Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stars in the Hoosier Sky

As promised, here's a look at the content of one of the zone editions to which outgoing Indy Star managing editor Pam Fine attributes an 8 percent growth in print circulation.

First, a digression: Minus the plural, this post's title is the title of a book about his years at the Star by Lawrence "Bo" Connor. A lot of it is very specific to Indianapolis -- the Coliseum explosion, Tony Kiritsis -- but it does give a good look at working for a big-city newspaper in the 1950s and 1960s and how different it was from today. A brief review is here. You can buy it, though with Borders having a hard time I'm not going to mention that you-know-what online bookseller.

Bo Connor went to our church, and so he was appointed adviser to our CYO newspaper, of which I was the editor. I spoke to him once and, being a typical arrogant kid, never spoke to him again, lest he advise me to do something I didn't want to. A couple of years later I found out he was a regular contributor to the National Observer, the Dow Jones weekly that made me actually read a newspaper instead of just looking at it, and I was chagrined that I had not asked him anything, such as, how do I grow up to get a job at the National Observer?

But to move from Bo to the present. My mother sent me three copies of the "North Indy Star" from a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of one week. Don't know if it publishes more days a week than that; it doesn't say, not even with ad rates. This is an oversight.

The circulation area appears to be the North Side of the city and adjacent parts of Washington, Lawrence and Pike Townships, not that that means anything to anyone in Phoenix, but it's not a huge area. A small county in Indiana will have nine to 10 townships, for example. Some of the other regional Stars cover smaller areas -- the one for Fishers I suspect just covers that singularly rapid-growing suburb and school district.

It's a tabloid with a typical Neighbors cover (photo refer, news lede headline, etc.). Here's the typical content from looking across 3 days of papers:

News releases submitted by Parks and Rec., DAR chapter.
Staff or stringer written stories on:

  • The Marion County North Spelling Bee (with list of all participants). Leftover photos ran the next day.
  • Students who go to a school that will be closed: Where will they go next year? Folo story on: Schools welcome new students.
  • Lawrence mayor not to get raise.
  • Dispute over Pike school bus driver termination.
  • Pike rezoning issue
Reader photos
Photo package on Chinese New Year parade at Indian Creek school
Rerun obits from main paper
Pets up for adoption


Feature on Arlington HS wrestler.
News release from SoftballOne.
Wrestling notes by a stringer. HS Boys Basketball six-graf story by a staffer.
Girls Bbl roundup and sectional preview (lots of stories, but this is Indiana and basketball)
Girls Bbl rankings
Girls State Swimming Meet stories
Story by a stringer on North Central swimmers
Lawrence North bowlers win title
Youth Soccer news release on awards
Fencing Club news release on awards

THINGS TO DO (Every issue)

Three Best bets (taking up a huge amount of space)
Calendar (which is half the book)

So in three days of papers, we have four stories that could by a wide estimation be called "hard news" -- the Lawrence mayor's pay, the Pike school bus driver, a Pike annexation, and redistribution of students from a school that will be closed.

The rest is news releases, high school sports, activities, and anything, anything, anything to do with kids in school. Even two of the news stories concern schools. This product is not selling itself on B-front local-government stories. (If they're that good, they're probably on the B front even if they're from Lawrence Township.) The ones in Carmel or Zionsville probably have a different mix because, under Indianapolis' combined government, the older suburbs are part of the city but have their own school districts.

And almost all the stories affect the "old suburbs" -- the Lawrence, North Central, Pike metropolitan school districts. Where my mother lives, on the Near North Side (as opposed to the Far North Side or the Old North Side) of the city, gets short shrift. But she lives in the Indianapolis school district, or IPS as it's known. That would be covered on the B front as well.

The staff list has the names of four reporters, one clerk, and two photographers; but I did see a story by longtime Star reporter Howard Smulevitz in one of the sections, and he was not assigned to it, so some stories that don't make the B section probably find a home here.

So this is Neighbors, but with an approach that strikes me, down to the adopt-a-pet ads, as: Neighbors whose primary target is the family with two children in elementary or high school. Again, there's probably more local government news in the ones outside Marion County. But in the newer suburbs, the family with two children would be even more of a target.

My mother says she never looks at it, and frankly, I can't see a single reason why she should. There is not much in it for an older woman living in the city. But my mother has read the Star her entire life. She's not the target audience. I'm reminder here of the woman in Gerri Berendzen's comment saying: Cover my life!

The next post on this will look at advertising. Classified is particularly interesting.

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