The Outstater

March 1, 2024

Inside Journalism: What to Know

IT WAS A COMMENDABLE practice in the Old Journalism that you did not write on the internal workings of the news room — no “inside baseball,” they said. Readers didn’t have time for it; all they wanted was reasonably accurate reports of the city’s goings-on, prescient whenever possible.

That is all out the window.

Gannett’s Indianapolis Star, for example, has taken to publishing baseball-card style bios of its reporters lauding their journalistic skills. That treatment, whether or not the plaudits are deserved, would embarrass every Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve known. 

In any case, I tend to go easy on the reporting staff, having been an ink-stained wretch myself. I’m confident the baseball cards weren’t their idea. Nor do I think they came up with the silly tag line now put on their news stories, i.e., “Blah, Blah, Blah: What to Know.” 

Rather, the bright ideas come from today’s editors, trying to impress someone in a distant headquarters who may or may not know where Indianapolis is. They do so in lieu of actually funding and managing the collecting of news. It is fair, therefore, to assess their performance on what should have been an earthquake-sized story — the 911 call to the home of Jim Irsay, owner of the beloved Indianapolis Colts.

What to know?

The first thing to know is that the breaking-news standard for journalism is one publication cycle. That is, the reader should expect to know how the fire started, who shot whom, the roll call for the next tax increase, all within 24 hours of the news break. That was accomplished, incidentally, not by employing titles such as “seeker of secrets” but by developing longterm relationships in the community. 

In regard to the Irsay story, there would have been someone in in the EMS crew, the emergency room, or even the Colts organization itself with ties to the news staff to “drop a dime,” as the boys in the Cop Shop liked to say. Some reporter or editor would have simply taken a call from a trusted news source.

As it was, there was no call. That is because the Gannett system doesn’t develop trusted news sources. You can tell that by the log of the Star’s Irsay stories. The first entry according to the Star’s online listing was Jan. 9, a brief and innocuous news release from the Colts front office that Irsay would miss a scheduled performance with the Jim Irsay Band.

The next entry was Jan. 18 a full nine days later. It said that Irsay had been the subject of a 911 call the month earlier that involved the administration of Narcan, whatever that might mean. Then there was this smarmy and somewhat odd tweet from sports writer Gregg Doyel, “Mr. Inside Man”:

“Jim Irsay is a good man — generous, loving, loyal — dealing with a lifelong addiction in the most public of ways. What’s happening is heartbreaking, and I hope he’s able to read this. He owns the Colts, but he’s more than that around here. He’s our guy.”

Later, Doyel had this to tweet: “From what I understand, Jim Irsay is home. That was scary a few months ago, but also instructive. The rumors flying around were so bad. People were convinced they were right. Why? Because they heard the rumors themselves. Stop it.”

Confused? Stop it. Just accept that the Star doesn’t know what’s going on with Irsay or much else — or at least to any degree it is willing to share with its readers, a consideration which used to be in the job description. Again, there was no tipster within the news cycle because the Star doesn’t know anybody out there in Indy land. Its only “sources” are hacks and boosters who use it to transcribe for one public policy position or another, that and an occasional do-good project thrown in to show it cares.

Besides, the Gannett staff doesn’t think its readers can handle too much news. Here is a recent tweet from one of its reporters: “Not until I moved from Chicago to Indianapolis did I discover that ‘Bumf**k Indiana isn’t the state’s official name. Now I’m wondering if it shouldn’t be.”

In more “inside baseball,” the Star editor recently announced a $2 million investment by Gannett in the newsroom. In mock accountably, he has asked his readers to suggest how the money should be spent. Some of us would be happy if he incorporated that into his salary on the condition he do his job and put together a real news operation. — tcl


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