From the Editor: The long and short of storytelling

Eric Lyttle

It's with a little hesitation that I point this out, and to you subscribers, we meant no slight. But the most-read Columbus Monthly story this year never appeared in the magazine.

That story, about Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther's decision to send his kindergarten-aged daughter to an elite private academy instead of a Columbus public school, was notable for a number of other reasons as well.

Written by senior editor Dave Ghose, it appeared on Page 1 of the Columbus Dispatch on Aug. 17. It was the most-read story on the Dispatch's website much of that week.

Before it appeared in the Dispatch, however, it was published on Columbus Monthly's website.

Monthly magazines aren't often in the business of breaking news. Our stock and trade is, and forever will be, storytelling. Look no further than pg. 56 for a shining example of the power of long-form journalism. Suzanne Goldsmith's compelling piece about the life and death of MarShawn McCarrel is not news. McCarrel's suicide on the steps of the Statehouse occurred months ago. But a magazine piece from a talented writer like Suzanne can make readers feel the alternating hope and hopelessness of McCarrel's life, months after the news accounts of the incident.

But not all stories need to be told in 3,000 words, and not all stories can wait months to be revealed. Such was the case with Dave's piece about the Ginthers' daughter. The story was the result of a routine coffee klatch with the mayor's spokeswoman, Robin Davis, on a mid-August Monday. The informal conversation turned to kids and school since a number of districts were starting soon. Dave adroitly asked about Ginther's daughter, knowing she was about to start kindergarten. Davis was forthcoming about the Ginthers' decision.

Barely a minute after the meeting ended, Dave texted me: "The mayor, a former Columbus school board member, sending his daughter to a private school seems like a story to me." He followed up with a couple of phone calls, and by the end of the day, the story was on our website. The next day, it was on the Dispatch's site. Wednesday, it was Page 1 of the print edition.

Not everyone agreed with the story's newsworthiness, like Ryan Andrew, who posted, "Alternate headline-Ginther chooses area's best school for daughter." Dispatch editor Alan Miller disagreed. "The mayor's role includes being a cheerleader for Columbus when it comes to luring businesses, and we know that education is an important factor to business leaders," Miller told me. "He is a Columbus City Schools graduate who speaks fondly of his school years. And the key factor in making this an important story for our readers is that the mayor is a former member of the school board."

Miller decided against assigning it to a Dispatch staffer. "Dave found the story and wrote it well, and there was no reason for anyone to use valuable resources to duplicate it," Miller says. "We all work for the same company-and the same large audience of readers across Central Ohio. Such collaboration is a good thing for everyone involved."

We agree. It's why you'll frequently find Columbus Monthly stories written by Dispatch staffers, including this month's story by assistant Metro editor Mark Somerson on COSI's first chief scientist on pg. 24. And don't forget to visit our website often.