Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Wednesday he regrets the "confusion" caused by a memo about his administration's planned state-run news website and will kill the project if it doesn't respect the role of an independent press.
Pence's comments followed criticism from around the country about the proposed "Just IN" site and came as the Republican governor's staff worked to portray it as a project aimed at bettering organizing and presenting news releases from state agencies.
Pence told WIBC-FM that a memo describing the site as a news outlet with a managing editor and editorial board was "poorly crafted" and did not meet his expectations.
"It is not appropriate to describe the objectives of a clearinghouse website of press releases with news-related terms," he said. "I regret the confusion here."
The Indianapolis Star first reported Monday that internal documents about the site's launch detailed a plan to have state communications officials write news stories and distribute them through "Just IN." That plan said the site would include stories and news releases written by state press secretaries for the public and the media and at times would break news.
The site isn't expected to be in operation until mid-February and terminology such as "managing editor" and "stories" will be replaced with "content manager" and "news releases" to clarify the source of material, said Christy Denault, Pence's communications director.
The site would replace the state's current online listing of agency news releases, she said.
The notion of stories prewritten for the media set off a wave of criticism from journalists around the country, who used headlines such as "Pravda on the Plains" to liken the Indiana endeavor to state-run media in Russia and China. A Twitter account parodying the site had more than 1,700 followers by Wednesday.
Though Pence has fueled talk of a possible 2016 White House run, such parodies likely aren't reaching much beyond news media watchers and political junkies, said Kelly McBride, a vice president of the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank.
But she said the site could be used to promote a political agenda if it has certain features.
"They'll build audience by having some sort of personality on the site — and that's how it could easily become an arm of politics," McBride said.
Denault said the website plan was still being finalized and that organizers hope to discuss it with the Hoosier State Press Association and Society of Professional Journalists before the site launches.
"We were very dismayed that we caused so much consternation and confusion," she said.
Pence, meanwhile, said in the radio interview that the site wouldn't operate in the way that the planning documents outlined.
"Either this website will serve as a convenience to the press and the public as a source of greater transparency in people knowing what's happening in state government, or it won't happen," he said.
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