You won't read this in the Indianapolis Star...

Dateline: Mon 03 Oct 2011

Check it out; it's a flattering profile of the Star's Bobby King, president of the local Newspaper Guild and architect of the union's kick-butt strategy as it negotiates a contract with the Evil Empire -- or "rat bastards,"/"robber barons," as King variously refers to Gannett executives, in an article by Michael Rubino in the October issue of Indianapolis Monthly.

Good story. Needs to get out there.

But all the publicity and the union's moral indignation won't make a bit of difference in terms of contract negotiations or the bath the Guild and the paper are going to continue to take under Gannett's rule. For King, this is essentially a moral issue. "I guess you could say our leverage is a moral argument," says King.

And again, "Thing is, we have the moral high ground here. We are right, and that's an amazing motivator."

Alas, it is not. Neither the public at large nor the "movers and shakers" King hopes to attract to his cause of Save the Star really care.

The public -- the Star's remaining readers -- are either too busy grousing about the paper's thin coverage and high prices, or ignoring the entire issue because we have a bigger battle of earning a living, or both; the "movers and shakers" (rich and powerful) are consumed with running their own companies/empires and piling up their own stock. 

The "we've got to save democracy" argument which King advances has some ideological merit, but, again, it shows traditional journalism's inflated sense of self. King does not like bloggers, referring to the pack as "the animals in the blogosphere," which betrays both ignorance and arrogance regarding the revolution that has taken place all around him...

But then, when it comes to choosing your battles -- good vs. evil, traditional journalism vs. big corporation -- let's agree that, for true believers like King, being on the side of good is worth everything.

That's the essential message of this story, in which King is persuaded to pose as an unlikely Superman, albeit one with a paunch. The Monthly's photo portrait shows our man of steely vision ripping off a grey suit and a tie, with his Superman suit underneath. My experience with King is that he has a lot of God-given humility, so sitting  for that picture probably was not his favorite thing on earth ....but again, his motivation is a greater good.

Some interesting revelations: former Guild president Tom Spalding says, regarding negotiating the last contract, in which the Guild accepted a 10 percent across-the-board pay cut: "I vastly underestimated the bottom-line mentality and greed of Gannett." Spalding is described as "one of the advocates of extending an olive branch."

"I was wrong," Spalding tells Rubino. (Spalding, who left newspapering for PR last winter, backed King as the new president, because, he says, King channeled a lot of "venom and anger and outrage."

Bobby? Venom? Outrage?

In hindsight, I can see it...

I retired from the Star in 2006, of my own free will. Two years before I walked, in 2004, King was hired to cover religion; his desk was in the adjoining pod. You couldn't imagine a nicer guy. He was funny, sweet, unaffected, unpretentious and good-spirited. A great husband and devoted father. His favorite word, which he used often, was "awesome."

So where did this fury come from?

Aha. Rubino talks about King's Kentucky hillbilly roots, how his dad worked construction and was in a union, how his sister was the first in the family to go to college (she's an attorney); Bobby himself was the first guy in the family to go on to higher ed. His father, King tells Rubino, is more proud of his Guild work than all his newspaper articles.

But here's the bottom line: as long as Gannett is making money, they're not going to stop doing what they are doing.

An old railroadman from Jonesboro, Ind., once observed: "Y'know, I never had a poor man hire me."

The rich provide jobs. Gannett, for all its greed and faults, provides jobs.

Economics is a powerful incentive.  My guess is that Gannett will prevail, and the Guild will (again) have to accept the reality -- that the union is on the short end of the stick.

Is it morally right? No.

A friend used the Catholic church as an analogy. The church won't change until people in the pews stop giving. When that happens, you'll see a reformation.

When Gannett stops making money, look for a revolution.

Until then, it will be, sad to say, business as usual...





hendy [Member] said:

Gannett could be usurped, too. They have a monopolistic mentality, and those are rife for change. Maybe a bunch of journalists, seasoned with experience, could start a web site.

Oh, wait.....

2011-10-03 20:02:28

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I think you touched on something important, Ruth, about the fact that we have so much to be concerned about in the times in which we are living - that the treatment of some people at a newspaper office is not high on most folks' agendas. Right, wrong or in-between, I think that's just the way it is.

As a disabled, semi-invalid myself, I think about people like the late Vic Chestnutt. He killed himself in Dec. 2009 by taking an overdose of muscle relaxant. Vic was only 45 at the time.

