By Milissa Tuley
Editors at The Indianapolis Star didn’t just hope for an exclusive when Mitch Daniels announced his decision about running for president.
They lobbied for it.
Top management talked with the governor and his advisers about it several times in the past few months, said editor and vice president Dennis Ryerson.
He and others reminded the Daniels camp of their desire to not get beat on the story by an out-of-state news organization or website, he said.
“I felt we would have been derelict had we not made our case,” Ryerson said.
The strategy was simple yet effective, said Star political columnist Matt Tully.
“We got the scoop because we asked for it,” he said.
Ryerson learned of the pending announcement – but not what the decision was – about 3:30 p.m. Friday in a call from the governor, he said.
He was meeting in his office with some staffers.
“My administrative assistant knocked on my office door, opened it and said the governor wanted to talk to me,” he said. “So it was no secret here that something was up.”
Ryerson alerted key managers Friday to begin planning.
The Star agreed that nothing would be released before 2 a.m. Sunday. That meant the paper could not put the announcement in its state edition, which reaches some outlets before midnight, he said.
“The atmosphere in the information center – our newsroom – was incredibly speculative,” Ryerson said.
Tully said he thought Daniels would run because of recent conversations he’d had with the governor about in-depth details of a potential presidential campaign, he said.
“The math really added up to a guy who was going to run,” he said.
That remained his gut feeling at 7 p.m. Saturday when Eric Holcomb, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, and Mark Lubbers, a close adviser to the governor, arrived at The Star’s employee entrance to meet with Ryerson, Tully and Star political writer Mary Beth Schneider.
Holcomb and Lubbers started the conversation by laying out the background on how Daniels got to this point and making a case for why he had a shot to get the nod, Tully said. They talked for 13 minutes before telling them there would be no presidential bid.
“As journalists we were disappointed just because we were looking forward to the idea of covering presidential politics for the next few months,” Tully said.
Shortly after the 40-minute meeting ended, Ryerson made two announcements in the newsroom: Daniels would not run, and The Star had the story exclusively.
“I asked those present not to share the news with anyone – spouses, partners or anybody; not to tweet, blog, text or in other ways let it out of the building,” Ryerson said.
The paper didn’t need to change its city edition deadlines, he said. Knowing the announcement was coming, staffers weeks ago prepared advance stories.
The Star saw a 1.8 percent increase in single-copy sales Sunday in the Indianapolis metro area compared to a year ago, said Bill Bolger, vice president for operations and information technology.
The paper didn’t increase the single-copy draw Sunday, he said. It already was elevated because of Indy 500 events, and the paper has been trying to cut down on returns, he said.
“If his decision had been to run, I know we would have bumped the draw some more,” Bolger said.
Ryerson said a reporter asked Holcomb this week if The Star paid for the exclusive. The answer is an emphatic no, he said.
“We agreed only to hold the story to ourselves, to not release anything until 2 a.m. Sunday morning, and to run the governor’s statement in full and to run the brief statement about Cheri Daniels’ involvement with her daughters,” Ryerson said.
Milissa Tuley is a communications specialist at HSPA.