Author Archives: Stan Jastrzebski

A Chance Meeting Years Ago

I can’t imagine he’ll remember this, but I met Indiana’s newest Supreme Court justice (in a totally non-journalistic context) years before he was appointed to the bench.

A few years ago, a friend was in an Indianapolis hospital undergoing treatment for cancer. I went to visit on a Saturday afternoon and, as we were talking, Geoff Slaughter happened in. I remember thinking he was bookish-looking (as you might expect for a lawyer) — tall, slim and wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

He was very cordial as we all spoke, and you always want to think your friends are getting visitors when they’re laid up for a while, so I appreciated that he’d taken the time to visit.

Turns out Slaughter knew our mutual friend from their time together at Indiana University, where they both wrote for the Indiana Daily Student. It seems both Justice Mark Massa and Justice Slaughter served on the IDS editorial board during their time at IU — so you budding Supreme Court justices take note: collegiate journalism can be your key to sitting on the bench in Indiana.

In the years since, Slaughter’s name had been considered several times — for open seats that eventually went to Loretta Rush and Steven David. Now he’s got one of his own.

So Long And Thanks For All The Clicks

Last Tuesday, a funny thing happened to our web traffic counters. Here’s how it looked in Google Analytics:

Hamilton Clicks

See that vertical line that seems to come from nowhere? That’s because, in a normal hour, WBAA.org gets anywhere from 10 to 100 clicks. In the 3 p.m. hour last Tuesday, we got nearly 4,400.

Also, a normal hour might feature as many as 30 visitors to our site simultaneously. On Tuesday, we topped EIGHT HUNDRED at one time. Confused, we went to Twitter. And then it all made sense:

LMM Tweet

Note the web address that’s truncated in Mr. Miranda’s tweet. Through the magic (and vagaries) of search engine optimization, the composer of the wildly popular (and, as of last week, Grammy-winning) hip-hop musical “Hamilton” managed to find our posting of NPR’s story about the fact that one of the show’s songs opened the Grammy telecast.

By all rights, every one of these clicks belongs to NPR. But we’ve now gotten nearly 20,000 clicks we might never have gotten, thanks to one link on our site, reposted from a story on last Tuesday’s Morning Edition.

NPR social media guru Serri Graslie summed up this phenomenon nicely in one tweet:
SG Tweet

A happy accident, to be sure.

Build Operate Transfer (or: How I Learned To Stop Hiding And Love Transparency)

It’s possible you missed the controversy last week about why West Lafayette leaders didn’t know more about the bid they were about to approve in the biggest project the city has ever undertaken. It’s also possible the answer to their question (“Why wasn’t this more transparent?”) is this old chestnut: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Everyone hopes that, about three years from now, State Street will look something like this:

StateStreetMasterPlan_July2014_MKSK

But first, the city and Purdue University have to fork over about $120 million to Rieth-Riley construction company and its Plenary Roads State Street group of subcontractors.

City officials last week said Rieth-Riley beat out Walsh Group (the same folks responsible for this summer’s I-65 bridge sinking in Tippecanoe County) and Macquarie Group (the same folks who were part of a consortium responsible for leasing the Indiana Toll Road for nearly $4 billion that then had to give it back a few years later when they realized they couldn’t manage the project anymore) because Rieth-Riley proposed doing the most for the $120 million they were about to be handed.

The contents of Rieth-Riley’s and Walsh’s bids were known only to the State Street Joint Board, made up of reps from West Lafayette and Purdue who’d signed confidentiality agreements stating they couldn’t talk about the contents of those bids until a public hearing announcing the winner. Here’s the relevant piece of Indiana Code:

IC 5-23-5-6
Disclosure of contents of proposals

Sec. 6. The governmental body may refuse to disclose the contents of proposals during discussions with eligible offerors.

Note the word “may” in the above paragraph. That’s a word that, in legal lingo, gives WIDE leeway. It’s not “shall” or “must.” Instead, it’s kin to “can” and “could”. And, much like “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing, “may” also means “may not.”

That said, herewith a modest proposal about how the process can be done better the next time someone in Indiana decides to do it: pit the offerors against one another publicly.

Think about it: Everyone agrees the State Street project will not cost more than $120 million, so this is different than a standard sealed bid process, where companies are competing to do the same project for the least cash. Instead, they’re trying to do the MOST project for a DEFINED amount of money (or less).

