Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

May 28, 2013

MARCUS: Newspaper the face of a community

To many Americans, Indiana is known for corn and the 500 race. These are views that are out-of-date and injurious to the state.

All Indiana farms contributed $3.5 billion toward the total $267.3 billion in value of all goods and services generated in the state in 2010 (the latest year available). Compare that to the $6.2 billion coming from primary metals (steel and aluminum) and the $8.1 billion production of the motor vehicle industry.

The 500 race remains an over-blown, nostalgic event of no unique and little technological importance to American society. Now Indianapolis mayor wants to add cricket to the panel of sports celebrated in the city. At least the 500 is measured in hours, but cricket is reported in geologic time.

What makes the image of a place? It is what residents and visitors alike believe to be of importance to life and culture of a community. For me, and I suspect for members of my fast-shrinking generation, a major part of the image of a place is determined by the local newspaper.

Louisville used to be defined, in my mind, by the Courier-Journal. The paper presented an active, sophisticated city which, upon examination, was somewhat difficult to find. Today, Louisville seems to be of less interest, more like Indianapolis or other cities where Gannett has demeaned the quality of journalism.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has the Post-Gazette, a newspaper that attracts readers with a variety of front page stories, most of which have interest or implications beyond the metropolitan boundaries.

I admit my sample is small, but a weekend in Pittsburgh provided more exciting newspaper reading than a month’s worth of the Indianapolis Star. Why? The Star, like so many papers, focuses on human interest stories, featuring the travails for a single household or person with little connectivity to the potential broader implications of the story.

Typical Star story: Gertie Girdleneck bravely struggles with an impairment that is not adequately supported by public or private philanthropy. Nonetheless, Gertie is getting a degree in advanced motorcycle repair and hopes to start her own business with help from her blind 87-year-old grandfather who has memorized an unabridged braille dictionary.

No doubt the Post-Gazette also runs such tales of triumph, but not that I noticed in a sampling of Thursday through Monday newspapers.

What do we know of our own town? It is certainly not what the TV news tells us. There aren’t enough murders, fires and incidental disasters to feed the material maw of the major local stations. They fill the news time slots with their own versions of Gertie-type stories and ticklers about the weather report “coming along after this message.”

The occasional local TV exposé is often a microscopic view of a vast program, focused on a set of errant cases that do not invalidate the larger effort. Newspaper investigative reporters still do a good job, but often suffer from the same reliance on miniscule misdemeanors.

Visitors get a very biased view of our communities when the newspapers do not demonstrate a universality of interest, when the “news” is purely local, and when blatant spelling and grammatical errors are prevalent.

Morton J. Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He can be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

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