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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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At my invitation, Arnold Garson, former Des Moines Register managing editor, shared his thoughts on lessons from the Des Moines Tribune (which died 30 years ago today). As a reporter, Arnie broke the story that the Tribune was closing. My observations on lessons from the life and death of the Tribune are a separate blog post. In a third post, I publish some Trib memories from Arnie, Ron Maly and me.

Arnold Garson

The most important lesson to emerge from the closing of The Des Moines Tribune was the lesson not learned.

I arrived at the Des Moines Tribune as a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald in October 1969. Ed Heins, then the top Fourth-Floor news executive for The Register and Tribune, actually hired me for The Register. But before I arrived he changed his mind saying that he wanted to inject some new energy into the Tribune.

Under the leadership of its newly appointed managing editor, Drake Mabry, The Tribune, which had grown a bit lethargic, would become a harder edged news product for Central Iowa and hopefully would stabilize its future.

The Tribune’s new mindset: We will focus on hard news and enterprise. We will concentrate on the market our advertisers care most about. We’re as good as anybody in the business. Happily, the Tribune had a news staff that could execute superbly against this strategy and the transformation came quickly.

It was a great formula for the time, and it was kept strong through periodic reevaluation and refinement over the years that followed. (more…)

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The Des Moines Tribune published its final edition 30 years ago today. In separate posts I reflected on some lessons from the life and death of the Trib and Arnold Garson reflected on a lesson the news business failed to learn. I asked some former Register and Tribune colleagues if they wanted to share some memories of the Tribune. Arnie, Kathleen Richardson and Ron Maly responded. Their memories follow some of mine:

I never worked for the Des Moines Tribune, but I came close once. I interviewed for a reporting job (consumer reporter, as I recall) at the Trib in 1979 while I was a copy editor for the Register. I preferred the Register over the Tribune, but I really wanted to become a reporter and I gave the job serious consideration.

I was really impressed with the pride and passion that the metro editors, Tom Tuttle and Rich Somerville (co-metro editors, as I recall, or it might have been a different arrangement), showed for their paper. They desperately wanted to hire someone away from the Register (we hired more away from the Trib, giving rise to the “practice paper” insult), but I turned down the job (angering Tom, but Rich and I later became close and remained friends until his death). As I recall, concerns about the Trib’s longevity were a factor in my decision.

Soon after turning down the job, I became an assistant city editor for the Register, supervising a lot of the fiercest competition (including the Trib’s last season of legislative coverage).

The Tribune’s top three editors (except Jim Gannon, who was editor of both papers) have since died: Bill Maurer, City Editor Chuck Capaldo and Rich Somerville, who by then had become News Editor. (Tribbers, please correct me if I’m forgetting any top leaders.) (more…)

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Cartoon by Carmen Cerra, used with permission

Barbara Mack

I wish every news organization had a lawyer like Barbara Mack. But there was only one of her. And we lost her Thursday.

I was privileged to be an editor and reporter for the Des Moines Register when Barb, a former Register reporter, was the cornerstone of our legal team.

We had an in-house legal team, which was rare, even then. As I recall, we had up to five lawyers at a time on our in-house law firm. Gary Gerlach headed the team before he became publisher. Mike Giudicessi, Joe Thornton and Marcia Cranberg were among our lawyers. And I’m trying to remember others (help me out, Register colleagues). I enjoyed working with all of them, but Barb was the most memorable.

Everywhere else I’ve worked, you called a lawyer as a last resort. I’ve worked with in-house lawyers who were timid and looked at their jobs as keeping us from getting sued. I’ve worked with outside counsel we called as a last resort and the meter was always running and their job was to keep us from getting sued. Barb and her colleagues were always eager for a legal battle to pry some public information from officials who didn’t respect freedom-of-information laws. She didn’t fear lawsuits and helped us make sure our stories would stand up in court. She loved a fight and I can’t remember one she lost.

(more…)

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I loved my job as editor of the Minot Daily News. I reported to work 20 years ago today thinking I was at the pinnacle of my career and would stay there for many years to come.

North Dakota seemed like the right place for me, even with sub-zero wind chills much of the winter and huge mosquitoes through the summer.

Mimi was a popular columnist and had a thriving freelance writing business. Our sons were doing well in school. We had a nice home on a hill with a lovely view of the city in the valley below. We had fallen in love with Teddy Roosevelt National Park, just a couple hours’ drive away.

My staff was performing good journalism. We were doing watchdog reporting for our community. We were providing a strong editorial voice. We were learning and improving together as journalists.

Other newspapers in North Dakota were noticing the rise of the smallest of the state’s “big four” newspapers (yes, “big” is relative; in most states all of those papers would be mid-sized or small). I had been elected president of the North Dakota Associated Press Managing Editors my first year in the state. My staff won more awards at the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s summer conference than anyone could remember us winning.

After tumultuous experiences when afternoon newspapers had died in Des Moines and Kansas City and I questioned decisions by top leaders, I wanted to run a newsroom myself. I had ideas about executive leadership that I wanted to try and they seemed to be working. We had smoothly managed a change earlier in the year from afternoon to morning production. I was enjoying the momentum I felt my career had.

Then I got fired. Twenty years ago today.

I never got a good explanation for the firing, and probably wouldn’t have believed it if I did. In retrospect, I can see clearly that the owners were planning to sell the paper. It was jointly owned by the Buckner News Alliance and Donrey Media, and that partnership was probably never a good idea. Unloading big salaries was part of a plan to make the newspaper more attractive financially to a buyer. In less than a year, the publisher fired the editor, advertising manager, business manager and production manager, replacing us, if at all, with people who clearly made less money. Then the owners sold the paper to Ogden Newspapers, which still owns it.
(more…)

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I was surprised to see this week that the Des Moines Register building, my workplace for nearly a decade, may soon be demolished.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. As I’ve noted before, nearly every organization I’ve worked for has been sold or closed or both. Two of my former workplaces have already been leveled.

I spent more than a decade (in two hitches) at the Omaha World-Herald and a year or so after I left, they moved across the street and demolished the building where I worked. The photo below is me sitting in the park that now occupies my former workplace.

While I have many fond memories of working at the World-Herald, they center more on the people than the building. A couple memories of the place: (more…)

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