Journalism and the 2016 Election

Wednesday evening, the ACLU of Indiana hosted one of its “First Wednesday” programs. These are brief, hour and a half presentations focused on current civil liberties issues. This one was titled “Election 2016 and the Media: Free Press or Free for All?”

John Ketzenberger moderated the panel, which consisted of two television reporters, Russ McQuaid and Marc Mullins, the opinion editor of the Indianapolis Star, Tim Swarens, and Mary Beth Schneider, who recently left her job at the Star, where she had been their long-time statehouse reporter.

Rather than focusing on the coverage of the 2016 election, as the title had suggested, the panel mostly bemoaned the challenges of today’s media environment, particularly the impact of digital media on longstanding business models. In response to an audience question (posed by my husband), they did agree that Trump had “played” the press to his advantage for much of the election cycle.

Despite the focus on the challenges posed by the Internet, most of the conversation avoided recognition of the actual state of traditional media. At one point, one of the broadcast representatives did note that media companies had become too dependent upon young reporters with little experience in lieu of (more expensive) seasoned journalists. But there was absolutely no discussion of the constant, punishing newsroom layoffs by Gannett, the loss of reporters like Mary Beth whose work was informed by institutional memory and deep knowledge, and the utter lack of print coverage of state and local government.

At times, Tim Swarens seemed almost delusional. He made the point that newspapers can gain/keep readership if they provide consistent, high-quality journalism (no argument there), then repeatedly and proudly claimed that the current iteration of the Star produces such journalism. There was no acknowledgment of the evisceration of the paper’s news staff, the dwindling ratio of actual news to sports and entertainment coverage, the virtual absence of reporting that used to be routine–stories about school board meetings, City-County Council committee deliberations, agency decisions and the like. (On the rare occasion that there are such reports, they tend to lack the context and background necessary to understand their significance.)

Our local business paper, the Indianapolis Business Journal, actually does a much better job on that front, recognizing that area businesses need to know what their government is doing.

The panel did recognize that the frantic competition for “clicks” and eyeballs too often drives coverage, posing a danger to the accuracy and completeness of stories.

I certainly don’t have a remedy for the very real problems journalism faces in an era of rampant on-line news and propaganda, declining revenues and outmoded business models. But I do know two things: 1) Americans need reputable news sources that tell us not just what we want to know, but what we need to know; and 2) you can’t fix a problem if you refuse to admit you have it.


  1. While reading this post, I wondered if the source of the problem is that most (if not all) of us have become used to getting the news for free on the internet. Maybe we should accept some of the blame for the lack of professional journalism?

  2. Thanks, Sheila and those of us here in Indiana who have a memory know that our biggest problem is #2 …. problem, what problem? Lest we forget the Republican party and the 1920’s…

    ‘The Indiana Klan rose to prominence beginning in the early 1920s after World War I, when ethnic Protestants felt threatened by social and political issues, including changes caused by decades of heavy immigration from southern and eastern Europe. By 1922 the state had the largest organization nationally, and its membership continued to increase dramatically under the leadership of D.C. Stephenson. It averaged 2,000 new members per week from July 1922 to July 1923, when he was appointed as the Grand Dragon of Indiana. He led the Indiana Klan and other chapters he supervised to break away from the national organization in late 1923.

    Indiana’s Klan organization reached its peak of power in the following years, when it had 250,000 members, an estimated 30% of native-born white men. By 1925 over half the elected members of the Indiana General Assembly, the Governor of Indiana, and many other high-ranking officials in local and state government were members of the Klan. Politicians had also learned they needed Klan endorsement to win office.’ from Wikipedia

  3. Wonder how much of Swaren’s attitude is formed by his delusion (based on the tenor of his editorials, he is delusional) and how much is his certain knowledge that as soon as he hits the salary ceiling, Gannett will chop his neck. You know he’s trumpeting the company line is desperate hope for a stay of execution.

  4. Evidently, I need to subscribe to the IBJ to get reliable information regarding this government.

    Nancy; we do rely on the Internet for news due to the lack of quality printed journalism, at least locally due to ownership by Gannett, Inc. But; much of what we get is rhetoric and conjecture with conflicting “facts” and poll numbers. I see scare tactics in many of the political E-mails I receive..all asking for more money which they can double, triple or quadruple. If the organization has the money to increase our pitiful amounts, why don’t they just donate it to their chosen political candidates. These E-mails come in the political newsletter format of Internet journalism.

