Kevin Slimp: John Kasich: “Journalism isn’t about clicks for hits. If it is, I’m not interested”

by Kevin Slimp,

Disclaimer: I have neither voted for, nor endorsed, any political candidate mentioned in this column.

Spring has come to an end. I could have come up with that brilliant assumption from the sounds of the birds as I walked my neighborhood this morning, or the noticeable decrease in the number of students on campus at The University of Tennessee today. But no, I know it’s summer when my list of consecutive newspaper conventions comes to an end.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to wake up at home and take a walk through my neighborhood, but the truth is I love convention season. There’s something about meeting so many old friends, making new friends, and visiting with journalists that gets my blood flowing. And, if you believe the doctor I visited for a physical yesterday, my blood is flowing quite nicely.

In addition to publishing four, count ‘em four, books over the past five weeks, I’ve keynoted, emceed, led workshops, celebrated hockey victories (who knew I would become a hockey fan?) and attended gubernatorial debates at conventions all over this great land.

I’ve met more senators, congressmen (and women), legislators, MLA members, premiers, and governors than I can remember. As I sat in my chair, minding my own business in South Dakota, an attractive woman walked up to me, smiled, and said something about all the work I was doing. When she walked away, I turned to someone sitting near me and said, “She’s got to be a politician, because that never happens.”

He was quick to inform me she was, indeed, running for governor. Just my luck.

Governors flock to press conventions like, well, a lot. I heard several speeches by several governors, and a lot more by gubernatorial candidates. Earlier in the convention season, I even got to meet the 16-year-old candidate in Kansas, the same day he was making national news as the nation’s youngest candidate for governor this year. Not to worry, two other teenagers, also running for the same office, were also present during that forum.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to beat a speech that begins, “I bag groceries at the HyVee back home.” But one politician did.

Of all the speeches given by all the politicians at press conventions I attended this year, the best, in my humble opinion, was given by Governor John Kasich, of Ohio. Making it even more interesting, I heard him at the Michigan Press Association Convention.

I’m used to watching Governors walk into banquet rooms with their entourages of communications staffs, public relations interns, and bodyguards. Watching the governor of my home state walk into a room, you’d think a major celebrity had arrived.

There was something refreshing about watching Governor Kasich walk into the room. He left his two bodyguards at the door – I didn’t see any other staff – as he ignored the podium on the stage and stood in the middle of the tables where hungry journalists anxiously awaited the governor’s speech and, later, lunch.

“Where’s the food?” he asked. “You’ve got to be hungry.”

He was right.

You see, at most conventions, the governor speaks, then is rushed away to more important business while the audience is served their meal.

Not this time.

Someone mentioned to the governor that they were waiting on him to speak, so he wouldn’t be interrupted by wait staff and clanging glasses.

“It’s as quiet as a church in here,” he quipped. “Go ahead and serve these people. It won’t bother me.”

There was something different about this guy. He spoke of his previous stint as a journalist. “Something I might do again after I leave office,” he noted.

He had no prepared speech. No notes. He jumped right in, immediately discussing the importance of journalism and a free press.

“Journalism isn’t about clicks for hits,” he said. “If it is, I’m not interested.”

He had my attention.

He spoke of the need to get back to increased investigative reporting. He talked of giving the reader something worth reading. According to Kasich, it’s about the story.

Speaking of writing a new future for newspapers, he forcefully said, “This industry will be saved by writing interesting stories.”

Honestly, I don’t get excited about politicians. I guess I’ve just met too many of them in my time. But I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer.

“That’s right!” I shouted.

He turned, pointed at me, and yelled, “You and me. We’re on the same side!”

I long for the day when everyone in my industry has the same passion for journalism as John Kasich expressed in May in Lansing, Michigan.

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