Pence calls off controversial news service site

Gov. Mike Pence has canceled plans for a controversial website called JustIN that his office originally said would act as a news service.

Pence sent a memo to state agency officials on Thursday – four days after news about the website broke – saying that those plans had been canceled.

He said all agencies should post press releases and public notices on the state’s existing calendar website. Only about half of those agencies do so now.

“However well intentioned, after thorough review of the preliminary planning and careful consideration of the concerns expressed, I am writing to inform you that I have made a decision to terminate development of the JustIN website immediately,” Pence said in his memo.

JustIN had sparked concern among media that Pence intended to do an end-run around existing media outlets. A leaked planning document included suggestions for “exclusive” stories that would be posted to the website.

In reaction to the website’s termination, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, jokingly removed Russian books from his desk. Several critics had likened the website to state-run news services in Russia, China or North Korean.

“I support him withdrawing the website,” Bosma said. “Best idea I’ve heard all day.”

Bosma also commented that he thinks the Statehouse’s current public relations provides “straight, accurate information.”

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he is relieved that JustIN – what he calls a “terrible distraction” from other issues – has been terminated.

“He had to know it was going nowhere,” Pelath said. “He should have realized it two days ago.”

About an hour before the announcement, Pelath introduced an amendment to House Bill 1507 – a bill regarding State Building Commissioner qualifications – to block JustIN funding.

Pelath’s amendment – which Bosma called a “creative attempt” – was ruled to be in violation of House rules because it did not match the original legislation’s subject matter. It was overturned by a 69-27 vote.

The cancellation comes after the Pence administration sat down with media members on Wednesday to clarify the website’s purpose.

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said the goal had been to provide reporters and the public with better access to state government news.

She also said the administration should not have used journalistic terms like managing editor, editorial board and stories to describe the program.
 

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