Star not keeping pace with Spierer investigation

Dateline: Thu 09 Jun 2011

Wednesday's story in the Indianapolis Star, about a 20-year-old Indiana University student who disappeared after a night of drinking/partying in Bloomington, while no doubt well read, was incomplete.

The story -- at least the home print edition -- did not mention that missing IU student Lauren Spierer is from Westchester, New York, nor that her parents (shown in a Page 1 photo) had flown to Bloomington from New York in an effort to assist in the investigation.

My first impression is that they were from Indianapolis or perhaps Carmel; certainly not that they were out-of-state.

Another small omission in the story was the whole confusion about Smallwood Plaza, the apartment complex where Lauren lived. The Star wrote, "A representative for Smallwood Plaza said Tuesday night that they fully support the police investigation into Spierer's disappearance. However, when police attempted to serve their warrant, no staff member was available with a key to allow access to the needed area, said Chad Mertz of Borshoff."

I was always taught that every story should be written as if it was archived for 100 years, and whoever dug it up should be able to know everything possible about a community/incident/etc. based on that one story. So what the hell is Borshoff? I presume it is the Indianapolis public relations agency, founded by Myra Borshoff, but who would know that if they are not from Indy today, let alone 100 years hence?

But it gets worse.

Today's Star (a newspaper reader pointed out to me) contains a very insightful and even ground-breaking piece about another young woman from Bloomington who went missing in the fall. However, the story of Crystal Grubb, not a student but a "townie," whose body was eventually found, was written not by Star staff but by a reporter from The Journal News of Westchester, N.Y., Shawn Cohen. The tragedy of Crystal Grubb's murder was compounded by how little coverage her disappearance and death generated in Indiana media.

"'It's interesting to see the difference when it's a college student versus a local woman,' said Ashley Mann, 27, a local waitress who knew Crystal from a social service agency. 'When Crystal went missing, it was in the newspaper like once." So Ms. Mann told reporter Shawn Cohen.

Now, why didn't the Star get that important quote and the entire story? It's vital, because the death of Crystal Grubb shows a great deal about the unflattering and uncomfortable but very true disconnect between what happens when a poor, low-income woman disappears in Bloomington, vs. a young woman who is an IU student of means. There is a series to be written in that.

Finally, on the Star's website today, a breakthrough article in terms of the case was written by Associated Press, although the Star gives no credit on its website for AP's work. That story was about a fight that took place between some guys a couple hours before Spierer disappeared, and it identifies Corey Rossman, a male IU student, as seen going into Spierer's apartment, and leaving with her, about 2:30 a.m. Some of that info acutally comes from the New York Post!!! All of this was picked up by HuffPost College.

I know that the Star reporters who worked on the first piece -- Diana Penner and Dan McFeely -- are dedicated and excellent journalists. My guess is they were not given the time or the resources to properly prepare their first draft.

After I read that initial story, I went to Google and discovered a great deal more pertinent info about Miss Spierer on the internet -- that she was a fashion and merchandising major, that she was from New York, that she is Jewish and Hillel (student group for Jewish students) was active in trying to track down her whereabouts, or at least organize searches.

So much more could have been done locally, if only the Star had the person-power to throw at a breaking, important say nothing of the case last fall, when Crystal Grubb was allowed to vanish, without generating much (any?) Indianapolis media interest.

This is not good reporting and not good journalism, but it's what one gets when staff is strapped and skeletal. Or blinded by powerful interests as opposed to reporting fully on every missing young woman.

An added thought: I did appreciate very much Diana Penner's byline story today, detailing the problems faced by Kilroy's Sports Bar, where 20-year-old Lauren Spierer was drinking alcohol. The apparent negligence on the part of Kilroy's is a story that needed to be told, and Penner got it.

A mixed bag, but the Star should be eating the lunch of the New York papers on this case....instead, too often, the local paper, the state's largest, is eating dust.


Homer [Member] said:

In the story about Hanner Perea, the IU basketball recruit from Columbia, this sentence appeared:
"First it was reported last fall that Baylor assistant coach Mark Morefield sent La Lumerie coach (Perea’s coach) Alan Huss a text message that threatened to deport Perea to Baylor if he committed to another school."

