Fact, Analysis, Opinion

I’ve repeatedly used this platform to complain about the deficits of what have been called “ghost” newspapers, like the remnants of our local Indianapolis Star. Unlike the 2000+ papers that have simply disappeared over the past several years, ghost papers still exist, but in a form that is no longer adequate to the needs of the community. Here in Indianapolis, the Star (never a particularly good newspaper) no longer bothers to inform the public about the various agencies of local or state government; it devotes its reduced reporting resources mainly to sports and entertainment, with occasional forays into “human interest” stories. As a result, significantly fewer people look to the Star as a common source of information for residents of central Indiana.

(I’m happy to note that the Star’s deficiency has sparked creation of a new nonprofit covering the Statehouse: the Indiana Capital Chronicle. May they prosper!)

The loss of local newspapers hasn’t just deprived us of local news. It has also deprived us of analyses of that news, columns and letters to the editor expressing a variety of opinions over the meaning and significance of the matters being conveyed.

The Star is a Gannett paper (which explains a lot about its sorry state), and it turns out that Gannett isn’t simply uninterested in providing local communities with needed information.A reader recently sent me a column (snatched from behind a paywall) outlining Gannett’s recent decision to minimize inclusion of analysis and opinion.

Gannett, America’s largest newspaper chain, recently recommended changes to its affiliates’ opinion pages. There will be fewer syndicated columnists and letters to the editor and no more editorials that, in Gannett’s words, “tell voters what to think.” Gannett’s directive noted that editorials and opinion columns are among the most frequent reasons that readers give for canceling their subscriptions, and many of the chain’s opinion pages across the country are poised to cut back production or fold up shop in response.

It is certainly the case that devoting editorial pages to opinions focused on national events adds to our current American polarization. But as the writer noted, space devoted to opinions on local matters has the opposite effect–it brings readers’ attention back to the local community and strengthens local connections. He insists–I believe correctly–that Gannett and other newspaper owners should “reinvest in what makes an opinion page work: amplifying local voices, presenting a diverse array of opinions in a respectful way, and serving as their community’s public forum.”

A local newspaper’s main advantage in today’s sprawling media marketplace is its geographic focus: Nobody covers a community as thoroughly as its newspaper, even today. The opinion page is an essential part of that coverage because it seeks out and organizes a diverse array of community perspectives. It is the least “professional” part of the newspaper: a place where you can learn about the issues facing neighbors, community leaders, and elected officials in their own words. Unlike the neighborhood Facebook and NextDoor groups that so often fill in local news deserts, where the brashest and most extreme voices rise to the top, an opinion page is edited according to journalistic ethical standards of fairness, accuracy, and fact-checking.

Opinion columns and vetted letters to the editor aren’t the sort of “opinions” that litter Facebook and Twitter–posts that are all too often little more than insults and/or invective.

Good opinion writing is analytical–it is based upon the factual reporting, but goes beyond the surface to explore the significance of the reported facts and opine about their likely meaning and possible consequences. Opinion writers almost always come with a bias or point of view, and good opinion writers are explicit about their ideological commitments, but they also come with background in the subject-matter that allows them to illuminate what the bare recitation of “who what where when and why” cannot.

There’s a reason they are sometimes called “think pieces.”

The author of the column from which I’ve pulled these quotes–a journalism professor–points out that effective columnists are trained in the art of observation. And as he says, a talent for connecting storytelling with current events makes an impression on readers that the bare recitation of facts usually doesn’t.

Studies show that op-eds can have enduring persuasive effects — a rare finding in studies of the media — and can set the political agenda for citizens and elected officials alike. Local columnists can use their reputation and intellectual freedom to explore deep, complex, and oft-ignored community histories or serve as respected watchdogs to protect consumers and citizens.

The evisceration or outright loss of local newspapers over the past couple of decades has deprived us of a critically important asset–a forum informing us about our local government, business and community–and now, of informed opinion probing their significance.


  1. I believe Senator Robert Kennedy said, after he won the 1968 Indiana Democratic Presidential Primary: “I’d like to thank Eugene Pulliam for making this all possible.” That was tongue-in-cheek.

  2. Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, and editor Art Cullen, have remained relevant as a twice-weekly news publication. Cullen, in 2017, won a Pulitzer prize for a series on Iowa corporate agriculture corruption.

  3. “It is certainly the case that devoting editorial pages to opinions focused on national events adds to our current American polarization.”

