Commentary and conversations about life in Richmond, Indiana

In The News

Bill Engle on the state of journalism in Richmond

My friend Bill Engle and I have been having some great conversations lately about the state of news, journalism and media in Richmond and beyond.

We sat down to record some of those thoughts in case they are interesting to others, and you can listen to the result.

You can also read some more of my own thoughts on the future of news and reporting in our community.


The below transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors or omissions.

Chris Hardie: Bill, thanks for sitting down with me! How’s it been going?

Bill Engle: It’s been going great. Been busy and trying to stay involved in the community that’s important to me at this point.

Chris: Seems like I see your name. Lots of places on boards and commissions and conversations about the future of the community

Bill: So that’s really that’s been good and I managed to stay involved with the park board. Certainly the shows are broadcast on WCTV. So that’s always kind of a nice thing. Keep my name and face out there.

Chris: Now how long were you at the Palladium item before your current phase as an active retired person?

Bill: I was there for just short of 27 years. I started as a sports editor and eventually moved over to feature writer and then head of the features department for a short time and then became a news reporter. General assignment and then eventually city and county government and went on to do special investigative pieces at the end.

Chris: I take it that for most of the time the Palladium item was a daily print newspaper for all of that and I know that over the years it changed the time of day that it came out and some things like that but it seems like it was a pretty consistent presence in Richmond for all those years. Does that sound right to you?

Bill: That sounds right. It was — I think there’s a very proud tradition. I know a lot of the retirees and they speak lovingly about the old days when they employed you know 240 people.

Chris: Wow — all in that one building on North A?

Bill: Yes. Yes. Prior to that they were on North Ninth Street, across from the First Bank building or that building down but 240 people 240 and that includes you know delivery folks and drivers. And it was always a good newspaper I always have that sense from the people that worked there. And one that they were proud to work for. And what a long history of great reporters and editors and folks that that really cared a lot about the local news. They always used to tell me you know we’re not the best but we’re always trying to be better. Always you know that never stop. Yeah. So it was it was nice to join the staff like that. By the way when I started in the end of 1987 the Sunday circulation was around 24, 25,000 and the daily circulation was 20,000 households and businesses. And now they don’t even talk about their circulation anymore.

Chris: Was there a moment or a year — I mean with the emergence of the Internet and the sort of changes in the business model and the struggles of the business models around publishing — I mean was there a time where you sort of noticed “wow things are really changing in our world” or was it more of a gradual shift over time? Like what did you notice along the way?

Bill: I think it was a gradual shift obviously nationwide. We as a country were beginning to see fewer people read the newspapers so therefore fewer advertisers in the newspaper. We started to see the headlines of papers laying off staff and downsizing, not replacing folks. And I can remember, it was 2002 or 2005, maybe shortly after that we had a couple of people leave. And the word was that “no we’re not going to replace them. We’re going to shuffle the staff.” And at that point you know it became clear. When I started there were 10 news side reporters. I think one or two might have been part time but they were regular employees of the Palladium. Well now there’s four people in the entire newsroom and that includes one guy in sports and three reporters basically.

Chris: Because you had I mean you had desks for education, for business, for government affairs–

Bill: And Ohio, lot of Ohio news we tried to do farm news and county news and we had someone doing cops and courts and then one person doing county and another person doing news. Now there’s three people doing basically all those things.

Chris: And there were lots of — I assume sort of behind the scenes folks who did — I mean the thing about copy editing and layout and the things that sort of brought a touch to the local paper and made it what it was. Now that falls to such a smaller number of people and in some ways it’s not even local anymore right? The paper has said that for jobs that are not done locally where those positions haven’t been replaced those are done in Muncie or Indianapolis or in other places. And the paper isn’t printed here anymore.

Bill: No, it’s printed in Indianapolis. And I’m when I left all the copy editing — not all the copy editing — stories were still read here — but the copy editing the final copy editing the layout the headlines and the cut lines for photos were all done in Louisville. So yeah that makes sense.

Chris: I mean what do you think is the biggest impact of — you know we’re not we’re not here to just say bad things about the Pal-Item, I mean obviously they can structure things however they want to. But what do you think is the biggest impact of those changes of having so such a reduction in the local team, the local staff that puts together the paper like what does that mean for the paper that we consume?

