Governor’s Office tries to clarify ‘Just IN’ after widespread controversy

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan 28, 2015) - Governor Mike Pence looked to clarify the controversy over a news outlet run by his staff Tuesday, as fear mounts among politicians and reporters that the state-run news operation will circumvent the independent media.

“Throughout my career I’ve been committed to a free and independent press,” said Pence during a press conference Tuesday.

Pence’s office is looking to create a news agency that would provide news stories written by his staff, directly to the public.

Documents obtained by our news gathering partners at IndyStar show the “Just IN” state news website will “break news – publishing information ahead of any other news outlet.”

“My understanding is that the website, that has become a source of controversy, was simply an effort to have a one stop shopping website for press releases and information coming from various state agencies. It’s meant to be a resource, not a news source,” said Pence.

But according to Pence’s press secretary, a news source is exactly what the website will be.  In a news release sent out Tuesday afternoon, Pence’s press office admitted “Just IN will be a “news resource website.”

“This is something they ought to back track from because any time you see your own name in the same sentence as Vladimir Putin, you probably need to rethink your decision,” said State Rep. Scott Pelath (D – Michigan City).

Pelath, the State House Minority Leader told the Governor Tuesday to back out, of “Just IN.”

Pelath is concerned that the news website will act as promotional material for the Governor’s agenda.

“We see all sorts of questions over the blending of government and a free media which we all count on to be able to do good jobs here in public service and to make sure that we ourselves are held accountable,” he said.

“It goes one step beyond asking people, ‘hey, will you write this about my healthcare plan,’” said IndyStar political reporter Tom LoBianco.

LoBianco was first to report about “Just IN.” He’s worried the site will circumvent reporters and plug propaganda-like news directly to voters.

“Some people have said it sounds too much like Goebbels. People have made Russian Pravda references, state-run media. It’s a step beyond that,” he said.

Illinois, with “The Illinois Government News Network,” is the only other state with a slightly similar news distribution outlet.

National news outlets have also picked up on “Just IN.”  The Atlantic Magazine dubbed the Governor’s website, “Pravda on the Plains.”

"That’s not the type of national news you want to make if you’re a potential presidential candidate," said IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens in an interview with FOX59. "It is a bad idea, it’s a really bad idea and it’s one the governor should kill immediately because its just going to get worse."

See our entire interview with Swarens in the video below.

The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists released this statement Wednesday morning:

The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists released this statement today in response to an Indianapolis Star story that Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run, taxpayer-funded news outlet:

The job of a journalist is to seek the truth and report it. The job of a government is to shape and administer public policy. The two roles should never be confused.

The public depends on free, independent journalists to deliver critical information and hold public officials accountable. When governments try to act as journalists, they invariably obstruct or bend information, according to other needs. That can lead to a misunderstanding of what journalists really do and a mistrust of journalism at large.

As journalists, we expect the state government to provide clear, unbiased information, through press secretaries, public information officers and other government officials clearly labeled as such. It serves no one when they call themselves journalists or editors.

Given Gov. Pence's Jan. 27 statement that the Star's story reflects an "understandable misunderstanding" of the "news" site's intentions, we hope that the governor addresses the issues of journalistic integrity raised in the Star's story and takes steps to make sure that the press releases and stories written by state government staffers are not packaged or distributed as "news" or "journalism."

— Board members Rebecca Townsend, John Russell, Tim Evans, Kara Kenney, Loni McKown, Scott Uecker and Marc Chase

P.S. We respectfully note that some of our board members have recused themselves because of ethical conflicts.</blockquote)