Nervous nellies of the newsroom

Dateline: Sun 20 Jan 2008

Did anyone else cringe reading Dennis Ryerson's column today in what used to be called the editorial pages of the Star?

The big moral hand-wringing dilemma of the week for the self-confessed "recovering Norwegian" was what to do with the scoop secured by cops reporter Vic Ryckaert. He's the guy who got a phone call from a family member of one of four men now charged in the Hovey Street murders, stating that suspect Jasper Frazier had fled to relatives in Toledo and now wanted to tell his side of the story.

Ryckaert did his part; he made the call, he got the interview, including the money quote, "I didn't kill them kids." Ryerson says in his column today that, since Frazier wanted to confess, the paper then turned its phone numbers over to the police.

Then the constipation set in. To run the story, or not? Ryerson uses the words "appropriate caution," which is code for nervous nellie who can't make up his mind.

Then, reports the Star's exec editor: "..something happened that usually drives us nuts. We got beat on our own story."

Heavens to murgotroid, TV reporters in Toledo beat the Star at its own game when they reported that Frazier was being held by police!

So then Ryerson and his minions had the green light to go ahead and publish.

Meanwhile, Ryckaert still had the exclusive. But it took the competition to beat it out of Ryerson.

Also, there's a lot of debate about the Star's use of the quote: "I didn't kill them kids," which ran as a banner headline above the fold. No doubt, the story sold papers; the play was sensational and chilling and disturbing, all at once.

But reader/friend Pete Miesel has noted, again, that the TalkBack function on this story, rather than hosting intelligent comment/debate, became a forum for racists to bash blacks in Indy. Miesel said this in an email to Ryerson. Here it is:

"850+ posts on that thread, the overwhelming majority of them filled with the most hateful displays of racism I think I've ever seen on your boards (and that is saying something). I know you felt that quoting the suspect was newsworthy, but the Star readers have seized on that quote to comment not on the case, but on their hatred of African-Americans.

"Fix the boards or shut them down."

Which begs the question: Is there an adult in the house? Can somebody please take charge at the Star? Between losing the scoop and hosting the second coming of the KKK, the Star is begging for new leadership.

Just my opinion.

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