Bill: I do want to make the point that I’m not here to bash the Palladium-Item. I worked there are a long time, I enjoyed much of it if not most of it but I think what we’ve lost is we’re losing the news. I remember the time in I don’t know 2012, 2013 when we had three full time people doing church news, obituaries, serviceman’s news, scout news, just a ton of that stuff. And the head of that department left and a friend of mine was in that department and was called into the managing editor’s office and said “What did you do?” She explained to him what she did and he said “you don’t do that anymore, we’re not going to do that.” And I know it’s a little thing that — you know — some of the news the Garden Club and some of these other things that may not be important to the entire community reading community but they’re important to segments of it.

I think what we’ve lost is is a lot of the segments that make the newspaper vital in the community we’ve lost. There is not much County News. We’re going with the big stories now. The newspaper is — I shouldn’t say “we”. As you pick — as the staff goes down you pick and choose what you’re going to cover, so there’s not people you know always sitting at the sanitation board meetings or the park board meeting — they do cover and I do appreciate that — but I think it’s important to have that representative there to tell the community. You know the big things and the medium sized things and the little things that are happening in their community with their tax dollars. I always think that as a newspaper shrunk that they stepped back from the community, they had fewer people there that were connected to the community. And I think that’s important. I just think you you are pulling away from your community and the newspapers is less representative. It’s less of a leader in the community. It’s not the go to source.

Chris: You and I have talked some about — I mean there’s one it’s one thing to show up at a meeting or an event and write a story about it. It’s another thing to place that in the context of the sort of larger story of the community and if you know if you’re following a discussion in city council or county council or that a given community member is having, if you only sort of take a snapshot of that that doesn’t necessarily bring the full texture of what that means for the community. And you know you as someone who attended city council meetings all those years and wrote those stories you could you could report on the events of the night but you could also say you know here’s, this is a follow up to a conversation that was happening in so many years ago, here’s how this person has voted on this issue in the past and sort of bring that context. So it it seems like that’s something that the people may not know they’re missing but it but it can be a big part of local reporting.

Bill: Absolutely. I’ve listened to the discussion about for instance the former railroad depot north of the street and there was a time when council members were ready to tear it down. In fact one of the council members told me he would jump in the truck and swing the ball. He was happy to do that. And I know Sally Hutton fought for that for years — but again to your point, that’s context and that’s that’s the interesting thing. When when the Sanitation Department is talking about raising our rates 35 percent. Well we knew this was coming and then in the context of what has to be done. That’s an important thing. You can’t you can’t tell people, ‘Well we’re raising rates just to raise rates.” No we we have to fix our sewer system we can’t be looking leaking sewage into the stream. So those things are lost if you don’t have people sitting at those meetings.

There’s also you know opportunities to find other stories to mine other stories when you’re sitting there listening to a discussion that that are bigger stories and may represent you know the future of the community what’s going to happen in the future. So it’s I just think it’s so important. I know and I don’t again I don’t mean to bash the staff there I think they’re doing a terrific job at the newspaper with what they have. And I think the newspaper is the source. You know I appreciate radio what they do. I think they’d basically do headlines. The TV here, WCTV has done a great job with the interview shows. But again it’s different when you have a daily newspaper and a beat reporter who is there witnessing the things, translating it breaking it down for us for readers. And I don’t know how many people watch the television interview shows; some of them are long and laborious but I think you need that newspaper.

Chris: Yeah I find it exciting that the WCTV can be a place where you know if you don’t have the time in an article or a print article or in a quick radio snippet to really dive into an issue you know WCTV has brought that space for those conversations. And if someone really wants to hear elected official or a board member or talk about the big picture, and the context and the implications of that. You know that’s a great space to do that. I think that the access to that can sometimes be limited or you know just video is a format sometimes as you said isn’t conducive to following the entire half hour or hour long conversation. So right. And I know we’ve both been involved in WCTV in different forms and having that happen. But it’s one part of the broader ecosystem obviously.

The changes in newspaper subscriptions and the challenges that the Pal-Item have faced, those don’t happen in a vacuum. The decision to let people go or to not replace people or to scale things back, those happened I assume because of financial challenges and you know the general sentiment of I guess our community in many communities across the country that they’re not going to pay for you know local print journalism anymore. What do you think is happening there — I mean is that is that about a shift to social media, is that about the Internet, is that about people not valuing what they find in the paper anymore? What’s that about?

