know that’s how a lot of American’s feel.

KO: Democracy is not a spectator sport. You have to get involved to know what’s going on. There are a lot of people who think we need a constitutional amendment basically along the lines that corporations are not people and money is not free speech. If we had an amendment to something of that nature that stimulates progress, because the fact is, the powers of the corporation have risen exponentially over the past decades at the expense of the individual. That equilibrium at the very least needs to be restored towards equality and obviously the average voter should outweigh the corporations. And we have the Supreme Court that is beholden the corporate interests and more rambling than ever before.

AO: Did this start in the 80’s or was it the case even during the Civil Rights Movement?

KO: No, I think it happened in the 80’s with Reaganism, when the conservative movement finally got into power. Oddly enough I think it got a foothold under Bill Clinton, because when Clinton got scared of Newt Gingrich and a lot of the Republicans in ’94 he definitely moved towards the right and so by doing that he was trying to ingratiate both himself and the Democratic party with big business and get their support so they wouldn’t only support Republican candidates. This seems to be what Obama is doing as well, and when you do that you tend to let go of a lot of your principles because you’ve given away too much.

AO: So whenever there’s talk of the climate being more moderate it’s not just to literally be more moderate but also to be down the middle so much that businesses aren’t afraid of you.

KO: Nowadays when you’re talking about being moderate and down the middle you’re actually referring to moving to the right. There doesn’t seem to be that compromise.


Rachel Maddow did a thing on one of Dwight Eisenhower’s State of the Union addresses and she compared it to Obama’s. In Eisenhower’s address he specifically said workers have the right to unionize, we should leave the labor unions alone, we should try to expand social security and safety net for citizens. Well, Eisenhower was, in his time, a conservative and republican. He came from the military. There was that 50’s status quo and today Eisenhower would be viewed as a liberal.

AO: It’s ironic because growing up I always heard we were moving too far to the left. I grew up in a strict religious background and there was always talk of how the world is changing, the world is getting too liberal and we should be afraid of the democrats.

KO: Well, one area where I take hope is the people in America who are fundamental or conservative are shrinking. The people in your age group, even if their not political right now, if you ask them about their opinions on particular issues, in my opinion it’s very liberal. For example, they could give two shits whether someone is gay or not. That’s great. That is why ultimately, in the long term, progressives are going to be making a lot of gains. Unfortunately it’s going to have to happen when that younger generation starts paying attention, and like I said before, the older generation dies out.

AO: Is that how our current conservative movement happened? There was a more liberal establishment and the youth were rebellious of that.

KO: Well, you have that sort of thing where, you had FDR and he pushed through all these liberal programs during the Great Depression. You had this festering undercurrent of people who didn’t agree with that and it just built and built and that became the conservative movement and I think that’s the exact opposite of what’s happening right now.

AO: Something that is ironic is that during the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King and others were leaders for these social causes but they were also church leaders. They fought these social causes, often, because of their faith. Nowadays, the people who have faith often shoot down social and progressive causes.

KO: That depends more on what used to be called mainline Protestantism and Fundamentalism. What was considered to be the church leaders were much more open-minded. They were more concerned with the basic principles of charity, people doing well and equal justice. There was a movement in the 70’s where it was overtaken by Fundamentalists. Unfortunately, part of that was a backlash because they were afraid of all these hippies and such running around, so they overreacted. Before that time, religious leaders weren’t Fundamentalist. They were more concerned with public policy. Public policy should be for everyone’s benefit in order to level the playing field.

AO: There was a religious author I was reading that was talking about the debate of how we’ve gotten more liberal over time and become more ‘sinful’. And he said we may have gotten more open sexually, and though that may or may not be a bad thing depending on who you ask, we have gotten better morally in terms of social and civil rights. So even if you disagree with homosexuality or premarital sex you can never say we’ve gotten totally depraved in our morality because we’ve gotten better in other areas.

KO: The way you feel about the social changes of the 50’s and 60’s, you can not argue that overall it was a bad thing. On a whole society is better than it was back then. That’s why I don’t like when I hear some women say, well I’m not a feminist, because they are, they believe they have a choice with their path; You may get married, you may not; you may work, you may not. You were considered psychologically defective if you didn’t follow a certain course of life, so you’re a feminist.

AO: But the people that say that are probably equating that to the angry, protesting women who are adamant about their feminism today.

KO: All movements change. Maybe they had to get people’s attention back then they had to do all of that. they couldn’t get people’s attention without sit ins and protests. You may not necessarily want to do that now, but when you need to change up the status quo you have to shake up the administration. If these women are against being considered a feminist, they don’t need to deny being a feminist, what they need to say is, “I’m a feminist” and then change the perception of the movement.

AO: Do you think there will be a gay rights movement like that now?

KO: Yeah, I think it’s a lot subtler. But I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now, a similar modern movement for gay rights. One thing that’s not really talked about now is in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, as blacks slowly made progress, got more rights, I don’t think it’s talked about as much but it brought out those extreme nuts and I think we’re kind of seeing that with gays now, with suicide’s and stuff like that. It’s like a pressure release, where the pressure has been building and there’s just now this release of tension.

A lot of the problem can be fixed is when people encounter gay people, live near them, befriend them, see that they are human beings. Republicans are scared because in the 80’s and 90’s when they were talking about the “culture wars”, they realize they lost it.