Bashing The Indianapolis Star these days has become so easy, it's gone from being like shooting fish in a barrel to being almost cruel, like making fun of a special-needs individual or disabled person.

I've fed at the trough of mocking The Star for 17 years at NUVO, but I'm not trying to do so this week. I'm just trying to understand why The Star of today reads like a newspaper that's already closed and how it became so irrelevant so fast.

Every so often, the paper will surprise you with a well-written and to-the-point article, but for the most part, The Star has become what no publication ever wishes to be: largely ignored and rarely discussed.

There was a time when nearly everyone in the city read The Star, even if they hated it. My parents canceled their subscriptions multiple times in outrage over its right-wing politics. But after a few weeks, they missed its presence and re-subscribed, even if it was only to be outraged by it.

Today, of all the people I know outside journalism, I know of only two people who have The Star delivered every day, and one of those gets it only for the grocery coupons.

In the past five years, especially, it's seemed to have collapsed as a functioning daily newspaper and exists only to promote its Web site and satisfy the need of elderly folk to hear the newspaper thud against their doorstep each morning.

I'm not sure why that is, other than it seems to have abandoned the city as much as its readers have abandoned it. A local newspaper thrives by being, well, local, and The Star seems to not have too much interest in actually covering events in the city of Indianapolis.

For all its well-publicized flaws, The Star of old was at least engaged with the city and its people. My parents despised the right-wing editorial cartoons and conservative propaganda it used to spout, but they always read the columns of Tom Keating, perhaps this city's greatest journalistic champion of the underdog.

They read the sports columns of Bob Collins and Robin Miller with eagerness. They represented the best of old-school newspapermen: hard-working, fearless, controversial and unafraid to cut big-shots down to size when they deserved it.

There are a few giants left there, great journalists whose jobs have not yet been downsized. For all the fun I've had at his expense in print over the years, Bob Kravitz has managed to become a local institution and delivers a great read even on his worst day. David Lindquist is the dean of local entertainment coverage and is respected almost unanimously in the local music scene, even by the bands he's panned.

But other than that, The Star reads like the closed-captioning text of a bad local TV news broadcast: shootings, fires and sports and nothing else.

It's not like they've fired all the talented people there, although they've tried their best to do so. And presumably the individuals in senior management positions are not untalented or unintelligent people.

They want to connect to their audience but don't seem to know how to do so. In an effort to deliver a streamlined, modern, sophisticated news product, they've drained all the passion, zeal and energy out of it.

Their failed weekly publication, widely seen at the time of its launch as a threat to NUVO, has gone from being mildly spicy and entertaining to just another repository for movie times and telephone numbers of restaurants.

I often think of what my mentors, the late Mr. Keating and Harrison Ullmann, would make of the daily newspaper of their beloved hometown. Despite the fact they had an ax to grind against the paper -- both were treated unfairly and were basically shoved out the door after years of devoted service there -- I think they'd be saddened at its freefall into meaninglessness.

I think they'd also lament the fact that so many stories of ordinary people in Indianapolis are being untold by the paper and that The Star's ability and clout to promote a positive civic agenda has been reduced to nil.

Mostly, I think they'd wonder why the newspaper seems to be as eager to fire all its readers as much as it does its newsroom employees. It's unhealthy for a city this large to have no daily newspaper, yet that's what we effectively have at this point.

And since, next to friends and family, what I love most is Indianapolis, my hometown and permanent residence, The Star's virtual death is no laughing matter; it's something to mourn and grieve.


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