No News Isn’t Good News

When I first retired, I began casting around for projects I might do to occupy my newly-freed-up time. (I’m still looking, btw…) My youngest son wanted me to get credentialed as a reporter and focus my efforts on Indiana’s Statehouse, which he correctly noted is a gerrymandered, far-right mixture of self-dealing, arrogance, bad policy and general nuttiness.

It is, after all, a chamber that hasn’t come all that far since passing a bill to change the value of pi.

There hasn’t been decent reporting on the shenanigans of our legislature since Mary Beth Schneider retired from the Statehouse beat, back when the Indianapolis Star at least pretended to cover state and local government.  But–although I certainly agree with my son that the lack of reporting on state government is a huge problem–I didn’t agree that I was the person to address that information deficit. (My kids don’t seem to understand just how limited my skills are, or how old and tired I am…)

That said, it appears that Indiana’s isn’t the only state legislature to be operating without scrutiny from media watchdogs, and there is a new effort to turn that around. A friend recently sent me a report from the Washington Post about a nonprofit news organization that has been formed to fill that gap.

With funding from foundations and a variety of donors, States Newsroom formed two years ago to attempt to fill a void in what many government watchdogs and civil-society experts believe is one of the biggest manifestations of the local journalism crisis: the dire shortage of reporters covering state government.

On Monday, States Newsroom will announce plans to nearly double its presence, from its current 25 states to about 40 over the next two and a half years. It will open its next five outlets in Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, South Carolina and Kentucky. It’s also launching “News from the States,” a new online clearinghouse to showcase all their affiliates’ reporting.

Each of the bureaus is independent,  and most are managed by veteran journalists. The average staffs consist of four or five reporters. And importantly, each bureau allows other news organizations to republish its work for free.

“State government and politics and policy have the most impact on people’s lives and it’s covered the least,” said States Newsroom director and publisher Chris Fitzsimon. “That’s really why we exist.”

The number of newspaper reporters dedicated to covering statehouses has been declining for decades, dropping by 35 percent between 2003 and 2014 and outpacing overall newspaper job losses over that time, according to Pew Research Center survey. And that was before the more recent blows to the newspaper industry, with nearly 6,000 journalism jobs and 300 newspapers vanishing between 2018 and early 2020, according to a University of North Carolina study, even before the pandemic worsened their economic picture.

Can a nonprofit media organization survive financially? That’s the zillion-dollar question.

States Newsroom raised close to $10 million dollars in 2020. In the interests of transparency, it posts a list on its website of every donor who has contributed over $500–according to the article in the Post, the list currently includes individuals, foundations, and other entities like the Google News fund and a major union of public employees. A foundation established by Wyoming-based Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, who briefly entertained joining a bid to buy Tribune Publishing Company last year, gave an early $1 million dollar donation.

As the article noted, for many years smaller newspapers relied on wire services like the Associated Press to fill their pages with the kind of statehouse reporting that they didn’t have the personnel to produce themselves. But increasingly, small newspapers can’t afford to subscribe to the AP, and as the newsrooms of better-established papers have been emptied out by their rapacious corporate owners, those news organizations have simply lacked the wherewithal to cover state legislatures.

When I visited the States Newsroom website, I noted the absence of an Indiana operation. Maybe if a number of unhappy Hoosiers contribute, we can convince the project to add Indiana to its growing list of bureaus. After all, what’s our idiotic state motto? “Honest to Goodness, Indiana?”

Well, Honest to Goodness, we need a lot more light on our Indiana lawmakers!


  1. I signed up for the Michigan affiliate as I live just South of our border with them, and LOVE their Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General – ALL WOMEN!! Even the SW Michigans US House Rep is a rare and endangered moderate Republican (Fred Upton).

    I also sent a message to States Newsroom (Scroll to the bottom of the home page, and click on Contact under the Navigation column) and asked if they could put me in touch with anyone in their organization or outside that was interested or actively working on an Indiana affiliate. Perhaps if more of us did the same we could get their attention.

    I recommend Professor Kennedy to be its founding publisher and the name of the affiliate to be “Honest to GOD Indiana!”.

  2. Yes. Shine a light on the cockroaches and watch them scatter.

    Perhaps our own Todd Smiekens could sign up for this job in Indiana. He seems to have his fingers on the somewhat beating pulse of democracy in Indiana.

  3. Pleased to see SC on the list . This organization is sorely needed here . So ashamed and embarrassed by Trump wannabe Gov. McMaster .