Deport to Baylor? As one comment said, "That's harsh."

2011-06-09 20:23:16

ruthholl [Member] said:

I'm glad you are reading sports, cuz I missed that deportion.
Harsh, indeed.

2011-06-09 20:48:09

hendy [Member] said:

If you want to get the whole scoop, go to the Indiana Daily Student. There's more missing.

Then there's another "townie" who was murdered on the W side of BTown, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend.

No missing person is a good thing. A lot of people are reminded of another sordid disappearance, Jill Behrman.

Every other day, I work out at the gym at Smallwood. There were five different crews of people, including a lot of National Guardsmen that came out to search for her. The timeline currently says: she left a place about 4am or so, towards Smallwood, a walk of about six blocks. The tapes don't indicate she ever made it.

Between Smallwood and the place she ostensibly left are railroad tracks, some houses, and not much more.

Consider that if she had no more to drink after she left the bar, she'd be about half-way sober. She was apparently barefoot, having left her sandals at the bar where she might have been served. That area has been combed. I hope she's ok.

But "townie" or student, I don't think there's the difference you purport in terms of importance. Yeah, there were sat trucks and people getting interviewed, and The Star failed, but it cares not one whit about BTown, and we're better for it.

2011-06-09 20:57:47

ruthholl [Member] said:

Thanks for your comments. More information than I got from the Star, once again.
Please include updates.
I will now read the Indiana Daily Student website.

2011-06-09 21:10:41

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

This sad story seems to repeat itself every few years in B-ton.

Thankfully, my daughter graduated last year.

Somehow, the unique nature of B-ton seems to make some students think they're completely safe anywhere--they let down their guards.

As I always told my daughter: B-ton is NOT the real world. Not even close. Although it's a great community.

It's also got these strange happenings. Very unnerving. Parents everywhere shudder. There but for the Grace of God...

That one sentiment makes this an EveryMan(Woman) story. A perfect chance to write some solid stuff. The Star didn't even break a sweat on this sloppy reporting. I don't care if you like the reporters--if I were a reporter ordered to serve up that pablum, I'd get the flu and go home.

Gretchen Kekmp, Will Counts and a lot of other good JournSchool faculty, are grave-rolling about now.

Much karma to this family. They need it.

2011-06-09 22:52:33

Fernando [unverified] said:

Thanks for clearing this up. I was totally confused by The Star article and thought Smallwood Plaza was perhaps the shopping center where the bar was located.

An interesting contrast is this little story in today's paper, relegated to a small piece in the local section, while Ms. Spierer's story is plastered all over the place:

"Police need help in finding a local man who has been missing for three weeks.

"Morgan M. Johnson, 27, was last seen at 11:45 p.m. May 18 leaving the Value Place motel, 6295 Gateway Blvd. in Plainfield, where he was staying."

Yeah, three weeks.

2011-06-10 07:16:59

hendy [Member] said:

Smallwood is a block square apartment complex several stories high. The gym is on the ground floor, parking underneath, closed coffee shop in front, a couple restaurants behind and nearby. It's HUGE.

Today's Star has updates. I think they're finally paying attention. Like TTT, I had a daughter that graduated from IU, and an ex-stepdaughter goes there, now. There's a vulnerability that young people have that makes especially women a bit fearful-- and with good reason. Men can be toads. We need look only to Congress for guidance on how toady.

That said, each and every missing individual is rough for one family, loved one, or another. I hope she's found, but I hope for others, too.

2011-06-10 07:49:51

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

An excellent critique, Ruth.

2011-06-10 08:19:05

sjudge [unverified] said:

Also worth noting that Kilroy's, the bar where this 20 year old spent the evening, is trying to expand into the Cardinal Fitness location in Broad Ripple - as if there weren't already enough bars in Broad Ripple.

2011-06-10 09:17:16

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Back in 2001 and early 2002, I covered the missing IU student, Jill Behrman. I left Indiana in June 2002 but continued following the story from afar. I followed everything I could on Crystal Grubb murder and now this new "missing" student. My gut tells me these cases are related; I am wondering if the Behrman case, in which someone was convicted, was completely solved? At the time, I always thought the facts never added up and that an accomplice had to have been involved at some point during the crime.

