Whitney Smith, arts reviewer for the Indianapolis Star newspaper, lost his job on Thursday. So did a lot of other Star employees, unfortunately, but Whitney is the one I knew.
Whitney is the one who, one night after a show at the Phoenix when I accosted him on the street outside the theatre, patiently answered my giddy questions about how to be a reviewer. Whitney is the one who hung out with me at the Indy Fringe Festival this past August and treated me like a friend and colleague. Whitney is the one who took the time to give advice to a producer I know about how to more effectively market his fledging theatre company.
Whitney is the one I read.
Or used to.
But it’s not just about one of my heroes losing his job. It’s about my home town newspaper being mismanaged to death by greed.
As I mourn the loss of Whitney, I’m also going to try to control my rage by doing a little fantasizing:
When I win the lottery big, I am going to use the money to start my own local, daily newspaper. I will call it the Indianapolis Observer, I think, and it will be a real local, daily newspaper with, you know, local news. And ideas and information and reporting and features and opinions and reviews and well-researched, double-confirmed, local CONTENT.
Mind you, by “local” I do not mean gimmicky crap like photos of half-naked drunks with their arms around each other showing their tattoos to the camera. I suppose this sort of thing reaches new readers – they text all their friends to “check this out! I made the paper!” – but I doubt that it keeps them reading after their moment of fame is over, especially if there is nothing in the paper worth reading. It just clutters up the paper and bores the heck out of the rest of us.
My paper will be all online, probably, because even before there were computers, I never enjoyed the inky, awkward, over-sized mess of print newspapers, but its website will load quickly and it will be well organized and easily searchable with digital archives available at no charge via an arrangement with the local public library.
My paper will have social networking components, but comments from the public will be moderated because no one likes to read a bunch of anonymous cranks sniping at each other and calling it a discussion (or I don’t, anyway, and it is my newspaper), but people do like to feel as if they are engaged in the ongoing conversations of their local community.
I will probably not make a lot of money running a local, daily newspaper, but I’m sure I will be able to break even, because I will hire journalists with training, experience, and heart – like Whitney Smith – and I will treat them well. I will expect them to work hard and ethically, and as long as they do that, I will defend them to the death as they go after their stories.
I will also nurture young journalists and help them develop into seasoned writers, because running a paper is not just about today’s edition.
I will also hire good sales and production staff. I will expect great things of them and treat them well, too.
My local, daily paper will include blogs, of course, and I will hire the best bloggers and treat them well. But I will never pretend that running a blog, or even a community of bloggers, is the same as running a newspaper. Relying on blogs for all of one’s local news is like a university relying on adjunct faculty to do all of its teaching, or like citizens relying on Google to do what a good public library does for the quality of life in their community.
My local, daily newspaper will be authoritative. My local, daily newspaper will be reliable. My local, daily newspaper will be responsive. My local, daily newspaper will have continuity of standards and vision. My local, daily newspaper will be reasonably profitable. My local, daily newspaper will be fun to read.
That’s my fantasy, anyway.
In the meantime, I give thanks for the Indianapolis Business Journal and Nuvo. They are not published daily and they do not cover all of the local news that interests me (not even all of the local arts news), but I am very glad to have them. I hereby resolve to read them more frequently and thoroughly so that their advertisers can see that they’re valuable. As Seth Godin says, “We get what we promote.” (Scroll down on his blog to the November 28, 2008 post, “Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.”)
Speaking of the IBJ, you can read Anthony Schoettle’s coverage of the Star‘s Thursday disaster here and some of the community response on the Thursday entry of Lou Harry’s IBJ A&E blog here. (Click on December 4 on the calendar.) Lou also reminded me of former Star employee Ruth Holladay’s blog. The post there by recently-fired former Star employee Christopher Lloyd on December 4 made me weep.
Someone named Brian reminded me in a comment on Lou’s blog that “the local TV stations all have better local news Web sites than the Star already.” I rarely watch TV, but I am online almost constantly. I’m going to start checking out the TV stations’ sites.
Megan McKinney, Executive Director of the Fine Arts Society, reminded me in an email that arts organizations can also send their press releases to her for promotion on her radio shows. And that reminded me that Sapphire Theatre director Bonnie Mill had mentioned in answer to a question about promotion at the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event in October that the Arts Council of Indianapolis has a searchable arts calendar on its indyarts.org website.
Calendar listings are not the same as professional theatre reviews, though. I am still disgusted with the leaders of the Indianapolis Star and its owner, Gannett.
Whitney Smith, I tried calling your number at the Star on Thursday, but the phone just rang and rang and rang. I’m not worried about you – it’s Indy’s loss that you no longer work for the Star, not yours – but if you happen to read this, please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. (amarylliswriter at gmail dot com)
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com