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.)
After our competitive days, I became friends with all three. I worked closely with Chuck for two years as the chief assistant city editor after he became the city editor of the merged staffs. I also worked another year or two with Bill as one of two managing editors of the Register. We met for lunch when I returned to Des Moines in the 1990s.
Rich and I stayed in touch through the years after I left the Register. He tried to hire me after I was fired in 1992 (though that didn’t work out). When he was editor of the Grass Valley Union several years ago, he brought me to his newsroom for a day of workshops. We also crossed paths frequently at journalism conferences and saw each other just two months before his death in 2008. We were making plans for some workshops at his final stop, the Eureka Times-Standard in California, but did not get that done before Rich died (I was pleased to finally visit the Times-Standard in July). Rich reminisced five years ago after attending a reunion on the 25th anniversary of the Tribune’s death.
Tribune memories from Kathleen Richardson (added after I originally posted this). By the way, Kathleen was one of those qualified women I who could and should have brought some diversity to the org chart that I mentioned in the lessons post. Kathleen is now director of Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication:
Here is a comment for your blog, and also a great Frank Miller cartoon I have in my office at Drake:
I was talking to a former student last week about what it was like to work on the Tribune right out of college, and for the first time I said what I’ve always been secretly afraid to admit:
It was the best time of my life.
At the time, we had no idea that it was so special, or that the Trib newsroom was a twilight world that in a few years would disappear. We were a motley mix of just-out-of-J school novices and grizzled news vets who went balls-to-the-wall every day, guerrillas in the internecine family feud that was Des Moines journalism. We were given responsibilities beyond our years and encouraged to take risks, to be bold, to be fun, to be bomb throwers and muckrakers.
We got up before dawn, worked hard, partied into the night, then got up the next morning and did it again.
We did good work, and we made a difference. Our readers were fiercely loyal, especially in the blue collar neighborhoods of the city. Even today, if I’m talking to someone who has grown up in Des Moines and mention that I used to work for the Tribune, they’ll say wistfully, “Oh, I loved the Trib.”
Working for the Tribune was everything the news business should be. And what life should be.
What did I learn from the Trib?
To do work that you love. That is important. With people you love.
And that life is too short not to dance.
Tribune memories from Arnie Garson:
Over the years I saw the Tribune from both sides — from the Tribune staff and from The Register’s staff. It looked the same both ways — a tough, scrappy newspaper focused on being the best it could be in both hard news and enterprise, a paper that appreciated good writing, a paper that concentrated on Des Moines. The Register’s main advantages were a larger news staff, a wider distribution area and a Sunday product. Those were things the Tribune couldn’t do anything about. It understood that and didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about them. It concentrated on what it could do — and it did it very well.
The afternoon Tribune was always one of my favorite newspapers. I enjoyed reading it and writing for it.
In my nearly 40 years at what then was known as the Des Moines Register & Tribune, all of my copy editing and the majority of my writing was done for the morning Register.
The reason was simple: I was paid to, first, be a sports copy editor for the Register, and later to be a sports reporter for the Register.
But, in those days, Register reporters were free to write follow-up, more feature-type stories for the afternoon Tribune pertaining to the event we covered for the Register. I was rarely told by my bosses that I had to write for the Tribune. I just liked doing it.
Some Register reporters chose not to write for the Tribune. However, in my opinion, they didn’t realize what they were missing.
It was a pleasure writing a Tribune story after concluding my Register responsibilities following an event, and I tried to do the very best job I could, just as I did for the Register.
The Tribune was a wonderful newspaper, and its staff was filled with wonderful, hard-working, imaginative writers and editors.
As a young journalist, I found it strange that some people who worked for the Register were critical of the Tribune, and called it the “practice paper.” Perhaps that was the price the Tribune paid for being an afternoon paper that was full of columns and feature stories.
But there was nothing “practice” at all about the Tribune. It was as professional a product as the Register, and, frankly, I wish the Tribune was still being published today.
Nothing at all wrong with a guy wanting to read an afternoon paper while he’s watching the 6 p.m. TV news, is there?
If you have memories of the Des Moines Tribune that you’d like to share, please add them in the memories. If any other colleagues reply belatedly to my invitation to share their memories, I will add them.