The Indianapolis Star is reporting that potential 2016 presidential hopeful Gov. Mike Pence (R) plans to launch a state-run news site that will “offer pre-written articles to Indiana news outlets, as well as sometimes break news stories about his administration.”
According to the report, Pence’s government “news” site, scheduled to start in late February, will be called “Just IN” and will feature stories written by state press secretaries. Former Indianapolis Star reporter Bill McCleery is reportedly overseeing the media site, along with a governance board composed of communications directors and an editorial board consisting of McCleery and Pence’s communications staff.
An information sheet reportedly distributed last week to communications directors for Indiana state agencies read, “At times, Just In will break news – publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such ‘exclusive’ coverage remain under discussion.”
Referring to the media site as “the Pence news service,” the Star reports that documents about “Just IN” say stories will “range from straightforward news to lighter features, including personality profiles.”
The taxpayer cost for the state-run news effort is unclear, says the Star, but a Pence spokeswoman said on Monday that more details would be available soon. Thus far, state employee salary data reportedly indicates “Just IN” has two employees whose combined salary is nearly $100,000.
The state news site hopes to target smaller news organizations with small staffs.
“I think it’s a ludicrous idea,” said Jack Ronald, publisher of the Portland Commercial Review, a small newspaper. “I have no problem with public information services — the Purdue University agriculture extension service does a great job. But the notion of elected officials presenting material that will inevitably have a pro-administration point of view is antithetical to the idea of an independent press.”
John Strauss, a longtime Indiana journalist, said he was not surprised by the thought of government attempting to maneuver around independent media.
“The real story,” he said, “is they’re leapfrogging all the mainstream media people.”
In a statement to Breitbart News, Heather Crossin, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, reacted to the news of the state media site.
“If this is true, it leaves me speechless,” she said. “Last week we learned that the sitting Chairman of the House Education Committee in Indianan had opened a lobbying firm and was planning on representing a testing company that does business in Indiana. This latest news, if it’s being depicted accurately by the media, smacks to me like the same type of conflict of interest.”
The Just IN documents show that the new outlet plans to pitch stories both to reporters and directly to the public.
“We expect reporters to find the site useful, and some features are designed specifically for media professionals,” the documents reportedly state. “Just IN, however, will function as a news outlet in its own right for thousands of Hoosiers — transparent in functioning as a voice of the State of Indiana’s executive branch.”
“It’s not uncommon throughout history for governments to do what they can to control the message,” Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said. “Is that done in a benign way because they’re trying to get more info out to the public, or is it done with hidden motivations in making sure their message is seen in the best light possible?”
“A state-run, taxpayer funded news organization designed to compete with independent news outlets is a shocking development to many rank and file conservatives,” Dave Read of the Central Indiana Coalition of Tea Parties told Breitbart News. “To think it will be anything but a well crafted PR machine for the Governor’s Presidential aspirations is naive. Instead of naming it ‘Just In’ he might as well call it ‘Pravda’ and call it a day.”