Bill: My my analysis, I think it’s — I’ve listened to discussions about this for a long time. You know people don’t read the newspaper, young people don’t read the newspaper and know by the young I’m not sure that I’m talking about the teens and 20s maybe 30 year olds and 40 year olds. But you know newspaper is a business and Gannett which owns the Palladium item runs it as a business. And when the readership has gone down significantly then advertisers will be less interested in being in the Palladium-Item and they’ll take the print outs the inserts they’ll take that avenue to if they do want to advertise in the newspaper rather than you know big full page ads. I used to look at look back on stories from the 50s and 60s and 70s and you know there’s every grocery store was in there, the car dealerships, the liquor stores, the movie theaters. And everybody was in the Palladium with ads.

Chris: It was the go to place for figuring out what was going on and what to do.

Bill: Absolutely. And it was because everybody was looking at that and they weren’t just looking at the headlines on page 1 or the obits. There was lots more in the paper but I think social media has had a dramatic effect on newspapers. Social media is now a place like radio where you can get instant news and instant headlines again. You know I fear that that’s all you’re getting is instant blips and headlines and not getting you know substantive analysis or the correct and clear presentation of the issues. And I also fear that people put their opinions into the news that that they they are rebroadcasting so to speak.

Chris: Let’s talk about that a little more because I mean one could look at Facebook or Twitter and you know you could spend several hours on there and you could you could see lots of links to what are ostensibly you know news articles and also people from the community posting about things that are happening here. You’ve done that I’ve done that. It can generate discussion and you know you could come away after that couple of hours and feel like you’ve learned a lot about what’s happening in Richmond in Wayne County. But but that’s not necessarily the same thing. I think you’re saying as a journalistic approach to news and to maybe again providing context. So what do you think are the differences between the sort of Facebook version of community news and what you know an organization like the Pal-Item and your reporting was providing historically.

Bill: I think that with the reporting that the Palladium item is offering I believe that that is a closer version of the truth backed by fact an interview and a presentation of various sides to an issue where on Facebook. Let’s take the old Reid hospital situation and project as an example. There are still people out there that blame the city for that issue and blame the Dickmans, they blame Reid Hospital. And again you know that that facility was sold I think in 2007 or 2008 with every intention, and it was a functioning hospital when they walked out when the reed folks walked out of there, and with every intention that that that was going to be redeveloped. I mean and again to blame Reid for it or to blame the Dickmans or to blame the city as being some kind of fool in this whole this whole story. It’s just not true. It’s not fair. But there are people on Facebook that will not give that up. And so I think it’s up to the newspaper to make sure that it is reported correctly and fairly and the issues are presented. And and again it goes back to context: reminding people here here’s how we got where we are now and here are the players and here’s where we’re moving forward.

Chris: Yeah. And so I mean I think essentially what you’re saying is if if we were to leave the community conversations to rumor to gossip to speculation alone we would be a largely misinformed community. I mean it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there even on Facebook with good intentions about sharing community news. But it means that we we can you know best case have an incomplete picture and worst case have the wrong picture of what’s happened and what is happening.

Bill: I think that’s right. We’ve seen people that will come in and remind people who are posting that this is not necessarily true. Here are the issues. And then what I’ve seen as it devolves into this argument back and forth and accusation and things and it doesn’t really move the story ahead it doesn’t serve the community in presenting the news you know the newspaper and media in radio and TV they’re there not only to they’re there to inform to entertain to enlighten and to bring the issues to the surface and have legitimate discussions about them have sides presented to look to the future. You know and the opportunities and the challenges. So social media does that to some point but there is a lot of squabbling and a lot of wasting of time before that actually happens.

Chris: Can you tell me just to put an even finer point on that when you were a reporter and someone came to you with what was supposedly a tip or an idea for a story. How did you make sure that before that made its way to the pages of the paper, how did you make sure that it was real that the information was correct and that you know there wasn’t just one one agenda being pushed in getting that information to your or incorrect information being pushed.

Bill: That’s a terrific question because we did get a lot of tips. It’s great to think that I sat in meetings and then knew everything. I didn’t I often didn’t at all. So I had to follow up on things I had to make the calls and my form of reporting was always call everybody you know keep calling and call this person and then if they didn’t know ask them if they could tell you who else I might call and ask those questions. A good example was we had a publisher that used to have lunch with community leaders and one of the community leaders didn’t like RP&L very much. So he would he would tell the publisher over lunch that RP&L was being sold to Dayton Power and Light at one point. That was the the the story that was it was just about a done deal. So the publisher would come charging back into the paper and tell the managing editor who would yell at me and say “Didn’t you know this?” and so I’d have to make all the calls again. And no that’s not no. There was no discussion. No we’re not selling it to DP&L. Yeah but again I think that’s still a good thing. You know I’m not going to shirk that responsibility. And I had another person that told me about an AIDS epidemic that was happening in Richmond and there was one gentleman, I’ll use that term, that supposedly had started it, and was was going to be the instigator of this and that. And so I went to her apartment and talked to her and her friends and found out that that just wasn’t the case at all. But I had to get out of the building and go do that and and try to understand that. So you have to follow.

