Photograph by Steven Higgs

In addition to being one of my busiest of the year, this past week has been one that I haven’t been able to get away from I-69 and, in a related matter, just how poorly the Bloomington community is served by its local “news media,” in this case WFIU radio. The connection between the two goes a long way to explain why more than 500 Indiana families and small businesses stand to have their homes, dreams and livelihoods destroyed in the near future by a political system that, free from the constraints of true journalism, thrives on graft and corruption.

It was a week in which I didn’t have time to do any reporting or real writing, in part due to a deadline on a months-long I-69 writing project that I will talk about at a later time. I had hoped to update readers on a watershed confrontation between I-69 supporters and opponents scheduled for 1:30 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 11, in City Hall. But e-mails asking for an update sent to the four members of the Bloomington-Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) produced only one response, from Andy Ruff, who said he didn’t know.

So, I’m left with no alternative but to recap and editorialize this week. I hate it when that happens, but so it goes.

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For background on the MPO meeting, see “Feds' letter postpones I-69 showdown” from the June 28 Alternative. At issue is a request from a landowner at the intersection of Tapp Road and State Road 37 for a “hardship buyout” of property at a planned I-69 intersection.

"The outcome will be a test of character and commitment for Kruzan."

In a letter to the MPO, the Federal Highway Administration denied I-69 was a factor, but no thinking person would be sucker enough to buy that. The more credible explanation is that this is an attempt by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to get a foothold in Monroe County, not to mention having someone here other than the Bloomington Growth Machine endorse the new-terrain highway.

It's all long-term, I-69 strategy. The outcome will be a test of character and commitment for Kruzan. He has a long history of paying lip service to the I-69 opposition but wilting under pressure. Stay tuned. It will be interesting.

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The core principles of responsible journalism were fresh in my mind when I awoke Thursday morning to a WFIU report about INDOT surveying property for I-69 in Greene and Daviess counties. On Wednesday, I had lectured my journalism students on several of them.

"The purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing."- The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel

Here’s a quick overview, with two provisos. There are many principles; these just reflect the textbooks I am using for my reporting, writing and editing classes this semester. And they all apply to media outlets like WFIU and the Herald-Times, who purport to serve the general public.

Most but not all apply to advocacy journalism, like the Alternative, The Progressive, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, etc. We have a somewhat different set of rules.

They all flow from this quote from the book The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach from the Committee of Concerned Journalists and Tom Rosentiel from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “The purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

Journalists’ obligations are, above all others, to accuracy, the truth and the citizenry. Aside from treating their sources fairly and reporting their positions accurately, journalists have no obligations to the people and institutions they write about.

Every story must have an element of newness in it.

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The I-69 report that aired on WFIU on the morning of Sept. 3. It reported that INDOT was surveying property in Greene and Daviess counties followed none of these principles of basic journalistic practice.

"A mere two weeks ago, the Indianapolis Star reported on and editorialized about the fact that I-69 is moving at a snail’s pace, that costs are rising, and INDOT does not have the resources to build it."

For starters, this was anything but a new story. It was a week old. The H-T reported it on Aug. 27. The only thing I heard that was new was a quote from an INDOT spokesperson saying the agency was “accelerating” the process of building I-69. Anyone remotely knowledgeable about the most contentious political story in this community over the past 20 years would know that statement was nothing but spin.

A mere two weeks ago, the Indianapolis Star reported on and editorialized about the fact that I-69 is moving at a snail’s pace, that costs are rising, and INDOT does not have the resources to build it, which, again, any enlightened citizen in this community has known since the late 1980s. (See 20 Years of Crimes Against Democracy.)

To quote the Star editorial board directly: “Gov. Mitch Daniels' successor may find it feasible to rethink the project if progress remains slow and cost estimates continue to rise. Otherwise, he or she will become the next star player in a high-stakes guessing game of historic proportions.”

That, in truth, is the strategy behind INDOT's determination to start construction on I-69 in Greene County and to buy property in Monroe. The more money they spend on the northern end of the new-terrain I-69 route, the more they diminish the argument for the less-expensive, less-destructive alternative route of U.S. 41/I-70 from Evansville to Indianapolis.

There was no truth in the WFIU report, other than the fact that INDOT is surveying property. It was neither fair, informative nor balanced. It wasn’t accurate. It served only the state, not the community.

To quote Kovach and Rosentiel again: “In the new century, one of the most profound questions for democratic society is whether an independent press survives.”

The prospects are not good, for the press or our democracy.

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.