It Seems To Me I’ve Heard This Song Before…

Gannett has “spun off” its print media holdings into a separate company, and not so coincidentally, the Indianapolis Star is once again cutting staff.

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild announced that the newspaper will reduce newsroom staff and management by another 15 percent over the next few weeks. That will leave the employee count at 106, down from the current 124, and substantially below historic levels.

The paper plans to cut five of its remaining 11 photographers and the entire staff of the copy desk. The Guild said the cutbacks mark the sixth round of layoffs at the Star in six years.

In a story detailing the changes, Star Editor Jeff Taylor wrote that the paper was

“taking steps to significantly recast our newsroom in coming weeks. We will expand our reporting staff, further sharpen our focus on being responsive to the interests of our readers in real time, and deepen our community connections.”

Taylor said more reporters will be dedicated to investigative, business and “quality-of-life” coverage.

More investigative reporting. Right. And I have a really nice bridge to sell you….

If memory serves, each of the previous rounds of cuts has been accompanied by these same promises–and each time, the promises have proved hollow. At this point, there is more actual news in the IBJ and more “news I can use” in my monthly neighborhood paper, the Urban Times, than in the Indianapolis Star

This isn’t nostalgia for the way things never were. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Star was never a first-rank newspaper. It did, however, have investigative reporters. It did have statehouse reporters, and a city beat staffed by people who had some institutional memory and the cojones to call ’em like they saw ’em–people who reported on the nitty-gritty of government and didn’t waste precious column inches fawning over elected officials.

Today’s Star–with its “McPaper” insert– panders to celebrity watchers, hypes new restaurants and “hot properties,” pads the paper with vapid “human interest” features, and runs paid obituaries and advertisements where news used to go. None of this requires that quaint thing we used to call journalism. On the rare occasions when the Star reports on public matters, it is often painfully apparent that the reporter didn’t understand the issue sufficiently to write a coherent story–a deficiency shared by whoever is currently copyediting. (The garbled prose and typos in so many articles suggests that the copyediting function has already been dispensed with.)

The problem is, in the absence of a newspaper of general circulation performing the time-honored “watchdog” function, We the People have absolutely no way of holding our elected officials accountable. The recent recycling deal is a perfect example: the Mayor’s office reported that the vendor would recycle 80-90% of the trash collected, and the paper uncritically repeated that assertion. The actual contract requires the vendor to recycle less than 20%. If we had a real newspaper–with enough real reporters–someone would have read the contract and noted the discrepancy.

The saddest part of all this is that newspapers remain profitable–just not profitable enough to satisfy Gannett and its shareholders. Gannett doesn’t seem to understand that cutting staff may boost profit margins in the short term, but the lack of substantive content will doom the enterprise in the long term.

And the long term isn’t very far away.


  1. The Indianapolis Star, owned by Gannett, is a monopoly in this city (and many others). Years ago we supported three newspapers; the Indianapolis Star and News, both owned by Eugene Pulliam, and the Times. The Times was discarded years ago, leaving Pulliam with a local monopoly and the loss of the afternoon Indianapolis News. Then came the sellout to Gannett and our local news suffered in the process. The addition of USA Today to our daily Star is to me a daily advertising supplement for the “real thing” and we have no option but to accept it or cancel our subscription to the Star. If I wanted to read USA Today, I would subscribe to it. The Star is no longer providing complete, quality local news, they are trying to force us to subscribe to on-line versions which do not provide the convenience of returning to “yesterday’s news” when we chose or to clipping articles (such as obituaries of family and friends) to keep for personal reasons. I do NOT want to subscribe to IBJ, New York Times, Washington Post, et al; I can get what I am interested in from their publications on line or watch MSNBC for national and international news. I want – NEED – to know what is going on around me in my neighborhood, this city and this state. My faith in the Indianapolis Star has dwindled to near disinterest and now they are sinking lower – after moving to new headquarters with much hulabaloo but little substance – and we are left wih the sagging remains of a daily newspaper.

    Now CBS has dumped WISH TV; my fingers are crossed that it won’t be bought out by Sarah Palin’s Web TV Channel. At this time, it seems to be up for grabs to the highest bidder. Here is a bit of news the average person isn’t aware of; the cable switchover from Analog to Digital is in reality very confusing. The local TV channels air Digital, my cable is still Analog unless I switch to the Digital box attached to only one of my TV’s. I had the box before and had it removed after two years of problems. The remaining problem is with closed captioning; local channels are too often garbled, unreadable captioning unless the cable provider keeps on top of this and unscrambles the captioning for deaf and hearing impaired. The poor man in charge of closed captioning at Bright House is sick of my on-going reports of unreadable closed captioning. It doesn’t seem to be monitored by anyone; the FCC requires closed captioning but the long, time consuming process to report problems never seems to rectify things. I am a CBS, WISH TV news fan; their captioning is crap, no idea if this is their fault or if cable isn’t paying attention. This all gets down to the fact that I want local news reported in a format I can understand and receive complete reporting – whether it is in print form or via cyber space – I am being cheated on both counts.

  2. I neglected to comment on the obvious; news providers are moving toward doing away with print news entirely. No thought is given to the millions of people in this country who do not have or want computers. Also forgot to mention that the Friday “Things to do” section of the Star contains local obituaries, hardly appropriate. It is an improvement over the day I finally found obituaries in the Sports section.

  3. Of course, the important question is, what can/should we, the people do, to have adequate access to real news and investigative reporting now that Rupert Murdoch has redefined our historical process as mere business rather than time honored profession?

    I’m afraid that the media now must be the Internet, and the source us. Sheila’s blog certainly serves that purpose well as do others.

    Adequately? Sufficiently? We’ll see.

    As an example I rely now on for global warming science reporting. While I’m very satisfied that I am well informed it’s because I took the time and have the background to vet it.

    Economics? I’m not as comfortable that I can maintain an informed position.

    The bottom line is that Rupert’s plan requires us to do due diligence and many won’t or can’t.

    I think that it shows.

  4. Bottom line? We the people have to rely more on we, the people and less on “our” institutions. They’re no longer ours.

  5. I wonder if there isn’t a place for NUVO to develop into the kind of newspaper we seek? They have some excellent writers who are good investigators and analysts and who aren’t afraid to call it like it is. I’d gladly get a paid subscription to such a newspaper.

  6. I agree with you Sheila, The Star was never a “first rank” newspaper. My wife and I moved here back in 1970’s from the Chicago Area we had a subscription to the Star. My wife asked me why I went to the Gas Station on Sundays to buy the Chicago Tribune, my response was a wanted to read a “Real Newspaper.”

    The Star at least IMHO was always a champion for Crony-Capitalism. One of the most egregious confiscations of tax dollars was building stadiums for Mega-Billionaire owners of Professional Sports Teams. The Star may whine about the costs of building stadiums, but The Star does not object to the principle of diverting billions of tax dollars to build stadiums, while Public Transportation and Public are starved for funds.

    I suppose the breaking point for me was when The Star had a huge Sunday Front Page Article on Exorcism a few months back. I cancelled my subscription.

  7. I used to purchase the Star. These days I have an alternate
    method of starting the Bar-B-Cue Charcoal.

  8. If I had another source for the TV listings I would cancel my subscription to the Star. Being disabled, TV is my only source of entertainment and, even though the listings are often wrong, it is the only game in town. Also, I jump start my body each morning with black coffee and jump start my brain with the daily crossword puzzle. The Star is better than nothing in my limited life, but not by much. Red George; I have a gas grill so no charcoal to light.

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