Google News, the Star's new look and Branson, Mo.

Dateline: Tue 12 Jul 2011

The Indianapolis Star, which introduced new type face recently, is also offering "bigger" obits. The paid obituaries, as well as the unpaid, are now spread over two columns. The type seems bigger to my eye and others, but that may be an illusion. Certainly the headline type -- the name of the dearly departed -- is larger.

Why the changes?

Just a theory: the obits are now taking up more space in an increasingly shrinking newshole. So maybe "spreading them out" over two-three pages makes it easier to fill what small newshole still exists, since reporters and editors are taxed these days, after layoffs. No bodies and no time to report the news? Go with obits. For Gannett, it's a win-win, since obits beyond two-three lines must be paid for by the deceased person's family or friends.

At a recent party, where Democrats flowed freely, I asked former Indiana State Fair director Bill Stinson what newspapers and periodicals he reads. After we agreed that the Star was increasingly not relevant to many former readers, he made a good point about daily newspapers.

"They're like Branson, Mo." "What do you mean, Bill?" "I mean, the people who read the Star and the people who go to Branson are the same...and when those people are gone, Branson will be gone. Newspapers, too." No more Andy Williams as a headliner; no more Star. Dead people don't subscribe....or travel to Missouri for the show.

So perhaps the bigger obit package is also an effort to continue to attract the Star's remaining audience: those of us in our 60s, 70s and 80s, who are, essentially, dying off. God knows, ours is a core audience.

How do younger people get their news? One of the "kids" (age 38) had Google News up on the computer the other day. You can pick from, first, the World, then Nation, then Indianapolis. Click on Indy, and you get a wide variety of stories from a variety of mainline sources -- TV, Indianapolis Business Journal and of course the Star and other newspapers around the state. Wowzer. It's quick, it's amazingly thorough and it is free!!!

OK, I'm still going to the church of newspaper daily....dragging in the paper first thing in the morning, reading it over coffee. But I now supplement with Google News.

Branson, Mo., will have to count me out, but for now, I remain a loyal subscriber to the daily paper. Until I die, or the cost becomes prohibitive for someone on a limited income.

As for Mr. Stinson, he acknowledged he is the only one in his family who actually reads the Star. "When I'm out of town, it stays in the driveway."

That's all the news...thanks for reading this blog.


NOTE TO JOHN HOWARD: So who is the third party who is generating the obits? Just saw your comment. Thanks for the info. Any information/insights anyone has, please lay them out here.




John Howard [unverified] said:

I was referring to, which appears to be the originator of the content (based on how the obit section is completely unlike the rest of the IndyStar site and all of the links on that page go to pages at

It appears IndyStar now merely integrates obit content produced by into their website. I presume this means the obit input is directly to them from funeral directors, and the Star only pulls down the finished product for publication.

2011-07-12 22:26:19

Citizen X [unverified] said:

Good post. I still get the Star, though I have not paid for it for maybe a year and I get no statements. They call almost daily, however the last time I spoke with the Star (a long time ago,)I suggested to them that the product is really inferior and I can get most of the news online. I also said that they should pay me to receive the paper because it is now mostly a vehicle to deliver advertisements to my home. And the rates they charge advertisers are based on circulation. They have not stopped delivery, so maybe I have a valid point.

2011-07-13 06:18:46

ruthholl [Member] said:

Good comments. I'm going to go read the damn thing now. But I know glancing at headlines, I saw it all online last night.
Unreal and absolutely hilarious on getting the freebie. As Nancy Nall said once, newspapers are in this crisis: "What do you want? More chicken recipes? Anything you want, we'll give it to you..." You seem to be getting your chicken recipes gratis. Whoo-hoo.
Thank you JH for the explanation.
Never ends...

2011-07-13 06:48:01

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

Where does Google News get its news? It aggregates it from sources... some good and reputable and edited and some not. Still need traditional media or they'll have nothing to aggregate.

2011-07-13 08:43:20

ruthholl [Member] said:

Point taken.
I am just comparing the amount of info I get in the Star, for which I pay, vs. the free Google news aggregate.
This is an old issue, since AP and UPI also never paid reporters when it used their stuff.
Answers, anyone?

2011-07-13 09:07:22

hendy [Member] said:

This is a very deep and disturbing question in online media right now. AOL-HuffPo is building "city content" which is a holy grail for the news aggregators.

There are loads of interesting content sources out there for local, regional, state, and national/international news. Some have unpaid volunteers-- byline-hounds-- that do the work of gleaning from newspaper, TV, even police reports and local blog reports.

Public media, like NPR and state affiliates, are kind of floundering in some ways; their audience is strange and they're kind of aimless in my opinion.

So, if you're smart, you'll learn what a News Reader (RSS) program is, put it on your machine, then start getting RSS feeds, which are news blurbs that the News Reader polls for you every so often (like once an hour). You'll learn how to manage them, what they mean, what sources suck, and how to use even Craigslist RSS feeds to search for your peculiar desires-- like BMWs between $200 and $2000. Or whatever.

It's addictive, so be wary of too many feeds, and polling them too often.

