Why Sheila Kennedy left the Star

Dateline: Fri 18 Feb 2011

Monday marked the last day Shelia Kennedy's liberal voice appeared in the editorial pages of the Indianapolis Star, after 14 years. When she started, she ran on the op-ed page; now, that concept no longer exists. (Ads frequently take up the right-side space, which is now called "conversations" and features letters from readers and "My View" submissions, also from readers and communtiy leaders.)

Kennedy ended her run by inviting her readers to "continue the conversation at www.sheilakennedy.net" and expressing gratitude.

"This is my last column for the Star. I have deeply appreciated the comments and e-mails from readers over the years -- pro and con."

So what gives? Why would Kennedy depart after such a successful run, in what is, after all, the biggest paper circulating in the metro area? I asked her in an email, and here is her response, for the record:

"I don't want to 'go public' with specific gripes. Let's just say that I wasn't Tim Swarens' favorite columnist, and I got tired of the games he played."

Swarens is the editor of Opinon/Conversations and is a well-known conservative.

I asked Swarens for a response, as well as exec editor Dennis Ryerson. Ryerson was out of town when I posed the quesiton, but here is what Swarens said:

"The decision to stop writing the column was Sheila's. She was (and still is) welcome to continue writing for us. We are in the process of adding 10 new community columnists who will add a wider variety of voices and bring more diversity to the opinion pages. As a result of that new content, I asked Ken Bode and Sheila to reduce the frequency of their columns to once a month. Ken agreed to that request and will continue to write for us. Sheila said that writing only once a month (instead of roughly twice a month as she has until now) would hurt the timeliness of her columns and therefore decided to no longer write for The Star. All of the new community columnists will be published once a month.
I did not 'play games'' with Sheila. There were a couple of problems in December when columns she submitted by email were delayed in publication because I and others on my staff had irregular schedules due to the holidays. But we published 25 columns from Sheila in the past year without any serious difficulties, and we would have been happy to continue featuring her work."

The situation reminded me a bit of another former woman columnist who contributed to the Culture Watch commentary that occasionally runs on the conversations page. That writer is Kelly Jones Sharp.

Kelly srarted as a regular (paid) contributor in 2005. She was told by Swarens she would have carte blanche in terms of topics, but she also understood her pieces were to be on the softer side.

Still, she said, she got in some licks on politics and other harder topics. But....

"...not everything I submitted got in. A column about milk, for example, in which I took Monsanto to task. Another about the changes to the paper with online commenting. “Wal-mart moms” in which I interviewed moms at three area Wal-marts about their political views....
"Then the paper began to shrink, and shrink some more, and suddenly the 700-word columns I had been writing were being cut 100-200 words. Some of them literally chopped off at the knees. So it was embarrassing for me to have something I wrote with a logical flow to be arbitrarily hacked, and I didn’t even know when it was going to happen. The last straws were in the spring of 2009, when columns I wrote about reader reactions to a column on speeding and another about the mayor’s action center pothole website (a positive piece in which I’d interviewed sources at the city) were just deep-sixed w/no explanation. So that was also embarrassing… to interview sources and then the piece just doesn’t show up."

So that's the story. Make of it what you will. I sense tension, and it is a shame when qualified writers no longer contribute to the biggest paper in town. But that's life in these times for journalists and newspapers.

Both Jones and Kenney's blogs are on my blog roll. You can keep up with them there.



Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Editing is never an exact science. Which is why Swearens needs an adult in the room. His memory is oft fuzzy.

Sheila doesn't make things up. Ever.

Just a quick question--were these columns paid or voluntary?

2011-02-18 10:27:48

Gary Welsh [unverified] said:

Sadly, they're giving us a monthly column by controversial radio talk show host Abdul Hakim Shabazz in her place. Could they stoop any lower?

2011-02-18 11:34:11

hendy [Member] said:

The Star's loss. And due it's monopolistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and conservatively-biased reporting, it's gain, too. We're on a rush to the bottom to become Arizona!

I think she'd be better off at the Indianapolis Recorder. Better paper.

2011-02-18 14:16:55

ruthholl [Member] said:

Kennedy was paid $50 per column, she says.

2011-02-18 15:28:59

Gary Welsh [unverified] said:

Hardly worth the effort. Sounds as bad as what Nuvo offers.

2011-02-18 15:40:59

ruthholl [Member] said:

Gary, thanks for the info on Abdul.
I think people like to be in the Star because of the time-worn prestige factor...as Frank Caperton used to say, "We're the biggest dog."
Obviously, the pay is no incentive.
But the big dog factor is rapidly fading, too.

2011-02-18 17:18:57

Gary Welsh [unverified] said:

Abdul's first column in the Star was to carry out a vendetta against Democratic mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy, accusing her of not addressing issues when she had already offered to debate Ballard and he declined. Abdul was sore because Melina would not be a guest on his radio talk show, which is the lowest rated talk show in the Indianapolis market--a few hundred daily listeners--none of whom would ever vote for her. Kennedy did appear for a long interview on Amos Brown's show, which has a much larger audience and reaches voters who are inclined to support her. The Democrats are convinced Abdul is being paid under the table by the Ballard campaign. We know from the last mayoral campaign how deceptive and sneaky he can be. And it was Abdul he coined the nickname "Meliar" when she ran for prosecutor against one of Abdul's old drinking buddies, Carl Brizzi. If I were her, I would never go on his show either.

2011-02-18 17:52:36

ruthholl [Member] said:

Abdul's first column in the Star ran 2/8.

2011-02-18 19:48:52

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Gary, knock it off already. If Abdul is being paid, it'll show up.

He is one of the city's best reporters. He's an unabashed Republican cheerleader.

I filter his reports, and still get more than I get from any other media outlet in this town. Bar none.

Just know this: he's arrogant, he's pompous, and he isn't an Indiana resident.

Filter on.

2011-02-19 05:46:48

Gary Welsh [unverified] said:

It's quite easy to wash payments in a campaign, TTT. You pay one consulting firm $10,000 a month beginning years before the election, which in turn kicks back a fee to the person you don't want to show up on your campaign finance report. It's done all the time in campaigns. In Mayor Brainard's last run for re-election he washed 90% of his campaign expenditures through a local campaign consultant. Everyone knows the money paid to that consultant paid for more than just his services.

2011-02-19 08:13:11

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

No, IK meant with regard to Abdul. Leave it alone already.

You're right about the consultants.

2011-02-19 11:19:47

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