Last week saw quite a shake-up at the Indianapolis Star, which is, currently, the only major newspaper operating in the state capital of Indiana, population 1,700,000 in the metro area.
The staff change within the Star was first announced by Indiana Pacers beat writer Mike Wells.
Back on June 21st, Wells (no relation, though I giggle when people actually ask me if there is) went on local Indianapolis radio station WFNI and told hosts Michael Grady and Joe Staysniak that he would be the new beat writer covering the Indianapolis Colts.
When asked a question about what Wells would expect from the Pacers soon in regards to the NBA Draft, Wells, answered:
My days of covering the Pacers are done. I am no longer the Pacers beat writer at the Star.
This prompted a stunned Staysniak - a former Colts offensive lineman from back in the days of Jim Harbaugh playing quarterback in Indy - and Grady to ask, "Since when?"
I am switching over to the Colts. Mike Chappell and I will be teaming up to cover the Colts for the Star.
This local news bombshell lead me and others who have read the Indy Star for decades to wonder: WTF does this mean for long-time beat writer Mike Chappell and his future with the paper? What about team blogger Phil B. Wilson? Phil Richards?
The news caught everyone off guard, including several people who cover the NFL nationally. I got texts from them asking, "What is going on in Indy?"
More importantly, why did Mike Wells make this sort of announcement on a local morning radio show? Why didn't one of the numerous Indy Star editors with Twitter accounts do this? Adding a new writer like Wells to a beat that has been owned by Chappell for decades is something that we long-time local readers call NEWS!
However, instead of updating readers on this pretty radical change in their NFL coverage, the Star's official Twitter handle was busy providing updates on Justin Beiber's legal troubles and summer yoga classes on Monument Circle.
Journalism for the win, folks!
We're now six days removed from Wells' radio announcement, and the Star still hasn't officially posted anything noting the change in both Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts coverage. It's a decision that has rubbed more than a few local people the wrong way. Wells himself has now changed his Twitter handle from @MikeWellsNBA to @MikeWellsNFL.
Wells had covered Pacers basketball since 2000.
Being the intrepid
asshole blogger that I am, I've spent the last six days talking to several people in the know about the changes that happened within the Star. Many of these conversations were off the record. Basically, what I can report is that the moves were made to beef up the Star's NFL coverage. This is a trend we're seeing across many newspapers, especially those owned by corporate mega-giants like Gannett.
The reality is the NFL sells. All other sports are a distant second.
In terms of their Colts coverage, while I question Mike Wells announcing the beat writer news in the way he did - I think it would have been more tasteful and respectful if either Chappell or a sports editor to announced the change - that does not mean I think Wells won't do a good job. Mike is an excellent beat writer, and for someone like me who hates the NBA and its odious commissioner, the more NFL coverage the Star provides, the better!
Also, in fairness to Wells, the announcement also seemed to put him at a disadvantage. Because he was the one to declare the change, EVERYONE bombarded him with questions about why it was happening. In my opinion, that was not fair to Wells. Editors are paid to handle that sort of sh*t, which is why one of them should have done it.
It also seems odd that such an established NBA writer like Wells is switching beats. Wells has several connections within the NBA, and his relationship with newly returned team president Larry Bird provided him with a rare "in" that most NBA beat writers don't have.
The Star plans to hire a new Pacers beat writer rather than re-assign someone internally.
Also, many in local media have the perception that Wells "doesn't know anything about the NFL," and, despite his ignorance on the sport, he is now covering that gem of a beat.
See this exchange between Staysniak, Grady, and Wells from last week:
Staysniak: Now, what a second, you don't know anything about football!
Wells: Hey man, that's the biggest thing. That was my first beat. I covered the Minnesota Vikings for two seasons. With my man Denny Green, Dante Culpepper, Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Robert Smith. Unfortunately, I was there when Korey Stringer passed away. He was the only Vikings that actually called me by my name. that one definitely hit home back in 2001
Grady: I gotta wrap my mind around this, Wells.
Staysniak: You don't know anything about football, and you're going to cover football now?
Grady: You're joking.
As for Phil B. Wilson and Phil Richards, as far as I know their status with the paper has remained unchanged. Wilson recently tweeted out some news regarding LaVon Brazill's suspension.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, this change doesn't affect Bob Kravitz at all. Even Staysniak wondered openly if Kravitz "still had a job." He does, and a pretty sweet one at that.
Obviously, we look forward to Wells' coverage of the Colts, along with the Indianapolis Star's improved coverage overall. We just think that the people in charge over that at 307 N. Pennsylvania Street could have handled this a lot better and maybe, just maybe, they should re-think how they handle local news.