Chris: Well you think about in that example. I mean the damage that you could do to someone’s life, to the life of their family their community their neighborhood their employment by spreading false information about you know their their health or anything. I mean the false information about anyone is damaging. And you know the the culture on Facebook of you know posting something and saying “is this true?” or “has anyone else heard this?,” even if the answer then is no this is definitely not true. The you know the issue the spectre of that that health issue or whatever it is has been raised and you can’t put that back in the bottle. And people. It just doesn’t leave people’s consciousness. So it’s just it’s a good example of why it’s so important to verify until you have multiple sources on something before it makes its way out into the world. And that’s just such a different practice than what we see in more casual conversations on social media.

Bill: Absolutely. You know if you’re you cannot base a story on an accuser as you have to do the follow up see if there are there is information or records that you can look at and pursue that. Another good example was when a gentleman was on a city council that had was supposedly you have to live in Richmond in order to serve on council and he supposedly was living in Union County and he had he had a house there that he was getting the tax break for a homeowner there and someone came actually someone came to us and said he has nine properties that he is getting this exemption on his being his residence. And I had looked at the tax card already and I didn’t see that. So I went back to the county treasurer and asked her and she said no you’re reading the card wrong. He’s only got this one property in Richmond and one in Union County. And when I when I told this gentleman who is accusing the councilman of that he he argued with me. He didn’t think that was right. So I said “Would you please call the county treasurer and ask her?” Because that’s been all again you have to be correct.

Chris: I mean having having experience with reading a property record card might seem like a small thing. But if if it’s the difference between an accusation that’s totally unfounded and something else. I also think about Freedom of Information Act requests as something that you know I knew you employed in the newspapers across the country employ on a regular basis to get access to information that public officials or government entities might not be readily sharing. And you know in theory any of us can walk down to whatever office and file a Freedom of Information requests. But my understanding is there’s an art to it because you have. You have to know how to file it in the right way. And then there’s the backing of let’s say Gannett or the Pal-Item’s legal team just to say well if this is rejected you know here’s what we can do next as opposed to an individual who’s kind of you know might throw up their hands and say I don’t I don’t know what to do so. Is that is that something that you think is missing from what we do now or how much of a role did something like that play in the reporting that you did?

Bill: I had an editor named Rich Jackson that wanted me to file a Freedom of Information request at least once a week. Well that was difficult for me. It was really hard to do. But I tried to do it at least once a month. He was a big one on fishing expeditions. And they said even if you don’t find something that’s a major story you at least are looking at records and some of it’s very voluminous as you might guess. There was a time when, real briefly. There were a lot of people of Mexican heritage were being arrested on the interstate for drugs and for various things so I sent Freedom of Information request to the state police and the county sheriff’s department for a couple of counties along I-70. And it just to look at all that stuff which I thought was very legitimate and some of the police officials were very difficult about it. They did not want that. They assumed that I was just damning them and it never resulted in a story. But I think it was very legitimate to do. I just couldn’t identify how many people were stopped and not and released without ever being arrested. I was seeing people that were from Arizona or New Mexico or California and were being arrested who were transporting drugs. But I could never identify if the police were just waiting for Hispanics to come along and then stopping them.

Chris: That’s an interesting point to mention, the dynamic between a reporter and the people they’re covering. I mean you have you know government entities you have community members you have law enforcement officials and you know you and I have talked about this that you know it is not the role of a reporter to be the friend of those people. You can have a friendly and professional relationship with them. And I think you know you’ve you’ve talked about the experience of discussing or debriefing an article with someone in the community and having them expressed disappointment or shock or sort of frustration with you that you didn’t put a nicer spin on it. And I worry sometimes that you know people are forgetting about that when they think about local news and you know you think about a radio interview or even some of the TV shows you know again very well intentioned but not necessarily hard hitting more or adversarial. And I mean adversarial in a positive way, like in a way that brings new information to light or elucidates enlightens the audience so you know what is the relationship of a reporter to their community what should it be and how is that different from sort of community community news and events that’s more about promotion and sort of a positive spin on things.

