Mailbag: Hearing from readers on the political coverage they want

By: - January 7, 2021 12:40 am

Photo from Flickr.

Welcome to 2021! After a few years of Pennsylvania and Georgia hogging all the attention, it’s time that Ohio returned to the center of the political universe. We’ll see how that goes.

Normally the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag column involves me attempting to answer your questions about state politics and the legislature. This time, I’m flipping things around and listening to what readers have to say. 

Earlier this week, I asked OCJ readers to offer their perspectives on what coverage is most valuable to them, and how we can improve to meet those expectations:

I am still welcoming answers on Twitter and by email. Here are a few responses:

From Ryan:

I’d like to know which groups, legislators, and organizations are in support/opposition to a particular bill and what they stand to gain/lose if it passes. Additionally I like when you put stories into a bigger picture context.

I’m with you on the importance of knowing who supports/opposes a given bill. Sure, it’s important to cover what is in a given piece of legislation. But to know who stands to gain or lose if it passes? There’s the rub. 

This is something reporters try to convey when writing about legislation. Always something we could improve upon. You’ll often find these details in Statehouse coverage of committee hearings. That is when bill advocates and opponents testify to lawmakers and offer the reasons a bill should (or shouldn’t) pass. 

From Mandy:

I wondered if you could do a layman-friendly summary of each new bill as it is introduced, with a summary of the industry/sectors it most impacts and then a summary of legislators’ who have major donors in that industry sector. Maybe in some kind of chart form? I’d like to be more aware of how often and how my representatives are voting on issues where they may have pressures. It may be too much work, but knowing where they have investments/businesses would also be great.

Connecting the dots between political/financial pressures and legislative votes is something all Statehouse reporters keep an eye on. I think that will be particularly true this session in the wake of the House Bill 6 scandal. 

From Josie:

Which bills are being written by ALEC or other such groups? Are legislators being taken on paid junkets that might influence them?

Josie is referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing organization which writes “model legislation” to be introduced in state legislatures around the country. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for this.

From Steven: 

Sounds small but maybe when referencing a member you could identify the geographic area that they represent.

Our OCJ style guide does call for including a lawmaker’s hometown and political party when referring to them by name. (For example: “Ohio Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, is a lawmaker representing the 1st District.”) 

Generally speaking, we leave it at that. There are certain times when giving more information about their district is relevant. An example would be when Wiggam urged passage of a bill to improve safety standards for buggies — my story noted that Wiggam represented Amish Country in northwest Ohio. 

Along with providing geographical context, I think these details help to humanize lawmakers and the issues they are working on. Each of the 132 state legislators come from uniquely different communities and backgrounds. 

Darke County is located in rural western Ohio along the border with Indiana.

I’ve taken to using the service Datawrapper to make maps that can be embedded into stories. When we wrote about a COVID-19 hot spot in Darke County, I included a small map showing where the county is located.

Where appropriate, we’ll try to include that info for readers. 

From @peapodmcgee:

I think if Ohioans were shown nearing dates of votes for issues that impact daily individual lives like healthcare, tax reform, environmental, abortion, gun control, it could help mobilize communicating timely constituent needs to our candidates.

Agreed.

From Danielle:

I’m an educator on leave this year. I’m following Covid info/misinfo, mostly the rhetoric to convince workers and customers they’re safe (when there’s lack of data to prove it) and how that informs school instruction models.

Susan Tebben is the OCJ reporter most focused on education issues. Her reporting will be worth following on this subject. 

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material:

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed:

‘Trust issues’ prompt nursing home workers to decline COVID-19 vaccine, union says – Why are so many nursing home workers rejecting the COVID-19 vaccine? Reporter Jake Zuckerman sought to find out.

State won’t force nursing home workers to be vaccinated, but nursing homes can, DeWine says – Reporter Marty Schladen outlines what the state is doing about the issue of nursing home vaccinations.

Unfinished business: 5 legislative priorities in Ohio pushed to 2021 – In this article, I went over some of the high-profile legislative items that did not get passed last term, and what we could expect to see this coming term.

Court rules with religious schools, stopping health department order of school closures – Reporter Susan Tebben gives the latest in a legal battle involving religious schools and COVID-19 closures.

History Thursday: How the Ohio government nearly owned Cedar Point – Did you know that the state government once made plans to take over the popular amusement park? 

We also highlighted our most-read stories and our top feature stories of 2020. 

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.

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