It seems the somewhat premature announcement of Mike Wells as the new co-beat writer covering the Indianapolis Colts alongside Mike Chappell was just the tip of the iceberg for the Indianapolis Star and its intended staff changes.
According to a report from the Indianapolis Business Journal's Anthony Schoettle, it is Wells who is now the primary Colts beat writer while longtime scribe Mike Chappell, who has covered the team as the sole beat writer* since 1984, will transition into a "secondary role."
Star Editor Jeff Taylor said in a memo to staffers this week and obtained by the IBJ that the changes are about beefing up the newspaper’s offering to readers. He added that the IU and Pacers beat writing positions would be posted soon.
Among the changes Star readers can expect are a weekly online sports show, a digital magazine for online subscribers and expanded recruiting coverage, Taylor explained.
"We’re working to create a new kind of experience for sports fans in our market—adding resources and offering new digital products, he wrote in the inner-office memo.
Other changes outlined in the memo:
- Long-time I.U. beat writer Terry Hutchens will transition into covering "new efforts on recruiting, focusing primarily on college basketball." Hutchens took to Facebook and expressed disappointment in the job change.
- The newspaper will bring in outside people to fill the Indiana Pacers and Indiana University beats.
- David Woods is being moved off the Butler basketball beat.
- Phil Richards will move to a new role focusing on "Sunday projects"
- Phil B. Wilson, the Colts team blogger the last few years, will shift to an online, video journalist role and he will host of the Star’s online sports coverage.
As Anthony noted in his article, not everyone inside the Star's North Pennsylvania Street building is happy about these changes. Based on the talks I had with people for this story, I can say that Anthony's info is spot-on. I can also confirm that Wells is indeed the new beat writer covering the Colts while Chappell is taking a secondary role.
The de-emphasizing of Chappell is particularly troubling, and it makes Wells' June 21st announcement on WFNI radio especially odd given that he has now, effectively, replaced Mike Chappell.
Wells told WFNI hosts Michael Grady and Joe Staysniak that he saw this new job "sharing" the beat with Chappell as something similar to when he worked with Mark Montieth when both of them covered the Pacers in the early 2000s. At the time, Montieth was the primary, senior beat writer while Wells was the secondary guy.
That is not the relationship Wells and Chappell will have covering the Colts in 2013. Wells is the top dog covering the prime sports beat, not Chappell.
For the Star to shove aside a seasoned reporter like Chappell, relegate him to a "secondary role," and effectively replace him with someone who is best known for his NBA writing, it all sounds... well, it sounds as if it is a cruel joke. If this happened on April 1st, no one would believe it.
I've seen reorganizations happen at newspapers, but this one is pretty extreme.
Imagine if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pushed Ed Bouchette, who has covered the Steelers since 1985, into a "secondary role" and then moved their Penguins beat writer over as the primary Steelers scribe. Fans in Steeltown would damn near riot!
The one question I keep coming back to is, How does this beef-up the Colts coverage? I don't mean that as an insult aimed at Mike Wells. As I've stated in previous articles, he's a fine reporter. However, when you step back and look at all this, one cannot help but feel as if someone at the Star must have a serious issue with Chappell's work. If that's the case, I don't see how Wells' work is anything better or more compelling than Chappell's. Hell, Wells himself would probably agree with me on that!
There is tremendous reverence and respect inside and outside the Indianapolis Star for Chappell. I cannot imagine that this new "secondary role" they've demoted him to will be viewed kindly by those who cover the NFL nationally.
Perhaps, just a they seem to view the opinions of their readers, the decision-makers at the Indianapolis Star don't really give a sh*t what people think. If Wells' new work increases subscriptions, the change in their minds will likely be justified.
* I was told by the Indy Star that, at one time, Phil Richards used to do the game write-ups. However, Chappell has always been the primary beat writer. At least, as long as I can remember (and I was alive pre-1984).