So it’s a public-private partnership game of chicken that should be conducted in the most public way possible — heck, you could hold it in a town square and sell popcorn if you did it the right way — it would be FUN to watch. Use these simple instructions:

  1. Tell Rieth-Riley and Walsh to send their best negotiators and prepare presentations of what they can offer.
  2. Reserve space in a large park and publicly advertise the meeting.
  3. Make popcorn.
  4. Put Rieth-Riley’s and Walsh’s people on a stage and let the city’s mayor act as auctioneer.
  5. Flip a coin and decide who bids first.
  6. Each side gets as many opportunities as it wants to better the other side’s proposal, with Walsh and Rieth-Riley making alternating bids. Each side can either bid down the cost of the project or bid up the number of items included.

You could even let the people vote, right then and there, whether they like what they’re about to get. It’s the kind of public input and decision-making that just DOES NOT OCCUR now. You want people to feel connected to this project and proud of their government for getting it done? This is a better way.

And it’s both perfectly transparent and completely legal. Everything is done out in the open, within the confines of the law and in a way that unquestionably seeks public input and approval for the final design.

Please note also that the city is not obligated in any way to sign off on the “winning” bid if it doesn’t like it. If neither is impressive enough, ask for more proposals. This ensures the project isn’t just slapped together and rushed through; that only quality is accepted.

Since this was the first BOT project in Indiana involving a University, there were bound to be hiccups and stumbling blocks. And Indiana’s business-friendly legislature tends to write laws which err on the side of the 800-pound gorilla (in this case, Purdue). So it’s incumbent on those businesses to act as openly as possible.

Did Purdue, as University counsel Steve Schultz said multiple times at a meeting last Thursday, “follow the letter of the law” with the State Street bids? No question about it.

But could Purdue have been more open? Certainly.

There’s still every reason to believe the project will be good and that West Lafayette will be changed for the better. But there’s no reason for Purdue officials to say they’re “puzzled” when the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission asks for more transparency.

The law is written in such a way that if you’re not hiding anything, it’s easy to make a public show of that. To do otherwise only invites questions.

But there are other ways to use this broadly-written law so that the next time this is done, the prevailing question is: want butter with that popcorn?

 

 

 

Introducing WBAA’s Local Voices Project

Some months ago, WBAA began talks with a number of local experts on an idea to create more local content and engage the many learned members of the community in a conversation.

From those brainstorm sessions the Local Voices Project was hatched, wherein five West Central Indiana residents will, once a week and on a rotating basis, shed light on topics in which they have expertise. We plan to broadcast these essays during Here and Now on AM 920 and to post them here on the news blog.

Below you’ll find the first of those posts, from The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, who will be covering sports.

Before we start, a few disclaimers:

  • WBAA’s Local Voices Project consists of opinions from our contributors. Though in some cases the pieces will deal with timely topics, these should not be construed as news content emanating from the WBAA newsroom, NPR or any other affiliated organizations.
  • Authors’ opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of WBAA, Purdue University, NPR or any employees of the above-named groups.
  • WBAA reserves the right to edit the pieces that make up the Project, both for time and for content (though we will try to minimize both, in hopes the essays will air and be posted in the authors’ own words as much as possible).

With that, here’s Marcia’s kickoff post, in her own words:

There is something comforting about believing you live in an either/or world.

That’s one of the reasons sports have such a hold on human kind. They create clarity in an ambiguous world—there is a winner and a loser, a home team and an opponent, and clear lines drawn for what is out of bounds and what counts as the field of play. And sports give us the assurance of a level playing field where everyone plays by the same rules and everyone has a fair shot if they work hard enough.

Sports are, however, more often a mirror for society’s grey areas than they are an antidote to our most vexing social problems. Even still, those who have the power to tell us the narratives of sport today want us to believe sports are either/or. Many of the most difficult issues facing the world of sports today could be substantively addressed if the powers that be could just let go of their grip on the either/or architecture that has defined revenue sports in America.

My monthly contributions on sports will be an effort to cultivate a deeper conversation about the most pressing issues facing the world of sports today: race, economic justice, concussions, issues of gender and sexuality, and how revenue sports fit into the mission of our country’s institutions of higher learning to name just a few.

Such a deeper conversation begins here by dismissing from duty the red herring of “pay for play.” The warnings of the evils of “pay for play” keep us from thinking rationally about what is fair for collegiate athletes. Dismissing the red herring from duty clears the way for us to take a more substantive look at a particular issue of economic justice for collegiate athletes: what rights and opportunities athletes who compete at the collegiate level have to be entrepreneurs and to participate in the American marketplace.

Far from an abstract question, this issue is as live as they get. The NCAA convention convenes this week and a proposal that seeks a change to NCAA bylaw 12, concerning student-athlete self-employment, is on the docket. The vote by the 65 Power Five conference schools and the fifteen student-athlete representatives elected from the Power Five is January 15.

