News You Can Use

The Indianapolis Star has appointed a new editor, who is quoted in this morning’s edition promising “news you can use.” This catchphrase has come into increased use as newspaper readership has continued to decline–not just in Indianapolis, but nationally.

The problem is that no one completes the sentence. Those who toss off the phrase do not proceed to the important issue, which is: use for what?

In my opinion, the news citizens can use is information about their common institutions–including but not limited to government, and especially local government. Judging from what the newspapers are actually covering, however, they consider “news you can use” to be reviews of local restaurants, diet and home decorating tips, and sports. Not–as they used to say on Seinfeld–that there is anything wrong with that. At least, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that if these stories were being served as “dessert” rather than the main course.

The new editor also promises an emphasis on journalism’s time-honored watchdog role. I hope that isn’t just rhetoric, but I’m dubious. Genuine watchdog coverage requires resources–enough reporters with enough time to investigate and monitor a wide variety of important government agencies and functions. The Star has experienced wave after wave of layoffs that have left it with a skeletal reporting operation, leaving the paper’s capacity to provide genuine journalism an open question.

What residents of central Indiana could use is a real newspaper. I’m not holding my breath.


  1. I don’t know of a fix to the economics of journalism until people care enough to pay for it to thrive. We’re going to have to get run over enough to miss it- to perceive it’s absence and how it could have helped. Are we still collectively educated and conscious of civics to come to that realization, even if cost is not a factor?

    I would cede the tilt of national Gannett coverage if they would just tweak USA Today to have an Indianapolis edition with balanced coverage of local issues.

  2. This is a perfect example of where the heart of for-profit interests lie. The public interest
    takes a distant second place to profit. What they don’t seem to realize is that if they were REALLY
    serving the public’s interest with news they could readily use, they’d have profits too.

    News coverage dwells on celebrity and “if it bleeds, it leads”. Frankly, I usually avoid the latest police or fire run stories AND the latest celebrity gossip. But like you, I’m not holding my breath for a change in direction.

  3. What happened to the protest by Star employees that made the TV news only one time that I saw? They were protesting the retiring editor’s retirement package in the millions ($37 million I believe) after a number of employees had been let go and remaining employees agreed to pay cuts to keep their jobs. That news quickly disappeared. Please watch carefully when the Colts jump into action and the Star publishes special Colts sections – in addition to the sports section – about what seems to be considered the most important issue in the city of Indianapolis, the Colts. I was embarrassed and ashamed of this entire city’s total lack of loyalty to the Colts when they lost the Super Bowl – and I don’t even like football. I was highly angered when finally finding the obituaries published on the last pages of the sports section a few months ago. Every time they add a special Colts section, we have to hunt for regular sections and columns throughout the paper. And I still miss Sheila’s column every two weeks : )

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