Chestnutt was a singer/songwriter who had significant success after being paralyzed in a car accident in 1983.
But even with his success, he struggled with the challenges he faced as a paraplegic , dependent on a wheelchair.

However, the most disturbing part (for me) of his story was that It was written that mounting medical bills in the face of inadequate health care coverage is what likely ultimately prompted him to take his own life.

Yes, people are dying because of the health care situation in this country. I almost did this past winter.
People who have money and blue chip medical plans are the ones who get the best chances to live.

There is tremendous human suffering in Indianapolis and throughout the country. This is what captures my attention. What goes on in a newspaper office is not high on my list of things to worry about.

I wish them well and hope they get what they deserve. But I think a lot of people out of work, going hungry and many being forced out of their homes might be tempted to quote to The Guild the lyrics of an old country song, "Here's a quarter, find someone who cares."

2011-10-04 00:00:39

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Whitebeard is right, "find someone who cares."

I hate seeing what the Star has become, what newspapering has become, and will rely on sentiment for my feelgoods about me and my family being part of newspapering when it meant something.

But even if the general "We" weren't so battered and distracted by external forces these days, I don't think we'd give a rat's ass about the Star's vicissitudes. Sure I wish there was more heft to the paper, and I don't mean more inserts-- may the Vlassis tribe roast forever on bed of flaming golf balls. I wish the Star had a roster of connected, knowing, clever journalistic veterans writing stories with full knowledge of where the bodies are buried; multiple editions; and an emphasis on local news rather than wire copy. But just as Mencken said we get the political leaders we deserve, I think we are getting the Star we deserve.

2011-10-04 05:56:32

ruthholl [Member] said:

I think Bobby's real calling is to pastoring. If I were him, I'd listen to that call....dealing with Gannett is just going to result in more fury and ultimately, extreme disappointment....
And Hendy, I think people have tried to start that web site, with varying degrees of success...maybe it's harder than it seems.
For the record: I will continue to subscribe to and read the paper. Like Greenacres, I wish there was more to it...but, yeah, we are getting what we deserve.
Years ago, I'm talking early 90s, while waiting in a D.C. airport following a newspaper conference, I had a conversation with a young exec from Indy. He lived in Carmel, he had a family and he NEVER READ THE LOCAL PAPER. He got his news from Reuters at his desk and other on-line services. This was the '90s, for god's sake. Newspapers did not get it then. Missed that train, etc.
Anyhow, what is done is done. Life goes on. There is more to life than the newspaper...thank God!

2011-10-04 07:09:21

hendy [Member] said:

I could go through a long list of successful websites. isn't one of them. For reasons listed a while back, they not only don't use the tools, they don't even use tools that work. They don't care.

Here; listen to this: THEY DON'T CARE.

In a world where care vs don't care has numerous of examples of "care wins", I believe that a concerted number of individuals, known for their networking and "rolodexes" can become very successful.

It's a lead pipe cinch that Gannett isn't going to throw money into this market. Think about it. Indpls is a little fly buzzing around their ear. Get a group of people together, stealthily. Learn how the web is monetized. Do a quiet recruitment of initial advertisers. Start working. This is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

2011-10-04 08:20:07

ruthholl [Member] said:

We tried with Maybe the chemistry wasn't right, maybe we didn't have enough people on board -- not sure. Maybe I'll revisit it again; right now, I'm busy with other endeavors. Maybe someone younger will give it a whirl. God knows, there are lots of unemployed journalists out there...
Thanks, Hendy, for holding out Hope.
I so agree with you about Gannett. Little fly indeed....

2011-10-04 10:03:30

John M [unverified] said:

I say this with sympathy for the Guild and its members and as someone who admires King's writing. As an outsider, this looks to me like the last throes of the buggy whip union circa 1911. The days of a the Star as a local institution began to end when the Pulliams sold to Gannett. The Star is now a regional affiliate of a national advertisement sales company that uses news as a way of driving eyeballs to its ads. for Gannett to be susceptible to King's moral argument, Gannett would have to view news-gathering as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end. It doesn't, and it never will.

