Sunday, July 29, 2012

Star Announces It Will Start Charging for On-Line Content

The Indianapolis Star today announced an update of its business model, which update includes charging for on-line content.

I have long ago, argued that the Star's business model, with home delivery of the a print copy of the newspaper, is going the way of the dinosaur.  The Star needs to adapt and it appears the new leadership of the Star understands that.
Former Indianapolis Star
Editor-in-Chief Dennis Ryerson

But the Star's problems are much more than and expensive out of date home delivery system. The chief problem is content. During the leadership of Dennis Ryerson, the Star abandoned its role of watchdog of local government.  Apparently Ryerson took the position that the Star should be a cheerleader for the City and not a critic of local leaders.  Many people stop going to the Star for any sort of significant or critical content. During Ryerson's leadership, the number of hours local TV stations devoted to news increased significantly and the reporters were allowed to do more detailed investigative pieces.  Then you had the blogs that also filled, to a degree, the investigative role formerly filled by the Star.  I have long said blogs are not a replacement for the investigative role that newspapers can and should play.  But Indianapolis political blogs have increasingly become popular because the Star abdicated its journalistic role.  Into that vacuum stepped bloggers and TV journalists.

As someone who has done original reporting of issues on my blog (I broke the Lugar residency story on my blog after reviewing voter registration and real estate records), I also pass along many tips to local reporters.  But while there are many fine Star reporters who I think would do a great job if unleashed by editors, I have found that passing along tips about local issues in the Ryerson era was a waste of time. The Star does not like to write stories that would appear critical of local officials or the pay-to-play power structure in Indianapolis.   Even when the Star cover stories, it's just generally a milquetoast recitation of select facts.

Let's use the Broad Ripple Parking Garage as an example.   Under the contract, the City basically pays the first $6.35 million to buy the land and construct garage.  City officials tried to claim it is a $15 million garage...implying that Keystone Construction, which will get 100% ownership of the garage and 100% of the commercial rents and parking profits, will be supplying the remaining $8.65.  But a parking garage of that size is typically in the $6 million to $7 million range, which means Keystone may not pay anything for the garage and fact may not be obligated by the contract to pay a dime for the facility. The Star failed to report these facts and downplayed that Keystone is a major contributor to the Mayor and now employs the Mayor's former chief of staff.  The Star apparently thinks only state government has a revolving door.

Then we had the ACS parking meter contract.  We are giving away 70% of the revenue from parking to ACS for the next 50 years.  The Star never mentioned that Joe Loftus, the Mayor's attorney, also lobbies for ACS.  The Star also downplayed the fact that former President of the Council Ryan Vaughn, who cast the tie breaking vote, also lobbies for ACS.

Then you have the Pacers deal.  The Star never questioned the study by the pro-hospitality organization that said public investment in the Pacers was a good idea.  The Star could have talked to a university economist who would have almost certainly told a different story.  The Star never did a review of the contract, which would have revealed the penalties were too severe for the Pacers to move.  The Star never demanded that the Pacers open their books before the taxpayers shoveled out $33.5 million dollars.  When it was later revealed that property taxes were diverted to fund the operations of the Pacers, contrary to what the Mayor had said, the Star failed to cover the story.

This is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Star abdicated its responsibility to question these taxpayer funded deals and hold public officials accountable.  Hopefully the new leadership of the Star understands that we need our newspaper to be more than a cheerleader for city leaders.  We need to have a paper that will investigate wrongdoing by local officials and business leaders, and publish what it finds.  Otherwise the Star will cease to exist in any form.


Unigov said...

The Star's refusal to cover the items mentioned (and myriad others) is I believe a Gannett thing, not just a Ryerson thing. Gannett papers are ordered to positively cover any "development" scheme, such as stadiums, TIF's, corporate tax breaks, hotel subsidies, the new airport, convention center expansion, and of course light rail. Gannett's puspose I surmise is to boost their own profits in cities they "serve".

Gannett also has asizable investment in Circle Center Mall, which is why the Star doesn't question any downtown scheme - their investment must be protected. Also explains why Union Station was left to rot once Circle Center was created...Union Station had been hugely successful, so the Simon's and their minions in the City government did away with the competition.

Ryerson is a stooge, and Jeff Taylor will continue the role.

american patriot said...

The last big investigative piece I remember the Star covering was IPD corruption in the late 70s, back when I carried the Star during high school.

My mom and probably lots of seniors like her can't read online versions as well as they can something in print, but like you said the days of conveying the news on paper is about over.

I think other large papers have tried the subscription model and failed or moved to a tiered layer approach.

Since the amount of local news has dropped dramatically I don't think the Star will meet the revenue expectations, the AP stories can be read on lots of sites, not that AP's reporting is worthy of my efforts to find it.

One advantage will be that people who are allergic to the paper dust and ink will have healthier lungs.

On the down side, I don't see anyone putting an iPad in the bottom of a bird cage.

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