    As I see it; the lack of “opinions focused on national events” kept information previously unknown to much of the public may be how Trump appeared to suddenly be sprung on us by turning loose on the public issues smoldering beneath the surface. Until his ride down that escalator in 2015 announcing his campaign for the presidency, he had appeared to be an anomaly; a slick, scamming, womanizing, businessman backed by family millions many of us considered to be something of a joke but not a threat. He and his supporters are now the ones having the last laugh and we are living in a Constitutional crisis.

    The year he was selected (or paid for the selection) to drive the pace car in the 500 Mile Race, he immediately garnered attention in the sports world but not attention he expected (or paid for). I was 1 of the more than 17,000 people who complained publicly and directing to IMS that he be removed as he was an insult to the race. The first public announcement stated “Trump Dumped” with a follow up announcement that he declined the honor, not having time in his busy schedule for the required training to lead the race. Allowed to “resign” before being publicly fired? A familiar Republican tactic to save face; but his face or that of IMS? The Indianapolis Star covered that as an “oh, by the way” local issue.

    It is, or was, those small bits of information which seemed unimportant, to Gannett, et al, which make up the basis of communication. Opinion writers may come with a “bias or point of view”; it is up to us the reader to seek out facts or fiction behind their “bias or point of view”. Automatic agreement or dissent must be followed by seeking or providing facts and their source to have meaning. We are currently, at the national level, fighting the evisceration of democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution; the lax participation at the national level is forcing decisions to local and state level politics with virtually no outlet for opinions from the public they govern.

    We can thank Sheila and other blogs for Op Ed sources to a limited public court of appeals.

  4. For one, Gannett doesn’t have any newspapers. It’s a namesake kept by Softbank, Inc., a Japanese conglomerate owning many assets. Gannett is essentially a brand owned by Softbank. There is a reason nobody knows that even though it happened two years. You would think TV news competitors would point that out to complete the death of the newspaper. I wonder why they are not informing Hoosiers of this since Softbank owns 6-7 newspapers in Indiana.

    I’ve told my dad a hundred times to stop paying for this crap, but he’s 95 and has always bought a newspaper to read the Obits.

    I suspect that the Hooser state suffers from the mobsters running this state . We are a little slow with making changes and not generally on top of things.

    Buddha said about 5,000 years ago, “All things in life are impermanent. Our attachment to things makes us suffer.”

    Hoosiers like to say that not all progress is good or even necessary.

    There’s the problem in a nutshell.

  5. Todd,

    Yes, I’m not a student of Buddha, it actually says the same thing and scripture, old and new testament. Look at the folks who say we can’t evacuate as a hurricane is getting ready to sweep this area off the planet, I have to guard my property! Now, if you die with your things, that pretty much is the end of it. I suppose some believe they can take it with them wherever that is! Stuff isn’t the source of life, but stuff can be the source of death. The ancient Egyptians thought they could take stuff with them. After they had their brains sucked out of their corpses and their organs scraped out like a gutted goat, and dumped in a clay jar, bodies mummified with sea salt and tree sap, the burial chamber would be filled with stuff! Statues, golden idols, tiny boats, jewelry, precious stones, all waiting patiently to enrich the tomb raiders, lol. Obviously all the stuff didn’t do those dead Egyptians much good! The few tombs that were left undisturbed for some reason, all the stuff was still there with the petrified remains of the dead VIP. So much for the Hope of a journey to a lavish afterlife!

    The Chinese emperors built clay armies, life size replicas of actual fighting men. They were to be part of The emperor’s burial chamber to protect whatever they were supposed to protect. Obviously, that didn’t work out too well. The Vikings buried their big shots in full size ships with weapons and treasure. Or either they lit them on fire as they pushed the ship out to sea. Hoping the smoke would take them to Valhalla lol! That didn’t do much good either. Even so-called modern man, so many want to be buried with stuff, if they’re not cremated that is, for what? The dead are not conscious of anything, go figure!

    We all toil for most of our lives to acquire stuff that those who come after don’t want to be bothered with! It’s an endless cycle of futility. It’s just the final display of selfishness and greed, putting self and wealth before life and well-being.

    In the annals of human memory, there were some exceptional individuals who left a lasting legacy. They were usually not the wealthy, but they were the compassionate and empathetic, those who truly loved their neighbors, their fellow man! Their good works far outlasted those engorged burial tombs that had been forgotten in history.

    I think a well-funded and well circulated newspaper would be an amazing legacy that would last, and stand the test of time for its Clarion calling good works. The printed page, a document of History. Much better than a casket full of stuff!

