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EYE ON THE PIE: Do Indiana papers make the grade?

March 7, 2005

I'm always trying to learn more about Indiana. I suspect investors within and outside our state are also interested in what is happening in our many cities and towns. Yet no single newspaper does a good job of covering the news of the state. Nor can one hope to read all 47 daily newspapers published in Indiana.

Then, along comes the Internet and the posting by local newspapers of their records of Hoosier activity. Here, at last, is our chance to learn what's happening from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. Last Saturday, I went to the Web sites of a dozen Indiana newspapers with eager fingers and high hopes. I know it's unfair to take a sample of one week or 12 in a single week, but this is what I found.

Many newspapers will not let you read the local news unless you subscribe to their paper in its physical or electronic form. You can't pick up the Internet edition as you might find a traditional paper copy on a park bench. They allow access to the Associated Press stories on state, national and international matters, but not to their local news.

I could not read the top story of the Columbus Republic that featured children jumping rope for fitness at an elementary school. The Evansville Courier Press would not let me get into a story about the Kentucky Court of Appeals denying a change of venue for the trial of a man accused of raping and murdering a Western Kentucky University woman.

Bloomington's Herald-Times did not want me to have access to a story on four Indiana University sports failing some NCAA test. Nor did that illustrious beacon of journalistic freedom want me to know about an Indiana Department of Transportation probe relating to State Road 46.

Kendallville Publishing Co. (which covers northeastern Indiana through three newspapers) seems to feel that the governor's visit to Auburn was such a treasure that access to the content of his remarks should be restricted to print or electronic subscribers.

Beyond the issue of access is the essential question: "What is the role of the local newspaper?"

The Crawfordsville Journal Review reports that the school band director has been accused of sex crimes with minors. The Princeton Daily Clarion informs us that a paramedic was arrested for passing forged prescriptions. Three fights among students at Logansport High School have the district exercising damage control and the Pharos-Tribune giving the story premier coverage.

I was delighted to learn in the Frankfort Times that Clinton County students debated the meaning of the First Amendment. In Goshen, a student cut her hair for the role of Peter Pan and donated those tresses to Locks of Love. Warsaw had a 26-year-old man arrested after a slow-speed chase. That excitement, combined with the dedication of a gazebo by the Manchester Rotary, was the top offering of the Times-Union.

I commiserated with the women discussed in two stories of Franklin's Daily Journal about the travails of the working and non-working mommy, although I did not know this was still news, even in Franklin.

Are our newspapers to record our miseries and triumphs? Should they be seeking deeper truths, focused on the longterm public good? After much reflection, and a little bourbon, I decided that I don't know what local papers should be doing. I want to believe that if I take these Webbased mosaic tiles and put them together properly, I could see the larger picture of contemporary Indiana.

Yet I know that the images that emerge will be based on my initial understanding of the world about me and my ability to organize fractured information. And isn't that what a newspaper is supposed to do: to help us understand the world and to assist us to organize information? Is that what your newspaper is doing for you?



Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mmarcus@ibj.com.
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