The Outstater: Goodbye Indy Star, et al.

May 26, 2015

“Even though I made (donations to the Clinton Global Foundation) strictly to support work done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children and protect the environment in poor countries, I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.” — George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America”

IT IS OBVIOUS to the fully awake that they can no longer depend on the national media to keep them informed or even to tell the truth. And it is not simple bias, although that certainly is a feature.

For it is prescience, not point of view, that is the coin of an information system. It is what builds reader trust. It is the raison d’être of a free press. Big Journalism forgets that.

Here in Indiana, Matt Tully and the Indianapolis Star are intent on running this governor out of the state — on a rail, if possible. OK, fair enough, the Fourth Estate and all that. What troubles me is that the editors don’t challenge the governor point by point. Rather, the technique is to draw a line through the field of issues, call it “history” and declare the governor on the wrong side of it.

Newspapers once discouraged such a cavalier approach. I witnessed the firing of a 30-year veteran for introducing Bob Dole as his “friend.” And at the next desk, the field-and-stream columnist was shown the door for mentioning in print (per remuneration) that he drove a Ford Ranger. Reader trust was thought that important.

No more. Veteran columnist Cal Thomas makes the point in regard to a recent Gallup finding that confidence in the media’s ability to report the news fully, accurately and fairly is at an all-time low: “The major networks (and newspapers) don’t seem to care; they plod on as though they have no problem, blaming cable news and other factors for their ratings decline. No other business treats its customers and potential customers this way.”

The Star’s customers have had recourse for some time; that is, their personal computers are equipped with Internet software. They allow you to be your own publisher, hiring and firing editors and reporters as information values dictate. Your news desks are Twitter, MailChimp, YouTube, Facebook and a host of blogs and web sites, all with features that alert you to postings by certain reporters on certain subjects in certain geographic regions and at the time of your choosing.

This is more than high-tech fun and games. Even now in an immature form, the Internet constitutes the most predictive power since Martin Luther printed his first pamphlets. There never has been so much tailored information available at the touch of a finger — and it can be updated, compared and assessed immediately without the clatter of Teletype.

Soon, a new generation of Hearsts, McCormicks and Pulitzers will create the audience loyalty to attract strong advertising bases. They will be able to staff comprehensive newsrooms, even foreign bureaus. We have yet to see what competitive, Internet-equipped information systems look like.

Meanwhile, we are learning to trust even our personal, ad hoc media configurations, much of which can be organized on our phone or even watch. They keep us ahead of events and thwart those who would manipulate us. And it is free — unless of course the government takes it over.

Which, interestingly, doesn’t seem to trouble journalists of the Tully and Stephanopoulos stripe. But who needs them?

— Craig Ladwig

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