The Star is hiring....if you want to break down silos....

Dateline: Sun 28 Sep 2008

A reader/friend/former Gannett slave saw this ad on a week or so ago. As she notes, the job description hints at a cozier relationship between the second (newsroom) and third (ad/marketing) floors of 307 N. Penn, with the goal being to boost revenue.

Odd, she adds, to see such a job posting use words like marketing and readership. But then it's also Pure Gannett, and what strikes me as odd is that the company never learns from past mistakes. It just keeps chasing this carrot, rather than focus consistently on quality journalism.

Here's the pitch, which also is on CareerBuilder and was in today's Sunday Star:

"Executive Editor/Digital and Custom Content The Executive Editor/Digital and Custom Content will lead The Indianapolis Star's initiatives to become a next-generation leader in digital and niche print and on-line content. This individual will work with the Information Center Editor and, attuned to advertising, marketing, information technology and research and development goals and support, break down silos, develop new content and content management systems, and engage in strategic planning. This position will have a strong awareness of the audiences we serve, their lives and their roles in the geographic, cultural and economic make-up of Central Indiana.

"It will lead the Information Center's efforts to address the information needs of niche audiences and provide multi-media tools and other products to serve those audiences. Our goal is to reach more audiences with custom content delivered on more platforms, and this position will play a key role in that. This position also will be a leader within our Interstate Group of Gannett newspapers (metros Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati and smaller to medium-sized papers in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) for multi-platform custom content. The position's channels of accountability are: -- Optimal presentation across all digital platforms of news information and special projects including 1st Amendment projects, multi-media, databases, calendar information, community conversation and reader/user interaction. -- The development of new niche web sites to bring together communities of users as we build our role as metro Indianapolis'prime source of community news and information. -- The integration of advertising and marketing initiatives into our digital and print operations, including new technology systems and advertising approaches that boost revenue while ensuring the independence of the information-gathering process from conflicting advertising and marketing influence. -- Strong custom publishing print and on-line products that meet the needs of information consumers and advertisers. -- Strong, audience and niche-focused, themed products for the core newspaper. -- Attention to budget, human resources, diversity/mainstreaming, ethics and other key goals of our company. In recognizing the new realities of the digital era, this position will focus solely on the above accountabilities. While it will have necessary involvement with budget, operations, story editing and planning, and other

aspects of the information center, it will not have day-to-day accountabilities for those functions. The position reports to the Editor and Vice President.

"If interested in this position, please respond to Dennis Ryerson/Editor at 307 N. Pennsylvania, Indianapolis, IN 46206."

Reaction here? Yawn. Makes me want to take a nap. Besides which, it has nothing to do with the mission, and everything to do with pandering. Bound to fail.

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Obama: us vs. them

Dateline: Fri 26 Sep 2008

This reflection on politics arrived yesterday from a former copy editor and colleague at the Indianapolis Star who, like so many, has moved on to a bigger and better life. He asked that his name not be used (to protect him from his mother-in-law).

The essay is worth running even without an author's name attached.To me, it cuts to the heart of this election: America's standing in the world, the perception (or not) that we are racist, and the dividing line between young and old in their allegiance to Obama or McCain. I am not saying that everyone who votes for McCain is a racist, and neither is this writer. But sometimes the hesitancy/fear of Obama clearly breaks out along racial lines.

As a bonus, this writer also has some family ties with Alaska and Sarah Palin. Small world.

Anyhow, here it is, from a real wordly guy and still a Hoosier:

"As the father-in-law of a young man from India and the son-in-law of a lifelong Indiana Republican, I am hearing some

interesting-yet-frightening things about the presidential election.

"The son-in-law (who was born in Bahrain of Indian parents, was schooled in India and now lives in Norway) observes that from what he's read in the international press and heard from friends and associates, the image of the United States hinges on whether we as a nation are willing to elect a nonwhite as president. Not electing him will leave the rest of the world thinking the country is trapped in a racist heritage. This view also is reflected in some of the stories out of the BBC.

"My mother-in-law, on the other hand, said she can't vote for Obama because of his religion. When informed that the man has been a nearly lifelong Christian, she says it still bothers her. The unspoken subtext here is that she is using 'religion' as a mask for race.

