At the end of February, Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence plans to debut a news website called “Just IN” which will compete head-to-head with independent news outlets. According to The Indianapolis Star, the site will feature articles written by employees of the Pence administration. Pence’s office has tapped former Indianapolis Star writer Bill McCleery to oversee the project. The site will reportedly contain a mix of news articles, personality profiles, and feel-good stories.
The price tag on the taxpayer-funded news project is as-yet unknown, but The Indianapolis Star uncovered state records indicating that Just IN already has two full-time employees who are being paid a combined total of $100,000. The news service will be steered by a board of directors and editorial board appointed by Governor Pence. Bill McCleery will also serve on Just IN‘s editorial board.
Pence’s administration has sent mixed signals about the purpose of the site. On the one hand, administration officials have portrayed the news outlet as a high-style, glorified press release distribution service to assist the media in obtaining breaking news from the governor’s office. On the other hand, state documents describing the site said, “We expect reporters to find the site useful, and some features are designed specifically for media professionals. Just IN, however, will function as a news outlet in its own right for thousands of Hoosiers.”
Critics claim that Just IN will feature articles with a pro-administration slant and will compete directly with independent news sites using taxpayer funds. Hoosier State Press Association executive director Steve Key told The Indianapolis Star, “It’s not uncommon throughout history for governments to do what they can to control the message. Is that done in a benign way because they’re trying to get more info out to the public, or is it done with hidden motivations in making sure their message is seen in the best light possible?”
A tweet written by Indianapolis Star investigative journalist John Russell and cited by The Huffington Post said, “Every professional journalist in Indiana should join me in denouncing Gov. Pence’s state-run ‘news service.'” Journal Gazette reporter Niki Kelly tweeted about Just IN and asked, “So what happens if I ask a state agency for specific information? Do they write my story before I do?”
Portland Commercial Review publisher Jack Ronald, who, during the late ’90s, traveled to former Soviet states to assist journalists in creating independent media outlets in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, said, “I have no problem with public information services — the Purdue University agriculture extension service does a great job. But the notion of elected officials presenting material that will inevitably have a pro-administration point of view is antithetical to the idea of an independent press.”
MSNBC writer Steve Benen wrote, “What’s unfolding in Indiana sounds an awful lot like taxpayer-funded propaganda from the Pence administration.”
Governor Mike Pence is rumored to be considering a 2016 run for the Republican nomination for president. CNN notes that Pence said in 2005, “As a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.”