Athens is home to many hidden gems, but what’s celebrated throughout the county is the robust local media scene.
With outlets such as WOUB Public Media, The Athens NEWS, The Athens Messenger and a plethora of student media at Ohio University, there is no shortage of news and information suppliers. Many outlets have their own niches as well, giving readers a variety of content to choose from when consuming news.
However, Athens is uniquely situated in comparison to some of its neighbors. All counties directly surrounding Athens only have one operating print newspaper, and some segments of Appalachia are considered to be news deserts. As a whole, there was a 39% decrease in Ohio newspapers between 2004 and 2019 and a 51% decrease in newspaper circulation during that same time frame. Despite these changes, journalists in Appalachia work hard every day to provide their community with reliable local news that impacts the region. When these journalists and papers leave, entire communities suffer as a result.
In the case of our town and region, we’ve recently lost a slew of respected, quality journalists over the past month:
Corinne Colbert, editor of The Athens NEWS
Cole Behrens, associate editor of The Athens NEWS
Alex Hulvalchick, editor of The Athens Messenger
Dani Kington, associate editor of The Athens Messenger
William Meyer, editor of the neighboring Vinton Courier
Jeremiah Shaver, assistant editor of the Vinton Courier, who now works at The Telegram in Jackson
There are a number of reasons why all of those journalists either left or were fired, but they all stem from the same source: the Adams Publishing Group — which owns and operates the NEWS, Messenger and Courier — and its Ohio president, Mark Cohen.
In their own words, this is how those at the NEWS, Messenger and Courier were treated:
Colbert said in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer that The Athens NEWS newsroom was a barebones operation with little resources for journalists. When she needed to get a new chair for her desk, she was told that “APG doesn't buy furniture.”
In that same interview, Hulvalchick said, "It's a job that's too much for one person to do. I reached a point where I felt like I didn't have any effective resources to do my job."
Shaver tweeted a long thread about his experience at the Vinton Courier. He wrote that when the pandemic hit, his hours were cut, and he was forced to work a second job bagging groceries at Kroger. The most he was paid during his 10-year stint was $11 an hour, which is only $2 more than Ohio minimum wage.
In light of the wave of resignations and firings, former Messenger sportswriter Jason Arkley tweeted: “2 years ago my 15-year run at The Messenger ended 3 weeks into the pandemic without one cent of severance. I didn't need the last couple of weeks to know what kind of person he (Mark Cohen) was, but I had hoped for change.”
There are also the questionable coin ads that Cohen and APG ran in the NEWS, Courier and Messenger over the past several months.
It’s not just a Cohen problem, either. APG publications around the country are being gutted:
The nine editorial staff at the APG owned Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana are attempting to unionize in light of poor pay and treatment. “Our pay and working conditions are simply not good enough. Unionizing will result in better conditions for us and, frankly, a better newspaper,” the staff wrote in a letter to their APG president, Mark Dobie.
In nearby Oregon, the entire staff of the APG owned Klamath Falls Herald and News resigned. “You need to invest in the news side of things. If you don’t, you’re doing a disservice to the community ... I know the bottom line is the money, but you also have to invest in your product,” Joe Siess, former editor of the Herald and News, said.
There is a very clear trend of neglect and poor treatment of APG journalists, who are hired, overworked, underpaid and then quickly burnt out in their roles. It’s unacceptable and reflects APG’s lack of commitment to its papers. Just take Cohen’s column addressing the situation, where he awkwardly mentions that his mother is from Appalachia and that he only lives “30 minutes from the Athens County line,” as if that somehow helps to absolve his role in the maltreatment of his staff.
The bottom line is Southeast Ohio has lost valuable journalists, and Cohen and APG are to blame.
Clearing up any potential confusion
On Monday, the executive board of Ohio University's Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, or OUSPJ, released a statement condemning APG for running allegedly misleading advertisements and for firing Colbert, who used The Athens NEWS' social media to warn readers about the advertisements. Amid the responses, it was mentioned that The Post prints its weekly tab at an APG-owned facility in Athens.
We want to make it clear that OUSPJ and The Post are not affiliated in any way. There are several people who are a part of both organizations, but one isn't associated with the other. And while we agree that misleading readers is completely unacceptable and the truth is all that should ever be pursued and published, OUSPJ doesn't speak for us, and it should never be assumed it does.
We also want to clear up our relationship with APG. We do print at its Athens facility, and we have a contract set at the beginning of each year for pricing. Cohen paid for The Post's Ohio News Media Association membership for the year, totaling $350, during a time of financial instability. Now that funding is secured for The Post, we are set to pay for it ourselves here on out.
We ache for the local journalists who were mistreated and whose departure from these papers will leave news coverage dimmer around here. We might be considered "competitors," but we'll always, always stand with them. We know how taxing it can be to get the truth out there.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Abby Miller, Managing Editor Bre Offenberger and Digital Managing Editor Matt Geiger. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.