An Open Letter to the Indianapolis Star

August 28, 2015

Dear Editor:

There are those of us still around who grew up in newsrooms where the model city editor was Jack Webb playing Sam Gatlin in the 1956 film “-30-.” We are limited in what we can add to the debate over your behind-the-back campaign to reorder Hoosier views on sexual orientation and gender.

Nonetheless, no reader of your newspaper can be surprised by your recent actions. Advocacy is what corporate editors do these days, in secret or on the front page. They maintain that it is the only real journalism.

That’s why the Star unabashedly hires an “equality matters” reporter to walk around the city pretending to be homeless. And the new ethnically correct “community engagement” editor, “a proud liberal,” has settled into her desk to “give voice to the marginalized, underprivileged or forgotten.”

What bothers some of us, though, is that the Star would pretend to be something else — our father’s newspaper. But its actions are not as your recent editorial claims, i.e., merely a continuation of a historic journalistic spirit dating back to Martin Luther and his pamphlets.

Your Indianapolis Star, rather, is of later innovation, a type described by Dr. Marvin Olasky in his “Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism.”

Dr. Olasky, at the time a professor at the University of Texas School of Journalism, wrote that today’s journalism is a deviant of a traditional newspaper, which, we fondly remember, was content to accurately report events and occasionally expose the mischief of the powerful. This new school, in contrast, is totalitarian in that it not only insists we do as it says but demands that we agree in our heart it is “the right side of history,” as your columnist likes to say.

“The central idea is that problems arise not from personal corruption but from external influences, and the role of journalists is to put a spotlight on those influences,” Olasky explains. “The hope is that if man’s environment is changed, man himself changes, and poverty, war, and so on, are no more.”

Olasky warns that this has changed not only journalism content but also method. Sam Gatlin and the old-school reporters tended to have limited personal agendas because they emphasized individual transformation rather than social revolution — and they were too busy just getting the facts straight.

You new journalists, though, believe your own work could be the breakthrough to a better world. “As the great ends of their journalism (peace, justice, freedom) began to seem attainable, the means began to be negotiable,” Olasky concludes.

Thus your newspaper sees nothing wrong with organizing a cabal of civic leaders and corporate executives to pressure legislators to conform to your social vision — and, despite your proclamations of innocent intent, castigate them on the news pages.

There are critics within the journalism community but most value continued employment. An exception is Doug McCollam, who wrote some years ago in the Columbia Journalism Review: “What newspapers really need, above all else, is ownership that values journalism and understands that the work of gathering, writing and publishing the news is an inherently inefficient business that is in a period of profound transition.”

The private press baron might have been a “blowhard propagandist with the ethics of a wharf rat,” McCollam concedes, “but compared with the lineup of bloodless managers and mandarins currently squeezing the life out of journalism, Charles Foster Kane looks pretty good.”

Given your newspaper’s particular journalism culture, the only practical solution for a hapless readership is an age-old consumer option — to await new ownership.

— Craig Ladwig

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