Columnists' exodus

Dateline: Mon 04 May 2015

    With the news a couple weeks ago that Indy Star city/state columnists Matt Tully and Erika Smith are "moving on," Tully to take up the sweet, round-about way of life in Carmel (but still write for the Indy newspaper), and Smith re-locating to Sacramento, Calif., the general response has been "meh."

    Among readers, anyhow. Not quite so much journalists and avid Star readers.

    Those of us who worked at the Star with Tully have been mostly scratching our heads over why the longtime champion of all things Indy would choose to abandon Patachou at 49th and Penn, where he sometimes conducts interviews and regularly drinks high-priced coffee, to head north to 146th and Springmill Road -- that's where he's going with his wife and young son.

     Maybe it's the way he delivered his message. Tully tried to wrap his brick in a velvet blanket by announcing his move to Carmel in a column praising that city's ambitious mayor.

    As a friend said, "And did you see Tully bury the lead in his bullshit Carmel column?....Mr. 'I Love Indianapolis' is moving to Carmel."

Someone who knows Tully says the decision is mostly about schools. Tully was always wringing his hands over IPS, sometimes trying to make a sale on its many merits but coming short and sounding preachy or too rah-rah to be persuasive or credible.

So rather than pay for private education in Indy, he and his family are doing what many others have done -- move to Carmel where schools are highly rated but lacking in racial, economic and cultural diversity, which is its own form of poverty.

The other attractions are the typical suburban blah-blah: bigger house, bigger yard, That's fine, and nobody really believes a columnist has to live in the city to write about the city.

But it does help.

As for Erika Smith, girl is even more of a cheerleader than Tully -- both these people have done a ton of public relations during their newspaper careers, fronting for various causes and people, Tully in the political/education arena and Smith just about everywhere else it was cool to be.

Smith never met a trendy bandwagon she did not hop on, whether it's advocating (over and over and over) for publc transit, the 10-Point Coalition, same-sex marriage or the hip life Downtown. At least Tully makes an effort to analyze some issues; Smith's approach has been largely shallow and one-note.

But so it goes. Big-city newspaper columnists once sat on a golden throne, kings of the hill -- think of Tom Keating at the Star, Mike Royko in Chicago, Jimmy Breslin in New York. These guys were gifted at nuance, wit and story-telling; they were also hard-hitting and could also slug it out and make readers think outside the box.

With the exception of Neil Steinberg at the Chicago Sun-Times, that era is pretty much gone and done.

     So best to Tully and Smith, but remember, when doing PR, you might want to get your paycheck from a PR firm. Then, on the other hand, that's what Gannett is.







Gary Welsh [unverified] said:

John Kass at the Chicago Tribune is still alive and kicking. His political columns are a must read for anyone interested in Chicago politics. He's not friends with many politicians, which is how it used to be.

Tully has his circle of friends (the people he's supposed to be critically writing about) and he uses his column to write press releases promoting them at the same time he uses it to unleash his harshest attacks on their enemies.

Tully's shameless promoting of the early childhood education funding given his wife's professional roles on the board of the preschool which benefits from that funding and her employer's priority in getting it passed would not have passed a newspaper's ethicist scrutiny at a normal, self-respecting newspaper.

2015-05-04 08:40:18

Ruth Holladay [unverified] said:

thanks for reminding me of Kass. Good points Gary

2015-05-04 09:10:27

sjudge [unverified] said:

One of the first "unique to accounting" terms I learned were LIFO and FIFO, referring to two opposite ways of accounting for inventory - last in, first out, and first in, first out. I'll leave the details to actual accountants, but in general,, there's some relevance to IPS.

The first folks to leave IPS when busing arrived were the 49th & Penn yuppies. Most left for relatively pure reasons - they wanted their kids installs close to home. Others left for less pure reasons, but that's another conversation.

Thirty years later, we all know the results for IPS. Advantaged kids test, well, like advantaged kids, so over all, test scores fell in the system. That led to another group, the not quite so advantaged kids, leaving the system, and again test scores fell.

One of the more interesting reactions at IPS was the creation of Magnet schools - schools that ostensibly specialized in certain areas or unique teaching methods, or perhaps just with interesting names. To an extent, many of these schools succeeded in attracting students.

At the same time, as government became enamored with privatization, Charter schools grew. Even ore recently, vouchers have become trendy.

What's interesting, at least to me, is that in poorer areas, local schools are less and less popular. They tend to have lower test scores (and heaven knows we test enough), possibly because they have fewer advantaged kids. All parents want their kids to attend "good" schools, and logically don't see schools with low test scores as being "good."

To lure back some of those advantaged kids, IPS has created catchment areas around some of heir more popular Magnet Schools. That's basically a geographic area that will receive a preference (along with another list of preferences that apply to the otherwise ram nom system for deciding who gets admitted to the school of their choice.

2015-05-04 09:14:12

sjudge [unverified] said:

In advantaged areas, that created precisely the opposite result from what's happening in the poorer areas. Parents began to view those locally situated schools as "good" schools, and in short order, applications to those schools easily exceeded capacity. Families that would have otherwise moved to suburbia, began moving back to the City,.

So, we find ourselves, today, with IPS still shrinking, largely because of declining enrollment in poorer areas, but at the same time, a demand that far exceeds capacity in advantaged areas. IPS could easily add another school in it's Washington Township section, assuming catchment areas were managed, perhaps even two. There's that much demand for local schools.

It's an interesting problem for IPS. Over 30 years, it's hanged its focus to serve what, prior to that time, was an unimagined student population, and, largely, parents don't see it as functioning very well doing so. At the same time, parents in areas that assumed, back then, that IPS was no longer meeting their needs, now think it can, but can't, to a large extent, get into those schools, and they again re-migrate to the suburbs. So, IPS is being asked to increase capacity in areas where it once had to decrease capacity, and decrease capacity in areas where it once has to find room for students.

It's a challenging time for our school board.

2015-05-04 09:14:53

Greg Wright [unverified] said:

I sometimes laugh out loud when reading Matt Tully. For me, he has become one of Indianapolis’ inadvertent comedians. Remember Saeed Al-Sahhaf? AKA Baghdad Bob. He also made me laugh.

2015-05-04 11:33:10

Leslie Lynnton Fuller [unverified] said:

Thank you Gary Welsh for mentioning the Trib's John Kass! I was in the City Hall press room when Mayor Daley sent Kass some Pampers for his newborn sons. Kass hastily sent them back— no payola for him or his family. That editorial independence—and ethical standards— sadly seem to belong to another era.
Reading Erika's column, it seemed to me she was spinning a labrythine tale of why she "chose" to leave. Really? Isn't she just doing what most of the Star staff does? Jump before she gets shoved? I subscribe to the paper mostly because of my steampunk sensibility... I savor the feel of actual paper...and because writers John Tuohy and Will Higgins are in it. They are bad ass.

2015-05-04 13:54:17

Jon [unverified] said:

But will my soon to be neighbour Erika register her damn car in California??

2015-05-05 21:22:44

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