Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 9, 2013

RAY MOSCOWITZ: Local boy makes good with his political insight

After going independent in 1994, Brian Howey winning acclaim

MC Weekly

---- — Full disclosure: Jack Howey and I worked at the former Nixon Newspapers Inc. for more than two decades.

This is a “local boy makes good” column about Brian Howey, the son of Jack and Brian’s journalist-trained mother, Mary Lou. It is also about having a passion for what you do, about never losing focus toward achieving your goals, and about doing homework and working hard.

Howey, 57, is the publisher of a highly successful political website, Howey Politics Indiana (HPI), that has won wide acclaim and is nationally recognized for its information and insights.

Howey has appeared on major news and public affairs programs, insightfully answering questions about Indiana politics and how they relate to national issues.

He was on the "CBS Evening News" in October 2008, when Katie Couric was anchoring. He’s expounded on MSNBC’s "Andrea Mitchell Reports", MSNBC’s "Hardball with Chris Matthews", the Mike Pence radio show (before Pence was elected to Congress and then governor), the PBS "Newshour" with Gwen Ifill, the Morning Edition of NPR’s "All Things Considered", and, of course, Indianapolis stations.

Aside from his television appearances, Howey has been published in various publications, among them Newsday, Notre Dame Magazine and Indianapolis Monthly. His piece for Indianapolis Monthly is a compelling read about a 2007 trip to Russia, Ukraine, Albania and London with then-Sen. Richard Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn in connection with the Cooperative Threat Reduction Treaty they sponsored.

Over the years, Howey has forecast several political twists, including Richard Mourdock’s 2012 GOP primary defeat of incumbent Lugar and, in turn, Joe Donnelly’s defeat of Mourdock in the general election.

HPI now has more than 3,000 paying subscribers and gets close to 100,000 Web hits a month, Howey said, “even though I run one of the smallest publishing entities in the state. And we have conducted the only regular media polling program since 2008.”

The Washington Post has regularly cited Howey as one of the top political writers and websites in Indiana, and the New York Times’ 538 blog rated HPI’s 2012 polling program as the fourth most accurate in the country.

All the while, Howey has continued to write a weekly column published in more than 30 newspapers with a total circulation of more than 300,000.

Howey’s media roots were planted in Peru, where he was a self-described “newsroom rat” while growing up.

“I remember the 1960 election as a 4-year-old,” he responds when asked when he got interested in politics. “I recalled the Cuban missile crisis at 7 and the JFK assassination in 1963.”

And then there was that memorable occasion when he was 17.

His father took him to the Associated Press Managing Editors’ convention at Disney World 40 years ago. He attended the press conference in which President Richard Nixon famously told the nation, “I’m not a crook” as the Watergate scandal gripped the country.

That kind of exposure, along with being around some of Indiana’s most prominent journalists, got the ink flowing in Howey’s veins.

“The adults I looked up to were great Indiana journalists,” he recalls today. He names Bill Allen and Al Spiers of the Michigan City News-Dispatch; Joe and John Nixon, who built Nixon Newspapers Inc.; one-time Peru Daily Tribune and later AP photographer Charlie Robinson, and “a grizzled city editor at the Tribune named Don Grubbs.”

Being exposed to the real world is the best education for a would-be journalist, but college courses are invaluable. So Howey got an associate degree in journalism at Vincennes in 1976 and then moved on to IU Bloomington to earn a bachelor’s degree in history in 1978.

Howey worked in the newspaper trenches at the Warsaw Times-Union, Elkhart Truth, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and NUVO, the weekly alternative publication in Indianapolis.

He conceived the idea of writing a syndicated, Indiana-oriented political column — which eventually led to Howey Politics Indiana — around the time he was fired as a mid-level editor in Fort Wayne.

After being terminated, Howey joined WKJG, the NBC television affiliate in Fort Wayne, and began to self-syndicate his column. Getting fired, he says, “was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

John Ketzenberger, the Journal Gazette’s Indianapolis bureau chief in 1994, gave Howey a shot of confidence by convincing him that a similar feature, Indiana Legislative Insight, could use some competition.

Howey’s column started gaining subscribers. Russ Pulliam, a third generation newspaperman in Indianapolis, bought it for the Indianapolis News. Tony Biggs at the Elkhart Truth and George Witwer Sr. at Kendallville Publishing came aboard, too.

“I’ve successfully competed with Insight for almost 20 years now," Howey says.

In 1994, while still in Fort Wayne, Howey collaborated with Nixon to launch Howey Politics. A year later, he decided to go independent, and in 1996, he moved his base to Indianapolis.

Howey originally printed a newsletter that was mailed. He made a big leap in 2000 — with another young start-up that had a Nixon Newspapers connection, 1up! They began publishing on the Internet with a paywall and started the news aggregator, HPI Daily Wire.

“I never gave away all of my content,” Howey points out, “which has allowed me to thrive on a subscription-based model.

“The newspapers gave away their content in one of the worst eras of news management in history, and they are now trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Howey’s successful business model is powered by a coterie of people, including his parents, now in their 80s. On his website, which describes his service as “a non-partisan newsletter based in Indianapolis and Nashville, Ind.,” they are listed as the editors.

A group of diverse columnists supplement Howey’s service, which consists of the weekly Howey Politics Indiana, the HPI Daily Wire, and a multi-media website at www.howeypolitics.com. It’s a daily smorgasbord and fancy weekly dinner for people who love to feast on politics for an annual subscription of $599.

Howey cranks out a massive amount of quality material, working out of both a downtown office in Indianapolis and a cabin in Nashville. He’s divorced and has two sons, both of whom are college students in Indiana.

Howey is not so much into punditry, but instead reportage and analysis, using facts and history to support his insights into the political zeitgeist.

He estimates he has driven more than 20,000 miles throughout the state, covering events and talking to people from all walks of life. From reading his columns and major pieces, it’s clear that he has built trust among pols from both sides of the aisle — and from the precinct level up.

Asked to comment on what he sees occurring between now and the mid-term election and presidential elections, Howey responded:

“The rollout of Obamacare will be huge. The Indiana component of that involving a Medicaid expansion could have a multi-billion-dollar impact on Hoosiers for years to come.

“Indiana’s chronic 8 percent jobless rate will determine whether Republicans will continue to rule or whether Indiana Democrats can make a comeback.”

The biggest political surprise he has seen in his career, he said, was the “abrupt” retirement in 2010 of Sen. Evan Bayh. “It had an incredible cascading impact on the Indiana Democratic Party, which has yet to recover.”

That led to the question of who are the smartest/brightest/most effective political leaders he has met in his career.

“Sen. Dick Lugar and his work on the Nunn-Lugar Act is one of the most brilliant legislative acts in U.S. history,” he says.

Howey thinks Mitch Daniels was an effective governor, and he believes Paul Helmke in Fort Wayne and Jim Perron in Elkhart were “excellent mayors who greatly improved their cities.”

On the state level, he gives high marks to House Speaker Brian Bosma for providing great access to government via the Internet to the Indiana General Assembly.

Howey also praised former Speaker and gubernatorial candidate John Gregg “for heeding my pleas not to call up a bill for veto override that would have kept government emails out of the hands of Indiana journalists.”

Howey still has the desire and drive to cover Indiana politics. But — like he’s done throughout his life — he’s thinking about his next moves.

“I am looking to expand this publishing concept to other states,” he says. “Some day I hope someone buys me out so I can have time to write several books.”

If that happens, it will be another chapter in Howey’s local boy makes good saga.

Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at r.mosco@comcast.net.