The Death Star

Dateline: Tue 17 Oct 2006

Now everyone knows what Dennis Ryerson has been babbling about secretly for months: the Star does not need any stinkin' reporters. The Star can rely on readers to gather and deliver the news.

Oh, wait, news isn't really relevant anymore. The late newsroom at 307 N. Penn has passed on; the new wah-wah is called an information center. Reporters are therefore information gatherers. As one former Newsie noted, information can be any old thing you want it to be -- crap on a stick, whatever, so long as it sells.

Ryerson revealed his dastardly plan in his Sunday column. Still, despite a fair amount of reaction -- including an excellent story in the Indianapolis Business Journal and great posting on Taking Down Words -- this really isn't news, altho I suppose it is information.

The very last day I worked at the Star, Dennis told me how much he liked my final column because it emphasized the importance of readers. Well, no duh. Then he waxed eloquent on the future: readers, he said on June 30, that blessed day, would become our partners in news, I mean information, gathering. The poor schmucks already were duped into sending in their photos to cover for features -- does anyone else remember that the Father's Day Living cover was all reader-submitted pictures? And wasn't Ryerson proud?

Anyhow, the cat is now officially out of the bag. Ryerson and publisher Barbara Henry have told the world just what they think of their staff. Fortunately, no one is fooled. The IBJ quotes retired senior Wall Street Journal editor Joseph N. Boyce, who now teaches journalism at IUPUI:

"The reporters are right to be concerned. This could be seen as a way to provide content on the cheap. If there is a reduction in staff due to this, I would seriously wonder about the competency of that management."

The Star hasn't (yet) laid off staffers, but the information center is down to 17 souls on board, according to Jennifer Wagner's Taking Down Words. How can they report on the city with so few numbers? They can't. I get email every week from blog readers who have one purpose: to bitch about what the Star is not covering.

The IBJ mentions that the Star has already cut back on its wire reporting. Boyce notes that this is a Gannett call, not one made at the local level. (How ironic is that?)

Which reminds me of what the editors at the Wall Street Journal always advise their reporters: "Follow the money." Taking that lead, here's a tip of the hat to Pete Miesel, who sent a link last week to a CNN story about Gannett reporting lower-than-expected 3rd quarter earnings and diddly-squat advertising growth. Check it out:

http://money.cnn.com/2006/10/11/news/companies/gannett.reut/index.htm?po

As my husband said, "If I was a reporter at the Star and they did this, I'd quit."

Plenty have. But for those still struggling, how about a strike? Everybody who works as an information gatherer must know in his/her heart of hearts that they are simply cogs in the machine. So strike. What do you have to lose????

comments: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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