The Indianapolis Star sports department is undergoing a major shakeup, including reassignments for some of the paper’s most tenured beat writers—covering the Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Colts, IU and Butler.
The newspaper's management said it will be looking for outside help to fill two of the department’s biggest beats: Indiana University and its top-ranked men’s basketball team; and the Pacers, who this year proved they are an NBA title contender.
Star Editor Jeff Taylor said in a memo to staffers this week and obtained by IBJ that the changes are about beefing up the newspaper’s offering to readers. He added that the IU and Pacers beat positions would be posted soon.
Among the changes Star readers can expect are a weekly online sports show, a digital magazine for online subscribers, and expanded recruiting coverage, Taylor said.
“We’re working to create a new kind of experience for sports fans in our market—adding resources and offering new digital products," he wrote in the memo.
Among the major changes in the staff overhaul is Mike Wells' leaving his position covering the Pacers to become the lead writer covering the Indianapolis Colts. Longtime staffer Mike Chappell, previously the lead Colts writer, will cover the Colts alongside Wells. Star staffers told IBJ that Chappell now will be in a secondary role to Wells.
Longtime IU beat writer Terry Hutchens has been bumped out of that position and will head up “new efforts on recruiting, focusing primarily on college basketball,” according to Taylor’s memo.
The Star is looking to outside hires to fill the Pacers and IU beats, Taylor said, adding that the IU reporter would be based in Bloomington.
Another longtime staffer, David Woods, is being moved off his beat covering Butler University men’s basketball. Woods will be replaced by 20-something Zak Keefer, who has steadily filed supplemental Pacers and Colts stories over the last year. As part of his new position, Keefer will also handle digital general assignment work during Butler’s off-season.
Woods will help cover the area pro teams while continuing to cover Olympic sports and the Fever, Taylor said in the memo. Taylor did not return a call seeking additional comment.
Phil Richards has shifted into a role focused on Sunday projects and Phil B. Wilson will move into a role as a video journalist, focusing on becoming the online host of the Star’s sports coverage.
Wilson has been a popular voice with the paper, but the Star and other newspapers have had difficulty gaining traction with online videos.
Of course, not everyone involved is happy about the changes.
“It has been a long couple of days here but I think it’s time to share with you, my friends, the shakeup this week in the Indianapolis Star Sports Department,” Hutchens wrote on his Facebook page. “Bottom line for me: As of Monday, I am no longer the Indiana University beat writer for The Star. After 15 years on the beat, I was informed that management has decided to go another direction."
Hutchens called the reorganization “a blow to a lot of good people who have done some great work as the top guys on their respective beats.”
“I’m not really sure what to say and in trying to take the high road through all of this I’ll continue to keep my deepest feelings to myself,” Hutchens wrote. “To say I'm disappointed would be a huge understatement though.”
It’s safe to say Hutchens is not alone.