Anyway...this is just the ramblings of an old reporter.

2011-06-10 11:28:10

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

An old reporter whom we could use back here from time to time. Like on this story.

The Star's reportorial malaise is spreading. That's what happens when the editors take long naps, if there are any editors left. Example:

Minor point perhaps, but: The Star announced the Jazz Fest concert lineup yesterday. There festival is going into Year Two of a multi-site format. The headliner, George Benson, is going to be a nice draw. But Jay Harvey's article doesn't tell us where among the five venues the "main stage' is located.

Then there's Touhy's scanner blurbs. Just pitiful...

For the love of Riley, can someone get these reporters some continuing ed? I'm licensed in a profession, and I'm required to sit through multiple hours per year to keep my license.

Soon, that old saying may come true: Indianapolis--the only major metro city in America without a daily newspaper.

2011-06-10 11:41:04

ruthholl [Member] said:


2011-06-10 22:15:21

ruthholl [Member] said:


2011-06-10 22:15:21

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

Why are the many unemployed mainstream journalists not doing blog journalism rather than complaining about newspapers? Anyone who edited a quality blog covering local controversies in detail would become an overnight sensation in Indianapolis.

While almost all the media were helping to railroad the Duke lacrosse non-rapists, K.C. Johnson, a history professor, and William Anderson, an economics professor, blogged for months about their cases, picking apart the lies and missteps in the government's handling of them. If it were up to The New York Times, AP, and their many media doppelgangers, those men would now be rotting in prison.

It isn't the economic undoing of the mainstream media that has made reporting bad. It has been bad as long back as I can remember in my 55 years. Local newspapers have been key pieces in establishment power structure, shining the shoes of politicians unless egregious misbehavior forces the pols from grace. As one who has battled the political establishment on many occasions and issues, over many years, and in different locales, I can attest to the disdain that reporters have for rebels who challenge the well-heeled for whom newspapers flack. As a wag once observed, reporters are paid to take government officials seriously.

Mainstream journalists do not comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. On the contrary, they serve as great propaganda organs for the powerful, in government and industry. The reporters who do challenge the status quo would never be offered jobs at daily papers. H. L. Mencken would never be offered a job at a daily paper, and he lost his own platform when his opposition to American war intervention was self-censored by the journalistic establishment.

Unless the government intervenes to squash Internet freedom -- which is always possible -- there has never been a better time to be a journalist or pamphleteer (now blogger). But rejects from the dailies prefer to complain about their loss of money and status rather than participating in the new freedom. A promising new generation of journalists, like Indiana's Radley Balko, operating outside of the remnants of the mainstream, is doing what the establishment journalist never did, and with great success. Much of the best blog reporting comes from those who never stepped foot in a journalism school (the seed of banality), or were employed by establishment media. I offer these as sterling examples:

Anyone who sincerely wants to can start a blog to properly cover the Spierer case. Let's hold our breath until that happens.

2011-06-12 09:27:51

hendy [Member] said:

No, let's don't. Get off your high horse, because one of end of it's in our face, and not the one we like.

There ARE indeed promising journalists-- and a handful already there, and more that have bailed their *publishers* were in the bag. There are a few good people that still work at The Star, but not many. Most of them are gone. Citing Mencken is the first clue: this isn't America of the 1900s.

Blogs are people talking. Ruth is a retired journalist. I do four other blogs, but am also in print in weeklies. Blogs don't necessarily aspire to journalism fundamentals. Some journalists that have journalistic aspirations write blogs. The two are absolutely different. Just because it's i digital ink is a mere commonality.

The IDS is doing a great job of covering the Spierer matter. I watched coeds today on Ind 46 posting flyers. People in Bloomington, especially women, are shaken, and shaken deeply. Crews, lots of them-- five shifts a day from Smallwood, go searching for her. We, in Bloomington, and surely from other places-- want to find her. The longer she's missing, the more onerous the event becomes.

