|Indianapolis Star Editor Dennis Ryerson|
There are several "legs" raised by this story and other recent media behaviors:Reading Ryerson's column, one would be left thinking that it is only "open source" media (I assume he's referring to bloggers) who have been scooping the Star on stories. The fact is every media in town has been scooping the Star on stories, especially those relating to Indianapolis politics. WRTV's Kara Kenney and Fox59's Russ McQuaid are but two of the reporters who have done quality reporting on local news stories that the Indianapolis Star has simply ignored. Also, the Indianapolis Business Journal has repeatedly done investigative reporting on stories that the Star refused to cover. While bloggers like myself, Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana and Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy have written stories on local politics, most were based on information the Star knew about or could have easily discovered with any sort of investigation.
The issue of phone hacking and other illegal or less-than-honorable practices some use in an effort to pull a sensational story.
The cozy relationship that can build between the media and the politicians they cover. It's fair to say that too many British politicians of all stripes have gone overboard to kiss up to media owners in the hopes of getting favorable coverage.
The "open source" approach to journalism brought on by the Internet, resulting in more access to information but also vastly different standards as to how reporting is done. As one example of that, an editor of the website Buffalo Beast pretended to be a big-name conservative donor to get an interview with the Wisconsin governor, tricking the governor into saying incredible things he wouldn't otherwise have said.
I fear that as more and more diverse outlets use whatever less-than-credible tools they can to dig out stories, they'll from time to time come upon a legitimate story and beat the more mainstream media.
Will that, then, drive all of us to reduce our standards just to get a story first?
Not if I have anything to do about it.
|The Star's approach to covering local political controversy.|
Let's look at the local issues the Star refused to do any quality, investigative reporting on:
- The Broad Ripple Parking Garage, including the administration's insistence on secrecy as to key details and the fact that a big contributor to Mayor Ballard and employer of former Deputy Mayor Paul Okeson won the deal.
- The North of South project, a deal that every private investor rejected as too risky.
- The East Market Street project deal and the questionable financials behind the deal.
- The 50 Year Parking Meter Deal, including the questionable financials and that the winning bidder, ACS, had employed as its lobbyist, Joe Loftus, the chief legal advisor to Ballard and lobbyist for the City.
- The fact that Deputy Mayor Paul Okeson went directly from working for the city to Keystone Construction, which then won contracts from Mayor's Office.
- The Pacers $33.5 million gift and issues relating to the need to do that deal.
- Questionable figures supplied by the Capital Improvement Board regarding their financial condition.
I don't blame the Star reporters. They are forced by their employer to churn out several stories a day under tight deadlines that don't allow for investigative reporting. You talk to those reporters and most would love the opportunity to do more investigation into the stories they write.
The reason for the Star's approach is financial...Gannet saves money on news gathering if fewer reporters turn out more stories. But it is a short-sighted approach. After all, it is quality, investigative reporting on local issues that sells newspapers. Cutting back on the cost of news gathering ultimately leads to less newspapers being sold. I never thought I would see the day when TV reporters were doing lengthy investigative reporting, while newspapers were doing superficial stories that barely scratch the surface of issues. That day has arrived.
Unfortunately, cost savings is not the sole reason behind the Star's failure to critically cover local politics. The Star is very supportive of the pay-to-play political culture of Indianapolis politics. Questions regarding the heavily-subsidized public-private partnerships and real cost of those deals to taxpayers are consistently ignored by the Indianapolis Star in its news stories and by columnists such as Matt Tully. The Star editors close their eyes when it comes to any sort of improper political influence exercised by these private companies over our local decision makers. Compare how the Star ignores local political malfeasance while zealously pursing it at the state level, most recently with the previously mentioned Duke Energy-IURC scandal.
The Star's parent company, Indianapolis Newspapers, is an investor in the downtown mall which is owned by the Simons and is propped up with taxpayer subsidies. Who represents the Indianapolis Star? Barnes and Thornburg, a local law firm which all but runs Indianapolis city government and also represents the Simons. The fact is the Star is extremely close to the downtown power brokers who have long suckled on the teats of taxpayers. How can Ryerson criticize Murdock's "cozy relationship" with politicians while ignoring his own newspapers "cozy relationship" with the very people his paper should be reporting critically on? There's only one explanation: hypocrisy.
While a lot of people celebrate the Star's demise, I mourn it. We desperately need a good daily newspaper that is willing to do investigative reporting and keep the politicians honest. The Star, led by Ryerson, has shown it is not that newspaper.