Bill: And I think the community events and the positive news has its place. But I think the press’s responsibility is to be in and of a respectful adversary. And that’s that’s a very good term for it. We have to hold our elected officials and the people that they hire. We have to hold them to a certain standard and that’s that we have to ask those tough questions. We’ve had people be very angry with me for asking the questions I’ve asked I’ve have people slammed down the phone and now chastised me from at board meetings and things. But I think most of the elected officials and those they they hire and again I think it was most understood that I was doing my job and that you know I always told them that if if if it wasn’t me they’re asking the question there’d be a bigger jerk than me that would be at their door.

So and I think people understood that. But you have that responsibility and you have the responsibility to understand stories and understand decisions made and if you don’t understand them you have to ask those difficult questions which might include why would you ever do something like that. Why did you miss this. Or you know if you remember I did a story about the police and fire overtime several years ago. And for the police it was almost a half million dollars just in overtime in a year. And I had major arguments particularly with the police chief about that and he would ask me “why are you asking these questions?” Well it’s taxpayer money. These are important things. You can’t ignore this you know. No matter what the contract says. But you can’t report those stories without completely understanding and that includes delving into these things.

Chris: Boring into it to make sure that you understand why this happened and even the notion of a fishing expedition with the FOI requests we talked about that that might seem like something that is you know the the papers just looking for a splashy headlines so it can sell papers. But it sounds like that that was an important reporting technique I mean different people go about different ways but to to probe into things that you know there’s no there’s no presumption of wrongdoing but you’re looking into it to get information and to understand what’s happening again to build that larger narrative about what’s happening in the community.

Bill: And I think that’s the I think that’s the important point. It’s not accusatory. It is a responsible journalism. It is asking those questions making sure that you understand and you can present to the community what is the reality rather than what officials are saying. If you remember the Pentagon papers when they were released by Daniel Ellsberg. You know the Nixon administration had had threatened to sue the New York Times for publishing them saying that it was a matter of national security as well as it turned out when they were published. It wasn’t. It was a matter of of a narrative that included some lies and misrepresentations of reality. But the it was never meant for public view so that it needs to be reviewed it needs to be presented and there are other issues like that you know other issues that affect the community affect taxpayers.

I have to say you know nowadays of the newspaper getting back to the newspapers is I think the news is directed by clicks and hits on the web site of stories that are read. And also obviously by the staff. But so if you write a story like about taxes is about budgets maybe even elections and no one’s reading it. The emphasis is not going to be to do those stories. Yeah. So you’re going to be pulling away from that your coverage will be in a new direction. Bigger stories some business stories and occasional feature story you will you will see less about how money is spent how taxes are established and who’s paying taxes and who’s not.

Chris: And so is it the job of the newspaper reader the community member to fix that by saying by calling up the item and saying you know, “where’s your coverage of this relatively boring relatively arcane thing?” Is it the responsibility of the newspaper to cover it anyway even if no one’s reading it? Where’s the balance there. Because I know if I’m sitting in the budgeting seat of a newspaper and looking at what stories are going to cover and I know that this one is not going to generate any clicks which you know as you said is pretty primary and that in turn generates advertising revenue. It’s going to be pretty hard to justify. So how do we get back to a point where that’s where that’s a thing again? Can we solve that problem right now?

Bill: I think we can. I think we’ve got a couple of minutes. I’m not sure because I know just in talking to some of the folks that still work at the Palladium they have those conversations every day where a caller will say “How could you not cover this or how could you not preview this?” And again the response is, nobody reads it. You know if if if we don’t get the clicks on that story we’re not going to do that story the next time if if a story like the western Wayne sewer management district and their problems with the corporation out at 1 and 70 if if people don’t read that story it’s not going to get covered.

I think it’s always a good thing to call the newspaper or to go on their Web site and say Where’s our coverage of this. Where is our coverage of that. I mean sports is a great example where we’ve really seen a lot less coverage of sports. And so it’s not a value to the reader as much anymore. I think it always is a good thing to call the newspaper or to let them know what you think. Know I don’t know that it’s going to help. You know we used to do these surveys of what readers want. They wanted people stories feature stories history. But if there was a big drug bust or a big fire or a rock on I-70 or somebody got arrested for something. Those stories got you know five six seven times the hit so yeah those are the stories that newspapers are going to do today.