2011-07-13 10:18:25

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"This is an old issue, since AP and UPI also never paid reporters when it used their stuff."

Ruth, that comment stirred a memory:

Back in the late 1980s, The New York Times News Service distributed several of my general-interest columns nationally and internationally and "paid" me each time with a New York Times ballpoint pen.

I was (relatively) young and enamored with The New York Times brand, so I thought I was in high cotton.

2011-07-13 13:13:58

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"I was (relatively) young and enamored with The New York Times brand, so I thought I was in high cotton."

In the 1970s my wife was a nationally licensed sports car driver sponsored by Pepsi Cola. She (we, because I also drove)got some national media attention. We moved to New York to become MadPersons. Four years after her last race, a story about her racing activities, implying they were current, appeared in the NYT! (I think it was picked up from an AP piece and was probably sitting around on overset gathering dust.) I never again had much faith in the Times' accuracy.

2011-07-13 13:55:46

Mark Murrmann [unverified] said:

"How do younger people get their news? One of the "kids" (age 38) had Google News up on the computer the other day. You can pick from, first, the World, then Nation, then Indianapolis. Click on Indy, and you get a wide variety of stories from a variety of mainline sources -- TV, Indianapolis Business Journal and of course the Star and other newspapers around the state. Wowzer. It's quick, it's amazingly thorough and it is free!!!"

One thing severely lacking with the Star and many other local papers is the dirth of quality stories from the World and Nation sections. Most just run unusefully truncated, syndicated blurbs. As a "young person" (36), that's partially why I go to the web for news. I read Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, other news sources with solid reporting. I even splurge for a NY Times subscription when I can afford it (I also subscribe to the Oakland Tribune, my local paper, but that's little more than a vehicle for coupons and cutesy local stories). I want NEWS in my newspaper.

I firmly believe that more people would subscribe to newspapers if the quality of the content was more of a focus. Like the Star's new BIGGER TYPE! MORE OBITS! it's a short-sighted strategy, a race to the bottom that seems aimed more at this quarter's profits than the longevity and legacy of the paper.

2011-07-13 14:03:46

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Bill's Branson linkage is comical, and sadly, it's likely true. Blue hair and Old Country Buffet rule. All the food is put out at 3:30 for the 4 PM dinner rush--it all tastes gray. Not bad, just like chewing air. Bill's a smart cookie. He sleeps with a federal judge. Good gig.

The obit thing is a constant irritant for me. The recent change was aggravating, but maybe it's better. I may have missed it, but I saw no explanation for the change. Just more serve-em-up-anything mantra from the Ryearson minions.

Still, the Sunday NYTimes is a highlight of the week. I've made sure all my children followed the routine--and we exchange texts, tweets and emails about different content all week.

None of them has read the Sunday Star. Ever. They're all in their 20s. When they want to know if someone died, they ask me.


2011-07-13 14:04:27

ruthholl [Member] said:

I love you all, and I am so glad to have Mark Murrmann's comments here. Remember, Mark was Icki of Icki's World (do I have it right, Mark?) back in the days when the Star had a real features section, with indepth features by Kathy Jesse and Kathy Schukel and many others: Steve Hall, Mark Allan, Betsy Harris, Hal Wildey. All good people, all good times, and all gone.
Tom G, your story is instructive. Who would have thunk the NYT would be so lazy? New York Times ballpoint pen: you guys rule. I am in awe of the contributors to this post. Thank you all.

2011-07-13 18:51:48

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

The problem was that newspapers thought their huge revenues (and profits) would always continue. It blinded them to the potential of the Internet and the very real possibility of decentralized and truly democratic mass media.

Even as newspapers began understanding and responding to threat, there was nothing that could have been done. They were simply not institutionally nimble enough to escape their own fate.

The analogy I often think about is that even after cars became commonplace, there was some transportation by horse and buggy and some need for farriers, but their days were numbered, as are newspapers.

News organizations will survive and evolve in ways to ultimately serve the content aggregators.

When I first got in the business, content was often the driver (we have to fill the newspaper); now, we have a ton of content and very little context. It might be in that niche -- contextual reporting -- that newspapers and possibly the profession of journalism is heading.

As for The Star, Gannett has done nothing but preside over its sad decline. Gannett tried to impose a corporate structure in Indianapolis that clearly hasn't worked as a business model, management philosophy, or a platform for quality journalism.

I'm not saying The Star was perfect -- not by a long shot. But it was a helluva lot better that what the suits in McLean, VA believe is good for Indy.

Again, these are the ramblings of an old reporter.

(Mark, remember when you came out to Washington for a visit? I still have one of your 'zines!)

2011-07-14 08:54:08

JohnMcShane [unverified] said:

I fired the Star about a year ago. I do look at it on line from time to time although that is about to stop as well. Pop-ups, adds, banners, and coupons have chased me away.

I do miss reading the "paper" newspaper. Like Ruth, I enjoyed the morning coffee experience, the tactile experience of turning real pages. It just seemed silly to pay for something I was usually throwing away after I carried it in from the street. (Remember when it was at the door!)

Have a peaceful weekend...

2011-07-16 22:21:58

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