The eight largest newspapers in Ohio have recently joined forces to research the state's public pension system, reports Editor&Publisher. By coming together, the newspapers were able to identify thousands of public employees who are collecting pensions while still working and receiving paychecks, a procedure known as "double dipping." The study found that about 32,000 state and local employees collected more than $1 billion in pensions on top of their paychecks. The beneficiaries of "double-dipping" are mostly school superintendents and highly paid educators.
However, this is not a new move for Ohio newspapers, which have collaborated in a similar fashion in the past. Rather than using an expensive newswire service like the Associated Press, Ohio newspapers previously decided to form their own cooperative, called the Ohio News Organization. The eight participating newspapers are the Akron Beacon Journal, The Blade of Toledo, the Canton Repository, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Columbus Dispatch, the Dayton Daily News, the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, and the Vindicator.
The Cincinnati Enquirer notes that one in four of Ohio's 614 school districts are "retired but still working," thus allowing them to draw from public pension funds while still receiving their normal paychecks. The Enquirer notes that while the practice is technically legal, it is clearly an irresponsible practice particularly "in a time of fiscal crisis."
The collaboration of these newspapers to expose the woes of Ohio's state pension system is a refreshing approach to investigative journalism. While many newspapers are bogged down with concerns over the future of print media, Ohio newspapers appear to be pressing on by sharing content to improve the overall relevance of their journalism.
While the tradition approach would naturally be for each newspaper to compete for the "scoop," the collaborative approach could prove to be more beneficial to Ohio's newspapers and their readers. Such widespread reporting and investigation could enact tangible change in the Ohio government, thus reviving a sense of reverence for print journalism, a concept that seems to be withering away. At any rate, the success of Ohio's print collaboration could be a bellwether for other newspapers hoping to enact concrete change through investigative reporting.