One important thing to note about this proposal is that no matter if it passes or fails, there are some things that will remain true for student-athletes who want to start their own businesses:

  • Student-athletes cannot start a business that has anything to do with sports. Prohibited business ventures include anything to do with fitness, sports apps, sports memorabilia, or sports videos.
  • Student-athletes cannot use their identity as an athlete to promote their own businesses. For example, a football player cannot have a picture of himself in his jersey on a promotional flyer even if the business has nothing to do with sports. The football player cannot use his accomplishments or influence as an athlete to promote his business venture.
  • Student-athletes cannot receive any discounts or special deals from vendors, suppliers, or contractors in starting their own business. For example, if I am a student-athlete and I want to start my own tee shirt business (non-sports related, of course) I cannot get those tee shirts at cost from a vendor as a special deal to help me get started.
  • Student-athletes must supply 50% of the seed money for the allowable business and no one in the athletic department can have a financial interest in the business.

Anyone who has ever started his/her own business may be having a visceral reaction to these restrictions. What does it mean to start you own business if you can’t trade on the things that give you the most influence and social capital? How can you effectively find investors if you can’t turn to the people who know you and your abilities the best? How many college students have the seed money they need to start a business venture themselves? How many families of college students have adequate resources to provide their student-athlete with such financial capital?

Far from an either/or proposition of either paying collegiate revenue generating athletes for their revenue-generating work or not paying them, the quagmire of economic justice in collegiate sports is a tangled web of rules and regulations that create ridiculous obstacles for student-athletes to just be on a level playing field with other students. Consider for a minute that engineering students, music students, math students, computer science students all have the freedom to trade on their skills and expertise in their area of study to start their own businesses.

Just for fun, let’s consider what would actually change if the bylaw change proposed by the PAC 12 passes. The Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, and Big 12) now have the ability to vote together on changes to NCAA bylaws for the sixty-five schools in those five conferences. Here is what the Pac-12 proposal would change:

  • Student-athletes who have the green light to start allowable businesses from the compliance office at their university would be able to use their name, picture, or likeness on promotional materials about their business. In other words, the Pac-12 proposal seeks a change to the current NCAA bylaws that prohibit student-athletes from putting their name or picture on a business card or other promotional materials.

It might sound like a no-brainer to you to say someone should simply be allowed to put his/her name on a business card or flyer promoting a new business. How do you start a business if you can’t even put your name on a business card? Good question.

And this conversation does not even scratch the surface on all the restrictions that student-athletes face when it comes to benefiting from their name, image, or likeness. They can’t sell a jersey that they own on eBay. They can’t agree to sign autographs for $100. They can’t have a yard sale and sell some of their team gear that they don’t use anymore. Shouldn’t collegiate athletes be able to participate in the American marketplace with the resources and social capital their hard work gives them? Another good question.

And if collegiate sports really embodied the fair play we want to believe they do, those with the power to change things would substantively address these important questions. Instead, student-athletes will continue to be disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the either/or mentalities of those who think things are just fine the way they are.

The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, Ph.D. is a theologian and author of several books including Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports. She lives in West Lafayette with her family. She blogs at www.marciamountshoop.com and you can follow her on Twitter @mmountshoop

What You Read In 2015

Hello from 2016 — a year in which the U.S. picks some new leaders, the Cubs finally win a World Series and we look back on the most-read posts from WBAA.org in 2015.*

*Note: at least two of these three things will happen.

So, in backwards-countdown fashion, here are the top ten posts that you, the public radio website viewer, read, shared, sneered at, consumed, tweeted, Facebooked, Insta-Snap-Vine-thingyed, et cetera in the last 12 months:

#10: A Ride Aboard The ‘New’ Hoosier State Line (Sept 16)

This story, from Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Barbara Brosher, tells a little about the changes made when the Hoosier State Line transitioned to control by Iowa Pacific Holdings from Amtrak. We plan to update this story in 2016.

#9: Amazon Opening Brings Questions Of Space Use, Competition (February 25)

When he was governor, Mitch Daniels frequently espoused his belief in the free market — that government shouldn’t “picks winners and losers.” So when Purdue signed on with Amazon to operate two bookstores on campus (even though there’s a bookstore just off campus that’s been there for decades), wasn’t the President going against his previous statement? Also, the student body president says the building in which one Amazon store is located was supposed to be for student groups, not e-commerce.

