Briggs: I'm here to be fair, not objective

James Briggs
Indianapolis Star
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I’ve got a lot of things to get off my chest.

The state legislature is heading into session, there’s a wild Republican primary for governor and there’s the never-ending debate over the state of downtown. I’ll get to all that, plus much more, in the days, weeks and months ahead.

At least, that’s the plan. I don’t know how long this will last, me writing columns here, but this is already one more than I thought I’d get. Every column from here on out is a precious bonus.

The last time I published words for IndyStar, I talked about walking away from a dream job. I had clarity and peace in that decision. I was sad to give up the only job I’d ever really wanted in this business and yet confident it was time to evolve.

I’m back.

Fully evolved.

Well, not quite. I’ve learned some things, for sure. Most notably: how to write shorter. I swear I’ll try to stick to that, even as I pile up words in the paragraphs that follow.

This second stint is only worthwhile — for me, for you, for IndyStar — if I have the capacity to keep growing and do more, and different, things than I’ve done before. I’m returning with the added role of opinion editor at a time when IndyStar’s parent company, Gannett, is investing in opinion.

A view of the IndyStar sign at Meridian and Georgia streets in downtown Indianaplis.

That’s the No. 1 reason I’m here. I grew up gravitating toward columnists, marveling at how opinion journalism can challenge thinking and assumptions while introducing new perspectives. I’ve spent most of my life thinking about how to do that — and, then, finally, getting the chance to try it here as a columnist.

My bosses want more of that. I share their vision.

I appreciate their bold choice to double down on opinion because that almost certainly means we’ll be publishing things you won’t agree with. That’s risky for a newsroom. If I’m doing my job, I’ll make you feel things. I hope those feelings are mostly good. But, sometimes, I know one feeling is likely to be anger — and it’s likely to be directed at me.

My promise to you is that I’ll approach this job in good faith. I don’t play the game of publishing crazy takes for clicks and reactions. I do admit when I’m wrong — not easily, perhaps, but I do it nonetheless.

I’m also going to criticize public figures who you might like and might even have voted for (and who, hell, I might like and might even have voted for). That’s part of the job — and, to be honest, not one I particularly enjoy. Some of the messages I get that make me cringe the most are ones along the lines of, “You just crushed [person who did or said boneheaded thing]!!! Way to go!”

Very early in my career, when I was covering high school sports, an old football coach pulled me aside and said: “There are two kinds of reporters: those who build people up and those who tear people down. Which one are you going to be?”

That’s always stuck with me. I hope and pray I can be the former, but I also owe you my honest analysis. That often involves calling out bad actors, as well as good actors who make mistakes. This is, after all, an opinion job. I’m not here to be objective. I am here to be fair — and that is the standard I invite you to judge me on.

Let’s be real for a minute. I’m also here to do some business. My job is to publish columns — not only mine, but also a wide range of compelling voices — that either make you want to subscribe to IndyStar or make you glad you already do.

“Support local journalism” makes for a good rallying cry, and I’ve implored people to do it, but the best way to gain your support is to produce something you value. I want you to subscribe because we’ve earned your money.

I can anticipate the snark, so let me elaborate. I can’t restore IndyStar to what it was in the 1980s or 1990s or even what it was when I first got here in 2015. The business has changed and so have our staffing levels (not to mention the modern logistics of printing out all our articles and driving them to people’s homes).

What I can do is complement the great reporting, visual journalism and investigative work of my colleagues by publishing incisive opinions on topics you care about. To put it simply: I need to write good columns and find other people who can do the same. And I need to avoid publishing boring stuff you don’t care about.

That’s it, that’s the job. It’s a great one. A second shot at a dream job. How many people even get one? I never took it for granted the first time and I’m not starting now.

I’m thankful to be here. I’m fired up. We’ve got a lot to talk about.

Let’s go.

Contact James Briggs at 317-444-4732 or james.briggs@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter/X: @JamesEBriggs.

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