My friend Gary

Dateline: Mon 02 May 2016

    By now, those who followed Gary Welsh's blog Advance Indiana, or were his legal clients or his friends, know that he has died. The tragedy is that he apparently took his own life.

     Indianapolis Business Journal reported Sunday early evening that the 53-year-old Republican lawyer was found at the bottom of the stairwell at the Lockerbie Glove Factory Lofts at 430 N. Park, before 8 a.m. Sunday. 

      Media and friends have speculated on the possible source of his depression. IBJ has updated its story to include information that an attorney colleague who worked across the hall from Welsh Downtown noted that Gary was down because his blog took a lot of work yet generated little income. Another friend, Paul K. Ogden on Facebook, wrote that Welsh was troubled by "professional challenges" in his law career. 

     Ogden says it is a not uncommon phenomenon among attorneys. "You reach a point in your legal career where your experiences and abilities are of no value to law firms which are only interested in older attorneys if they are rainmakers, people (who) can bring business with them to the firm."

     Yet when one reads Welsh's own Facebook bio, he was a firecracker: he graduated magna cum laude from the Indiana University Indianapolis School of Law, he had a prominent job in Illinois GOP politics early on, he was a lobbyist with a major law firm in Indy, and he was active in his Lockerbie Glove Factory Lofts homeowners association.

      I knew Gary as a tenacious blogger, willing to take calculated aim at both Republicans and Democrats -- I always suspected that his early disappointment in the Ballard administration, and perhaps the fact that he did not land a job with that administration, was a blow, yet he was incapable of calling it other than how he saw it (he became a tireless critic of Greg Ballard and Co., calling him "the most corrupt mayor" the city ever had.) Like many bloggers and journalists who write opinion, he alternated between keen insight and blunderbuss. His weak spot was conspiracy theories, but, like other mavericks, he almost never failed to entertain and often enlighten his readers.

      I also knew Gary as a friend, and I am proud to call him that. By friend, I mean he was a journalist of whom I could ask hard questions, and he would answer honestly. He often knew the underpinnings of the city in a way few bloggers/columnists do anymore. He never minced words. He was foreceful, blunt and a ferociously hard worker.

      It has been noted that Indianapolis is not especially kind to its iconoclasts. As a city, we are "nice," we are full to the brim with "Hoosier hospitality," and we don't always take kindly to angry prophets, stone-throwers, and outliers. Well, maybe if they are artsy. But Gary was often up to his eyeballs with "Hoosier hostility"  -- but he always had a clear-cut reason for what he believed. Sometimes, maybe, others thought his reasons were nutty, but there they were. And when he was good, he was very, very good.

      Others have noted that it's sad we recently lost Amos Brown of the Recorder and WTLC-AM radio to a heart attack; Amos also did not suffer fools. Gary is cut from the same bold cloth, and so he will be missed. He is already missed, and may he rest in peace. 


Angie's List takes a hit

Dateline: Tue 19 Apr 2016

Home-grown consumer-review website Angie's List has lost a court fight to prevent three formerly employed top sales people from going to work for the competition, Home Advisor, which now has offices in Indianapolis and is based in Colorado.

Depending on your perspective, it sounds as if Angie is playing hard ball -- or is in desperation mode, trying to beat back Home Advisor, which has received job applications from more than 200 Angie's List employees.

The bigger picture is that Home Advisor has tried to acquire Angie's List in a merger in the past.  Home Advisor, called "an Internet behemoth" in Indianapolis Business Journal last November, tried to buy AL for $512 million, but the offer was rejected.

Then, last winter, three top AL salespeople jumped ship for Home Advisor, and ended up being sued by Angie's List.

Not a smart legal move on Angie's part.

The sales people --- and counsel Kathleen DeLaney -- prevailed in Hamilton Superior Court Friday, when a judge rejected Angie's List's request for a court order to stop the three from working at Home Advisor. 

"The court found that "'Angie's List is not likely to succeed on the merits of its claims...that Angie's List has not established that it will suffer irreparable harm," and that....the public interest favored the former employees, and not Angie's List,'" says a statement from DeLaney & DeLaney LLC., quoting the court ruling.

I can't imagine what counsel for AL was thinking, since the three employees had not even signed non-compete agreements, which generally have a tough time standing up to a court test anyhow.

