How journalism began: the witch and the writer

Dateline: Thu 02 Apr 2020

Gannett, which owns the Indianapolis Star and USA Today, plus 100 daily papers and 1,000 weeklies, made news a few days ago by announcing pay cuts and furloughs for its journalists.

Those making $38,000 salary or more will give up one week of work/pay in April, May and June. Gannett blames a decline in advertising dollars for its decision, but it's hardly a new news story: Gannett has a well-documented history of being the chain gang in town that slashes salaries, breaks up the Guild and fires people without cause.

This is lamentable, but don't cry for journalists, America.

Those who have stayed the course, hanging in there as reporters, editors, photographers, graphic designers, copy editors, etc., know the drill: You don't join a newspaper to make big bucks.

And, those who are called to the craft are responding to an impulse that runs deep in the human spirit.

People like to tell and hear stories -- mostly oral tradition for centuries, but also poetry and prose.

Then came 1587, when some enterprising and curious soul took the quest to a new level.

Of course, it began with a business model: A prominent banking firm in Germany, the house of Fugger, started distributing newsletters. It was a good move. The Fuggers had international connections. They were priivy to insider information about politics and various scandals of the day. 

So when a midwife named Walpurga Hausmanin was accused of practicing witchcraft for 30 years, in Dillingen, Germany, somebody saw the hook:  this was, in today's jargon, a reader, a Page 1 story, one that would run "above the fold."

All the elements were there: "the evil and lustful confessions of a midnight sorceress,"  sex, the death of innocent children, the destruction of cattle, pigs and geese, a Catholic feast day, torture, and execution.

Do you think the guy who wrote the story -- preserved in a museum in Vienna -- made a pot of gold ducats? Do you think he even cared?

I suspect not. I think he took whatever the Fugger bosses doled out, drank some beers and sallied forth, ear to the ground, nose in the air, looking for the next big story.

Source: A Treasury of Great Reporting, published in 1949, edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris, who reminded us "Journalism is literature in a hurry."



Mother died today, etc.

Dateline: Sun 29 Mar 2020

'My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I don't know.'

When I thought of that classic opening line from 'The Stranger' by Albert Camus a few days ago, it was because I was feeling what Mersault expressed. Isolated, detached, overwhelmed, with a callus over my heart.

If that's where you've been or are, so be it. 'There it is.'

Sometimes we need a callus just where the skin has been rubbed raw. We need to toughen to be able to continue functioning, using that thumb, walking on that heel. Sometimes we need to be hard in order to survive.

I saw my primary physician for a routine checkup about 6 months ago. We discussed, as we often do, the state of the world and faith (about half his kids are believers, he said). "I'm not sure that generation...has ever been tested," he said. That applies to most of us.

Americans have been the luckiest humans on the planet in the history of mankind. 

We've had our trials. But this is different.

I know because, like you, I am reading stories that have never before been written --

Jan. 27, Wall Street Journal, about the wet markets in China and the possible connection to those food sources and COVID-19.

Last Sunday in the Star, tracing the steps of Indiana's first victim, Roberta Shelton, pointing out that even after she became deathly ill, her multiple contacts were not notified by our departments of health.

And a column yesterday in WSJ by Robert Nicholson, "A Coronavirus Great Awakening?" which suggests that maybe, just maybe, the virus will lead to a "grand creative moment" in America's history, a rediscovery of God.

"Who will save us now that the monster has broken free?" Nicholson asks, remembering Joseph Conrad's reflection on nature -- we have reduced nature to 'the shackled form of a conquered monster.'

Nicholson reminds us that we are a spoiled people. We think we have the monsters at bay.

Historically, until the 1700s, most of the world lived in poverty. That was, if we survived being born and childhood. Life was indeed nasty, brutish and short.

Tragedy makes us helpless; helpless can lead to asking for help, to creativity, to a sense of our place in the grand scheme. It can lead to calluses.

Medically speaking, most calluses last only one to four weeks, and they fall off. Then something new grows in its place.

That may be next. 


Gregg will be Indiana's governor; Trump will take state; Mike who?

Dateline: Tue 20 Sep 2016

      Based on Indiana's primary votes, you can take it to 46th and Meridian: John Gregg will be the next governor of Indiana, Donald Trump will win the state (but he has no coattails), and former Gov. Mike Pence is "down in the weeds" in many counties and in general is extremely disliked across Indiana -- not just by D's but by R's

       Those are the thoughts of Alan R. Ford and his son David Ford, amateur political analysts/political junkies and number crunchers from Hamilton County who read tea leaves from the primary results to reach their conclusions. Their sources are federal, state and county election returns. (see end of this post for listing).