Who's getting it? Get out of the sand of the monopolistic Indy market, and go to where it happened: Bloomington. You'll find a lot of accurate information. Bloggers != journalists. The reverse might be true in some cases, but don't dignify bloggers as "citizen journalists". In some cases they may be. Don't make the mistake of diving into propaganda rather than referential integrity.

2011-06-12 19:42:41

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

Thanks for the chronology correction, hendy. I mistakenly thought this was the America of the 1900s because almost every dinosaur daily in the land still pushes Keynesian economics.

Point me to the best reporting blog by an old media journalist in Indianapolis. And then the second best.

Is that the editorial "we" you refer to in your first sentence, or do you just assume that every journalist you know would hold the same opinions as you? Given the suffocating conformity of the profession, the latter would be about right.

2011-06-12 20:27:49

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

Here's a nice piece by Radley Balko which generally reflects my experience with cellulose journalism as a reactionary institution, and journalists as cynical flacks for government.

The Media Aren't Liberal

Old-timey reporters reject idealism as they embrace political power, so they naturally dislike anyone on an antiestablishment "high horse." They view themselves as pragmatists whose job is/was to rewrite and distribute the common wisdom of the moment. You want drug war? They give you drug war. You want War on Terror? They give you War on Terror. You want transfats are bad for you? They give you demon transfats. Dissidents need not apply.

"Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty - and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies." -- H. L. Mencken, 1900s.

2011-06-12 20:58:38

hendy [Member] said:

Dissidents, and dissonance are wonderful sounds.

I love the Mencken characterizations. That wonderful cranky skeptical outlaw kind of guy.... yeah, riding herd, taming those pesky politicians, kicking butt, and taking names. True liberty, at the price of mud. Great stuff.

And about as relevant as rotary phones.

It was and always has been about cutting away, until you have the nugget that is the truth. Referential, without any agenda except that light that shows as the truth. The truth has a context, so that it can be understood for what it is, however beautiful or frighteningly ugly it is.

I cheer the truth seekers, truth sets them free, not their agenda, not the ego-filled heroism, or the self-aggrandizement. Not cowboy (or cowgirl) or perceived outlaw in a democratic society-- rather: its fuel.

2011-06-12 21:52:36

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

hendy, you are right: Mencken would have been a journalistic anachronism in the empire of McPaper. Working for cookie cutter papers requires an entirely different sort of person; the sort of person who meekly conforms to an Organization. No wonder politicians have floated the idea of bailing out failing establishment papers: they need each other.

Mencken was never embedded, and that's why his writings are still great reads. Is there someone who still enjoys reading the old columns of James Reston? Mencken's missives from the Monkey Trial are as electric today as they were at the time.

Mencken belonged to a time before the banal narrowcasting of conformist journalism -- respectable journalism -- coated the country with immobilizing muck. The days before Big Journalism trimmed and smoothed the rough edges where radicalism and frank talk resided. But as the dinosaurs are dying, a freedom to speak and write has flourished as never before. Now anyone really can own Liebling's press. Mencken would be thrilled, and he would prosper. The dinosaurs spend more time on Anthony Weiner than on the Patriot Act's details or motives for invading Libya. It's simple. They understand it. It stirs up the idiots.

I'm not quite sure what your "truth seekers" spin means, but it seems to mean that you can't tell the difference between the "agenda" of Che Guevara and Gandhi. If "truth has context," we can learn more about that context from economists, philosophers, poets, and scientists than from those who matriculate from dull-witted journalism schools to witless newspapers. As it has turned out, Al Jazeera is a more independent, and therefore often more trustworthy, source of news than the American dinosaurs.

And we haven't even touched on the swill poured out by TV reporters.

You neglected to direct me to the best Indy reporting blogs by old media journalists.

(I googled Ben Bradlee while writing this. Wikipedia notes his fitting pre-journalism work:

"In 1952 Bradlee joined the staff of the Office of U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), the embassy's propaganda unit. USIE produced films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe."

That's the ideal training for someone who eventually scaled the Everest of modern, respectable journalism.)

2011-06-12 22:52:36

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

Perhaps Martin Luther King is also as relevant as rotary phones.

Slate reports on LBJ's mistrust of civlil rights leaders, including Dr. King, based on recently released private recordings of the president.

