Friday, March 04, 2016

31 years ago today

Thirty one years ago today, The Indianapolis News’ zoned suburban editions went live.

I was chief of the Metro North Bureau, covering Boone and Hamilton counties from a circulation office in Carmel.

Jerry Graff covered Johnson and Shelby counties and Mike Ellis covered Hendricks and Morgan counties. For some now-forgotten reason, the decision was made to omit Hancock County to the east of Indianapolis from the Metro project.

The three of us had been working in our new bureaus for a month, building a backlog of feature stories and getting the lay of the land since early February.

We were equipped with Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computers – the first practical laptops in the history of computing.

The Model 100 had a built-in 300 baud modem that could transmit over telephone lines. The eight-line LCD screen made writing and editing a bit of a challenge. Incredible as it seems by today’s memory standards, the 24K of RAM was plenty for our day-to-day writing needs. You could also connect a cassette tape recorder to the Model 100 and transfer files to the tape for later retrieval. The Model 100 ran on four AA batteries with an optional AC converter power source.

As primitive as it was, the Model 100 intimidated the hell out of reporters from smaller papers who were still stuck taking notes with pen and notebook. I loved it because I could get quotes down with greater accuracy and speed.

(I still have my Model 100. A friend rescued it from the dumpster when the office was being cleaned out after my retirement.)

I volunteered for a bureau job because inept management had poisoned the atmosphere at The News City Room in downtown Indianapolis and I was eager to have 15 miles between me and the craziness.

Managing Editor Frank Caperton conceived the plan for zoned suburban editions, but he worried we might have trouble filling the space allotted to us. One of his solutions was to publish school lunch menus. I thought it was a desperately stupid idea when there was an abundance of real news to be reported and so did my colleagues. We never ran a single school lunch menu.

But even with the new product, The News remained the unwanted, neglected sibling of the morning paper, The Indianapolis Star.

In an effort to introduce the new zoned editions, it was decided to sample the paper for a couple of weeks – deliver it to homes of non-subscribers to give them a chance to see our coverage of their areas.

The obvious way to accomplish this would have been to give News carriers extra copies with instructions to deliver them to homes of non-subscribers along their routes.

But there apparently was concern on The Star side of the building that we might take some of their subscribers, so the company went to the extra expense of creating a master list of people who didn’t subscribe to either paper as targets for sampling.

And rather than use News carriers, the geniuses in circulation chose to hire temporary carriers to deliver the sample papers.

But the unmotivated minimum wage temps had trouble getting the papers where they were supposed to go.

I realized this when I found several bundles of News sample papers in the dumpster outside my Carmel office.

I reported it, but nothing came of it and the sampling campaign was a failure.

I was still startling people in Boone and Hamilton counties 10 years later with the revelation that The News had a special edition just for their counties.

Despite the lack of support from circulation, running a suburban bureau was great fun, especially after I built up a cadre of stringers – part time correspondents who helped to cover governmental meetings and wrote the occasional feature story.

I ran the Metro North Bureau until October, 1995 when The News was merged with The Star and I got folded into a larger bureau covering Boone, Hamilton and Madison counties from Carmel.

And the fun began in earnest 31 years ago today.

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