A major story right here in our state, one with possibly huge implications for journalism as we know it, came and went so fast last week that you might have missed it.

The state of Indiana announced plans to launch its own taxpayer-funded news site, Just IN. Memos seemed to suggest that the site would produce stories which could then be republished by other news sources.

The reaction was swift and universally negative. Blogs and social media across the country raised comparisons to the infamous Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda, while Governor Mike Pence was depicted in caricatures ranging from a toga-clad Roman Emperor to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. In response to the backlash, Pence clarified that the site would operate more in a press release capacity than as a full news source.

We’ll never know for sure, for Just IN was killed before the week was over. Even so, the idea of a state-run media source remains very frightening. The idea probably arouses visions of some authoritarian regime in another country. The reality is in the current state of media in America, government-written content could theoretically supplant independent journalism without trampling on the First Amendment one bit.

The new millennium has seen the rise of blatantly ideological sources, be they cable news or those viral stories you see all over social media. Such sources seem to have no problem promoting stories that bend the truth or are even outright false if it supports their point of view. It’s unlikely they’ll have any qualms about republishing state-approved content, either, if they support the party in office.

Even worse, a state news source could conceivably infiltrate legitimate ones. The state of the newspaper industry in the age of the Internet has forced publications (especially small, local ones) to reduce staff and rely increasingly on wire services. So, what if such a service is set up by a government? The very thought should sicken any student or practitioner of journalism.

In neither of these scenarios would anybody’s freedom of speech or the press be violated. And while just a cursory bit of research can tell you where your news comes from, a lot of people don’t look into what they read, so they might not even realize it if they’re reading exactly what the state wants them to think.

Fortunately, the outcome for now turned out to be hopeful. While the outcry on social media sometimes veered into immaturity, it’s still very heartening that the populace cared. Also, before Pence’s clarification and the site’s cancellation, many Indiana papers (including The Times) stated they wouldn’t publish any stories from Just IN.

With all the talk we hear of the death of journalism, it’s nice to know the principles and enthusiasm for a free and independent press are very much alive.

 

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