Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Indianapolis Star's Content Declines in Quality Under New Leadership Team; Is Indianapolis in Danger of Losing its Daily Newspaper?

Karen Crotchfelt
In 2010, Star Media, owned by media giant Gannett, made what it claimed was a bold move to shore up the falling circulation of the Indianapolis Star.  Karen Crotchfelt was appointed as publisher.  Earlier in the year, Jeff Taylor was appointed Editor in Chief.  Crotchfelt replaced Michael Kane while Taylor replaced long-time Editor Dennis Ryerson.

Under Kane and Ryerson's leadership the quality of the Star had declined dramatically.  In depth local reporting was dismissed. Most of the newspaper became AP articles seemingly published to fill out the every decreasing size of the newspaper. Instead of reporting critically, the newspaper had become a cheerleader for the local political and business establishment.   As the Internet boomed in popularity, people increasingly turned to blogs and other online material to find the objective, critical content about Indianapolis politics they so craved.

Jeff Taylor
Enter Crotchfelt and Taylor.  From their opening comments it seemed they were oblivious to the Star's real problem - content.  Crotchfelt concentrated on improving technology while promising (threatening?) to continue with the content that the Star had been providing since before she took over.   She also talked about being a "partner" with the local community, a sign that she ascribed to the view that the role of the daily newspaper is to promote what the political and business interests of the City want, not to play the traditional role as a watchdog.

Still I held out hope that the Star would improve its content and watchdog functions under the Crotchfelt/Taylor leadership.  I thought perhaps they were merely making statements that didn't criticize their predecessors, while planning to strengthen the paper's content.

Matt Tully
Indeed since the Crotchfelt/Taylor team took over indeed the content of the Indianapolis Star has changed.  It has gotten much worse.  That new team managed to take a fledgling daily newspaper with little local content and make it even more irrelevant to readers.  That Crotchfelt and Taylor could actually accomplish this considering how low the bar had been set by their predecessor, is a remarkable feat...but in a bad way, of course.

Take the Star's two main political columnists for example.  Matt Tully has been phoning in his columns for the last several years, offering rambling diatribes on issues with little if any original content or thought.  Meanwhile Erika Smith's job apparently is just to write column after column promoting whatever the leadership of the Star supports.  Right now the Star is on the mass transit bandwagon.  Smith has dutily complied with her assigned task.  Four of her last five columns have been on mass transit (pro of course) as well as seven such columns in the past five weeks.   (She generally writes two columns a week.)

Erika Smith
Does Crotchfelt and Taylor really believe that readers are clammoring to read yet another Erika Smith column on mass transit?  Of course they don't believe that.  They simply do not care what the readers want. Their philosophy is that the newspaper is the arm of the local government and the business interests, promoting their agenda at every turn.  What the public will actually pay to read is unimportant.  Crotchfelt and Taylor's position is that if readers want investigative, original reporting, they can read the blogs or buy a copy of the Indianapolis Business Journal.  It's not the Star's job to do critical reporting on local issues.

I don't blame the Star reporters.  Writers like Jon Murray and Tim Evans are very talented.   The Star is fully capable of doing in-depth investigative reporting if the editors allow the reporters to do their job..  For example, when it came to reporting on problems with Department of Child Services and issues relating to I-69 land purchases, the Star led the way.  But those are the exceptions to the rule for our daily newspapers.  And when it comes to investigatory pieces regarding Indianapolis local government and the business and political insiders they serve, the Star's investigatory reporting is nowhere in sight.  Think you're going to read in the Indianapolis Star a critical story about the Broad Ripple Parking Garage giveaway or the Pacers $33.5 million (now $44.5 million) gift or the insiders cashing in on certain development deals at the expense of taxpayers?   Not going to happen.  When given a chance to cover a public corruption trial involving a politically-connected real estate broker whose deals involved prominent local officials, the Indianapolis Star unbelievably took a pass.  John Bales' trial and subsequent acquittal was never once mentioned in the Star.  Unbelievable.

I can't see the Star surviving as a daily print publication much longer. Last Fall, New Orleans became the first major United States City to lose its daily newspaper.  It appears that Indianapolis, which has a substantially larger population, is on its way to becoming the second.

10 comments:

Society of Socrates said...

Paul: You are correct in your observations. nstead of reporting critically with hard hitting reporting on current local events, the newspaper had become a cheerleader for the local political and business establishment.

Guest said...

Seems the government media complex is thriving in local newspapers also. It is a new low when Tulley is telling what should be policy according to him.

Robert Haynes said...

It's sad to see local newspapers slowly dying away. But, I guess that's going to occur more often now that we can get news from so many different sources and the moment that it's happening. www.homesaleindy.com

Flogger said...

Think about it. Why would Gannett care if The Star tanked?? USA Today would still be sold in town.

Would anyone would buy The Star for any content or critical thoughts???

The Star even under the old Pulliam Regime presented us with biased reporting.

The pattern is well established publish an article that is just a re-worded Press Release favoring some dubious scheme.

Follow-up with more of the same. Then activate one the columnists to write a column or columns favoring the scheme.

Finish it off with a full boat editorial that you guessed it favors the scheme.

Nicolas Martin said...

Never was there a halcyon time when the daily newspapers played "the traditional role as a watchdog" over business and political interests. Nothing much has changed since Mencken's time when he wrote that “American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominantly paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous, but its achievements are insignificant.”

guy77money said...

The one thing I can say for Cincinnati is at least they have a good radio (WLW) station that will take on but political decisions like the money they are trying to get for street cars. WIBC is as bad as the Star with support for the city and state giveaways. If interest rates ever start going up we will see a ton of cities and towns filing for bankruptcies.

Jeff Cox said...

Unlikely the Star will cease print publication. The New Orleans Time Picayune is a different situation inasmuch as their owner, Newhouse, is not in the best shape financially and is apparently in the process of shuttering print operations for all their newspapers, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and shifting to web or email only format. Gannett is is much better financial shape than Newhouse. Then again, I could be wrong.

Pete Boggs said...

If a tree was felled & made into a paper that nobody read, was it really published?

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