"Personally, I think there are far more voters like my mother-in-law. No matter what they tell the survey takers (after all, who's going to fess up to voting for McCain because he's white?), in the end there are going to be a lot of voters who will give a variety of reasons for voting for McCain that all are masks for racial preference.

"Finally, as if my family weren't politically touched enough already, my other daughter lives in Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, that Wasilla. She'll never vote for McCain no matter the VP, but with Palin as VP she's even more vocal -- but for two almost conflicting reasons. One she clearly thinks Palin lacks the background and experience to be president and her social

positions are backward thinking. But at the same time, she voted for her as governor of Alaska and wants her to stay in Juneau because she is a counterweight to the corrupt Republicans who controlled the state for decades and would love to get the governorship back. As for social policies, Alaska has a laid back, live-and-let-live ethos that allows people to live as they want in Alaska. If you're tough enough to last five years in the state -- the period needed to be considered a 'real' Alaskan -- then they won't begrudge you the way you live."

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The nerve

Dateline: Fri 26 Sep 2008

Wachovia, where my daughter took out some student loans for law school, with me as a co-signer, had the gall to insist on payment even as she struggled to get a deferment. Obviously, the economy is not exactly cooperating with job-hunters right now, and she needed a few months' extension as she looked for work. When she applied for deferments for federal loans, they were immediately granted. Wachovia decided to go for the jugular instead. That meant almost daily insistent and sometimes threatening calls to our home ("This will ruin your credit") as well as,yes, a potentially bad credit score for me. Lovely.

I knew the student loan company was in trouble last year, but like other hard-working Americans, I am sickened to read of the giant golden parachute provided Wachovia's former director Ken Thompson in today's Star. This fat cat basically put the lending firm in the toiler with his aggressive, greedy aquisitions, then walked away from the failing firm with a $5 milliion package.

And he looks like a pauper compared to Stanley O'Neal, who left Merrill Lynch in the lurch but with his own pockets lined with $66 mil, and Charles Prince, who got $16 mil after wrecking Citigroup.

Is this France in the 1700s? Is the Revolution at hand? Americans have too much grit to put up with such absolute elitist nonsense. And "they" have the gall to call Barack Obama elitist -- a man who has worked all his life, and whose worse "sin" is that he is an intellectual capable of nuanced thinking. God forbid.

I now know that what my old copy editor/friend Larry Duhe said a hundred years ago was true: "How can any working person vote anything but Democrat?" He's right, we can't.

Wake up, America. Republicans are not our friends.

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Obama's strong press in Indiana

Dateline: Wed 24 Sep 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is taking Indiana seriously in the presidential race, and vice versa.

Tom Davis of the Associated Press has the story of the day:

"The candidate from next-door Illinois is bidding to flip the state into the Democratic column this year.

"To that end, he is doing what no presidential candidate has done in decades, spending significant amounts of money and time in the state, while Republican John McCain maintains a low profile.

"Obama narrowly lost the May primary here to Hillary Rodham Clinton. And in the process, he had 'the opportunity to at least define himself with Hoosier voters and that has lingered,' said Kip Tew, a former state Democratic chairman who is a volunteer adviser to the Obama campaign. 'They competed with a ground game that no one's ever seen in the state.'"

Perhaps the most telling part of the story is the anecdote about a woman from Granger, Jessie Bochert, 45, who voted for Bush twice, initially supported Sen. John McCain and now has flipped for Obama. Here is her quote:

"'I feel guilty for all that has happened" under Bush, she said. 'There are so many people I talk to, they can't afford their prescriptions, they don't know what to pay, they can't afford anything. It's really the economy, and that's what it's coming down to.'"

On a related note: did all of you read George Will's column this week, questioning McCain's presidential abilities because of his rash responses re: the economic crisis and his trashing of SEC chairman Chris Cox, a key Republican involved in trying to bail us out? George Will and David Brooks both have expressed doubts about McCain, and neither, I hear, like or trust Sarah Palin.

When the best minds in conservative thought are casting stones at the GOP strategy, no wonder Obama is making strides in Indiana.

Or as my faithful reader and friend Jim Burns said, after he sent the AP story my way, "GO BARACK!"

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The Jukses, the Reeses: good journalism, bad sociology?

