Indianapolis, Indiana used to have three newspapers. Little by little, we lost them–the Indianapolis Times went first, then the Indianapolis News, the evening paper, “merged” with the co-owned morning Star. Then Gannett bought the Star, and changed what had been a mediocre newspaper into a worthless compendium of sports columns and stories about new bars in town, wrapped around a daily “McPaper”–aka USA Today.
Gannett’s ownership led to a constant series of layoffs and outsourcing. The layoffs and firings decimated the news staff, with those having institutional memory going first, and the outsourcing of copy editing multiplied the number of misspellings and textual gaffes. All of this seemed–and still seems–insane to me: the only thing news organizations have to sell is news content; it makes no sense to save money by reducing your ability to produce the quality and quantity of what you are selling.
Now, a new organization evidently wants to buy Gannett. Ordinarily, I’d be delighted, but evidently, the potential buyer is even less interested in producing news than Gannett. According to a column in the Washington Post,
Print revenue is down, digital and mobile revenue aren’t nearly enough, and now a hedge fund promising even deeper cuts wants to acquire the company. If the future of corporate news operations looks bleak, that’s because it is.
In Tennessee, we’ve been watching the slow-motion destruction of our news institutions under Gannett for a few decades now, and the idea that things are about to get even worse is appalling. As badly as the country needs strong coverage of national news these days, the local news landscape is important, too. And what happened here mirrors what’s already happened in city after city.
The story of what happened in Tennessee mirrors what happened in Indianapolis.
In July, for example, local hospital operators LifePoint Health and RCCH HealthCare Partners merged in a nearly $6 billion deal that affected roughly 1,000 local employees. The Tennessean covered the story with an Associated Press dispatch written in New York, followed by a local rewriteof a news release at the end of the day. There was no follow-up coverage despite LifePoint’s founder receiving a $70 million exit package and 250 jobs getting eliminated.
In Indianapolis, the locally-owned Indianapolis Business Journal (disclosure: I write a column for the IBJ) does a good job of covering the business community. (It actually does a better job of covering state and local government than the Star, but that’s not its primary mission and being better than the Star is to clear a low bar.) Nuvo, our alternative weekly newspaper, does excellent reporting on selected scandalous or corrupt matters, but doesn’t have the resources to provide the sort of comprehensive coverage we used to get from daily papers. Thanks to the Star’s shortcomings, citizens of Indianapolis get only the most superficial coverage of state government, the legislature and city agencies.
And it matters.
When no one is watching the store, there is no way to evaluate whether or how local officials are doing their jobs. There’s no “early warning system” allowing citizens to object to changing rules. There’s no authoritative, trusted source to rebut or confirm rumors or conspiracy theories.
It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion of the cited article:
All over America, we need something different: We need more reporters covering the issues that matter to our communities. We need to stem the crisis in statehouse reporting; here in Nashville, the Capitol Hill press corps has dwindled from 35 to just 10 over a few decades. We need more investigative power to follow the billions of dollars spent by state and local governments, often with little oversight. We need competition in places where corporate news has carved out monopolies and let local news wither.
And we need to do it fast, because the butchers are sharpening their knives.
No news is definitely not good news.
32 thoughts on “No News Is Definitely NOT Good News”
I just re-read the classic on Chicago “Nature’s Metropolis”. Part of what drove the connection between city and hinterland was demand from hinterland of Chicago news, especially for farm product prices and goods for purchase. In contemporary society, much wealth is “produced” by the easy money policies of the Federal Reserve, so there is little demand for hard information on how to live and hopefully prosper. Much of our “wealth” is now provided by record low interest rate mortgages, credit cards, car loans, TIF and other government bonds, so actionable information for the basics and luxuries aren’t demanded by the reading populace.
But in Indy we get lots of DOG stories. My how they love DOG stories.
And if someone who wears a jock strap to work gets ill, STOP THE PRESSES.
Now there is a special edition. Local news is just awful – both Print & TV
News coverage in Indy is so minimal that I wonder why we even subscribe to the Star. In addition, the copy is so badly written and edited that this English teacher mentally corrects each error. It’s a good thing I don’t read the paper with a red pen in my hand, or I’d be marking all morning.
