A feeling of being ignored by legislators in Columbus might not be an overreaction.
Editors at the Akron Beacon Journal along with their counterparts at the Vindicator in Youngstown asked the News Outlet late last year to initiate a new feature for both papers called “Columbus Conversations.”
Each month, the editors and student reporters at partner universities, including the University of Akron and Kent State, would come up with a question or two that the student-run News Outlet would ask area state senators and representatives. The answers would be a weekly feature that would run in the Sunday edition of the Beacon Journal.
Easy right? Not so much.
Emails with the first two questions were sent to Ohio lawmakers on Dec. 10 and 11.
There were a few responses, mainly automatic ones noting a large volume of emails and a promise to respond in a timely manner. All of those were from state senators.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, editors wanted to know what Columbus lawmakers could do to prevent such a tragedy in Ohio.
The question was sent by email Dec. 17 with a reminder email sent the next day.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, the senate’s assistant minority leader, responded to the Sandy Hook question.
Other than that — silence.
By Jan. 21, the staff at the News Outlet resorted to sending out old-fashioned letters and calling every single legislative aide.
And that’s when it was discovered that the previous emails that were sent out had ended up in a spam folder.
“If we get too many emails it will push them to spam,” explained Jennifer Moore, assistant director of communications for the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus. “[During] Senate Bill 5 [a controversial bill to limit collective bargaining rights of public unions], we received so many emails, some made it through and some went to spam. It’s protecting the computer from harm.”
Moore said the legislature’s tech department has addressed the problem with the News Outlets’ emails and now they sail through the spam filters and into every politician’s inbox.
The free flow of emails, however, has not resulted in answers from Northeast Ohio lawmakers.
Joshua Eck, deputy press secretary for the Ohio Senate majority, said he’s “seen one of [the] emails” but he acknowledged that he can’t “force anyone to respond.”
Of the 132 state legislators contacted by the News Outlet, only three responded by the initial deadline. They were: Schiavoni; Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon; and Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, the Senate’s minority whip.
Two responded after the deadline. They were: State Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Columbus, and State Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati.
Not a single state representative or senator from the Akron area responded to the survey.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, the University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and the Vindicator (Youngstown), the Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).