Again, the bigger picture: readers of this blog may care about this news because many former Indianapolis Newspaper Inc. people (Indy Star and Indy News) have found a soft landing at Angie's List.

But then, as Forbes pointed out three years ago, the Angie's List model is broken. Who needs to pay for a site that provides consumer information which is readily available for free on Yelp, etc.?

Furthermore, argued Forbes, Angie's List, by following a tired template, is playing its investors for fools. The ultimate insult: the more a business pays in advertising revenue to Angie's List, the higher its ratings, according to Forbes.

Full disclosure: I am an Angie's List subscriber. 

But then I subscribe to Indy Star, too. Nothing wrong with loyalty. Up to a point.

Angie's List was, at the very least, heavy handed in its efforts to block three top-notch sales persons from earning a living. From here, it looks like desperation and not smart play.

You can read more about this story in Indianapolis Business Journal. 


Where's the story?

Dateline: Sun 17 Apr 2016

Tim Evans, my friend and former colleague at the Indianapolis Star, had a wonderful run with a series of human interest stories on "the Broom Guy," Jim Richter, a 78-year-old blind man who got chased away from selling his trademark brooms at post office stations on the Northside.

To paraphrase Bill Murray in the movie "Ghostbusters," ("Nobody steps on a church in my town,") -- "Nobody screws with the Broom Guy in Indy." OK, the Northside, but what the heck.

As stories go, the "Broom Guy" saga (8 articles, by my count, plus a letter to the editor), has all the elements we love: little guy vs. big, bad government, the justified outrage of readers, who supported Richter by rushing to his various street corner locations to buy his brooms, the intervention of several political power brokers on behalf of Richter, and the final triumph: the return of Richter to the post offices, after the authories backed off and acknowledged they were overzealous. 

I know I am perverse, but I personally relished the part of this news cycle when, pretty early on, Evans revealed that the postal service's action was based on alleged complaints from patrons that Richter cussed at them. Richter denied that, although he allowed that he does sometimes use "coarse language". But he's deeply spiritual, a Baptist. Welcome to Indiana, everyone. (And the cussing 'thing' was discounted ultimately, when attorney Gordon Durnil and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said they seriously doubted that it was true; they know the Broom Guy and he represents an excellent work ethic, salt of the earth, etc.)

Nonetheless, the cussing angle was an especially vivid touch because typically, reporters are faced with having to keep "the best part" or "the juicy part," out of print or broadcast for fear of offending someone, or worse. Evans kept it real, and that's why we all related.

On the other side of the print street, the Indianapolis Business Journal's John Russell (formerly an investigative reporter at the Star) had a great scoop with the news that a leading transplant surgeon is bagging his job at Indiana University Health and taking his skills to University of Alabama.

Dr. Joseph Tector blasted IU Health, as quoted by Russell: the IU system wants its doctors "to function as robots" and merely chase profits, putting money ahead of research and science.

Russell wrote: "Tector said he decided to leave IU Health after concluding the institution had changed its focus from one of pre-eminence to one of control and profit.'"

That's a powerful charge, and if true, it confirms anecdotal evidence, and some reporting in the past, that IU Health is in a cycle of failing in its caregiver mission. Or, at least, that something is radically wrong.

Both important stories, both delivered by top-notch reporters. Apples and organges? Sure. Or more like cherries and cheese.

As for the reporting with the potential for the most impact for our city, I'll be looking for follow-ups on the IU Health crisis. Based on what I've read and heard, "crisis" at IU Health is not too strong a word.  But maybe I'm wrong. Prove it.

Incidentally, Russell is on the medical news beat at IBJ. The stellar J.K. Wall, who had that job for several years, has moved to Eli Lilly in communcations.

Final thought: Nothing beats the newspaper model, fragile tho it may be, for solid, important, interesting information. 

1 comment

The Star's numbers...going down

Dateline: Wed 05 Aug 2015

Karen Ferguson Fuson, publisher of the Indianapolis Star, as well as other Gannett products, is to be credited for her transperency with staff re: the continual struggle to not lose more readers/subscribers.

The Star, like other newspapers, targets three audiences: old-school delivery subscriptions; desktop readers; and mobile app readers.

It's no news flash that print readers are bailing, but the numbers are shocking.