Dateline: Tue 23 Sep 2008

Staff writer Francesca Jaroz did a sensatonal job in reporting on the troubled Reese family in Sunday's Star.

The front-page story, about the relentlessly criminal, badass lives of Paul Reese Sr., 66, his wife Barbara Reese, 66, and at least five of their six children, was compelling reading. The headline alone was a grabber: "1 family, 50 convictions." Stark cop shop mug shots of the parents and five siblings completed the package: it was somewhat shamefully fascinating to study each face, looking for physical similarities in this corrupt clan. Or perhaps that telling cranial slant of the head? Those close-set eyes?

The news hook of course was Brian Reese, 36, who is charged in the murder of an older Eastside man (as is the patriarch, Reese Sr.) and the attempted murder of Indianapolis police officer Jason Fishburn (Reese's mother faces charges for trying to whisk her bad boy to safety after he shot Fishburn in the head).

But reading the narrative was like reading the public divorce papers of Mitch and Cheri Daniels --- like peeking at someone's soiled underwear. True, it's all a matter of record, but one has to ask -- what is the point? (In fairness, the paper never wrote in detail about the Daniels' divorce. I guess the gov and his wife passed the sniff test, or something).

God knows, I am not defending the Reeses, nor do I feel as if they are victims here. Yet that's kinda/sorta how the Star tried to present the piece; there were pompous quotes from criminal justice types about the criminal subculture and familial validation for that lifestyle. There was an effort to at least flesh out the mother, who gave a porch interview to the reporter. Mother Reese was portrayed as a Catholic with saints' medals hanging from her neck who scrubbed toilets at the local church and tried hard to raise her kids right, but somehow she just failed (the punishing drugs took over).

God knows, there are glimpses of truth in all of these observations, and the Star's editorial today ("Crime's a family matter and everyone's affair") attempted to advance the age-old argument that the family perhaps could have been better-served "by the community, its laws and programs, its personal representatives." Ultimately, however, the Star concludes that society "cannot impose a solution," that the issue is finally a personal choice (I suspect Catholic Dan Carpenter penned the editorial).

OK, so here's my beef. What was advanced by running this story? Prurient interest to be sure was served, and God knows, I read and re-read every word.

But ultimately I was reminded me of the famous "sociological" studies done in the 1870s and again revived in the second decade of the 1900s about the Jukes family. The point then was to study deviant criminal behavior and trace it back to a ma and a pa; later on, the point was to use the original research to promote eugenics.

That was bad science and scary stuff -- in fact, there was no single "Jukes" family, but a compilation of 42 New York families (including one named the Bushes, ho ho). Those studies have been repudiated by contemporary social science, which still is left scratching its head to come to terms with the root causes of crime and the evils of the human heart.

The Star's story was an ambitious attempt. While it was no doubt well-read, I think it failed simply because it was not nuanced enough, as most journalism is not. Perhaps the Reese family could make an excellent documentary, with much more information and interviews with each person. (Why did loyal Catholic Barbara Reese stick with her no-count husband, even after she divorced him when she was in prison? And why did she embezzle all that money herself from a bank? And did the children indeed feel like outcasts as kids, as a fellow student recalled?)

Or maybe the real truth is more elusive. Therapist Bill Sherwood told me once that he learned nothing at all from all the sociology texts he read in graduate school for social work. 'Twas all gobbly-gook, he said (as is much social science, frankly).

But if you wanted to undrstand alcoholism, Sherwood said, and family dynamics and dysfunction, read "Look Homeward Angel" by Thomas Wolfe, a writer who himself experienced those conditions. My personal favorite is Eugene O'Neill, whose "Long Day's Journey Into Night" tells you more about addiction and family madness and cruelty than anything I've ever read or experienced. Sartre, too, got at the cancer that is the human emotional condition in his plays -- "No Exit."

My advice? Newspapers should either take the risk and go all-out with such a narrative, or they should stick with what they do best. Tell the facts.

Still, I have to admrie the effort. Francesca Jarosz no doubt did the best she could with the space/time she was allotted. But maybe there's a book in the surface she barely scratched.

Of course, there is. And today, that book should not be another failed Jukses account, but something of depth and meaning. As "bad" as the Reeses are, that's what they -- and the rest of us -- deserve.

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