Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is scrapping the development of a new state-run website that an internal memo had said his office would use at times to break news ahead of the independent press.
The move comes after The Indianapolis Star reported on Monday that the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate was launching a site called “Just IN” to provide pre-written stories that the state’s media outlets can re-publish. It was to be led by Bill McCleery, a former reporter for the newspaper, and include a managing editor and an editorial board.
“At times, Just IN will break news – publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such ‘exclusive’ coverage remain under discussion,” Pence’s administration said in a question-and-answer sheet sent to state agencies’ communications directors, the Star reported.
Pence quickly backtracked, telling a local conservative radio host that he’d only learned of the memo through The Star’s report and that it clashed with his understanding of what was in development: a new one-stop clearing house for state agencies’ press releases.
“I’m just telling you that I regret the confusion, and I’m telling you that that memorandum, however well intentioned, used language that was inappropriate,” Pence told WIBC’s Greg Garrison.
“It was poorly crafted,” Pence said. “… We don’t have editors in state government, for heaven’s sakes. We don’t have editorial boards in state government.”
He officially called off the project in a memo sent to state agency heads Thursday. Instead, he said, his administration will update its current public calendar website.
“However well intentioned, after thorough review of the preliminary planning and careful consideration of the concerns expressed, I am writing to inform you that I have made a decision to terminate development of the JustIN website immediately,” Pence said in the memo.
The notion of a state-run news agency became a major controversy in Indiana, where it looked like Pence’s biggest move yet to increase controls on what tidbits of information the state’s independent reporters obtain and when.
Indiana’s previous governor, Mitch Daniels – who, like Pence, was often touted as a potential presidential candidate – took a looser approach to media. He showed up alone, rather than with an entourage of staffers, at meetings with newspaper editorial boards. And those who worked in both administrations say that under Daniels, state agencies’ media relations staffs were more autonomous.
Pence, though, has developed a more cautious style – at times avoiding the local press and handing exclusive details of his legislative agenda and more first to conservative editorial writers.
Pence’s “Just IN” site, according to the internal memo obtained by The Star, would have published stories and releases written by agencies’ communications directors, as well as personality profiles.
The “Just IN” plan was met with confusion by longtime Indiana Statehouse reporters for independent outlets. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly tweeted: “So what happens if I ask a state agency for specific information? Do they write my story before I do?”
Pence hosted a radio show in Indiana before starting a 12-year career in Congress in 2000. He also sponsored legislation in the House to shield reporters from having to reveal confidential sources.
He’d said in 2005 that “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.”
Reports of Pence’s state-run media outlet came as journalists increasingly howl that they’re being cut out of the loop by government officials. White House reporters have long complained about increasingly restricted access to presidents. In recent years one key battle has been over President Barack Obama’s administration’s decision to release the White House photographer’s shots of major moments, rather than allowing independent photographers to document them.