Fewer reporters, fewer watchdogs


By Shelby Salazar

When The Indianapolis Star laid off 62 employees Tuesday and The Louisville Courier-Journal closed its Indiana Statehouse bureau as part of a cost-cutting campaign by the two newspapers' parent company, Gannett, the downsizing prompted discussion in both media and government circles about who will serve as a watchdog on government if newspapers don't.

"Everything suffers," said John Schorg, director of media relations for the Indiana House Democrats. "I wish things were better. It is disappointing."

Schorg said he was bothered by the Courier-Journal's decision to lay off its longtime Statehouse reporter Lesley Stedman Weidenbener, who had covered Indiana state government for 15 years.

"Lesley will be missed," Schorg said. "That's one less reporter keeping public officials on their toes. The number of reporters at the Statehouse is eroding away."

Schorg said he is concerned about the lack of diversity in reporting at the Statehouse.

"I can't recall the last time a Terre Haute reporter or a Lafayette reporter came to the Statehouse," he said.

Jim Willis, a Ball State University professor said this is the grim reality for journalists.

"It's no surprise when companies like Gannett make announcements like this," he said.

Willis said he uses news like this as a teaching tool for aspiring journalists.

"Students are encouraged to develop multiple talents," said Willis. "It's dangerous to focus on one platform, especially within print journalism."

Willis echoed Schorg's concern about the number of reporters watching over politicians. But, with today's internet and social media, Willis said one could argue there are more eyeballs on elected officials.

"Those people are just not traditional newspaper reporters," Willis said.

One of Willis's colleagues expressed similar concerns.

"Unquestionably, this is very disturbing for the future of Journalism," said Gerry Lanosga, an assistant professor at Ball State.

He also used to be a reporter for The Star.

"It is personally disappointing to me," Lanosga said.

He said he is worried that the concept of journalists holding people accountable will be lost.

"With this decrease in reporters, papers lose the daily accountability journalism that people want and need," Lanosga said. "This is very concerning."

Lanosga, though, said he remains optimistic about the future.

"There will always be some form of print journalism," Lanosga said. "It's just a matter of how big or small it will be. There's a future for traditional journalists. The industry is just dynamically changing."

The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.


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