It has become a commonplace for those of us who live in Indianapolis to complain about the lack of substance in the Star. I was recently rude enough–and it was rude and I shouldn’t have said it–to complain to Matt Tully about the lack of coverage of city hall. His defense was that the paper had covered the Litebox and Duke Energy scandals. True–but what about the multiple issues that haven’t been covered (or uncovered). After all, when a major daily paper has exactly four investigative reporters, there’s a limit to what they can do.
As I often (too often??) remind people, when I was in city hall, there were three full-time reporters and a couple of stringers covering city government. The Hudnut Administration would never have gotten the “pass” that Ballard (and Peterson) have. When I edited a book about the Goldsmith Administration, contributors got most of their information from contemporaneous newspaper accounts.
I thought about this again this morning, because our daughter Kelly told me she’d been going through some memorabilia–old newspapers she’d kept as reminders of important events–and was shocked by the difference between those old issues and the current, pale imitation that Gannett puts out. Not only was the paper physically larger, it was packed with information about city and county government, news of the state and nation.
Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
As Kelly pointed out, it isn’t so bad with respect to national news, because we can access the New York Times and many other sources of national news online. But there is no local substitute for credible, fact-checked reporting. We have some thoughtful local bloggers who bring issues to our attention, but they aren’t reporters, and don’t pretend to be. So there’s a lot going on in our city that we don’t know about; there are details about the things we do know that would change our opinion of them (cases in point: the Broad Ripple garage evident boondoggle, the parking meter giveaway). Mentioning something is not the same as reporting on it. Reprinting or rephrasing a press release isn’t reporting.
I’m glad the Star reported on the Litebox fiasco and Duke Energy’s ethical lapses. But patting the paper on the back for two good stories is like giving your teenager a pass for five F’s because he got one A.