State Journalists Condemn Pence Plan As Effort "To Control Breaking News"
Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's plan to launch what some are calling a "state-run news service" is drawing harsh criticism from Indiana news outlets who say the move is a blatant effort to bypass the press and spin information.
Pence, a Republican, will create Just IN, a website that will seek to break news about his administration and utilize state press secretaries headed by a former reporter to provide written stories for news outlets. The website will launch in February, according to The Indianapolis Star, which obtained documents detailing the project.
The Star added that "the endeavor will come at some taxpayer cost, but precisely how much is unclear. The news service has two dedicated employees, whose combined salary is nearly $100,000, according to a search of state employee salary data."
Local outlets across the country have been strapped for cash and cutting back on statehouse coverage, conservative outlets have attempted to fill the void by offering free access to their own slanted stories. Pence's proposal appears to be a similar effort to flood the state with free "journalism" in the hopes that desperate papers and news stations are willing to run such work.
But Indiana news outlets were quick to condemn the approach as a clear effort to bypass an independent press, with one editor declaring it "troubling," and another calling it "uncomfortable."
"I can't imagine a scenario where we would" print Just IN stories, Jeff Taylor, editor and vice president of The Star, told Media Matters. "You don't pick up news stories from government agencies and use them as news stories that have been vetted and given the kind of scrutiny that you give to the information that we report."
"There's a big difference between press releases that can lead to legitimate stories where reporters can ask questions and look into information and sift between factual information and something that might have an agency behind it," he added.
"It's not the Associated Press, it's not our coverage, we wouldn't run it verbatim anywhere because it's not independent news," said Bob Heisse, editor of The Times of Munster. "No, we certainly wouldn't use any of that."
Bob Zaltsberg, editor of The Herald Times of Bloomington, said anything from the governor's office would be treated as a news release, not a publishable story.
"We wouldn't take anything from a state-run news agency and just publish it as news, we would do our independent reporting," he said, adding that it appears the governor's office is trying to control the message.
"It seems like they want to go into competition with the mainstream news media that's trying to watch out for what government does," he added. "It's trying to control the message in a way that's not healthy for democracy."
He and other editors said the move comes as many publications have been cutting back on Indiana statehouse coverage in response to budget cuts.
"There has been a tremendous cutback in statehouse reporters there, we haven't had a statehouse reporter in decades," Zaltsberg said. "What's really telling is they are organizing this and they are going to have reporters and break news and that makes everyone in the media nervous and apprehensive and very uncomfortable. It makes me very, very nervous."