    Not using my deafness as an excuse I will ask that you please excuse any errors as I attempt to keep up with fast scrawling closed captioning. Contrary to Donald Trump’s belief, I am NOT retarded due to my deafness. Yesterday evening on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” there was a report regarding Rudy Giuliani’s connection to an FBI agent or ex-FBI agent, Calstrom, who passed along information on Rudy’s TV program(?) from “people close to the investigation” regarding the current totally confusing FBI vs. Hillary Clinton campaign bashing. NEVER has it been said that the information came directly from an FBI agent. Not regarding the Clinton Foundation or the possibility maybe of Hillary E-mails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

    During a CNN interview of Rudy Giuliani by Don Lemon, Rudy announced a major news flash TWO DAYS BEFORE Comey’s letter became public. Per Rudy regarding Comey, “I think he’s got a surprise or two you’re going to hear about in the next two days. I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.” TWO DAYS BEFORE.

    This morning on Facebook I read a post, “Fox News False Claims about Indictment” on CNN. The post included a picture of Brett Baier of Fox News and stated that he “Walks Back False Clinton Foundation Indictment Story”. Why, “because it was incorrectly sourced. We now have a good idea who did source it.” The article RETRACTS the claim of a ‘likely’ Clinton indictment.

    It matters not the form of journalism or media releasing information; what matters is the true or false basis of the information. This is all vital news regarding the election of the President of the United States at a very precarious time in our history; precarious due to the years of inaction by Congress regarding bills, laws and political appointments and blatant lies regarding major issues. All of which determine the stability of the United States and Americans and our livelihood. The world of journalism in all it’s forms, coins words and phrases such as “walks back” rather than admit they were mistaken, were given incorrect information or admit they lied. There is also the newly coined and demeaning phrase regarding those up for election or reelection as being “down ballot”. They, all four parties, are being overshadowed or ignored by the Trump dog and pony show.

    There is an old adage, “Politicians make strange bedfellows.” We are currently dealing with the almost total control of this election by a very strange menage e trois; consisting of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and John Comey of the FBI. We have four days before the election.

    Which journalistic form do we rely on? Who do we believe?

  5. Prior to Gannett’s purchase of the Star, I said the Star couldn’t get worse; it didn’t take long to see that I was wrong. I now live in a small, liberal enclave in upstate NY where Garnett has owned the newspaper for many, many decades. The free newspapers and the college newspaper is better than the Garnett-owned paper.

  6. Swarens is in denial, of course, perhaps on publisher’s orders. We are not to the point just yet where robots can gather and discuss the impact of news; nor can a chronically under-staffed group of humans give us the content and commentary we need to make informed choices. So how did we get to this point? Who is responsible? I do not buy the usual argument given by the print people that competition from the net is so fierce that they must cut newsroom personnel to the bone to stay in business. How about adding newsroom personnel at the cost of overpaid executive personnel? Why should those closest to the consumer take the hits? I suggested recently that perhaps we should tell Gannet and others to practice a bit of journalistic Keynesianism by expanding their newsroom personnel numbers in the hope that better coverage will result in heavier readership and enhanced advertising revenues. Why should we as consumers of the news be shortchanged because those in charge of corporate print models do not know how to compete in the marketplace? Perhaps the problem is not to be found in cutbacks of newsroom personnel, which may only be a symptom of the problem. Perhaps the problem is in the corporate boardrooms of the print media. Perhaps new thinking is needed if we are going to give substance to the First Amendment’s guarantee of “freedom of the press.”
    Perhaps. . . ..

  7. When economic changes allow a large percentage of the population to isolate themselves from the day to day problems of the masses, why have news? If you don’t know about the problem, you don’t have to do anything about it.

    Tackling problems, particularly political and social problems, is often dirty business. Who wants to get dirty?

    The problem with the “ignore it all” approach is that those horrors you thought you escaped will eventually find their way into your bubble enclosed world and bite you. Heroin in the burbs, anyone?

  8. I hope and I pray that #1 Hillary wins on Tuesday and is our next President. #2 That we get a democrat senate majority #3 Senate appoints an investigation into James Comey’s actions that clearly were politically motivated. I am not a law professor, but I listened to people who are and they quoted the law and have stated there is questionable behavior on Comey’s part.

  9. Gerald; a very few years ago there was a short-lived protest by remaining Star employees regarding the deep cutbacks and salary cuts. This was after the announcement of the move of Star production to Circle Centre Mall but before the move; which had to be a great expense. I saw only one film of Star employees picketing the Star building, a brief bit of coverage in the Star and on TV newscasts then it disappeared. The power of the Fourth Estate cuts deep and lasting wounds when owned by corporate America.