My parents subscribed to the Indianapolis Star when I was a young child; I am now 81 years old and have subscribed to the Star for decades. I ended my subscription as of December 1, 2018; only partially due to the fact that the carrier often did not deliver the Star on my porch as requested due to my disability, a service provided by the Indianapolis Star when it WAS the Indianapolis Star. Reporting this on line to the Star suddenly ended when their web site was discontinued, I did find a Gannett representative who did her best to report this to the carrier’s manager. The paper was often in my flower beds on both sides of my porch; my neighbors who subscribe have their copies occasionally on the end of their driveway but more often on the city sidewalk and at times dropped in the street. The Gannett representative finally told me that Gannett only requires the paper be delivered “on the property” and that appears to be an impossibility.
“Then Gannett bought the Star, and changed what had been a mediocre newspaper into a worthless compendium of sports columns and stories about new bars in town, wrapped around a daily “McPaper”–aka USA Today.” Sheila’s description is on target. The lack of “quality” reporting sped up considerably once Gannett bought USA TODAY and included a sample copy in our daily Star which is now actually the USA TODAY NETWORK (the caps are theirs). The actual USA TODAY publication was our source for national and international news; this is rarely reported in the sample copy and what is printed is bare-bones information.
There is another issue regarding our fit only for wrapping garbage daily news source; it is now the anchor for Circle Centre Mall. What other mall has a factory as its anchor and when the Star fails under Gannet ownership or their sellout; what happens to the already declining Mall? There is much more than the lack of quantity and quality daily printed news at issue in Indianapolis.
You forgot to mention another paper, The Indianapolis Recorder, which at least provides some items of interest to our African American community.
theres a bunch a ways to make a news paper hat on you tube, maybe thats all thats left.
over the years driving across the country, i would pick up locals and some times,from wait areas, tables at truckstops, or left folded on someones desk,or front lawn,(hehehhe) snatched… this was a mainstay for my news prior to web. though many a story was the same,you could tell the writer was a liberal or George Will. trying to make sense, to read between the lines. many of the same stories often wound up on newsweek,time,etc. my 64 years ive consumed tons of paper. my first was the newark evening news, daily news,(o.k?) nytimes,ny herold,sat evening post,(not bad for a preteen) its sad ro see people dont have the same attachment to the feel of folding a paper back to get a grip on it,as you rocked around a train or car,as you read. the smell of freash print ill never forget.and the oily type,before soy. did some body order a sandwich,damn the meats so thin you could read a newspaper through it. (flavored bread) and of course,we use to wrap our garbage up in it and send it down.and ,the newstand,put a coupla coins in,cuss when it locked ya out,and you still tried again,and lost that money again..and if you picked up that paper,and you were sure,that section was there,well its in my back pocket and im out the door,c,ya.damn,sure miss that paper…
The change when Gannett bought the Star was obvious. The paper took on the appearance of USA Today, to the point that sometimes I was not sure if I was reading an article or an ad. the change undoubtedly was an attempt to make the paper more attractive to people used to television and social media. It also let Gannett use the star’s revenues to subsidize USA Today. If the paper is sold to a hedge fund, it will vanish before long. The fund will not only cut costs, it will charge “large management fees” in order to get its money back before selling it to another firm or closing it altogether.
Why did we have to read about the Marsh super market mess in the Washington Post
My parents subscribed to all three Indy newspapers and we truly mourned the death of the Times and the move of Irving Liebowitz (Times’s leading columnist) to Cincinnati. The simple fact of the matter is that people don’t subscribe any more. In my neighborhood, only us geezers take the daily newspaper, which is also a Gannett production. When one of us dies or gets moved to a nursing home, the young people moving in don’t take the paper. Many of the ideas we revered through our entire lives have turned into relics of a bygone age.
How do we get comprehensive reporting when most of our children only read 140 characters at a time?
Turn your radio on WIBC 93.1 in the morning and listen to Tony Katz and you’ll get excellent news reporting both local, state and federal. He really is a bright spot in the Indianapolis market. He tells you like he sees it and doesn’t back down from controversy.
