Deborah Paul Says, Stop the Press!

My petty complaints about the local paper and the media in general.

Dear Indianapolis Star,

The last time I wrote to the paper was a few decades back, when I was riled up because a published list of awards from the statewide Society of Professional Journalists included only those received by The Star. Indianapolis Monthly, of which I was then editor-in-chief, had won several, but those were ignored. I believe I called the paper “Pravda,” which may have been a little harsh. Even now, though, I find myself similarly peeved. Your 2013 list of “Women to Know” left out the current editor-in-chief of this magazine, who is smart, talented, young, and beautiful. Snubbed again! (To be fair, I did hire her, so I could be a wee bit biased. But I don’t think so.)

Also, the newspaper has morphed into two, one of which I didn’t subscribe to in the first place. The mini–USA Today that now comes bundled with the emaciated version of the original Star is okay, I guess, if you don’t mind the absence of the best part: the weather map. The type is tiny, which is reminiscent of a column I used to edit for this publication’s former owner, who was up in years and intent on writing about WWII. Every time I suggested passages to delete, he flexed his veto power by making the type smaller and smaller on the page. By the time the column saw print, I’m pretty sure nobody could read it.

The Star has more local stuff than it once did, I’ll grant you that, and much of it is good. Sometimes, though, you must get desperate to fill space, as with the piece you ran about a deer beaten on the head with a hammer on I-70. I didn’t need to know about the graves being moved to make room for a pedestrian bridge in Evansville, or that Lawrence switched its trash pickup to Republic.

I miss my old favorites, like the full TV listings and movie times, but I appreciate your keeping the comic strip “Pickles,” about people even older than I, and “Let It Out,” a reader-response column that should be passe with the advent of digital interactivity, but isn’t. If you ditch the ads for cute dogs, though, I’m gone.

My former journalism professor drew a blue line on our manuscripts where he grew bored. This teaching tool might have served your paper well, based on the incessant and long-winded stories on the David Bisard drunk-driving case. By the time the guilty verdict was announced, I was skipping the narrative and heading straight for “The Family Circus.” The professor also stressed using good headlines, as some readers never get past the display language. I don’t think “Thief Snips Hair from Horses’ Tails,” a headline from one of your November editions, is what he had in mind.

I couldn’t care less about viral videos or what’s trending today.

Lest my petty complaints be taken as a personal grudge against The Star, please know that I’m just as ticked off about broadcast news. The Today show has been my main viewing destination since the Jane Pauley era; I once interviewed her for a magazine profile, and she was so nice that watching her was the least I could do.

But despite a longing to remain loyal, sometimes one simply can’t take it anymore. I do not feel particularly humorous before 8 a.m., and the ridiculous banter and hilarity among the anchors unnerves me. The beauty pageant of female “stars” (I hesitate calling them newswomen) has gone from annoying to just plain offensive, given their toned arms, skintight dresses, and sprayed-on makeup.

I can’t stand the “Orange Room,” with its giant screens displaying inane Twitter comments, and I couldn’t care less about viral videos or what’s trending today. I never wanted to see a sperm and an egg unite, as live footage showed one recent morning, and I don’t want to know what transpired when the male anchors ducked behind a screen for prostate exams.

The last straw came on Halloween, when host Matt Lauer dressed up as Pamela Anderson from Baywatch. The long, fuzzy blonde wig and pasty makeup were bad enough, but the revealing red swimsuit was downright revolting. After the display, Stephen Colbert said he was looking forward to the show’s new segment, “Where in the world is Matt Lauer’s dignity?”

I had a conversation about today’s news with Sheila Kennedy, professor of law and public policy at IUPUI and—full disclosure—my second cousin. She finds the media environment troublesome because we are losing legitimate, unbiased sources in favor of programs whose slant mirrors our own views. So, not only must we see a previously trusted newsman done up in drag, but we have fewer options for the truth without political or social agendas.

I should be more forgiving, in light of my own journalistic past. I tried to write news but gave up when a local business publication sent me to a dark place in the City-County Building to dig up real-estate transactions. And TV? Forget about it. I once guest-hosted the old morning show A.M. Indiana. When it came time for a commercial, I looked straight into the black hole of the camera and said, “We’re going to take a short break. Join us.” Join us? Seriously.

Even considering my personal failures, I’m bitter. Since I’ve given up Today and can’t stop griping about your paper(s), I guess I’ll just dress and eat breakfast while staring at the wall. Or read only New York Times Twitter feeds and switch to CBS This Morning with Norah O’Donnell, who recently said, “I’m a journalist, not in the business of infotainment.” The news is mostly bad, anyway, and I’ve got my own problems, like whether a severe storm is actually coming or the TV weather folk are just hyping for ratings. Oh, and what costume I should wear come Halloween.


Deborah Paul

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach

This column appeared in the March 2014 issue.