#8: Monthly Conversation With Mitch Daniels: Tuition Freeze And Raises (May 20)

Purdue, as expected, announced a fourth year of tuition freezes in 2015. All the while, the University forked over an additional 3.5-percent for salary increases — as long as departments fell in line with President Mitch Daniels’ call to innovate. And there’s another topic tucked into this show that appears later on the list, too…

#7: Indiana E-Cigarette Regulations: Too Far Or Not Far Enough? (March 5)

Indiana and other states have struggled in recent years to keep legislation current with an exploding market for dangerous products. Previously it was bath salts and synthetic marijuana. In 2015, it was the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping liquids. But state lawmakers must now decide, product-by-product, which sales fall under which statutes — all while not making the law so vague that it’ll be struck down in court.

#6: Purdue Tenure Policy Could Change To Reflect Gallup Index (July 16)

2015 was the second year of the Gallup-Purdue Index, which attempts to measure what causes college grads to succeed in life and feel engaged in their communities. However, this story was the tip of the iceberg of a discussion that eventually led to a heated discussion about how professors achieve tenure at Purdues and some Purdue professors claiming the survey results were skewed and found only what Purdue officials wanted to find so they could make changes under the guise of a study.

#5: Christian Group Holding Its Conference In Indy Wants Notice Of LGBT Worshipers (July 6)

Despite the backlash over the state’s so-called religious freedom bill, a Christian group made a point to say it was coming to Indianapolis in an effort to show faith communities weren’t governed by hate and did welcome LGBTQ parishioners.

#4: Committee Approves Bill Creating Alternative Energy Fee (February 19)

This story, from IPBS Statehouse Reporter Brandon Smith, chronicled one of the less-heated issues of the 2015 session. Basically, consumers benefit if they can install solar panels, so lawmakers tried to find a way to make utility companies benefit, too.

#3:For Hoosier State Line, The Clock Is Running Even If New Trains Aren’t (July 8)

Want to know one of the big reasons WBAA hired Chris Morisse Vizza from the Journal and Courier? She kept beating me on stories — particularly about the Hoosier State Line. I worked a long time on this story, trying to balance quotes from multiple sides (INDOT, Amtrak, Iowa Pacific) who don’t seem to like each other very much. This story also produced this interview with Amtrak’s Marc Magliari, who wins the award for lowest percentage of questions directly answered in a WBAA Q&A.

#2: Worried About A Lawsuit From Hetero Couples, Purdue Nixing Same-sex Benefits (December 18)

This one came right at the end of the year, but blew away most other stories in terms of interest. Purdue is between a rock and a hard place. Sure they could legitimately be sued by heterosexual couples who think they deserve benefits even if they’re not married, but if you do this and you force people to marry to receive benefits, isn’t that tacit pressure to wed on behalf of a university that should take no stake in such matters?

#1: Purdue RFRA Response Differs From Other Colleges (April 1)

If this was meant to be an April Fool’s Day joke, it was a doozy. Many presidents of Indiana colleges penned letters condemning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Most used their own names or spoke in the first person. But Purdue’s letter was signed “Office of the President.” Purdue officials expressed confusion about why there was such a hubbub about their letter diverging from the pack. After WBAA questioned them on it, the signature line and the headline on the website were changed.

Paul Haaga On NPR’s Future And On Mitch Daniels In College

I had a chance last week to sit down with NPR Board member Paul Haaga when he was on campus to talk about where NPR sees itself going in the coming years — and try to dig up some dirt on Purdue’s President (who Haaga says parties have always loved — first the social kind in college, then the political kind later). Have a listen:

RTDNA Elections: You Can’t Fight City Hall

I wrote last week about my candidacy for the Radio-Television Digital News Association’s Board of Directors — the election for which was held over the weekend.

I don’t know how many votes I got — or how many my opponent got, for that matter. And here we get to crux of the issue.

What I do know is that if this were an algebraic equation, my vote total would be represented by (x) and my opponent’s would be almost (3x). I’m told he won, but how or by how many votes is unclear.

I received an e-mail Sunday from the RTDNA’s Executive Director, who let me know before the results were announced that I hadn’t won. I responded to him by asking for some statistics. He sent back a note saying it was a “longstanding board policy” not to release vote totals. I did get him to tell me the vote percentage: 71%-29% in favor of the other guy.

Ouch. Walter Mondale and Barry Goldwater, eat your hearts out.

First, thanks to the anonymous 29% who cast a ballot in my name. Now, onto the implications.