Thank you Sheila as always,
I found it very interesting to read in the Indianapolis Star a7 column by its senior editor, I believe, where he indicated that his newspaper was going to contain more national news at the behest of its subscribers. While, as a subscriber of the Sunday Indianapolis Star because the weekly paper is a complete joke as you have alluded to, I found it interesting that such a change was, again, at the behest of its subscribers and not the move by the editorial staff itself in pursuing their job of informing all of us of what is going on as the major daily newspaper, the only major daily newspaper, the only daily newspaper, of record in Indianapolis.
All of this is particularly distressing to me because a sizable portion of my family, including my own mother, were journalists, columnists and editors of the Indianapolis Star both prior to the Pulliam families ownership and during it. Initially, when I would hear the newspaper referred to as “Pravda of the Plains” I sort of took halfhearted umbrage initially at that derisive description of it but it’s true.
While I know that newspaper advertising revenues are down as are numbers of subscribers both local aid and nationally because of the availability of similar information on the Internet I’m old enough to still like to have the hardcopy newspaper in my hands.
It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a worse job of conveying the news than Gannett does but if that’s how things will shake out we will likely have to live with it but I don’t like it. There is so much trash on the Internet and so many fly by night outfits that purportedly convey the news that it is dangerous and undermines the underpinnings of our free society which is based, as it always has been, on the availability of accurate information. Since more and more of that online information is being compromised by external malevolent international actors and, quite frankly, nutbars with more axes to grind than the Indianapolis Fire Department has we are in, as we are in so many other areas today, deep trouble as a functioning democracy.
All of this makes it more important than ever that critical thinking is taught to children at an early age as well as credible research skills of for educational purposes but also so that the average American citizen knows what’s going on around him or her. Still another example of things that we never thought we would need to worry about or be concerned about that is slapping us right in the face..
With the meager resources it has, The Star does occasionally produce a decent piece of reporting, such as a recent long article (online is where I saw it) on recycling in Indianapolis. This shows what we are missing most of the time. Many small cities and towns across the US have lost their newspapers entirely. Will some idea emerge to reinvigorate local journalism? If the demand becomes great enough, possibly. My decades-old appreciation of journalism is why I have a digital subscription to the NY Times and (reluctantly) to the Indianapolis Star. Let’s hope a younger generation rediscovers local journalism in some form.
Gannett destroyed news coverage in Muncie, Indiana as well. I keep expecting them to roll back into an Indianapolis office and just produce an Indiana Today newspaper with satellite offices around the state.
What’s funny is we live in a digital world where everybody is looking toward a “news agency” to produce what is readily available if folks would learn how to use their Smartphones. For instance, there were letters being written into the local Gannett rag complaining about the lack of coverage at a local girls basketball game. I went to a couple of games myself and looked at the crowd in attendance. All had Smartphones and were texting or Facebooking, etc.
Twitter is probably a better source for news than Facebook, but both social media platforms are built upon the concept of sharing information.
What we need are citizen journalists built upon a socialist model where $0.05 of our income taxes goes towards the free press which serves the people. If it fails to uphold its duties of informing the public, it can be replaced.
It’s the start of a new model where citizens are paid to report on current events with the assistance of a local coordinator.
I’m sorry, but every bar or craft brewery establishment has their own digital media. There are Google comments and Facebook comments as well. I’m sure many of the newer Apps also have peer to peer reviews. The last place I go for information is the newspaper which is dying out like the phone book/yellow pages.
We are now operating within the Fourth Industrial Revolution while at the same time talking about the extinction of product developed before what Industrial Revolution? 😉
For the sake of our trees and environment can we please put the printing press to bed for good and move to 100% digital?
This is happening everywhere. The Austin American-Statesman, which serves one of the fastest growing areas in the country cut back for cost purposes and now has their paper printed in San Antonio. This, of course, pushes their deadlines back, so that anything happening after 5 P.M. doesn’t make the cut for the next day’s paper.
Denver, by far the largest metro area in the entire time zone has had its Post staff slashed to the bone. The paper still does a great job of reporting news and information for the entire front range, but several very high quality reporters have been let go.
For old farts like me who have ritualized the morning paper with a cup of coffee, not having a news paper in hand or on screen would cheapen what’s left of my life.
Say, I wonder who bought Todd’s paper.
