Canned Star reporter firing up foodie website

Indianapolis Star food writer Jolene Ketzenberger has been dismissed by the state’s largest newspaper for operating a personal website featuring “back of the notebook” snippets of information about the local food scene.

Jolene Ketzenberger mugKetzenberger

Ketzenberger, 50, was fired in late December after refusing to give up, a site she has been working on sporadically for more than a year.

Although the site has not accepted advertising, Ketzenberger said Star management perceived it as a conflict of interest and asked her to disable it. She declined.

“Apparently I broke a lot of rules, so they had to let me go,” she said.

Star Editor Jeff Taylor declined to comment on her departure, calling it a personnel matter. In an email, he said the newspaper plans to hire a food and dining writer to complement "Wine Dude" columnist Bob Scheer.

Ketzenberger, meanwhile, is “forging on into what’s next”—a full-fledged launch likely next month of, which she hopes will begin to produce revenue.

“I’m going to continue to build the site and cover the heck out of local food,” she said.

On the surface, not much has changed on the site since early October. Ketzenberger has been making her rounds, gathering information and conducting interviews. But she also has been lining up contributors who will help produce content for the site.

“I really want to reflect the breadth and depth of what’s going on in the local food community,” she said, citing plans to engage everyone from farmers to chefs. “I’m very excited to be able to write as much as I want and post it all.”

A paycheck would be nice, too. Ketzenberger has been working with a business adviser and talking with potential investors who can help turn her website from pastime to profession. She’s looking for sponsors, and advertising remains a possibility.

Ketzenberger has no plans for a print publication, but she hopes to offer fee-based special events such as cooking classes or food-related field trips.

“I think support will be there,” she said.

Married and the mother of three, Ketzenberger joined the Star six years ago after about 18 months of free-lancing for the newspaper. (She had another website then, but let languish due to the demands of a full-time job.)

Her husband is John Ketzenberger, a former Star staffer and IBJ editor, and currently the president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.

Jolene freelanced for other publications for about 15 years while raising her family, breaking into food writing after pitching a cooking column to Nuvo Newsweekly. Editor Harrison Ullmann assigned her to write restaurant reviews instead, and her path was set.

“I’m so excited about what’s going on with local food,” she said this week. “I just have to write more about it. And now I will.”

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