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Posts Tagged ‘Des Moines Register’

Kansas City Times final editionI was present for the deaths of two newspapers: The Des Moines Tribune in 1982 and the Kansas City Times 24 years ago today.

The first time I was an editor at the surviving paper, the Des Moines Register. It was rough watching our sister paper die and it was rougher watching 50-plus journalists on both staffs lose their jobs. But it was unquestionably better, if you kept your job, to work for the surviving paper.

In Kansas City, the death was shared between the two staffs. The evening paper was dying, but that was the Star. And the name of the surviving paper was the Star, so the Kansas City Times was dying, too.

The company pretended that both papers would live on somehow in the new morning Star. The final edition of the Times didn’t even merit an above-the-fold mention. The story is at the bottom of the page, with the bullshit headline: “Death of a newspaper? No, a grand rebirth”: (more…)

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Des Moines Tribune front page, Jan. 20, 1981I had fun reviewing the front pages my father saved from the Kennedy assassination. So I’ve decided to make a look back at historic (or just interesting) front pages an occasional feature of this blog.

Since this is Jan. 20, I have to remember the day a bigger story pushed a presidential inauguration to secondary status: Jan. 20, 1981. Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office was a huge deal, but after 444 days of captivity in Tehran, the release of American hostages from Iran was bigger.

Of course, the capture of the hostages and Jimmy Carter‘s failure in attempts to free them by a military surprise rescue mission or by diplomacy was a key reason Reagan was taking his first oath as president rather than Carter taking his second. (Soaring prices and interest rates were other reasons, but the hostage crisis was the biggest humiliation and failure of the Carter presidency.)

I worked at the Des Moines Register at the time, and the Register and our sister afternoon paper, the Des Moines Tribune, worked frantically to cover the varying developments over the last days of the Carter presidency and the first day of the Reagan presidency.

The stories and pictures of both events came from the wire services, but this was a local story, too: One of the hostages, Kathryn Koob, was a native of Jesup, Iowa, and both papers had covered her captivity intensely for more than a year. And, of course, one of the thrills of working on a newspaper is putting together a historic paper, whether the story comes from your staff or not. The local staff writes the headlines, edits the stories and lays out the whole paper, including that historic front page. (more…)

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Rick Tapscott

Rick Tapscott

Few people had more impact on my career than Rick Tapscott, who died Sunday.

Rick hired me twice and by leaving the first time and agreeing to extra duties the second time, he really gave me three or four great opportunities. He lured me away from the Des Moines Register in 1985 with an offer to be assistant national/mid-America editor for the Kansas City Times. Then he left to join the Washington Post, giving me the opportunity to run a newsroom department for the first time in my career. Thirteen years later, he brought me back to the Register as religion editor (really a reporting role) and writing coach.

We became good friends, visiting in his homes Kansas City, Washington and Des Moines and our home in the Kansas City suburbs, socializing as couples and with our kids, who were about the same age. We shared with a couple other colleagues in season tickets to the Royals, going to the games together several times. (more…)

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

David Witke

David Witke

Editors should be aware that we’re role models for the future editors on our staffs.

The editor who most shaped my own leadership is David Witke, who was managing editor of the Des Moines Register when I started working there in 1977 (the editor who hired me, in fact).

Dave has given me lots of advice through the years, but nothing he told me was as important as watching him lead. Here’s my favorite example of Dave’s leadership: (more…)

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I found myself agreeing again and again with Post-Industrial Journalism, a report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. But I disagree with this statement, which received lots of attention when the report was released last month:

The effect of the current changes in the news ecosystem has already been a reduction in the quality of news in the United States. On present evidence, we are convinced that journalism in this country will get worse before it gets better, and, in some places (principally midsize and small cities with no daily paper) it will get markedly worse.

I just Googled the part of the second sentence before the comma and got 321 hits, so lots of commentators have repeated this point in their responses to the report.

First, I must praise the report’s authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky. They have written one of the most insightful reports about journalism that I have ever read. One of the reasons I have taken so long in responding is that I am in large agreement with them and didn’t want to write a post just summarizing and echoing.

I will deal separately with the questions of whether the quality of news has fallen and whether it will get worse before it gets better. And I will also address a broader question that the report raised. But first, I want to dispute the notion that the quality is more vulnerable in midsize and small cities with no daily paper.

I have worked in cities of varying sizes, from the small town of Shenandoah, Iowa (current population just over 5,000), to the big town of Minot, N.D. (42,000), to the small city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (metro population 258,000) to the largest metro areas in two states, Des Moines (570K) and Omaha (865K) to two major metro areas, Kansas City (2 million) and Washington (5.6 million).

I have trained and consulted in newsrooms all along that spectrum of community sizes in 44 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces as well as several other countries. I have judged journalism awards recognizing work from large and small newspapers. My current company, Digital First Media, operates in a similar range of communities and I have visited most of our daily newsrooms and several weeklies.

Of all the journalism topics I have addressed in this blog, I may be most qualified to address the question of how the size of a community relates to the quality of the journalism. And I can say emphatically that the size of the community and frequency of print publication do not dictate the quality of the journalism. (more…)

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The Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney for president, a decision that has angered quite a few people I know.

To understand how critically important the Register’s endorsement is to Iowans, you should ask Presidents John Kerry, Walter Mondale, Bill Bradley or Hillary Clinton. They all got Register endorsements for Iowa caucuses or the general election but did not win in Iowa or nationally.

This is the first time since endorsing Richard Nixon in 1972 (not a particularly good call) that the Register has endorsed a Republican for president.

But here’s something you should know about the Des Moines Register’s endorsements in presidential races: A coin flip is about as good an indicator of how Iowans will vote. (more…)

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I learned a lot when the Des Moines Tribune died 30 years ago. The last edition of the Trib published Sept. 25, 1982, but that followed a summer filled with lessons (some of which took some time to sink in).

A little background before I review the lessons: I started working at the Des Moines Register in 1977. The Register, distributed each morning in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, covered the whole state. The afternoon Tribune covered central Iowa.

We competed feistily in a few areas such as Iowa politics, state government and Des Moines news, but it wasn’t exactly a fair competition: The Register had a larger staff and a national reputation. Even though the Tribune had several outstanding journalists who measured up with the best anywhere, the Register simply had more firepower. It also wasn’t a genuine competition: However fiercely we competed as journalists, we were owned by the same company. Whatever profits we made helped the same bottom line and whatever resources we wasted hurt the same bottom line. (more…)

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