Chris: If it’s helpful I was involved in organizing a conference this summer in Denver for people who do publishing online. And you know it was a lot of big publishing companies there got to talk to those folks and some of them made presentations about their struggles with a business model that works for them and balancing quality journalism with advertising revenue with subscription rates. And I guess the thing that was slightly reassuring to me is that no one seems to have figured it out completely. I mean there are some organizations that are a little farther along in there you know tweaking their formula in a way that works but you know everyone is struggling with that. And so you know I guess I hope that people who you know lob insults or accusations at media organizations like the Pal-Item or anyone else realize that you know this is this is a problem that communities across the country are facing and you know in some of our discussion today you know you can’t help but think about what’s happening at the national level.

When we talk about a respectfully adversarial relationship between reporters and the people that are covering and then you think about what you know people in the White House and in the national government are saying about the press is. You know the press isn’t being friendly enough the press isn’t being polite enough the press is writing you know critical stories well that’s in part that’s their their job and right. And then immediately translate that into well if it’s not positive complimentary coverage then it must be fake. I mean how do you feel watching that dynamic unfold and what I mean what have you noticed at the state and the national level about the role of the press and way things are going right now?

Bill: Do I have to answer all the question? I think it’s shocking. You know the truth is the truth. And there’s not two different truths for two different sides. And that has been the saddening and shocking thing to me is that the media has now been if they publish something that is not flattering to the candidate or an officeholder whether he’s the president or someone else that they are some how out to get him or it’s fake news.

I don’t know. I don’t know how I would handle that as a reporter and you know what I would do is go about my job. And I would you know I would just try to to soldier on. But I’m just amazed in watching the news.

I still watch the news on television. I try to read the newspaper. I do read much more of the news online and the analysis of what I see online. But it’s very sad. I think we’re in a kind of a strange new world where you know the truth is not the truth. You know whether it’s global warming or you know the president’s ties to Russia or anything it’s that there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t believe it’s true and therefore it’s not true. And I I just don’t know that were informed. I really question how informed we are or if we were just divided. And that’s sad to see.

Chris: It is sad and it seems like there’s some role that local journalism plays in that that you know people their relationship with local news media there their support of it their understanding of it. They’re willing to invest time and money into it. It is a part of that at the larger scale. And I don’t know I don’t know if it’s what happens at a national level filters down to the local or vice versa but it seems like you know the kind of reporting we have access to and what we appreciate and investing locally informed somewhat we what we see and what we’re willing to value happening on a on a national scale. Then you also have people showing that you know there’s the whole confirmation bias where you know the likelihood that I’m going to read a story that challenges my worldview is lower than the likelihood that I’m going to just read something that kind of agrees with what I exact already know or think. And so finding ways to push ourselves or to push each other to step outside of that seems more important than ever. But I don’t I don’t know that we are very good at that.

Bill: I don’t know either. That’s a wonderful point. You know journalists and newspapers have a responsibility to research investigate and report the news. But but readers also have a responsibility to read them and try to understand them try not to bring all their biases in and reject reporting. And I don’t know if that’s true and you know I think there’s just a portion that say you know all politicians are bad. You know everybody that works for the city’s an idiot and they’re stealing our money. I don’t understand that. I’ve covered government long enough and know that so many of the players know them very very well and have seen them in good times and bad and have seen them where they’re happy with my reporting and where they’re unhappy with my reporting. And I have to say I respect them. You know I just think they’re trying to do a good job I don’t.

I have dealt with very few that I didn’t like or thought were you know not truthful or not honest. But again you know I was I was looking over their shoulder a lot of the times you know you know when when Sally Hutton was mayor there were people that said that I was in her pocket just because she was mayor for 12 years and I think I covered that all the time and that the same with the election of the new mayor Dave Snow. There are people that I believe are connected to the his opponent’s campaign. That said I was in his pocket. Well you know I didn’t even know the guy. You know I mean I did the same interviews with him as I did with everybody else. I guess my point is you know people still have to they have, readers have a responsibility to try to understand the issues.

Chris: Yeah you know I really do believe that and it seems like media literacy. You know given national events given local events given that we have a midterm election year coming up in some local elections to media literacy is more important than ever and you know one would hope that that’s being taught in schools. You know programs offered by community centers and that kind of thing because yeah the ability to sort through the information that comes at us 24/7 through the Internet and to decide what is based in fact what has been verified what has been researched and what is just opinion or hearsay or speculation. It seems like that’s a skill that we’ve maybe taken for granted in the past and is now more important than ever.