"The tapes make it clear that the president who enacted the most important civil rights legislation of the last 140 years was deeply suspicious of the civil rights movement. Johnson phoned only two African-Americans during this five-week span: NAACP head Roy Wilkins and National Urban League director Whitney Young. Both were moderates. Johnson thought grass-roots leaders were pushing too fast and too hard. At one point, he referred to Martin Luther King Jr. and James Farmer as 'outlaws.' In public, Johnson distanced himself from King. Scholars treat this as a pragmatic maneuver designed to hold the political center. But in these phone conversations, Johnson occasionally belittled and denounced King. His maneuvers appear rooted in personal distaste as much as political pragmatism."

LBJ, who had the FBI spy on King, may have viewed him as a pursuing "ego-filled heroism," and "self-aggrandizement." He definitely viewed King as an "outlaw kind of guy."

King got little support from pragmatic newspaper editors, but he was my kind of outlaw. Not an Organization Man, but a radical non-conformist. History remembers him favorably, but has forgotten all of the faceless conformists who have toed the McPaper line.

2011-06-13 07:09:04

hendy [Member] said:

Let me put it into the vernacular of today's youth:

Dude, go search for yo own damn blog, If you can't twiggle a google, then just keel or do your own. You be looking for Godot. You want some cheese with that whine?

Mencken worship requires us all to genuflect, and listen to his hallowed words and wisdom for he is the journalist incarnate. Not. Not me, not a lot of others. He was one interesting read in a vast sea of good reads.

(several paragraphs of choice words, epithets, heritage redoubers, and references to Rodney Dangerfield jokes deleted by the Internet Police from this location)

Go find your favorite blog. Hold it for all to view, link to, love, hug, etc.

Oh, wait, not easy, eh? I'll give you an Al Jazeera and raise you a Ruth Holladay. Not easy, this search for truth, is it? Do you look for it at one of my publishers? I hang with them because of their integrity. Others are more easily bribed to say kind words. One of my publishers clearly supports Mitch Daniels, an individual that most aptly represents the Mustelidae family. Next in line to the throne of Governor is another member of that family, the misguided preacher, Rev. Mike Pence, nee of Alabama mentality, where xenophobia, racism, and preaching from podium is permissible if not lauded.

Let me finish my pre-coffee Monday Morning Rant Reply with this: J-schoolers are dying on the vine. If you want to learn more, Read McLuhan, not Mencken. Mencken produced a product, McLuhan figured out communications infrastructure; Chomsky and Campbell figured out conservation of entropy in information transfer, and Von Neumann figured out a methodology on how to detail each step. Boole related it all together with logic description, and Mae West and Kurt Vonnegut discovered that we're all just meat humans.

2011-06-13 07:17:12

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

You don't like "outlaws," but you recommend Chomsky, whose crowning moral gesture came when he refused to sign Joan Baez's denunciation of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

At the core of your puerile response(s) is nothing more formidable than nihilism. The writers you tout champion futility, tyranny, and anti-intellectualism. Believe me, I'm not surprised. This is the path most of the navel gazing "love generation" has taken. Contra Pete Townshend, they forgot to die before they got old, and evil.

"Product" is no insult. A good product is one that serves a need or desire. It's a compliment to Mencken to suggest that he created product built to last. The Library of America recently published his "Prejudices" books in a two-volume box set. I wouldn't recommend it to someone from the "If it feels good, do it" generation. A better book for that person is Randy Shilts' "And The Band Played On."

2011-06-13 13:28:12

hendy [Member] said:

I'll suppose you never read the linguistic work Chomsky did; instead you just remember politics that bothered you. Quick, think of something pithy to say.

Somehow, you've become an old poop, a caricature of yourself. Stuck with nine toes in a world that passed you by, you can neither cede talking points or get off your throne/high-horse, whatever.

You characterize my reply with all sorts of things I am not. When the nurses come to wheel you into the dining room, please tell them-- yes remind them to help you take your meds. You can pontificate when you have a church. There is no church here. No one will make you feel any better, and the only joy you receive is using your considerable memory to hurl prejudicial epithets. Kindly have a nice day and self-fornicate.

2011-06-14 08:13:11

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