There seems to be some deep denial about the permanent structural changes that are ongoing in the journalism profession. The days of a hard copy daily newspaper with a unionized, exclusively local workforce are over. King can lament the "animals" in the blogosphere, and there are plenty of those, but there also is plenty of work that runs circles around what the Star does. Unfortunately, it is difficult for a general readership paper, staffed by journalists who are generalists, to compete with what is out there. For instance, I'm an attorney. Most of the Star's articles about legal issues are dutifully dumbed down to the level of a mediocre fifth grader, to the degree that they don't provide me with any relevant information. Why would I read the Star's article about that when I could read what the IBJ or Indiana Lawyer has to say about it, or what a practicing attorney or law professor has written about it for free on his blog? I don't know the solution to these problems, and the problems aren't the Guild's fault, but these trends are not going to reverse. As an outsider to the profession, I never would have considered the risks of outside copy editing (e.g., mistakes driven by lack of familiarity with the locale). Still, in the digital age, such centralized editing is inevitable. Perhaps the focus should be on trying to convince Gannett to centralize some of its tasks here rather than in Louisville or elsewhere. As I said, I sympathize, but I sincerely doubt that any of this will matter in 10 years.

2011-10-04 12:01:35

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Hendy, you may be right. Anything is possible.

But I've known so many people who have looked into this possibility and have decided it wouldn't work for them.

There was a group of folks I know - a retired successful businessman, former newspaper reporters/section editors and current newspaper reporters/editors. They looked into this and decided it would not fly. That it might be an "artistic" success, but not a financial success.

I hope someone(s) does manage to come up with something that will make Gannett - or at least the management-level Gannett enablers at The Star - do some squirming.

As for Mr. King. I've never met him but I'm sure I would like him. I like his fire and his passion and commitment to standing up for what is right. However, as Ruth wrote, I think he may be better-suited to pastor a church. But he'll need to find a congregation first.

2011-10-04 12:01:42

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Doesn't anyone remember Indianapolis Eye? That was a top-notch on-line newspaper staffed by actual journalists.
It never got advertising traction, and went under.

The best paper in town now is the IBJ, supplemented by Indianapolis Monthly.

As for The Star? It's all drivel.

2011-10-04 17:17:49

hendy [Member] said:

John M and Ms Cynical are both right.

It takes a publisher, and an editor, to ride herd. Managing writers is like herding and training cats. Tough under the best circumstances.

Back when IndyRats and The Eye were going, there were insufficient advertisers. No one knew how to monetize websites. Crap, you guys barely do Facebook, let alone G+, Twitter, Reddit, Digg, ad infinitum. But younger people do. We all learned on Smith Coronas, then bad software on proprietary page-making terminals, and thought we were done. Well, you're not. Today, websites are run by Content Management Systems-- CMS. The Star's plainly sucks-- it doesn't even work with Mac browsers. It is lame, TheStar staff updates it whimsically, and then half the time, with heads, maybe a dek, but no body of text--> as in the freaking story is missing! These guys are *amateurs*! of the lowest order. The freaking Indiana Student at IU puts out a daily and a website with more content and fewer mistakes.

Gannett isn't funding anything, and the retirees IN TheStar don't seem to care. Ryerson ought to be riding that crew to a quality presentation, let alone content, but it's just not there. It's all sick, like a five-year influenza. They have the Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome, and for good reason. They're being systematically stripped of resources, capital, writers, and readers that give a crap about it. Down the pipe it goes. It wouldn't be tough to knock off what little TheStar does. The IBJ does a respectable job. Their website works. And they try to push a balance agenda, despite vastly different viewpoints. And at least they don't have Varvel.

Yeah, you guys could do it, but you need Young Turks armed with a mission to finish the job. And a bit of working capital, and a LOT OF WORK, because that's what the news requires. And you'd win.

2011-10-04 19:14:07

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Wondering what people think of the planned protest in Indianapolis this weekend? The Star building is one of the buildings to be "occupied" (using the term loosely) as a part of the general protest against corporate greed.

I'm all for organized protest against corporate greed and I commend people for wanting to do it. But wondering if this is the most productive way to do it. I admit to having mixed feelings. But glad people are speaking out across the country against The Monster.

Here's the link if someone hasn't read the article:

2011-10-05 00:03:23

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

It was a good article, well-written, succinct, informative, and like most good articles in this town, it wasn't in The Star. Or on TV.

Whitebeard: I had no idea. You're right--as a survivor of both cancer AND the health care "system," I can tell you that the good insurance plans get the good coverage. If the illness doesn't take you under, the paperwork does--for years afterward. Nah, we don't need no stinkin' health care reform.

