Fantastic News

One of the recurring themes of this daily blog (okay, perhaps “recurring rants” would be more accurate) has been my insistence on the importance of local journalism. When a community loses a credible source of local news, it experiences a number of very negative consequences–the most obvious of which is a loss of democracy, thanks to the lack of information needed to cast informed votes.

I thought about that when a reader of this blog sent me a report that began with the following introductory paragraph:

The Houston Chronicle is shining a bright light on some of the shadiest real estate dealsthat enrich charter school operators. What could be better than to get a charter, buy property, rent it to the charter at rates of their choosing, get the property made tax-exempt, and make a bundle using taxpayer dollars? In some charter schools, the superintendent owns the properties and pays himself rent.

Here in Indianapolis, local television stations have repeatedly been running an ad asserting the “unfairness” of charter school funding that is lower than that of public schools, and our legislative overlords are currently working hard to send more of our tax dollars to voucher and charter schools–schools that even Republican legislators admit lack accountability.

Misbehaviors like those the Houston newspaper uncovered are unlikely to be uncovered by our local “ghost newspaper,” the Indianapolis Star. Never a particularly good newspaper, Gannett has turned it into a pathetic shadow of even its undistinguished past.

Little by little, however, new efforts to improve local coverage have been emerging. I have begun quoting from the Indiana Capital Chronicle, which focuses primarily on the disaster that is our legislature, and I have pointed to outlets covering other matters of local concern. But the IBJ has now reported what I consider fantastic news. ( behind a paywall)

The Indiana Local News Initiative announced its launch Wednesday as a not-for-profit media organization planning to create newsrooms in Indianapolis and Gary.

With more than $10 million raised and the participation of civic leaders such as Penske Entertainment Corp. CEO Mark Miles and Women’s Fund of Central Indiana President Tamara Winfrey-Harris, the Indiana Local News Initiative said it intends to report nonpartisan information at no cost to its audience.

“This is public service journalism,” said Karen Ferguson Fuson, former publisher of The Indianapolis Star, who is serving as board chair of the new organization. “It’s ‘What do I need to engage in citizenship and democracy?’ ‘What do I need to live on a day-to-day basis?’”

The project started with a concern about protecting democracy.  The steering committee began with the premise that a free press is critical to a free democracy, and research has confirmed Indiana’s “big gap” in coverage of local,” boots-on-the-ground community journalism.”

In addition to the 25 staff members to be hired for the Indianapolis newsroom, the  Initiative will include funding for two new positions at The Indianapolis Recorder.

The Initiative will collaborate with existing media companies; its  roster includes The Indianapolis Star, WISH-TV, WFYI Public Media and the Recorder. IBJ has not signed on as a partner.

While Indy is among a shrinking number of markets that still has multiple news outlets with talented journalists, the sizes of many of these outlets are a fraction of what they were before, and a fraction of the size necessary to cover all of the things central Indiana residents say they want,” Ferguson Fuson said.

The Lumina Foundation, one of the Indiana Local News Initiative’s partners, is providing support to, a news website authored by Franklin College journalism students, to make its content available for free to members of the Hoosier State Press Association. The website previously required newsrooms to pay a fee.

Funders include the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Myrta Pulliam, Lumina Foundation, John Mutz, Michael Arnolt, the Robert R. and Gayle T. Meyer Family Fund, Gene D’Adamo, Joyce Foundation, the Indianapolis Foundation and the American Journalism Project.

The Indiana Local News Initiative plans to train and pay residents, known as “Indianapolis Documenters,” to attend public meetings and publish the results. The Documenters Network, overseen by not-for-profit media organization City Bureau, presently operates in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland….

The Indiana Local News Initiative is the latest media startup in Indianapolis, where not-for-profit The Capital Chronicle debuted last July and State Affairs Indiana debuted in December. Last August, digital media company Axios announced plans to launch a daily email newsletter in Indianapolis.

These efforts to combat our news desert are incredibly heartening. When people receive credible, trustworthy news and inhabit the same information environment, they not only become informed voters–they once again become members of the same community.

I’m a happy camper!


  1. This is good news. Hopefully some of the information that comes from this initiative will percolate to the parts of the state that are not aware of the shenanigans that their elected representatives do.
    Another hope is that if elected officials know that they can no longer operate in secret they might actually change their behavior.

  2. When Gannet bought the Indianapolis newspapers it did not take long for the transformation from what was supposedly a local newspaper (at least it had a few reporters who covered the state house antics), to a clone of USA Today. Boodles of graphic advertising, some scandals involving people no one cared about, and little news.

