The problem at the Indianapolis Star is not with the reporting staff, stretched thin tho it is.
It's a top-down issue: executive editor Jeff Taylor is not a newspaperman, in heart, mind or spirit. Thus his expectations for producing news stories are low, and the staff knows it.
During the last reorganization, most reporters at the paper were deemed projects or investigative reporters. Nobody is a general assignment reporter anymore, altho there is a small breaking news team which concentrates on police and crime.
No wonder the paper seems thin when it comes to breaking, hard news.
Here's an anecdote that illustrates the source of the problem.
Gannett likes to play games, and one game at the old building (307 N. Penn) was to gather staff together with the five or six leadership team members on display, perched on chairs on a stage. Staff members were fed a sentence or two about a team leader, then got to guess which person it applied to. Can you imagine this happening in a real newsroom?
Here was one hint: 'His professor in college tried to dissuade him from going into news, telling him instead he should pursue a career in public relations, because he just did not have what it takes to be a newsman.'
No surprise. The mystery man with the bent to PR is Taylor. God help us that anyone in management found this amusing enough to share with reporters. But then, truth to power.
No surprise that Taylor does not expect much from anyone, including Alvie Lindsay, a leadership team dude who is responsible for investigative projects and business reporting (however, with only one biz reporter left, as noted in yesterday's blog post, there's precious little to direct).
The newsroom atmosphere is so sluggish -- and morale is so low among reporters -- that a recent news story was slugged "Another lame weather story."
Meanwhile, the numbers continue to slide for Gannett, both in print/paper readers and digital hints. More on that in an upcoming post, thanks to emails from publisher Karen Crotchfelt Ferguson Fuson. At least, someone at IndyStar got what she wanted (a new husband, again).
Two Indianapolis Star staff members are moving on.
Award-winning investigative reporter and business writer John Russell is taking a job with the Chicago Tribune. His departure from the biz desk leaves longtime reporter Jeff Swiatek as the only Star journalist covering the city's business community.
Jeff Herman, formerly copy desk chief (until the Indy desk was dissolved a year ago), and now an IndyStar digital-print producer, will move to Austin, Texas, as web editor for a dot.com. His downsizing a year ago cooincided with the elimination of the watchdog copy desk to vet reporters' work.
Smart moves on behalf of Herman and Russell; bad news for the Indianapolis Star, which continues to bleed talent, cut salaries and lay off employees.
Russell and Herman are careerists -- guys who put their jobs first, or mighty high on the hierarchy. They both have the moxie and skill to climb the ladder of success.
Gannett does not reward such people. So, they leave.
Russell distinguished himself by digging deep into stories, such as his series deconstructing the construction of Central Library and, last winter, a series how the profit motives in the pet-medicine industry produce shortcomings.
Herman is a solid and creative chief copy editor who saw the writing on the wall a year ago, with the dissolution of the desk.
More in an upcoming post on what is wrong with Gannett. For starters, consider this: Publisher Karen Ferguson, nee Crotchfelt, is now overseeing operations of the Gannett papers in all of Indiana, as well as Louisville, Cincinnati and most recently Phoenix. It's all about the digital, digital, digital -- and that is not going well.
Congratulations to Russell and Herman.
Time for some good news.
The alleged perps who assaulted Butler-Tarkington resident Skip in the parking lot of CVS at 56th and Illinois have been caught in Virginia.
Here is what Skip's son Brett posted on Facebook: The names of the two suspects are "Amanda Marie Wallace,...(and) Bobby Ray Darnell, Jr of Gate City, VA. Bobby is currently in the hospital attempting to take his life when cornered by the cops. Amanda is in the Scott Co, VA jail with $5,000 bond... "
I spoke with Skip this morning and he provided more details:
Wallace and Darnell are allegedly meth dealers and meth makers who traveled back and forth between Indianapolis (where her family lives in Mars Hill) and Virginia, Darnell's home.
According to what Amanda Marie Wallace told the sheriffs in Gate City, Va., their vehicle broke down in Indianapolis. So they went to CVS to prey on an innocent person and get a new car. That's where they found Skip, a senior citizen who was driving his 2001 Toyota Avalon and picking up boxes outside of CVS to help a friend move.
While the man asked Skip (no last name, please), if he wanted help, which he declined, the woman came up behind him and hit him hard in the back of the head with a hammer. This was daylight, people....around 5 p.m. or so. Skip had to have 15 staples to close the wound.
"They still had the hammer with blood on it," Skip says.
This case was broken by excellent police and good neighbor work -- Detective Marshall Hoskins of IMPD and sheriff's deputies in Virginia.
Wallace and Darnell were living in a trailer park in or near Gate City, Va. A neighbor noticed that the Toyota Avalon they drove had out-of-state license plates (from Indiana) and notified police.
