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Paper Cuts: When private equity firms control local newspapers

Chapter 10

Statewide effort based in Indianapolis targets news deserts throughout Indiana

Free Press Indiana/Mirror Indy has assembled a team of journalists to cover news in Indianapolis, Gary, and rural parts of the state.

Three years ago, a group of concerned journalists, community leaders and business leaders teamed up to survey Indiana residents about local news coverage. With support from the American Journalism Project, they collected feedback in 85 percent of Indiana counties.

“The message is clear,” wrote participant Karen Fuson Ferguson in an Indy Star op-ed in February of 2023. “Hoosiers, especially in underserved communities, do not get enough unbiased, fact-based information about their local communities.”

Ferguson is a former president and publisher of the IndyStar newspaper and among the group of individuals who launched a response: The Indiana Local News Initiative.

Now called Free Press Indiana, the nonprofit is working to “make quality, independent local news and information freely accessible to all Hoosiers,” as Ferguson described it in her op-ed. She now leads the organization’s board of directors.

According to its website, the group has raised $10 million in philanthropic support, allowing it to support the expansion of existing newsrooms, such as Capital B in Gary, while also creating a new one.

In Indianapolis, Free Press Indiana CEO Bro Krift and Editor-In-Chief Oseye Boyd, are building a newsroom that includes but goes beyond professional journalists covering traditional news beats. For this content platform called Mirror Indy, the newsroom will also train citizen journalists, or documenters, to report on government meetings that aren’t often covered. The effort is based on an existing program, The Documenters Network. An assignments editor will coordinate the documenters’ work and it will be reviewed and edited before publication.

By Boyd’s count, more than 80 area residents have signed on to be documenters and the interest is growing. “It’s another way for us to have boots on the ground and to do that community journalism that is our foundation.”

Krift emphasized the importance of documenting local governmental processes in action.

“People will talk if you give them a chance, if you welcome them into your space or you go to their spaces.”

“Hopefully, it can lead to more civic engagement, and more people monitoring these things that are so important, so they don't get lost. Ultimately, that's how you reduce corruption. That's how you have responsible government. That's how you have engaged democracy, you know, that's how you include more people to create a better community.”

Because all of Free Press Indiana’s work is free and accessible, Krift sees that work as having a wide reach.

“I think that's how we can serve the community beyond just us creating audience, but also serving the audiences that already exist for our media partners,” he said.

The Mirror Indy newsroom is just the beginning. The larger strategy is to fill news gaps around the state. Rural areas especially need more coverage, Krift said.

“And, I think, more understanding of who makes up rural areas; treating them less like the monoliths that they often get treated as in national media,” he said. “Whether you call it flyover country or whatever, it's more nuanced than I think we give people credit for. And then in a state like Indiana, where you have a legislature that always seems to be in conflict with its main urban area, which is Indianapolis, there's a fair amount of control and power that's within the rural areas of Indiana. It's not really comparable to other states. It's a unique situation that I think warrants more coverage.”

Both Krift and Boyd emphasized the importance of listening to the communities their organization means to serve. When asked what stories are not being told, Boyd replied “There are so many!” But she made it clear community input is essential to telling them.

“Our goal is not to necessarily tell you what the issues are for the community. Our goal is to listen to the community and let them tell us what they need to know — what's important to them,” she said. “So much of what we've done in journalism has been top down — what we think people need to know…what officials are telling us people should know versus us getting in there and saying, what is it that we need to tell you about? What do you want more of?”

“The community will talk,” she said. “People will talk if you give them a chance, if you welcome them into your space or you go to their spaces.”

Creating quality content that is pertinent and valuable to communities is key to the long-term viability of this new venture, according to Krift, who left his job as editor of the Indianapolis Star for this new opportunity.

“When you create content that has value, whether it be, you know, a nonprofit or for-profit model, you create that kind of content that has value in people's lives,” Krift said. “People will support that.”

Chapter 11: In Pennsylvania, family joins with public media rather than face private equity takeover »


Officials at Gannett would not talk to WFIU/WTIU for these stories. They sent a statement attributed to Jill Bond, news director of The Herald-Times.

Paper Cuts The reporting is supported by a grant from the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school and research organization in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Omidyar Network.

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