  6. When Gannett bought the Star, it made some major changes in the format very quickly. The paper started to resemble USA Today, which, I believe was and perhaps still is, owned by Gannett. Lots of flashy advertising and fewer news stories and opinion pieces. I was glad it was still being printed, because we lived in rural Morgan County and were able to get home delivery. The reason I was glad was because the carrier for the Star also delivered the NY Times to us – out there in the boondocks. At least we could get a decent paper, in spite of Gannett.

  7. Not surprising that Gannett is owned by a bank. Thanks for that, Todd. So, I must dust off my usual screed about capitalists ruining/destroying anything and everything that doesn’t create the highest possible profits.

    Between 2008 and 2014 I wrote an op-ed column for a small newspaper in central Texas. In 2012, the paper was awarded as the best op-ed/editorial page among small newspapers in the state. In 2014, the paper folded. Typical, I guess.

  8. Local news access in many places is being taken over by social-media services like NextDoor, which have a BIG problem with right-wing activists taking over the local site moderation and silencing or intimidating anyone they don’t like.

    In my “neighborhood”, the “neighborhood lead” is an overt pro-Trumper who promotes right-wing conspiracy theories and has an online crew of pro-Trump, pro-Republican, pro-racist buddies who back him up by “reporting” and censoring any information or opinions they don’t like. He openly announces that giveaway offers made through the site are only available to those whose social-media postings verify that they are “loyal, patriotic Trump voters”. Pro-Republican groups regularly spam the neighborhood postings with propaganda and membership solicitations, but the one person who tried to start a local Democratic voters group was immediately driven away by threats and biased “moderators”, and his group was promptly removed from visibility — despite the fact that this is a county that regularly votes “blue”.

    This is a serious problem if places like NextDoor become the only place to find or distribute local information.

  9. I just thought that the removal of those opinion columns was Gannett’s way of saying, “If you think I’m going to spend money to keep you informed, you haven’t been paying attention.” They even cut out the television listings from their local papers. It gives them more room for ads, I guess.

    They claimed to have done a survey and found everyone was mad about the divisive columns and letters (that is those that favored the other side). It seems we don’t like rancor. We would all prefer it if everyone would just agree with us, or at least that the local paper only print letters and columns that did.

  10. A few thoughts…some repeat rants….

    – We are paying the price for the now-decades decline in teaching critical thinking and basic civics in public schools

    – Fewer and fewer people “read” things more than a tweet in length

    – If people “trust” a news source, paper or electronic, it is likely to be one slanted in one way or the other to their comfortable slant. My example is The New York Times. I do read it, but find significant majorities of both the news and opinion “curated” to elite/Leftish tastes.

  11. Democracy works best with an educated population, and the lack of good, let’s call it vibrant, local, or national, reporting (as opposed to garbage
    about the Kardashians, or whatever) hurts it.
    Todd, if there is a meme regarding Hoosiers liking to say that about progress, a known attitude to that effect, then, yes, that is a problem, in Indiana.
    So, maybe the Indiana farmers need to go back to horses and wooden plows?

  12. Up here in northern Indiana we had The South Bend Tribune . The family sold it and eventually landed as owned by Gannett. They cancelled printing in South Bend and went to Grand Rapids Michigan. I hear it is now printed in Indianapolis. It doesn’t contain much local news except the sports. They switched the Voice of The People to maybe once a week. And the TV listing are at another webpage. I feel that it will cease to exist in 3 to 4 years. Corporate greed again. No longer a public service, just profit.

