The Outstater: A Reinvented Indy Star?

August 14, 2014

For the use of the membership only (534 words)

INDIANA’S ONLY STATEWIDE newspaper has reinvented itself, we are told. You should hope it succeeds — for the sake of the hard-working, ink-stained souls there but also for the health of our public discussion.

Yet, there are veteran newsmen still at their desks who have been “reinvented” dozens of times during the last couple of decades only to see their paper’s circulation numbers steadily decline. “My career objective,” one of them told me, “has been reduced to getting hired by a newspaper with rising circulation.”

Most troubling is that steadiness, a slow hiss of air escaping from a tire that will inevitably go flat. Charts show readership dropping as early as the 1970s. The unwavering downward slope of the line — decade after decade, despite all reinvention — makes clear there is something seriously, systemically wrong, something more than the invention of the 64K microchip and personal computing.

With that as background, comments this week by the Star editor were read with informed interest, with a hope that they would address that “something.”

The editor’s proclamation of reinvention, “What the Star Newsroom of the Future Looks Like,” was published as Gannett announced it will spin the newspaper away from its more profitable enterprises. There was mention of how well the executive team had kept up with the electronic marvels of the age. There was understanding of the need to serve all readers (apparently of whatever political persuasion); affirmation of the love that he and other out-of-state executives held for Indiana and its quaint people; a statement of deep appreciation for the heritage of the newspaper, at least to the degree any of them were aware of it.

To capture the banality, a snippet: “(The Star means) to enrich lives and help our communities succeed, to expose what’s wrong and reveal what’s right, to confront our failings and celebrate our triumphs, to convey a deep sense of place and understanding of Hoosiers and the place we call home.”

There were details, but of the kind one assumes are already included in the daily budget of any fully functioning newsroom, i.e., investigate malfeasance, track the business community, keep in touch with reader lifestyles, etc.

In sum, meet the new boss who is a lot like the old boss. Most discouraging to those of us who wish the best for the Star, the mission statement has been reduced to the level of a publicist’s handbook: “To serve the greater good of Central Indiana.”

Central Indiana? The Star not so long ago thought of itself as the newspaper for all Indiana under a masthead boldly asserting 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And what is this pablum about a greater good? Is it a newspaper or a sociology department?

There are other questions that should be asked before our only statewide newspaper fails altogether:

This latest reinvention likely means the Star will continue to unabashedly reflect the political whims and hyper-social sensitivity of an insular staff and a self-involved management. It thumbs its nose at a long-suffering readership. “We are so far from the cash register, we can’t hear it ring,” is the boast.

That’s what passes for courage in today’s metro daily newspaper culture — and courageous it may turn out to be if the word implies an indifference to ruin and disaster.

— Craig Ladwig



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