Here's what I have learned, and will continue to re-learn every time I forget it, regarding The Star vs. Gannett:

1. The "old Star" wasn't all we thought it was...I should say "you," not "we," because I always thought it was a lousy newspaper. Some great writers, photojournalists and editors, but for decades, the ownership carried out stupid political vendettas, and the editorial pages were rampant Bircher-fed drivel. A further-west Loeb Village.

2. The "new Star" is a corporate behemoth. We need no further lessons on that kind of monster. Look at their executive and baord rosters. A vast weasteland of common sense, void of a heart, pushing only for shareholder return at all costs. And that leadership group ain't cheap. Greed is expensive, if you're on the top end.

3. Although we may think The Star is a fly in Gannett's bonnet, in reality, it's one of their bigger newspapers, and they're taking money out of here hand-over-fist.

4. The Pulliams, hateful old Birchers though they were, put that money BACK into the community in multiple ways.

5. We're paying for obits now. For Christ's sake you can't even DIE in this town without having to pay for it.

6. They're editing some of this crap in India. Right beside AT&T's "Customer Service" personnel.

7. I'm getting old.

Too old for this crap.

I'll root for the Union, because that was drummed into me as a child who ate at a UAW table.

And I'll long for the better journalists that The Star nurtured and published. Their ilk is disappearing..not completely yet, but give it another decade.

2011-10-05 07:01:03

hendy [Member] said:

Nah, TTT, we're not too old, but *seasoned". Living free means imagining a future that's better than the one we're living in. Thinking about a newer generation, full of themselves, righting the wrongs of the pigs of this generation is a duty.

The union tilts at windmills. Their day is likely past. Somewhere, instead of just compensation, other unions got a bit greedy, not that their employers weren't greedy themselves.

Economics is about raw materials and added value, and the depreciation of assets. Economics don't change, they're formulas and algorithms. It's what's input to those formulas that change, The input differences are the crux of what a civil society permits. In this case, we've been feeding the wealth algorithm, but not the infrastructure formulas. We've raped the environment and allowed corporate empires to become strong and too powerful against the needs of a civil society. The empires resist, sociopathically, the need to bow to the needs of that civil society, and barely answer the needs of their stockholders. Dynastic trusts emerge, further endowing principalities and duchies within our own borders. We do this all while annually browbeating those that control education and public service.

But Journalism can expose the differences; they're either bought off or controlled by publishers with the same motives as above. But there's a good effort to expose the wrongs, cite the injustice, and unmask the new US Royalty. Listen to young people; they can energize you. They think they invented revolution. I won't tell them that they haven't.

2011-10-05 07:43:41

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

And so it goes.

2011-10-05 08:39:18

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

People, people, let's not fret about the Star's diminishing editorial quality any longer.

What with today's $300 jeans story with accompanying photo (which you can purchase from the Star) of Dana Hunsinger Benbow in tight jeans what more can you ask of your daily paper?

Besides, contemporary American society and the 20-something wired Borgs don't read anymore. The movie Fahrenheit 451 is now reality in numbnut America.

Next, have that hottie Dana (who is a very smart woman) review bikinis and I'm telling you hardcopy sales and subscriptions will soar. You can have John Russell do a projects story every six months to win an award or two and give the overall paper a semblance of respectability.

Only ugly people in the guild who can't pose for a sexy photo in Star have to worry about their jobs.

2011-10-05 16:37:43

Roberta X [unverified] said:

In the past, Hendy and I have fought like two cats in a sack. Our politics diverge in many ways, but we're in agreement on the notion of Indy's talented journalists puttin' their shoulders to the Web and out-newsing the Star.

There's no way any number of letter-writing and billboard campaigns is going to get Gannett to do anything differently; might as well whup 'em at the parts of the newspaper biz they're doing so poorly, areas like, well, news.

How hard can it be? Yesterday's editorial made a breezy mention-in-passing of the controversy over "renaming *George* Street," for pity's sake.

--And try for some backing that will look further ahead than the end of the quarter, willya? Love or hate the Pulliam family's politics (I did both), at least they acted like they were gonna stick around (until they didn't).

2011-10-05 17:45:41

Reader [unverified] said:

Does it really matter whether people would read an online newspaper? I'm not in the business, but isn't it the massive loss of ad revenue that papers have experienced that is the source of all of these problems? I'd bet that even if you could convince everyone who ever took the Star to pay the subscription rate to read it online that it still wouldn't make the paper profitable.