I live in Springfield IL, where the daily paper here, the State Journal-Register, is one of a million (it seems) papers snapped up by the Gate House chain, whose mission seems to be to gut its papers while providing profits for its stockholders. That I still subscribe to the SJ-R is due to two things, a desire to want to know what’s going on, and a talented and hard-working staff that continues to give it their all, knowing that they have been handed a task they will ultimately be unable to complete successfully. The SJ-R still covers this market better than any other local media, but I am convinced that many of the problems we currently face are due to the cutbacks in journalism nationwide. The fourth estate is by far the best line of defense against those who would screw us over given the chance. They are all too aware of the woes facing the news business, and are taking advantage of them. What happens to us when the watchdogs are no longer around?
I moved to Indianapolis with my wife back in 1975. After reading The Star, I quickly realized how pathetic The Star was compared to the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun Times. I would go out to the gas station and pick up a Tribune on Sundays.
The Star had this parochial or provincial out look, that if it was not happening in Indiana, it was not happening. Back then The Star would report on the “movers and shakers” as they called them (our local 1%) and with out any counter opinion would inform us what our “betters” wanted the political establishment to accomplish, such as building a football stadium for a non-existent team or building Circle Center Mall or some other corporate welfare scheme.
Nuvo back when Harrison Ullman was alive regularly cut through the crap. Ullman labeled the Indiana Legislature as the worst. He referred to the Republican and Democratic Parties as Bayh-Smiths a slap at the cease fire that existed between Evan Bayh and $teve Gold$mith.
With the exception of Newsy on cable, FOX, CNN and MSDNC spend all their time reporting for the most part on all things connected with President Agent Orange from a comfy studio. I suppose today we will have the usual panel of experts reporting on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam dressing up either in black face or a KKK costume back in 1984. He should resign by the way IMHO.
These so-called news programs at FOX, CNN, and MSDNC are on the cheap, which cuts costs. A few guests usually the same ones in studio or some are teleconferenced in. These three networks represent in a different medium the same decline as the newspapers, fluff and puff.
Once upon a time citizens organized themselves around a desire to have a government of, by and for the citizens; and they made it happen. Maybe citizens now could organize themselves around a desire to have a news source that is competent…meaning create one ourselves…and put our own money into it, at least to the degree that we really want competent news…Oh, crap! There is the flaw to my suggestion. Sorry. I withdraw the whole idea.
Aside from delivery of the real news I find it discomfiting that hedge and equity funds, however subtly and indirectly, are taking over interpretation of our First Amendment rights via right wing propaganda designed to expand capitalism as currently practiced. Non-profitability is no problem for such aggregations of capital since such losses can be deducted from their otherwise immense profits with the unseen result that you and I are helping to pay for our own brain washing.
We don’t subscribe to the local paper because there’s no reason to. We get our news from a combination of local TV news and the Internet. Several Internet sites. Are we missing news that we should know about? Yes. Probably the biggest hole is state news. The highlights are covered pretty well on local TV but no in depth reporting. One advantage of Trump is that he has to make breaking news daily. If he was just corrupt rather than corrupt and incompetent and primarily a celebrity jerk we might not know so much. As he is we get him exposed on Jimmy Kimmel every night.
Up until relatively recent times apparently private businesses could be relied on to supply professionally reported news but no more.
What will we do when the only daily newspaper in the state’s capitol is gone? Its coverage of local and state governance is almost gone anyway, but there still is some. I read Nuvo and IBJ and the Recorder when I can, but even they do not cover what we need to know to make our choices in the voting booth.
To depend on local radio or TV is even more fruitless as almost all of them are affiliated with the mega media, answerable to those who only care about the profits they can glean from a failing enterprise.
Sad to say, I see no alternative. Our neighborhood is a perfect example of the disconnect of citizens to the local media of any kind. The city delayed trash pickup due to the extreme weather, disseminating the announcement on several online, local TV and radio media. Yet, drive through our area and you will see bins at the end of almost every driveway. The simplest and most direct news was lost on those who are so obviously oblivious.
These are the same people who complain about streets not being plowed but never shovel anything but their driveway, if that, sidewalks be damned. Vote? Why do that when that might land you in a jury pool. Who cares what goes on in the City-County building or the statehouse until it affects them negatively (costs them money or is inconvenient).