      A little background. Alan is an aircraft control designer and a Purdue University graduate. David ran as a Democrat in the 2014 5th District U.S. Representative race on a platform of local government control and paring away at national debt; he describes himself as an old-school JFK Dem. Both have military backgrounds, Alan with 28 years in the Navy Reserves and David having served in the United States Air Force, staff sergeant.

      These guys are good. No drama, just a boatload of stats.

       Listen up to what they say, based on their premise that "primaries are not general elections, and vice versa, but we believe they are a better indicator of voter enthusiasm than polls, surveys, etc.," says Alan Ford.

      The thinking is that Gregg will win because Eric Holcomb, Pence's lackluster stand-in, is unknown to most voters at worst -- zero name recognition -- and at best is seen as Pence Lite. It's not so much that Hoosiers are in love with John Gregg, but we dislike Pence. And that's not just in Marion County, but around the state.

       This is critical: Roughly 1 in 4 GOP voters (in Marion and other counties, Hamilton, Hendricks, Benton, Carroll, Clinton, Grant, Madison, Montgomery, Tippecanoe, Warren, etc.) skipped over Pence in the primary.

        Statewide, 1,110,543 Republicans voted for a presidential candidate in the primary, but 294,844 or 26.55 percent, completely bypassed Pence on the ballot.

     Gregg did better -- only 14 percent skipped over him.

     And, Gregg has done a good job of painting Holcomb as just "more of Pence," and people in Indiana do not want more of Pence.

     We all know that Pence was a huge disappointment to his core constituency when he caved in on the Religious Freedom Reformation Act and Common Core. Seen as "squishy" by his once-loyal constituency, and disliked/despised by others for his initial stance on RFRA, he has no traction in Indiana.

     "Pence barely bested the treasurer and surveyor in Marion County," said Alan Ford. "He is very weak."

     Indiana is a law-and-order state, say the Fords: voters will totally ignore an unpopular gov candidate to vote for county sheriff or surveyor or any other local office.

      Yet, Indiana remains solidly red. Generally, in a presidential primary and in the general, the rule is this: if an R is running, the R will get 60 percent of the vote and the D will get 35 percent; the Independent will get 4 percent. Of course, Barack Obama was the exception in 2008, but now we are back to our normal Red state selves.

     "We believe Trump will take Indiana. We don't believe he has much in the way of coattails," say the Fords.

     Amazingly, the county where Trump did the best in the primary in Indiana was Lake County. The Fords can only speculate that's because of Inland Steel -- the steelworkers and others disgruntled by job losses are not for Hillary Clinton and are willing to take a chance on Trump.

     Clinton has outspent Trump at $297.7 mil (as of 9/12); Trump has spent $57.7 million. But Trump is a genius at media attention. "Money does not buy votes...Trump is a master" (at getting media exposure.)

   Is this an unusual election? You probably do not need the Fords to tell you that, but here is their take. "This is a change election. The pollsters don't have a friggin' clue...we don't think anybody knows" (what will happen in the POTUS race.)

     "Nationwide, the perception is we have bad candidates on both sides. The numbers are too close to call."

     However, the Republicans do have this going for them, for now.

      "Usually about 2.5 to 3 times as many voters show up for a general election, but that will not be true this year. The Republicans are energized and the Democrats are depressed. The Republican turn-out in this primary is unusual -- perhaps unprecedented," he adds.

          For the record, the Fords spoke at the Sept. 12 meeting of Tea Party North of Indianapolis. And no, they are not Tea Partiers or Libertarians, not that it matters. They are "political nerds."

      Their sources:

Federal Elections Website (Federal Candidate Financial Reports):


Indiana Secretary of State Electrions Home (Federal and State-wide Candidate filings, State-wide campaign finances Election Results)


Marion County Election Board (Detailed Election Results, forms, County-wide Finances, forms)


Hamilton County Election Office (Detailed Election Results, forms, County-wide Finances, forms)







1 comment

My friend Gary

Dateline: Mon 02 May 2016

    By now, those who followed Gary Welsh's blog Advance Indiana, or were his legal clients or his friends, know that he has died. The tragedy is that he apparently took his own life.

     Indianapolis Business Journal reported Sunday early evening that the 53-year-old Republican lawyer was found at the bottom of the stairwell at the Lockerbie Glove Factory Lofts at 430 N. Park, before 8 a.m. Sunday. 

