News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 14, 2009

EDITOR'S NOTE: Appearance of corruption a strong incentive for reform

By Max Jones

TERRE HAUTE — Today, and for the following two days, Tribune-Star readers are being treated to a remarkable series of editorials and essays produced by the Indianapolis Star. The project represents watchdog, advocacy journalism at its best, and our newspaper is proud to be part of the Star’s statewide effort to reach the citizens and taxpayers affected by the topic.

Reforming the way lobbying is regulated in the state legislature has long been among the Star’s favorite subjects on its editorial pages. But producing an exhaustive and highly compelling series such as this one shows extraordinary commitment to a cause about which the paper’s editorial board feels strongly.

What’s more, by choosing to share its series, “Access to Power,” with 22 other newspapers around the state, the Star has cast aside its competitive instincts in favor of maximum impact. In the not-too-distant past, such collaborative sharing was almost unheard of. A newspaper such as the Star, with its broad reach into virtually every part of the state, would consider such a big series a competitive edge against other news organizations, a potent effort to build readership and paid circulation.

Print journalism is changing. The Star, while still the largest circulation newspaper in Indiana, by far, does not have the reach it once had. Rather than being a statewide newspaper, it is now a strong regional newspaper that serves the most populous area of the state.

Being located in the state capital, however, does carry great responsibility for covering the Statehouse. That’s a big job, one no other news organization is equipped to do. And the Star does it well. Its editors’ decision to reach out and share this particular project will allow greater penetration for its message and increase the chances of triggering positive change in the way government and the legislature do business.

In addition to providing participating newspapers with editorials, columns, essays, and editorial cartoons, the Star’s editorial board encouraged all of the newspapers to generate their own content on the topic of lobbying reform, and to share that content when appropriate with all the others as well.

The Tribune-Star does indeed intend to cover this topic in coming days and weeks. The Star’s series undoubtedly will open many eyes, and it’s likely the interest generated will spark change — or at least heated debate — when the next legislative session is convened in January. Our coverage, in both news and editorial columns, will attempt to keep readers informed of developments and provide impetus for change.

The story being told in this series is an important one. Access to legislative power is skewed in favor of those with money and resources to lobby decision makers. Does it mean the system is corrupt? Not necessarily.

The legislature is populated by many, many elected representatives and senators guided by a strong sense of ethics. But the system invites the potential for corruption, or at the very least creates the appearance that corruption could be at work. That in itself is a strong incentive for reform.

Please take a close look at the list of common-sense reforms proposed in this series. Then study the accompanying reasoning behind these proposals.

This is a very compelling case for reform.

As always, we invite your comments and responses. We will publish as many of those comments as possible.



Tribune-Star editor Max Jones can be reached at max.jones@tribstar.com.