We get what our self-interest, lack of empathy or imagination produce. Corrupt and arrogant politicians who sell a fantasy or lie outright all while pandering to the donor class, satisfying their own ambitions, means that we will very soon be an authoritarian country with global corporations taking over completely. An informed citizenry becomes a pipe dream and the supercilious and greedy steal without fear of any consequence.
JD “means that we will very soon be an authoritarian country with global corporations taking over completely.”
You’re are just as oblivious as your neighbors. We are not approaching that which you describe,we are already there.
Not only has the news hole (and news quality) of the Star and other Gannett papers shrunk, so has the physical page size. Sorry, friend JoAnn, the Star is useless even for wrapping garbage.
In other sad news, Schulz Communcations, publisher on Bloomington’s Herad-Times and 10 other Indiana papers (and a handful more around the country) has announced the sale of its publishing operations to Gate House. The are probably worse publishers, but as a friend who retired as an award-winning investigative report after the sale of the Columbus Dispatch to Gate House was announced has cautioned, they ARE a business.
As Sheila often points out the question must be what can we do. There are both the problems of the fall of investigative reporting and the rise of fake news but we revere freedom of speech.
What would change that?
Prior to the Indianapolis Star, after being purchased by Gannett but before becoming USA TODAY NETWORK; had two excellent investigative journalists reporting on two vital issues locally. Stephanie Wang, now of Chalkbeat, wrote a series of in depth articles regarding LGBTQ issues. Brian Eason, now of Denver, Colorado, wrote a series of in depth articles regarding the escalating abandoned houses and buildings issue in Indianapolis. Their reports stopped with the problems still escalating long before I ended my subscription December 1, 2018. Have there been any further articles or interest in either issue been published in the Star?
One major error about 4 years ago was when Gannett owned Indianapolis Star actually published obituaries in the Sports Section…on the back pages.
The content of your column, Professor Kennedy, has been churning around in my brain all day long. While I finally surrendered my own Star subscription in January (even as Gannett stiffed me for my last Sunday home delivery), I have been wracked with guilt. I’m embarrassed at seemingly turning my back on the journalists I know, and those I don’t, who give their energy, time, and even their lives, to deliver the truth and expose corruption.
Even so, how does objective newsgathering stay the course as a business without becoming a bargaining chip TO unscrupulous businesses, particularly heavy-handed corporate interests? While journalists and reporters adhere to the highest ethical journalistic standards, they are oftentimes no match for publishers and corporate boards.
The current climate of fake news, disinformation, every concern as a for-profit structure (even those considered non-profit, i.e., our local “public” broadcast stations) does not allow for such entities to be self-sustaining enterprises.
No news is free. Even Google and Facebook understand the insidiousness of a news-for-ads template. So where do journalists of integrity turn for support and justice in just doing their jobs? And “award-winning” will only get you a trophy case and maybe a round of drinks at one’s favorite watering hole. There doesn’t appear to be any current model for a platform of journalistic integrity on the national or state spectrum, let alone local and county levels.
New national standards and perhaps a national board of review that covers print, broadcast, and multimedia with state chapters to provide balance? Stronger bite courtesy of the ACLU?
Money and principle cannot coexist on the same plane of journalism. Dollars can, and do, exist without ethics. However, ethics cannot succeed without a sustained, objective infusion of cash.
I wish I had some answers.