    But apparently, it brings in more money per page than a real newspaper could, and that is all that is important. I wonder why anyone buys the thing.

  3. As a journalist, I am cautiously optimistic about this project because of the oligarchy foundations funding this project. I received an email about participating in this endeavor, and one of the questions was, “Do you have a good working relationship with the local foundations?”

    Descendants of the Ball family control THE local foundation (and two newspapers). They still control the community by funding innocuous nonprofits that control the Chamber and Next Muncie, which makes development decisions in Muncie and instructs the Mayor (R or D) on where to spend money; how can a journalist be friendly with such a control mechanism?

    I can’t trust the Indy project or statewide with the named oligarchic foundations behind it. We’ll see how it structures itself, but I can only imagine that the Ball family has already chosen a benefactor for this project, whether it be the one they put together (pure corporate/government propaganda) or the dead Gannett newspaper, which is still alive because all the nonprofits funded by the Ball’s place one-page ads in the newspaper along with Chamber members. 😉

  4. One question to ask in general is what is salvageable from today’s Republican Party? I see them failing everywhere and more and more people becoming aware of that. The only question is at what rate are the old ones who are still in because of nostalgia dying off?

    We do have to get the good old boys in both parties off of the stage, have them serve as advisors, and build better successional plans. I see what might be young Republicans in Congress as even more extreme than the old ones so I ask again, what is salvageable from today’s Republican Party?

  5. Todd. Perhaps the most important question to ask about an oligarchic foundation is “What values do you support?” If their wealth is being used to support the things you value, then, as a journalist, you can be friendly with them. And, as a journalist, you must hold them accountable for staying true to those values.

  6. Thank you, Professor, for listing these organizations. I follow a few on a daily basis already and always find them educational and informative.

  7. In Arizona one of the legislative sponsors of the Legislation creating charters made millions selling his schools. In states where school districts are required to give school buildings to charters the chance to make profits increases dramatically. Plus the tax payers who created the schools are deprived of the “fair market value” of their investments in public education. It is long past time for government to force charters to play by the same rules as public schools.

  8. We are getting increasing attention on Indianapolis. But what about the other parts of the state? The Legislature is responsive to the rest of the state as well as to Indpls. There are many claims that Indpls is shortchanged. But the rest of the state feels differently. Who covers Terre Haute, Evansville, So Bend, Ft Wayne, Richmond, Peru, Sullivan, Paoli, Jeffersonville, et al? Unless the people of Indy and those in “the hinterlands” see their commonality, we’re unlikely to make progress.

  9. Hooray for Franklin College (my former employer, 1996-2000), their journalism program, their journalism students, and the College’s recognition of the essential connection between liberal education and democracy.

  10. Todd,

    Excellent point!!

    It’s hard to envision any of the movers and shakers in government or in the roach infested corners of those dark cigar smoked rooms, voluntarily turning off the spigot.

    If one spigot is ceremoniously closed, you can bet another one is opened with even more Vig to grease those palms!

    In certain instances, the vig could even be more than the original transaction. Depending on the integrity or lack thereof in relation to that particular Shylock crew.

    And, believe me, I’ve run across one or two in my day when I was working for my grandfather. Mean nasty and ruthless. Kind of like some of these politicians? My grandfather used to say, they all float! No one is invincible.

  11. This is a wonderful development. While journalists needs to find and report corruption and poor management, I wish journalists would do more of what you’ve done and report on possible solutions. The long view of journalistic history celebrates uncovering the bad news. We need that, but we also need to know much more of how and where to resolve problems and news of innovative solutions to individual and community problems.

    Government, businesses, and individuals make mistakes, and some are evil and corrupt. In our TV news, the bad actors get 80-90% of the nightly coverage.
    It’s no wonder fewer and fewer people trust either private or public institutions of any kind. Over-concentration on what’s wrong also takes a toll on democracy.

    For every story of criminality and corruption – which we need to know- I wish there was balance with a story of who and what’s working well and how others can also find solutions and success. News consumers have “a right to know” both the problems to correct and avoid AND the pathways to a better future. That would also cause more people to read, hear, and depend on the news rather than tune out.

    All of my life, I’ve associated with news junkies who really pay attention to print and electronic coverage. But today, more and more acquaintances and even family who have served in public office refuse to take their daily newspaper. They turn on the evening news most of the time but increasingly record it and speed through most of the stories because it’s so devoid of any news they can actually use. I must admit that sometimes I record-and-skim local TV news myself because the evening news (other than the weather forecast) has become so useless.

    Democracy can’t afford the tune outs any more than we can afford the lack of news outlets.

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