Deputies came to the home and knocked on the door for 15-20 minutes. Finally Darnell opened up and allegedly said "You're not taking me alive." He brandished a knife. Sheriff's deputies tasered him, There was a scuffle, and Darnell stabbed the knife into his chest. He was taken into custody and hospitalized.
Skip was a bit worried that the $5,000 bond was too low --- "if they are meth dealers they can easily raise that money," he said -- but warrants have been issued today for the pair to be extradited to Indiana. Skip says Amanda Wallace confessed her role in the crime.
Skip is happy to get his vehicle back at some point; he did not settle with insurance with the hope of recovering it. "It was bequeated me by my mom, so it has sentimental value," he said. Deputies in Virginia told him the car was in good shape.
As for CVS, still no sign of "no loitering" signs outside that bench. This company is not a very good neighbor. Don't blame the employees at the store; blame corporate.
But for now, I'm pleased with how this is unfolding. Best to Skip and his family. Thanks to the police for good work and the alert neighbor who blew the whistle. More like this.
Skip, a resident of Butler-Tarkington, was carjacked at CVS at 56th and Illinois around 5 p.m. Saturday May 16. The perps, who had been sitting on the bench outside the store that day, attacked him as he was getting boxes for a friend who is moving. Skip was hit, savagely in my opinion, on the back of the head. He was struck so severely that he lost consciousness. The injury required 15 staples. He says he still suffers headaches.
The suspects drove away with his 2001 gold Toyota Avalon with tinted windows and a handicapped license plate. The creeps also took his wallet. Please be on the lookout for this car. Call 911 if you see it.
That's the story. Now it's time to have a conversation, not only about this crime, but about CVS being a better corporate citizen.
I'm on a high horse on this one because it's personal; I trade at that CVS, and I was there that Saturday and saw those suspects sitting outside the store, on the bench where employees go to smoke or catch a breath of fresh air. I know we live in a first-class world of gentle tolerance, but I was too tolerant.
The couple lounging on the bench -- a skinny white man in black pants and a black jacket with lots of logos, and a heavy white woman in a red shirt and black pants, both smoking -- looked suspicious. Frankly, they looked like dirtbags. As I left in my vehicle, I slowed down to give them a hard look, and they responded by smiling and waving. So I drove off, rather than go into the store and ask hard questions or call 911 to report my concerns.
I put the onus on myself, but I put it more on CVS.
As my friend Richard Sutton pointed out on Facebook, this is the same CVS where state legislator Sue Errington of Muncie was assaulted a few years ago as she was leaving the store. That was an after-dark crime. This was was in daylight. (The suspects who beat up Errington were eventually caught).
Here is my beef. CVS does indeed have security cameras outside the store, and at the end of this post, I'll give you the link to show CVS surveillance video in a report by WTHR's David MacAnally, who also lives in Midtown. And yes, CVS has video cameras inside the store.
So far, CVS is refusing to release video of the suspects who were inside the store, going inside to use the bathroom.
Here are some possible fixes CVS could make:
*Post a NO LOITERING sign above that bench. Make it clear that it is property of CVS and for use only by employees and patrons of the store.
*Patrol the parking lot. Yes, hire security. In the wake of this crime, a guard needs to be outside the store, sending the message to creeps that crime will not be tolerated.
*CVS headquarters must release the surveillance video of what took place inside the store. The more people (customers and employees) who can ID this pair, the better. I am told that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has to get a subpoena to satisfy corporate CVS. That's bullshit.
*It's imperative that CVS acts the role of a good neighbor. One objection to the chain I've heard -- from a pharmacist -- is that CVS overall is understaffed in contrast to Kroger pharmacy/stores. That makes CVS a more likely target for robberies. So CVS needs to beef up its presence not only outside but inside the store.
*Employees -- who are overworked, I know -- need to be schooled in looking for suspicious behavior.
*The bathroom facilities should only be for customers inside the store, not walk-ins off the street. That door leading to the bathroom should be locked, so it's not easily available.
A couple years ago, when I was at the same CVS early in the morning, a man -- staggering, with alcohol on his breath -- came in to buy booze. The clerk sold it to him. I questioned her as to why she would do this. "He's just sitting outside in his car, drinking," she said. I told her I thought this was all a very bad idea, and one of us -- I can't recall who -- called the cops. This guy could have taken to the road at any time, drunk as a skunk.
We all know "stuff happens" but we also all know that vigilance pays off. Don't blame the police; they are quite busy trying to solve crimes. And sure, more officers would help. But in today's world, we all need to have cop eyes. Be tolerant, yes, but when your radar goes on, listen to that instinct.
I did not, and I regret it deeply.
Good luck to Skip (who does not want his last name used) and good look to Detective Marshall Hoskins who is working on this case. If you have info, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you Hoskins' email.
Finally, at the end of this post, is a link to David's TV report, with thanks for the exposure, and thanks to Skip for posting a sign on the telephone pole on 56th street, outside the store. Skip is a tough dude, and he is working it.
We all live together, folks and we all need to work together to make our city safe.
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