As a former newspaper publisher in Indiana, now in Portland Maine, all I can say is it’s sad what’s become of The Star, as well as my formerly-excellent old hometown paper (The Louisville Courier-Journal) and the old dailies in Cincinnati, Nashville and elsewhere under Gannett’s watch. I have had several Facebook friends debate the topic with me, and I shall copy and paste what has them so upset below, after I say that I do understand why the remaining Star employees continue to try and defend what’s left of the paper they work for — afterall THEY do still have jobs and need the pay. But all of the other comments here are valid points, as is your original piece, Sheila. It’s really interesting to me, however, that in my new home in Maine papers continue to thrive under local owners. It is true that one owner who lives here owns many of the titles, but he’s a Mainer. We also get a lot of local content which Hoosiers sadly do not. This may be a reason we have a new Democratic woman governor (to replace the racist Republican we had) and we do get coverage of city hall and the state house many folks only dream of or remember. Hell, there are even two AFTERNOON newspapers still up here, which is certainly something not many places can say today. Anyway, my original post said: I am very sad to hear that several friends and folks I used to work with and regularly read at newspapers owned by Gannett were laid off this past week, and even sadder that one old friend in Indiana is very angry with me for telling it like I see it as she lost a good friend in the latest round of cut-backs, so let me explain my thoughts to anyone wishing to read. I am afraid, due to emotions running so high after this latest round of layoffs, some friends see me as a villian for actually trying to understand that layoffs had to happen and will keep happening at big corporate newspapers and media. It’s called business. To my friend, Yes, I feel for the friends of mine and yours, who lost their jobs last week. And I feel for the state of the newspaper industry in the U.S. as a whole with internet news and shopping (plus the consolidation in things like department stores, which used to run huge ads and inserts in case you forgot Wasson’s, Ayres and Block’s) diminishing the need and function of most print newspapers due to declining ad and subscription revenuse and higher print costs. I own a tiny newspaper out here in Maine, so I “get it” really (right in my own wallet!), but I will say nothing to defend Gannett or the big businesses which have taken over large chunks of the industry. I understand they still write many friends’ paycheques and those of their friends, so I’d not expect you to say a word against them, but as a 50+ year journalist, I can and always will say local ownership of any business, but especially the news business, works whereas big firms falter. Big companies make lousy publishers! That’s why out here in Maine, where we have local ownership of newspapers like the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News and even the “big city” Boston Globe, the cut-backs and pain are nowhere near as great as out in the large corporate owned newspaper areas of the Midwest and South. Notice, I did not say anyone was pain-free, but local subscription support and local readership and ads do go a long way to keep the wolf from the door. But back to my friend in Indiana: All the tough times do not mean that given the comparably tiny space those big corporate bean counters are allocating in The Indianapolis Star, Louisville Courier-Journal and elsewhere that there’s not some great journalism still existing. But the fact remains that the size and number of papers, their lack of local control and the space allocated for good, and even award winning, photographers and writers is a mere shadow of what it was 10 or 20 or 40 years ago. So my original message remains: It’s a sad state of affairs for a once-great family industry with a very questionable future for what remains under big corporate ownership. Locally-owned papers in some areas seem to continue to thrive, while the big “corporate” ones barely hang on. So to my friend: I wish you and the other friends I have at your paper still on the payroll all the best, but just as the band on the Titanic continued to play as the ship went down, it’d be good to keep an eye out for a lifeboat as I sadly see a day without newspapers looming large in many areas. Hopefully yours is not one of them, but remember, as was said when the wonderful old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin printed its last edition years ago: Dinosaurs once roamed the earth, but dinosaurs don’t live here anymore.
NUTS latest issue is dated January 30 – February 13. Anyone else notice that they seem to have become a bi-weekly publication; no longer weekly?
Lots of articles by Rob Burgess, no John Kroll for a couple of issues (is he no longer published by them). Their format has changed, they are not so edgy, smaller exitions.
NUTS latest issue is dated January 30 – February 13. Anyone else notice that they seem to have become a bi-weekly publication; no longer weekly?
Lots of articles by Rob Burgess, no John Kroll for a couple of issues (is he no longer published by them). Their format has changed, they are not so edgy, smaller exitions.
Not nuts, auto correct mis-read NUVO……..
If the IBJ would include obituaries and expand their news coverage beyond its predominantly business interests, people would flock to it. IBJ does good work, as far as it goes. If home ownership, quality journalism, and customer service are the keys, IBJ could offer all three and put the Indpls. STAR out of its and our misery.
IBJ could establish a network of its own across the several Hoosier communities which are suffering from out-of-state ownership of their local papers. TV and radio and social media can never replicate real journalism and local news coverage. Unfortunately, I fear we’ll lose real local journalism before younger generations learn what they’ll miss.
The IBJ would never cross over to holding truth to power because it would present them with the same quandary that all other dailies face…how can we hold true to our free press, journalistic roots, while still serving our advertisers?
The Gannett newspapers in Indiana smell just like the Koch brothers dark network. In fact, they are several overlaps in who writes for Gannett and who cannot. Peel back their titles and guess who amazingly appears??
Whenever your newspaper agrees philosophically with our state legislature who all happen to be representing the GOP, there is something wrong. It’s not a coincidence.
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