Before the election, I had asked for a list of all the RTDNA members in Region 7 (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan). I didn’t think much about it before the polls opened, but the list is DOMINATED by TV folks. There appear to be about twice as many TV talkers as radio reporters on the list of the approximately 130 people with votes in Region 7. I should say here this is emblematic of the broadcast news landscape the country over. There are MANY more local TV news operations than there are radio newsrooms. Look at Indianapolis: There are about five TV newsrooms and there are two radio news shops. That’s five of seven, or about 71% — the same percentage my opponent garnered in this year’s election. Hmmm…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in covering elections for many years, it’s that people seldom vote for a candidate based on how good their overall platform is. Instead, they tend to cast ballots for someone whom they believe shares a common trait with them. In short: it’s reasonable to believe the radio people will vote for the radio people and the TV folks may not break ranks with their peers.

I also ran on a platform of doing something difficult: eschewing the junk that fills a lot of newscasts the nation over and, instead, having longer, difficult, more in-depth conversations with newsmakers about topics that actually affect viewers or listeners. That takes more time and effort to craft. It doesn’t pay attention to profit margins or ratings.

My opponent didn’t even write a candidate statement and he clobbered me.

I feel worse for a couple other folks connected to public radio who tried to run good campaigns were also pushed aside by the TV-centric RTDNA membership: Eve Troeh (a former Marketplace national reporter and now the news director at WWO in New Orleans) and Thor Wasbotten at Kent State University and WKSU.

So I’ve learned a lot from this election cycle. I don’t know if I’ll try again in the future, but there’s much to digest. Then again, a good leader who’d just won a somewhat improbable election once said “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Vote WBAA This Fall

While I’ve run for minor offices before (like that Spanish Club election I once won by promising to bring donuts to every meeting), nothing compares to the responsibility of my current endeavor.

I’m running to represent Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio on the Radio-Television Digital News Association Board of Directors. You can read my candidate statement here by scrolling down to Region 7.

Both Indiana and public radio need more representation on the Board and more of a voice nationally. As commercial media contracts in many places, public media is picking up the slack and it should get a voice commensurate with that responsibility.

Also, this is a chance to strike a blow against all the terrible reporting practices that still survive from 100 years ago (which you’ll read about in my statement). We HAVE to do our jobs in a new, smarter and more efficient way and that’s why I’m running.

The voting is only open this weekend, and I’m up against a TV news director from Lansing, Michigan (the incumbent, who was on the fence about whether to even run again, just to give you a sense of his commitment).

As we say in the news biz, “More on this story as it develops.”

WBAA News — Now With A Smaller Carbon Footprint

How the WBAA News team gets to work.

How the WBAA News team gets to work.

A ‘Hard’ Question I’d Never Considered

Recently, on a car ride with a friend, a discussion sprung up about our respective jobs, which we hadn’t really discussed before. And she floored me with a very simple question:

“Is your job hard?”

I literally had to sit quietly and think about it for 15 seconds. Never had I considered whether broadcast journalism was difficult. But the question made me realize something important: the job is as difficult as we make it — and in some ways, the people who are best at it deliberately make it the most difficult.

To be sure, stories can be written/edited/created faster with practice, which makes the job easier. But there are portions that are meant to be harder.To wit:

  • Instead of running a story with two sources, a reporter finds 3-4 and leaves the consumer with fewer questions
  • Instead of taking “no comment” for an answer, a journalist tries to convey how important it is for a given source to be part of a story and (sometimes) gets that person’s opinions on tape.
  • Rather than standing pat with the programming a news department has, staff members try to create more. This takes a lot more setup and behind-the-scenes work than they had been doing, but it makes the station better.
  • Sometimes you have to fight for your ethics. If the general manager and sales manager of the public radio/TV station you work for come to you and tell you to do a story on Downton Abbey because your station is trying to get people to sign up for a Downtown Abbey-themed tour it’s having trouble filling and is about to lose money on, the right answer is some form of the following: “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MAGGIE SMITH-LOVING MIND?!” Also: this is a true story I’ve personally been witness to, only the reporter did the story.

Having the above argument is not fun or easy. It’s really hard. But it’s unquestionably the right thing to do.

Similarly, it’s important to realize broadcasters are semi-public figures. We’re not elected officials, but there is a chunk of the wider world that’s aware of us (and how we represent the media entities for which we work). So we get some of same sorts of criticism public figures get. That’s a tough part of the job.

And yet, it’s all something we consciously signed up for. For a broadcaster to say they were blindsided by any of the above is disingenuous at best. We knew what we were getting into and, in many cases, have been trained for at least some part of it.

So yeah, my job can be hard, but it’s worth doing right (like most jobs). I don’t think it’s the hardest job out there, by any means (or the easiest). But I do think journalists fall into a meaningful middle ground — and it’s only when we forsake that meaning to try to make the job unnecessarily easy that we lose sight of our purpose.