    I have always questioned what promises were made to Gannet and the Star to prompt the move to the Mall, which appears to be fading as other malls in this city? Having worked with the city for many years and been records secretary for the Metropolitan Development Commission, I know this move had to have their full approval which automatically would include tax abatements and probably other promises of support. How much and for how long? This was something else which cut into the city tax budget along with Aid To The Dependent Colts and Pacers, their arenas and the addition of Ballard’s chosen pro sports teams…and their facilities. Indianapolis has gone from supporting three daily newspapers to one corporate owned shadow of it’s former self…right-wing to be sure but basically informative.

    The general public went along with the changes in journalism nationally as part of the media long enough for them to take control. But; like children growing up and realizing Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy must be left behind; we must leave behind our trust in most news we receive in any form.

  10. Two bits of information to add to the discussion.
    A yearly subscription to the IndyStar, including, ta-dah, the daily e-paper and special members only award contests, is over $400 a year.
    The man running for our Senate seat, endorsed by the IndyStar Editorial Board this cycle, is related by marriage to Dan Quayle, who sits on the board of Central Newspapers Inc. owned by Gannett. No mention of that connection in any of the endorsement coverage.

  11. I thought I was dealing with tough problems when a friend, who was on a Presidential committee to decide what to do in the Apocalypse asked what I thought. My response was that they should keep two words in mind, “Soylent Green,” and stop pretending that there is actually anything we can do in that situation. Best to avoid it, if at all possible.

    Now we have two questions of great importance.

    First, how do we get good, factual information in a digital age? If you have a capacity for boredom, you can visit the Federal Register to find out what agencies are required to report there. You can watch hearings on C-Span. You can read either the NY Times or WAPO, but don’t concentrate on the above the fold stories, you’ll find more in the small items buried inside. Locally, it gets much harder. You would probably have to attend council meetings to get anything of value.

    Second is what do we do about the unnamed FBI agents who are willfully violating the Hatch Act? We can’t let the FBI investigate itself. We know that doesn’t work very well in any law enforcement agency. Maybe the Justice Department can convene a group of independent investigators to ferret them out. These guys should all resign, because they have disgraced the agency, but they should also be held liable for violating the law.

  12. Good and informative comments today. Thank you all for your thoughtful insight. It helps me make sense of the ongoing craziness and makes me feel better that there are others who recognize big problems.

  13. I have a feeling that come November 9th, Comey will be either fired or will be forced to resign. I agree with Gerald and Peggy, great insights. Anthony, I didn’t know that about the Indiana KKK. I learn so much on this blog. It’s better than a newspaper. Great comments today as always JoAnn. Marv is right, you are a smart women, don’t ever doubt that. Have a great weekend everybody.

  14. Speaking (very loosely) of journalism, I wonder what kind of new big surprise Comey, his Trump supporter FBI agents, and Trump Surrogate Giuliani will leak out this Friday afternoon — so it will linger over the last weekend of the election — in their attempts to make sure HRC doesn’t get elected? Ah, they wouldn’t do that would they? The FBI political? At least in the “bad old days,” J. Edgar Hoover didn’t pussyfoot around, he just threatened to blackmail you with the information he had his agents illegally collect on you.

    Again (loosely) speaking of journalism, but this time opinion columnists, in his diatribe, which ran in yesterday’s AZ Daily Star — not a Gannett owned paper, but in exactly the same dire straits as the Indy Star — right-wing “conservative” Jonah Goldberg, who has loudly proclaimed his dislike for Trump, wrote that it was the Clintons’ own fault that Comey had no choice but to violate the FBI’s and DOJ’s policies and protocols by going pubic last Friday about the investigation into this new trove of emails because the Clintons are so slimy, unethical and corrupt, what else could Comey do — at the behest of the Trump supporter FBI agents egged on by Giuliani — but to prove to them and the world that he wasn’t soft on the Clintons.

    So it has come down to this on the right: Hillary and Bill are so corrupt, unethical, and evil that the only way to defeat them is to be just as corrupt and unethical as they are. Pretty courageous act by a man described by his friends as a being an honorable man who has spent his whole life trying to do the “right” thing.

  15. The problem with this election is that the collapse of the Republican Party has led us to only one qualified candidate for President. The media was counting on months of campaign “news” so has had to improvise by ignoring reality.

    What a mess.

  16. 85% of our media…what we listen to, read and watch, is owned by 5 entertainment conglomerates. None of those conglomerates informed news consumers that they had a vested candidate in one over the other. That is a straight up conflict of interest.

