This Just IN: Pravda on the Wabash
From the Not An Onion Article files:
The GOP-led State of Indiana is is launching a state-run news service that will compete against lamestream news sources like the Associated Press. No, really:
Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
Pence is planning in late February to launch “Just IN,” a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.
“At times, Just IN will break news — publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such ‘exclusive’ coverage remain under discussion,” according to a question-and-answer sheet distributed last week to communications directors for state agencies. [emphasis added]
(And lest we write all of this off as fringe movement, keep in mind: Mike Pence, the Tea Party/Establishment-straddling Hoosier guv is currently being wooed by the GOP to make a run for the White House.)
On the one hand, all of this is somewhat predictable in retrospect: Conservatives that believed they saw a liberal bias in the news media felt justified in creating and rallying behind an openly partisan news source. So perhaps it’s not such a big leap to go from that raison d’être to telling yourself that since you believe the media is secretly controlled by Obama there’s nothing wrong with creating your own Party-driven fourth estate.
On the other hand, there’s something terrifyingly Bob Roberts about a controlling political party using that banner of anti-lamestream populism to so blatantly circumvent the press and control public information. Worse, the idea could be a pretty damn good one — assuming of course that you’re using a fairly Machiavellian definition of the word “good.”
Over the past twenty years as news agencies have looked to remain profitable to their shareholders, they’ve largely stopped doing investigative reporting in the business arena. Corporations are perfectly willing to write their own press releases, after all; why pay a small staff several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salary and benefits when content arrives every day in your email Inbox for free? All around the country, paper and electronic news agencies are already downsizing or eliminating their political and government investigative teams in an attempt to remain solvent (paper) or push those stock prices up (electronic). The notion that news agencies that cover the Hoosier state would go that extra step and turn the cost of content entirely over to Indiana taxpayers isn’t really that outlandish. And once you do that, it becomes a little hard not to run whatever story the party gives you. After all, the party will be deciding who is and isn’t granted access to “exclusive” public information. (Let me say that again: “Exclusive” public information. There’s an Orwellian idea if there ever was one.)
Mind you, it can certainly be argued that the system already bends in this direction. President Obama’s staff certainly chooses who does and doesn’t have rights to exclusive interviews, and strategically planted “leaks” have been granted to administration-friendly journalists as long as the free press has been a thing. There are no doubt numerous other examples of the system bending.
But as with everything else in a democratic society, there is a very large difference between bending and breaking. Targeted leaks and granted interviews are examples of journalism bending; for that matter, so too is Fox News acting as an arm of a single political party.
When we get to a place where the state’s controlling political party is the content provider as well as the content subject matter, however, we have have reached a place where journalism is broken.
Note: If you are a Hoosier and are preparing a comment or email to complain about the post title because Indiana’s capitol Indianapolis sits on the White River and not the Wabash: I know. But I went with Wabash anyway, because it’s a better known river and because Pravda on the Wabash sounds funnier that Pravda on the White.