Sunday, September 03, 2000

A matter of opinion

New job brings a new voice

        After 26 years of reporting and editing the local news in Cincinnati, I now have the opportunity to reflect on its significance rather than just racing it to deadline.

        Three months ago I moved from managing the near hysteria of breaking news coverage to the contemplation of thoughtful opinion, which is why my name is now up near the top the of editorial page.

        Because I wasn't born here, I think of myself as enough of an outsider to be able to point out when the place looks shabby and needs a new roof. Because I've been here long enough to put down some pretty deep roots, I am enough of an insider to appreciate the foundation of Cincinnati.

        I often shake my head at our quirks, but I love to brag about the uniqueness of the place when out-of-towners come to visit. For instance:

        • We aren't 10 years behind the rest of the world, but if we were it wouldn't be a bad thing.

        • At least over the long term, we don't have the most disappointing franchises in professional sports. I know, I grew up in Philadelphia.

        • This isn't the most uptight, sexually repressed and artistically stifled town in the universe. For those who argue otherwise, I note that a jury of local citizens decided the Map plethorpe photos did not violate our community standards.

        Cincinnati's greatest trick has always been its masquerade of stodgy conservatism. It's a cultivated falsehood. This can be a stubborn place, but it has never been intractable.

        The reality is that Cincinnatians are thoughtful, (very) grudgingly tolerant and proud on the verge of being smug.

        We have better scenery than Columbus, better winters than Cleveland and more entertaining politicians than just about anywhere.

        We lack pro basketball, Italian water ice and a nearby beach. Also sometimes a sense of humor.

        All in all, Cincinnati is a good place to live and raise a family. It is the kind of place I expect my kids will want to leave, and then come back to.

        I know all of this because, like I said, I have had 26 years to get to know the neighborhood.

        I've covered a lot of news since I started. Jerry Springer and Richard Nixon both fell from grace while I was a rookie. There have been lots of scandals and crimes and disasters. There have also been times of inspiration and joy. But during all of that time, I have never been able to tell you what I think about all of these shared adventures. Now I can.

        This summer I've had a chance to comment on everything from Woody Harrelson's fascination with hemp, to the hours Cincinnati's pools and restaurants keep, to the grotesqueries on Survivor and the passion of Al Gore's kissing.

        I've noted the missteps of the local judiciary, the need for an organ donor directory and the chance that poor people would die of heat stroke this summer because the Ohio General Assembly didn't act promptly. I'm glad I was wrong about that one. (Thanks goes to the mild weather, not the General Assembly.)

        The schools in Covington, the airport in Cincinnati and the machinations of the Butler County Prosecutor's office have all caught my attention so far.

        I've been critical of the Kenton County police, the posting of the Ten Commandments and Tom Neyer's tax-supported patronage of the arts.

        I've surprised myself by sympathizing (occasionally) with Bob Bedinghaus, Mike Brown and Bob Huggins.

        Working in local news requires an aloof, political anonymity, but that is not the case on the editorial page. Since coming over here I've had people ask me about my political philosophy — Republican or Democrat? Bush or Gore? the party of Lincoln or Jefferson? Well, if there were any Lincolns or Jeffersons around, that would be a much easier question to answer. I have good friends in both parties whose grasps of reality I regularly question. Most of them consider me a moderate anarchist. I'll leave it to you to label me as you please.

        I suppose you could check my clips. But a search for the name David Wells in the Enquirer's computer turns up more mentions of the baseball player than it does of me. He's a big scruffy-looking guy with a tattoo. I don't have a tattoo.

        It's nice to have the opportunity to sit back and watch the community operate and to be able to offer a suggestion or two on how things could be better. I hope that those of you who read what I write will let me know what you think. I enjoy hearing from all of you and even arguing with some of you.

        This new job has given me lots to think about and, given time, I will have plenty to say.

        David Wells is associate editorial page editor of the Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call him at 768-8310, write to him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, or e-mail to


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