News You Can Use

The Indianapolis Star has appointed a new editor, who is quoted in this morning’s edition promising “news you can use.” This catchphrase has come into increased use as newspaper readership has continued to decline–not just in Indianapolis, but nationally.

The problem is that no one completes the sentence. Those who toss off the phrase do not proceed to the important issue, which is: use for what?

In my opinion, the news citizens can use is information about their common institutions–including but not limited to government, and especially local government. Judging from what the newspapers are actually covering, however, they consider “news you can use” to be reviews of local restaurants, diet and home decorating tips, and sports. Not–as they used to say on Seinfeld–that there is anything wrong with that. At least, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that if these stories were being served as “dessert” rather than the main course.

The new editor also promises an emphasis on journalism’s time-honored watchdog role. I hope that isn’t just rhetoric, but I’m dubious. Genuine watchdog coverage requires resources–enough reporters with enough time to investigate and monitor a wide variety of important government agencies and functions. The Star has experienced wave after wave of layoffs that have left it with a skeletal reporting operation, leaving the paper’s capacity to provide genuine journalism an open question.

What residents of central Indiana could use is a real newspaper. I’m not holding my breath.