      Media and friends have speculated on the possible source of his depression. IBJ has updated its story to include information that an attorney colleague who worked across the hall from Welsh Downtown noted that Gary was down because his blog took a lot of work yet generated little income. Another friend, Paul K. Ogden on Facebook, wrote that Welsh was troubled by "professional challenges" in his law career. 

     Ogden says it is a not uncommon phenomenon among attorneys. "You reach a point in your legal career where your experiences and abilities are of no value to law firms which are only interested in older attorneys if they are rainmakers, people (who) can bring business with them to the firm."

     Yet when one reads Welsh's own Facebook bio, he was a firecracker: he graduated magna cum laude from the Indiana University Indianapolis School of Law, he had a prominent job in Illinois GOP politics early on, he was a lobbyist with a major law firm in Indy, and he was active in his Lockerbie Glove Factory Lofts homeowners association.

      I knew Gary as a tenacious blogger, willing to take calculated aim at both Republicans and Democrats -- I always suspected that his early disappointment in the Ballard administration, and perhaps the fact that he did not land a job with that administration, was a blow, yet he was incapable of calling it other than how he saw it (he became a tireless critic of Greg Ballard and Co., calling him "the most corrupt mayor" the city ever had.) Like many bloggers and journalists who write opinion, he alternated between keen insight and blunderbuss. His weak spot was conspiracy theories, but, like other mavericks, he almost never failed to entertain and often enlighten his readers.

      I also knew Gary as a friend, and I am proud to call him that. By friend, I mean he was a journalist of whom I could ask hard questions, and he would answer honestly. He often knew the underpinnings of the city in a way few bloggers/columnists do anymore. He never minced words. He was foreceful, blunt and a ferociously hard worker.

      It has been noted that Indianapolis is not especially kind to its iconoclasts. As a city, we are "nice," we are full to the brim with "Hoosier hospitality," and we don't always take kindly to angry prophets, stone-throwers, and outliers. Well, maybe if they are artsy. But Gary was often up to his eyeballs with "Hoosier hostility"  -- but he always had a clear-cut reason for what he believed. Sometimes, maybe, others thought his reasons were nutty, but there they were. And when he was good, he was very, very good.

      Others have noted that it's sad we recently lost Amos Brown of the Recorder and WTLC-AM radio to a heart attack; Amos also did not suffer fools. Gary is cut from the same bold cloth, and so he will be missed. He is already missed, and may he rest in peace. 


Angie's List takes a hit

Dateline: Tue 19 Apr 2016

Home-grown consumer-review website Angie's List has lost a court fight to prevent three formerly employed top sales people from going to work for the competition, Home Advisor, which now has offices in Indianapolis and is based in Colorado.

Depending on your perspective, it sounds as if Angie is playing hard ball -- or is in desperation mode, trying to beat back Home Advisor, which has received job applications from more than 200 Angie's List employees.

The bigger picture is that Home Advisor has tried to acquire Angie's List in a merger in the past.  Home Advisor, called "an Internet behemoth" in Indianapolis Business Journal last November, tried to buy AL for $512 million, but the offer was rejected.

Then, last winter, three top AL salespeople jumped ship for Home Advisor, and ended up being sued by Angie's List.

Not a smart legal move on Angie's part.

The sales people --- and counsel Kathleen DeLaney -- prevailed in Hamilton Superior Court Friday, when a judge rejected Angie's List's request for a court order to stop the three from working at Home Advisor. 

"The court found that "'Angie's List is not likely to succeed on the merits of its claims...that Angie's List has not established that it will suffer irreparable harm," and that....the public interest favored the former employees, and not Angie's List,'" says a statement from DeLaney & DeLaney LLC., quoting the court ruling.

I can't imagine what counsel for AL was thinking, since the three employees had not even signed non-compete agreements, which generally have a tough time standing up to a court test anyhow.

Again, the bigger picture: readers of this blog may care about this news because many former Indianapolis Newspaper Inc. people (Indy Star and Indy News) have found a soft landing at Angie's List.

But then, as Forbes pointed out three years ago, the Angie's List model is broken. Who needs to pay for a site that provides consumer information which is readily available for free on Yelp, etc.?

Furthermore, argued Forbes, Angie's List, by following a tired template, is playing its investors for fools. The ultimate insult: the more a business pays in advertising revenue to Angie's List, the higher its ratings, according to Forbes.

Full disclosure: I am an Angie's List subscriber. 

But then I subscribe to Indy Star, too. Nothing wrong with loyalty. Up to a point.

Angie's List was, at the very least, heavy handed in its efforts to block three top-notch sales persons from earning a living. From here, it looks like desperation and not smart play.

You can read more about this story in Indianapolis Business Journal. 


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