  4. I reached out on their website for information about how to launch in Indiana, but haven’t heard anything back. I’ll keep trying.

  5. There are a number of interesting non-profit news operations presently. Check out Stateline, run by the Pew Charitable Trust , which focuses on state-level public policy.

    There are few freely available Indiana news operations. The Indiana Citizen is an attempt. Sadly, the Statehouse File run by Franklin College’s journalism program recently went behind a paywall.

    We can support existing, locally owned outlets like the Indianapolis Recorder (which broke the story on the Indianapolis Public Library) and Indianapolis Business Journal.

  6. Also, check out ProPublica, a major investigative-reporting outlet , which bills itself as an “independent, non-profit newsroom.” They are developing a reporting network with regional newsroom across the country. They have produced major stories of local, national, and international significance.

  7. Well, we’ve come a long way from 1897. I’d bet that today the Indiana Legislature would vote to change the value of pi to apple.

  8. Yes we really need more information about what our state government is doing and investigative journalism that confronts that informs us of the issues. I know that ISNA has a publication in which they publish bills affecting the practice of nursing in this state.

    And once we have the investigative journalism, will Hoosiers stand up and confront any corruption or bad policies?

  9. I’ll do some digging.

    Quite frankly, Wikileaks is the model for our global news all the way down to local news. The US is heading into a stage of authoritarianism so it can take on Russia and China, but it doesn’t have the will of the people or God behind them. I expect global citizens will feel the same.

    As you can see with the treatment of Assange, any effort in truth-seeking journalism is usually thwarted by oligarchic interests. Your biggest foe would be the folks from Eli Lilly, Big Energy, the Defense Industry, and Farm Bureau, to name a few.

    I’ve cut to a place in my local community where I can do some major damage in 2022 if the oligarchs don’t come to the table. A few more Council meeting speeches and the people will be lining out the doors which is what it will take. It’s going to take a tax protest and work stoppage for this to end.

    We’ve talked about it and even though we don’t agree completely on the problems, we will shortly. A truth-seeking fourth estate is the key in a tripartite system. If you still want this system, we have to have a strong adversarial journalistic free press. No way around it. Maybe when all the black wolves have gone back to the hills, we can let up, but at first, it will take a lot of heavy lifting to support the white wolves.

  10. nope,trumpdakota isnt there,sen hovens pet UAS unmaned aireal survailance ,usaf drones. by the way are trained and controled from here. ( even our school of avionics teach it)now the state has granted thier full survalance systems for them to literally track a roach. seems few if anyone here even had a clue that those cameras in every city that has a stop light in trumpdakota, is watching you. also,also,on many two lane and major ND roads, poles with sensors in the highway pavement to snap a photo of every vehicle,touted to be used to track commercial vehicles weight and time. but in all, hoven secured billions to track you to, in the name of his pet projects. have no fear, our legislature is numb and void of any truth to any project targeting a intrusive nature to your so called private life here. as they gleefully tax you and use that to track you..
    since the legislature is only alive every two years, the ramrod thru stuff like new taxes, such as when in bismarck, you buy something over the counter, you pay a state tx, then a burligh co tax, then a bismarck city tax. in a red run antitax party. pure bullshit..i dare someone to report the goverments here and give a real meaning to the inner pleasures the legislature gets,filling thier pockets,while they gleefully take your liberties and money out of the consumers pockets…
    considering the weather here,we have alot of wind, ice and drifting snow, ive driven over the road as a trucker since 1979. this state has the worst road maintenance for winter conditions. no plows ever before 9 am,(or after dark,never!)..after people who try and go to work pack the snow down. no sand, im convinced its imported from italy. $… and the best was a conversation with the head of NDDOT, for 90 minutes he tried to convince me, sand doesnt work. my argument,you dont apply enough.and you dont apply it were its needed.. the yes boys rule. the taxpayer gets the ditch..

  11. I’ve always said that very few people follow state level politics and the further away from Indy, the less they follow.

  12. The problem with journalism isn’t with journalism but with our departure from paying for it. We thought it should be, could be free. The States Newsroom sounds like an approach to fund it in a new way.

  13. So, Sheila, your kids don’t see “how limited [your] skills are” or “how old and tired [you are]? Damn if I don’t see it either. How you manage to sustain your “jaundiced look at the world” on a daily basis is a mystery to me and an inspiration. I long ago gave up on Indiana (heck, as now a resident and dual citizen in Canada, I’ve practically given up on the U.S.), but your engagement helps sustain at least a wee bit of hope. I am grateful.

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