Bill: I agree totally. And I do think schools have a role in trying to educate young people you know to be critical thinkers and critical readers. And yet not base everything on an opinion that they have gotten developed somehow based not based on fact it’s from their parents or maybe it’s from their friends or from somewhere but gee I just I think part of the responsibility is to try to understand issues and not to think. You said before it’s so easy to read things that you agree with. Yeah and it’s like listening to NPR or watching Fox News that’s safe. You can’t be safe all the time. Sure there are too many issues that are too complex and they have to be studied in some depth and that’s what the news the responsibility of the news is.

Chris: And I think that journalists and publishers can make that palatable and you know coat coat those stories with sugar to some degree. But we as readers and consumers of news cannot expect every news story to be a delightful buffet of sweet desserts — sometimes we have to eat our spinach. And that’s a part of our role too.

As we wrap up here I wonder just looking ahead a bit you know seeing futures is hard but what I mean what do you think the future is of of news and journalism in cities like Richmond Indiana. Do you think there’s a renaissance ahead? Do you think it gets darker before it gets better? What’s in the future.

Bill: Yeah yeah I’m a believer in newspapers obviously. I still read the the paper in the mornings when it comes and I there’s something about reading a newspaper that is important to me. I feel more connected to my community.

The future. I would I would hope that there is always a need and a desire for a local newspaper. I really don’t see it going away. If for no other reason it’s harder to find the obits and the crossword puzzle but obviously it’s gone through a dramatic change. It’s a very dramatic change at this point. I think the Palladium does a good job of now posting instant news. And I think that’s going to be important to people.

Still I know I didn’t answer your question. Well I think that there’s you know just as there are small weeklies that you know show they have pictures of the you know the eighth grade graduation and you know the scout news and I think people still want it but it has to be changed. I mean it has to be in any news whether it’s a feature on somebody in the arts or or you know previews of events. I missed that in the Palladium. You know I really do I really. There are things that I see maybe coverage of or talk to somebody. And there was an event. I wish I had been added. And I actually had heard about it. I didn’t get it on my scheduled to go. So I think there I think there is going to be still be a need for for news but it’s ever changing and I’m not sure I would love to see an online news product.

I know there are some floating around and see how those work out. You know I know there’s one that’s in the Whitewater valley. A gentleman has one and then I think down in Franklin County there’s there’s another one yeah. And it’s the one I saw on Franklin County he was packed with news.

Chris: So know the news is still out there. The events are still happening not going away. What would you say to someone now who is thinking about a career in journalism or studying journalism?

Bill: What’s wrong with real estate or advertising? You know I taught journalism and mass communications at IU East here, for nine or 10 years until people stopped taking the class. I always tell them they always think there’s going to be work and there’s going to be work for people that can write coherently and can take information and boil it down and present it so that people can understand it it doesn’t. I’m hoping that that’s going to still be a job in journalism. But I think there will be jobs and I do talk to people every once in awhile that are interested in writing and in journalism. I think there’s going to be jobs out there. You need to be computer literate obviously and be involved in that whole movement. And I assume that’s going to be the future is it going to be writing for online writing. You know instant news as well as can be accumulated and rewritten and transcribed. But I do think there will be jobs for journalists in the future.

Chris: Great. It sounds like it’s just more important than ever it’s a need need in the world. We’re still figuring out how that need will be mixed with the interests of consumers, citizens, residents. But yeah hopefully we figure that out as a community and as a nation. And it’s fascinating to think about.

Bill: They also think that the journalism training is a very good thing for people to understand the difference between unbiased reporting and biased reporting or are just editorializing and things like that. Yeah there was a reporter that came to the Palladium that that just thought he could sit down at his computer and just write what he thought and he was pretty content with that and it didn’t take long for you know folks to straighten him out. That’s reassuring actually actually you know it was it was a little bit of a process. But there were editors there that were very good at it very good at making sure that his opinion and even the placement of the information in the story is key to a story. So there are people that and there’s wonderful teachers that will reinforce that kind of thing.

1 Comment

  1. Elaine Goodwin

    Interesting, insightful and most depressing for those of us of a certain age. Oh how I miss my local morning paper and honorable journalism…in all areas of the media. “The times, they are a’changin’. Mr. Leeds is rolling over in his grave!

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