Like it or not, my perception is that papers have always been in the business of selling advertisements. Now that they have lost their monopoly on eyeballs, they have to compete with countless other sources of content. It isn't about whether people care enough about their community to read local news, it's that the suckers who used to have to pay thirty bucks to advertise their old used car have figured out they can do it for free on Craigslist. That ad revenue is never coming back . . .

2011-10-05 17:48:09

hendy [Member] said:

Craigslist has its problems, mostly fraud and stupidity. How does the NYT make money? How does make money. The same way makes money: eyeballs for astute stories, some that must pull better than others.

Having a local presence, and some authenticity, gets above Craigslist. Someone that manages the website fulltime, rather than does it as a burden (they must groan there each time they have to push out an RSS feed, cause they only do it right about half the time) will make a real difference. Oh, there is someone you say? Sack them. Or quit hobbling them with a CMS that doesn't work.

Could real journalists make a big impression? Look only down the street to the IBJ to see the difference. I'll bet they pay people, too-- but sadly, without a union, likely.

No matter. Gannett doesn't care. They're in it for top management pay, some dribbles to shareholders, and fie on the rest.

2011-10-05 18:52:00

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"What with today's $300 jeans story with accompanying photo (which you can purchase from the Star) of Dana Hunsinger Benbow in tight jeans what more can you ask of your daily paper?"

Just finished taking a look at that on the website, Vlad.

All I could do was shake my head and reach for my bottle of Pepto-Bismal.

So, Bobby, remind us again what is it that we are supposed to "save?"

2011-10-05 21:00:18

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Hendy: uh, the NYT isn't making money. Not even close.

But I admire your gumption. Solid point, perhaps.

Best phrase in weeks: eyeball monopoly. Quick, copyright it. Solid, solid wordsmithing.

2011-10-05 22:29:59

Reader [unverified] said:

Craigslist DOES have major problems in addition to fraud - it's a dated, inefficient interface that's difficult to search. All it has going for it is that it's free and anonymous. Online papers could easily improve on the experience and could likely convince people to spend a few bucks - but not as much as they have in the past. Sites like and offer a much better advertising experience than the printed paper could hope to offer- it's a shame the papers didn't get in on those particular advertising sectors earlier.

The problem with comparing sites like Slate and NYT to the Star is that the former both have a national presence, while the Star is only going to have regional interest unless there is a particular Indiana-based story that blows up (e.g. Lauren Spierer, Manning's neck, etc.) And the bigger problem is that online, the Star has to compete with multiple other news sites, let alone all of the other non-news sites that can generate ad revenue. Even if one believes that interest in local news coverage will be the silver bullet that drives folks to, does the Star doe a better job at this than the local tv news websites? TV and newspapers used to be two completely different things; now the internet has made them very similar.

2011-10-06 08:57:50

hendy [Member] said:

TTT-- I don't know if you do financial analysis or not, but the loss you see on the NYT books is artificial. Look at it more closely, as the print content costs are about 90% charged to the web profit center. Think about it. Then you'll understand the *real* numbers.

@Reader, local sites do just fine. SFGate. All have graduated to successful business models. It can be done, even monopolized.

2011-10-06 12:25:57

Terry Sowka [unverified] said:

Think different.

I miss writing and editing.


2011-10-07 04:28:33

BigPoppa [Member] said:

I'm late to the party on this one after a hard drive crash last week, but in my experience, you have to drag the writers and editors to the web kicking and screaming. God love 'em, but they seem to think the printed versions of newspapers and magazines will be here forever and the web is a fad.

I was brought in to one of the local publications about 5 years ago to help them make a big move to the web. I had publishers, editors and writers fighting me daily on why we need to put the same content online that was offered in the publication. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't convince any of them of the benefits. I had a shoestring budget, no staff, and no support. I spent nearly two years selecting a CMS, setting up hosting, getting multiple sites online, and meeting with groups all over the country trying to convince them this was the way to go.

Why should we blog? We don't have time for that! Why bother with photo galleries and video? Why should we do extra content online that isn't in the regular publication? Our subscribers won't care. Why should we use our publication to drive people to our web site? If they want to go, they'll go. It was maddening!

I could never get them to bite, so I threw in the towel after a two year struggle. My boss said he could see it coming as I looked like a beaten man. I couldn't understand how successful business people, editors, and writers could overlook the obvious when their competitors and others in the same vertical were embracing it and doing well. Three years later, it looks like they are finally realizing their error. Either that or they always thought they were right.

2011-10-10 07:14:50

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