The future of news reporting in Richmond

Yesterday it seems the Palladium-Item newspaper laid off four more of its news department staff, leaving only a small handful of people to report firsthand on what’s happening in the area.

At a personal level, we should send words of care and support to those who have just lost their jobs. Going through a professional transition of any kind can be hard and stressful, and doing so involuntarily with little notice can be gut-wrenching. We should appreciate the time and energy that these folks (and all of the paper’s former staff) have given to bring light, texture and understanding to the stories and news of our community, and hope that they are able to land on their feet with new opportunities ahead. We should also think of the staff who are left behind, almost certainly expected to do more with less.

Sometimes layoffs happen because an organization needs to restructure in order to grow or meet longer term goals. In this case it seems the paper’s trajectory for some time has been toward shrinking its local staff in favor of content assembled, edited and published from elsewhere. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of a rebirth or resurgence in its future, though the advertising dollars and current subscription revenue can probably sustain a meager existence for some time. But we should probably expect the staff reductions to continue until the paper is either sold, closed altogether or significantly changes in format (e.g. becoming a weekly, becoming a section of the Indianapolis Star). My understanding is that when we hear the news that the Pal-Item has been donated to the Gannett Foundation, the company’s charitable giving arm, we will know that a sale or closure is imminent.

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Valerie Shaffer on measuring success, combating negativity in economic development

Almost every conversation about the future of our community eventually circles around to issues of economic development, job creation and quality of life. At the center of many public efforts on those fronts is the Economic Development Corporation and its President, Valerie Shaffer. I think and write a lot about the EDC’s model of building up our local economy, and Shaffer graciously agreed to sit down with me for some conversation. We talked about how things are going, the challenges along the way, and what it’s personally like to be working on such high-profile efforts. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Chris Hardie: Let’s say you meet someone who knows nothing about the EDC and what it does. How would you describe it to them?

Valerie Shaffer: We are a 501(c)3 not-for-profit development corporation contracted by the Wayne County government to provide economic development services. We get our funding from the Economic Development Income Tax, which is a quarter of one percent local income tax paid by working Wayne County residents. We really have three main priorities that we’re focused on: business retention and expansion, new business attraction, and workforce development.

CH: People can understandably be pretty sensitive about how their tax dollars are used, and the concept of public/private leverage ratios does’t always hit home for folks looking at their household budgets today. What’s the best case that you can make for why the EDC is here, the value that it brings, and why it should continue to do what it’s doing?

VS: Just about every county throughout the state, throughout the nation, has an Economic Development Corporation. If we’re not at the table, we don’t have a chance to compete for new private investment. While I don’t always agree with the way we have to use incentives in order to win projects, it’s just the nature of the beast. I understand it’s hard for citizens to grasp why a corporation may not have to pay 100% of their taxes, while as an individual they do.

Being in a smaller community and a more rural part of the state, we oftentimes have to offer more incentives [to prospective employers] than a larger, urban city would have to offer to land the deal. Our labor pool is smaller, which means [employers] have to go a further distance to get the number and types of qualified people needed to support their organization.

CH: It seems like economic development efforts can devolve into a rollercoaster of hit and miss…one day you’re announcing a great win with new jobs, another day you’re seeing a business close its doors or relocate. Other cities around the country are going through the same thing. How do you know if you’re on the right track and that we’re actually making progress over time?

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We were all champions, together

I continue to be amazed at how celebrating teamwork and athletic excellence can bring a community together. This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Richmond High School boys’ basketball state championship in 1992, and I’m pleased to share this related guest column from Rob Zinkan. I hope it inspires you. -Chris

Twenty-five years later, the memories are still vivid: 33,000 fans in the Hoosier Dome, dramatic come-from-behind overtime wins in both games, and Richmond High School’s long-awaited first state championship in boys’ basketball.

But as incredible as that Saturday in 1992 was, there was much more to that season’s story.

Triumph rarely comes without setbacks along the way. Our setback was the abrupt ending of our 1990-91 season in the semi-state, where we squandered a late seven-point lead to Mount Vernon. Instead of advancing to play Brebeuf Jesuit and harass Alan Henderson in the semi-state final with our “Runnin’ Red Devils” style of play, another promising season had ended in heartbreaking fashion. That awful feeling of what-could-have-been festered, setting the stage for ’92.

We knew that our 1991-92 squad had the potential to be special. Within the season’s first two weeks, we put up 100 points at New Castle, challenged nationally-ranked Chicago Martin Luther King (with its two seven-foot future NBAers), and knocked off top-ranked Anderson Highland at home.

Ranked number seven in the preseason, we finished the regular season 15-5 and ranked 12th. As was the case annually, the North Central Conference was a beast. (I remember a late-night visit to Reid Hospital for stitches after taking an elbow to the face during a road win at third-ranked Lafayette Jeff.)

I loved playing in Hinkle Fieldhouse; it was the quintessential atmosphere for Hoosier Hysteria and the one-class tradition. To reach the semi-state final, we won our first six tourney games by an average of 30 points. We benefited from a favorable tournament draw and avoided conference foe and number-one-ranked Anderson, an upset victim to Ben Davis earlier in the day.