    News companies also lobby against disclosures on who buys ad spots. All those attack ads we get pummeled by are purchased by PACs for which we have no idea who is behind them. We already have learned that Hillary Clinton communicates with her PACs, which is a 100% violation of the law. Who’s going to enforce those laws?

    In case you haven’t noticed, there is an internal war going on between the FBI and Justice Department over Trump and Clinton investigations. It’s almost comical if it wasn’t scary.

    Having a panel of insiders discuss the problem with our press is like having a panel of alcoholics discuss recovery. Denial is pervasive in ALL problems…denying the problem exists is what makes the problems persist.

    Our government was structured to serve the people and prevent the wealthy capitalists from oppressing the people. We fled monarchy rule which church influence. We didn’t like it. People revolted and our ancestors died.

    To prevent the government from becoming too powerful and returning to monarchy type rule, the Founders developed a “free and independent press” to serve the people. Their role is to hold the powerful in the government accountable.

    When you consider power is the problem, it requires plenty of checks and balances.

    This planets greatest mind, Albert Einstein, wrote a paper in the mid-40’s titled, “Why Socialism” where he called both capitalism and communism, “EVIL” for what it does to the human psyche and soul.

    He also wrote that both our government and press, along with institutions of higher learning, were owned and operated by Wealthy Oligarchs who use their influence to misinform “we the people” so that we can “inadequately determine what is in our own best interest.”

    Money = power & influence

    Every great mind of today already knows we do not have a democratic republic. It’s gone. It was gone by the time Einstein was brought into our country.

    All we have left are media companies which tell us what to buy with some fun stories about what’s going on in the surrounding marketplace. As a journalist, I cannot write for a newspaper because their advertisers would go crazy. The Chamber of Commerce would revolt. The truth is not allowed any longer. All we hear now is corporate accepted sound bytes tailored for one market of constituents. If Americans think MSNBC is the voice of the left, all I can do is laugh out loud.

    Again, why didn’t MSNBC take down Donald Trump with all the information they had at their disposal? All the Celebrity Apprentice outtakes were archived at their parent, NBC News. 😉

    We are a corporate police state which is closed down. We rank 38th in the world for International Press Freedom. We claim to be the beacon of democracy (people power), but that is a joke. It’s why Russia and China are calling us to task.

    We were warned what could happen if we didn’t pay attention to this new experiment. Our apathy has a HUGE cost associate with it. Plato said the result of our apathy – “We will be ruled by our inferiors.”

  17. I never cared for the Star even during the Pulliam Days, even less so now. The Star today is just paper and words no content, except sports, sports, sports and some new bar and restaurant opening up in a trendy area.

    As far as leaks are concerned all three cable networks push their so called sources. They all relate quotes with factual conviction their sources from the Pentagon or some intelligence agency relates to them. Operation Mockingbird was a plan by the CIA among others to plant stories in the Media dating back to the early 1950’s. The stories favored the latest government spin or outright lies.

    One of the best on line place for news I go to is Counterpunch, The Fearless Voice of the American Left Since 1993. Fair warning if you a partisan Democrat, you will not like what they have to say about the Democratic Party. If you are looking for an article on the latest Trumpet-Pence gaffe and an article extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton you will not find it. That said you will find an article titled – Memo to Comey: Keep Your Damn Hands Off Our Elections.

  18. Todd 1:50 great comments. I read recently where Gannett is trying to buy Tribune Publishing owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and other daily newspapers.

    The free independent press had been referred to as the fourth estate. The Press a last resort for the truth when the government decided we did not need to know the truth. Hard to imagine today something equal to the Pentagon Papers being published. Snowden went over their heads so to speak with his expose. Wikileaks can be used to further some spin, but in essence the Corporate Press does not like Wikileaks.

    A good example of the Corporate Press is their ignoring the Native American demonstrations and protests in Dakota. The Police and other members of the security apparatus confronting the Native Americans are garbed out for an military style conflict in Iraq. Big headline on CNN on line, Harvard cancels men’s soccer season over lewd ‘scouting report’. MSNBC 10 out of 10 of the top stories are about the Presidential Election. FOX has nothing about the Native American protests.

    The Native American protests are challenging corporate AmeriKa so it is best to keep the news of it tamped down.

  19. You’re right – IBJ has more serious news than the Indpls. STAR which is now more into entertainment than news. Thank God for the NY Times and Washington Post where some semblance of real investigative journalism remains.

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