Half Past the Month

December 17, 2020

THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR has declared itself a charity of sorts. The executive editor in the midst of the pandemic sent an appeal for readers to give her money because . . . well, because she needs it.

“Our company and IndyStar staff are facing the same economic realities that many of you are living,” explained Katrice Hardy in an extraordinary message. “Even as we provide you with invaluable information so you can make good decisions for yourself and your family, we have had to take unpaid days off.”

She went on to list stories that the Star had provided “free” to Internet readers despite months of furloughs. They included a tear-jerker fundraiser for a local hospital, the assignment of more than a dozen reporters and photographers to cover the funeral of a black police officer and a save-the-planet campaign to clean up the White River.

An earlier editorial made a similar plea, saying, “Philanthropy cannot — and should not try to — solve all the issues facing the news industry, but it can play a role.”

The self-absorption reminded us of a favorite skit on Saturday Night Live. Al Franken asked viewers to send him money and receipts (tax exemptions) because . . . well, because he was Al Franken. In fact, he declared it the “Decade of Al Franken.” An excerpt:

“When you see a news report, you’ll be thinking, ‘I wonder what Al Franken thinks about this thing?’ ‘I wonder how this inflation thing is hurting Al Franken?’ And you women will be thinking, ‘What can I wear that will please Al Franken?’ or ‘What can I not wear?’ I know a lot of you out there are thinking, ‘Why Al Franken?’ Well, because I thought of it, and I’m on TV, so I’ve already gotten the jump on you.”

Returning to the Star’s more serious plea for charity, the assumption is that the newspaper is a hometown business deserving hometown loyalty. Unmentioned are years of circulation-crushing columns and articles by a revolving group of Gannett hacks shipped here from Baltimore, Toledo and other failing cities to tell the residents of central Indiana what racists they are. A demand of the paper’s guild would result inadvertently in some members being fired so that more diverse hires could be made (if that tells you anything about the newsroom zeitgeist).

A capable business desk could explain that in a free market businesses prosper not because customers feel sorry for them but that they provide a good or service. Nor is it enough that a staff is diverse in some precise numerical way. Rather, the Star is in trouble because it isn’t organized to provide the desired service or good. And don’t blame it on the Internet; the Star’s output is rejected there as well.

The sorry truth is that fewer and fewer Hoosiers care what the Star thinks. The day after it closes there will be another information system, print or digital, perhaps owned by an individual proprietor with a hometown readership in mind. Its staff will be paid for keeping Hoosiers informed of breaking events, prepared for the week ahead and voting intelligently while not insulting their views or way of life. — tcl


Leave a Reply