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."
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
Several media outlets have praised or uncritically reported praise of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. However, none of those outlets noted criticism of PEPFAR's requirement that starting in fiscal year 2006, 33 percent of funds set aside for prevention under the act that created PEPFAR be spent on abstinence-until-marriage education. According to many of the government officials responsible for managing PEPFAR abroad, as well as the Institute of Medicine, this requirement hindered PEPFAR's effectiveness in preventing the spread of AIDS until it was removed when Congress reauthorized PEPFAR in 2008.