Even though we were down at the half to Ben Davis that night, the collective feeling in the halftime locker room of confidence, excitement, and belief in one another is a lasting memory.

The euphoria of Billy Wright’s game-winning three from the top of the key was unreal. We had won the semi-state, our season was continuing, and we were going to the Dome!

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Against the wind

Update on November 11: Since my original post below, I’ve gotten some feedback and clarifications from a few folks involved in these conversations, and want to update my own thoughts accordingly.

Apparently the main proposal on the table has been from a non-local entity that wants to build a large-scale industrial wind turbine farm in a location that may not be well-suited to the overall needs of the area, mostly with a focus on using the energy generated elsewhere and creating profit for that entity. So this would shift the question from “how can Wayne County benefit from wind energy?” to “should Wayne County rent out some land for the commercial benefit of an energy company?”

It’s a very different question and these details matter. Before publishing my comments I had requested some of the details of what’s being proposed from the County and City officials involved, but hadn’t received anything back yet. If those details aren’t publicly available, it’s harder to understand how the specific placement/location, scale, management, finances and energy generation/usage would work, or where the opposition is coming from.

I also don’t want people living here to conflate “poorly located industrial wind farm” with “wind energy” in general. Richmond needs to be considering alternative energy sources in the long term, and I think it’s dangerous to have these signs be the first thing residents see in a public conversation about wind energy as an option for our community. I wish they’d had a website address on them where people who wanted to learn more could go to continue the conversation.

At the very least the documents and research being circulated among elected officials and local leaders in this conversation should be made readily available on the City and/or County websites.

Original Post: There’s a conversation happening here about using the power of the wind to provide electricity to the community. It’s an important conversation, not just because it affects anyone using electricity, but because how we approach it also speaks to what kind of place we want to be.

First of all, let’s just take a minute to acknowledge how amazing it is that we’re living in a time when the technology exists to generate power from the energy of the wind, the sun, water and various other sources. Although we’re a ways away from being able to have all of our energy needs met by a single one of these sources, we no longer have to think solely in terms of “coal versus nuclear.” Wow.

That’s why you might be a bit surprised to see signs like the ones in the photo above popping up around town, opposing the use of wind turbines to generate energy.

The signs and the over-simplified thinking of the wind energy opponents behind them are misleading and harmful for a few reasons:

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WalletHub ranking Richmond

Some folks seem a little preoccupied with a recent article on the financial product & services website WalletHub that gives Richmond a poor showing in a list of “Best Small Cities in America.” You can read the article here.

First, there are some things about reporting on this that are a little misleading. Kicks96 typically used the sensational headline “Only Gary is Worse Than Richmond” and incorrectly stated that “the only Indiana city worse than Richmond is Gary.” (According to the study, both Muncie and Gary rank lower than Richmond.) Also, Richmond’s “Safety Rank” category, which is responsible for 1/5th of the total score in this methodology, is missing data. It’s not clear if that means Richmond just lost those 20 points because the report’s author couldn’t find the information they wanted, or if the score was somehow weighted to account for that. I’ve contacted the author for clarification but have not yet received a reply.

Second, the ranking system used is a pretty over-simplified way of presenting what’s “best” and there are plenty of other ways to read the data. For example, Richmond comes out as 7th in the cities they profiled for Quality of Life. But no one seems to want to write a “Richmond Among Top 10 Indiana Small Cities for Quality of Life” headline. Some of the stats are questionable in their utility; “Number of Bars per Capita” isn’t necessarily something people would want a high number for when thinking about where to live. “If we can just get to one bar per person our town will be so AWESOME!” No.

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A familiar byline returns

You may know that veteran Palladium-Item reporter Bill Engle retired from his position at the newspaper near the end of 2015. If you followed and appreciated his journalistic endeavors as much as I did over the years, you’ll agree that this was a real loss for local media coverage.

Happily, Bill has started his own site where he’s once again writing about news, events and issues in the Richmond community. You can check it out at, leave a comment, share a post, and subscribe for email updates.

Thanks, Bill, for sharing your perspective with us in this new way.

Hate crime

This week, a family in the Richmond community was the target of what appears to be a racially motivated hate crime. Coverage here and here.

It’s a horrible thing on so many levels.

The psychological assault and intimidation directed at the family.

The endangering of lives and the violent destruction of personal property at someone’s home.

The use of language so unambiguously intended to demean and dehumanize.

The echoes of our country’s not-so-distant past when anonymously burning things in someone’s front yard was a regular practice for racists wanting to instill fear.

The further danger is that we treat this as an isolated incident, a single crime to be solved so that we can go back to hoping and pretending that there isn’t discrimination in our community. We’re at risk of only looking for the reasons that this hate crime happened, instead of trying to understand why the hate exists and why all hate crimes happen.

So, what can we do to make sure some good comes from such a contemptible act?

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