Ferguson Fuson sends out a "Happy Monday!" email to staff each week. It's mostly in-house rah-rah stuff, but at the end is where the action is. The heading is: "Below are our weekly indicators that show our performance against key leading indicators of our business."

For the week of May 11, Ferguson's (not yet Fuson) email noted "PERMANENT STOPS: 1,805. (Stops were above budget by 2.8 percent toward the 2015 stop goal of 64,000."

For the week of May 18, Ferguson noted, "PERMANENT STOPS: 919 (Stops were below budget by 5.3 percent towrd the 2015 stop goal of 64,000."

June 22's email records, "PERMANENT STOPS: 1,023 (Stops were above budget by 8 percent toward the 2015 stop goal of 64,000)."

Assuming we are reading this correctly -- and I am getting assistance -- this means that on the weeks cited, the Star lost 1,805 readers/subscribers in one week, 919 another, and 1,023 in another. Permanent stops has always meant just as it sounds: a subscriber calls the paper and tells them to stop delivery. Permanently.

It also appears the Star is projecting a total loss of 64,000 readers in 2015. That is an amazing hemorrhage. 

Now, whether some of those readers will be drawn back with various offers is open to question, but it seems doubtful. The newspaper habit is not one the majority of Americans have any longer.

However, the folks at Gannett are in there pitching: one strategy is to offer a discount for readers who live in a less-than zip code; more affluent readers, based on zip code, pay more.

But it's a losing game.

A colleague speculates that, starting in 2016, the Star will produce a print newspaper for delivery three days a week. I would guess Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Eventually the Star will provide a print paper only on Sunday.

Believe it.

Meanwhile, desktop views and mobile views are a mixed bag. In  the June 22 email, mobile views were 2,574,154, down 29 percent from the previous week. 

However, mobile views spiked a bit to 3,030,230 for the week of May 18, a gain of 12 percent with overall gain of 45 perdent yoy (year over year), which is positive.

Desktop views seem to be similiarly jumpy -- up one week by 14 percent, down earlier by 13 percent.

We all know the future is online. The question is: can Gannett figure out how to draw and maintain those readers?

The issue, again, is that the paper no longer has a big enough staff (or committed editors) to feed the monster. The web page should be continuously updated, especially during the hours of 7-10 p.m. when mobile usage is at its peak.

But when Gannett chooses to produce a newspaper with a skeleton staff, it's hard to get fresh stories and updates.

Spiral mindf--k. 





Keeping the Indy Star mediocre

Dateline: Wed 29 Jul 2015


   The problem at the Indianapolis Star is not with the reporting staff, stretched thin tho it is.

   It's a top-down issue: executive editor Jeff Taylor is not a newspaperman, in heart, mind or spirit. Thus his expectations for producing news stories are low, and the staff knows it. 

    During the last reorganization, most reporters at the paper were deemed projects or investigative reporters. Nobody is a general assignment reporter anymore, altho there is a small breaking news team which concentrates on police and crime.

    No wonder the paper seems thin when it comes to breaking, hard news. 

    Here's an anecdote that illustrates the source of the problem.

    Gannett likes to play games, and one game at the old building (307 N. Penn) was to gather staff together with the five or six leadership team members on display, perched on chairs on a stage. Staff members were fed a sentence or two about a team leader, then got to guess which person it applied to. Can you imagine this happening in a real newsroom? 

    Here was one hint: 'His professor in college tried to dissuade him from going into news, telling him instead he should pursue a career in public relations, because he just did not have what it takes to be a newsman.'

    No surprise. The mystery man with the bent to PR is Taylor. God help us that anyone in management found this amusing enough to share with reporters. But then, truth to power.

    No surprise that Taylor does not expect much from anyone, including Alvie Lindsay, a leadership team dude who is responsible for investigative projects and business reporting (however, with only one biz reporter left, as noted in yesterday's blog post, there's precious little to direct).

   The newsroom atmosphere is so sluggish -- and morale is so low among reporters -- that a recent news story was slugged "Another lame weather story."

     Meanwhile, the numbers continue to slide for Gannett, both in print/paper readers and digital hints. More on that in an upcoming post, thanks to emails from publisher Karen Crotchfelt Ferguson Fuson. At least, someone at IndyStar got what she wanted (a new husband, again).








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