  13. Ive been reading a newspaper since i was 8,bout 1963,when Kennedy was killed. my grandfolks always had the newark evening news and sunday NYtimes. occaisionally,grandad bought home a daily news,mainly for labor issues,he was AFL;CIO. inrests beyond the comics,my grandmothers spotted out what was good for the common good of all. then the newark riots. pointing out how one side got the best of the pages,and runs, while the truth was hidden in various stories. there was also look and life. diring my moves to other sections of the country after 1968 i found newspapers from other places,sometimes left on a cafe table,a train seat,or a freashly tossed one. the slants to various ongoing news,i found and picked them apart now. left/right/stupid.. but searching for the othersides “opinion” gave me a better idea of whats the real story. theology aside,this is how news should be read. today theres a few news site that have opinion pages from many journalists. that circle is now the only living news we have that gets the facts and carries the subject on. though im a true blue,independant/Bernie, (long before Bernie) i read between the lines. money controls the issue,and it takes a lot of it. the only source willing to spend that kind of money is the rich. it didnt start in the recent 40 years since reagan. it started post WW2.but really took control after nixon. his posture was pro corp,and the setting of lewis powell to the court,blew what the working man had gained for the economy to be sucked dry today by afew,who, would do anything to make American a corp/wall street ticker symbol. and then making sure we dont step outta line.. conspiracy aside,or is it? follow the money,read the whole picture,and now see how deprite they are to win in 22/24. there will be no prisoners..
    i can say happy july 4,but i have afeeling no one wants to celebrate it anymore..
    mobilize the vote,please get the car out pass the hat for gas,and offer rides to,and from,the polling.
    ask, and help people register to vote. mentor the ones who drag feet and i phone the world of ear buds. Stacy Abrams had a plan,and it worked with the many who followed that plan. we can not allow this midterm to be stacked against us. the news be damn, it is a hollow shell of what was.
    theres a windfalls profits tax bill,on the table,Sanders/Warren style. did you hear about it? few if any news services went beyond a quip..oh,that,progressive stuff again.. well it works,no rich people will pay any taxes,as they greatfully use America as it welcome mat for thier dirty wingtips.
    and the accountability issue,we all wait for…….
    best wishes…happy 4th as i fix ur roads..

  14. Could we even trust the local newspaper especially in small towns. There seems to be this assumption that local reporters were unbiased. I grew up in Terre Haute and it seemed to me so many of the newspaper and/or media folks were in bed with the power brokers.

    Sorry–I am afraid I am too cynical on any news source as they all seem to be bought and paid for–literally and figuratively.

    I am not sure if this is the right venue, but my sister just shared a Nina Simone song–I watched the passion and read the lyrics and it is so powerful and sadly so little has changed. I found it so powerful, I wanted to share it here too.


  15. Elaine,

    Thanks for reminding me of the former power of “opinion” music like this. Dylan, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger…used to share powerful opinions in “pop music” – no longer – now its hundreds of “mini-genres” and all about rhythms…who will remember the words?? Or act on them?

  16. My wife grew up in the small town of Francesville, IN (Pulaski County), where the masthead of the local rag, The Francesville Tribune, read “The Only Newspaper in the World Interested in the Welfare of Francesville.” A bit less boastful and ambitious than “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” the masthead of my local rag growing up. But arguably more truthful and certainly essential to the local sense of community (even if it never covered anything more controversial than a church supper). Sigh; Gannett can’t claim to provide even that modest service to Indianapolis and the other cities where it reigns supreme. In the old days, I found writing letters to the editor of the Star to be great sport (I found ill-informed, right-wing columnists like Alice Widener were easy targets and dangers to democracy); today, why would anyone even bother?

  17. Janice B
    I also am from South Bend and had delivery issues daily for 6 months, no exaggeration for. Then lo and behold, the new 6 day per week Tribune delivery starts and it is on my porch before 5am, not once has it been missed or late. The content stinks, more ads than stories, I too am continuing it primarily for the obits, as I am the unappointed historian for my high school class. I tried many times to complain to Gannett about my delivery issues, after the local gal got frustrated with me. Only contact info I could ever find was a Facebook page. Pretty bad when a company with over 200 papers that you own cannot be contacted for customer service. Gannett sucks in my opinion.

  18. A couple of years ago, I sat in the truck listening to public radio. I keep a manila folder above the sun visor and I scribble important stuff there for later. At the time, I jotted down the information about the newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa. I need to follow up on that really soon.

    Whoosh! Did you see/hear that? It was Native American tribal lands EVERYWHERE (not just Oklahoma) vanishing before the Native Americans’ very eyes and ours. The Supremes snatched up those ancient tribal lands and handed them back to the states involved. They most certainly did! They are sweeping everything on their plate, right off their plate so that they can justify themselves to their conservative pals. We have never seen anything like what has gone down in the last week. Did I mention that they also lopped off what the EPA can do about our polluted air? Yep! And it’s only Thursday, June 30, 2022. Buckle up, Buttercup! Bumpier ride ahead with each passing hour.

  19. Lester, add Harry Belafonte to that list.
    His protest working man songs are well done.
    Check him out on you tube
    Listen to his interviews/speeches

  20. I grew up in Springfield, IL in the 1970s where we had the State Journal-Register. We read it front to back with the police beat column and obits. It was a reliable daily that included most of the daily goings on at the statehouse and local news. For the past 5 years of more this paper , like the Star, has also become a waste of newsprint unless you have a birdcage you need to line of a fish to wrap. {{Subscribers (or their kids) have to worry about billing on their credit cards as they may be charged for premium packages or multiple subscriptions.}}

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