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Posts Tagged ‘Des Moines Tribune’

One of the best things about being a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald was that we were always on deadline.

Even before digital publishing gave constant deadlines to all journalists, the World-Herald had a never-ending succession of deadlines for our evening edition and four morning editions. Whenever news broke, we were always scrambling to get our best story into the next edition.

When I posted some lessons last year from my decade at the World-Herald, I double-checked to see if it still was publishing the evening edition, because that seemed kind of unlikely. It was, but Publisher Terry Kroeger announced Monday that the evening edition would end March 7.

I can’t let the announcement pass without some fond memories of the “all-day” World-Herald, other afternoon newspapers in my past and the place of afternoon newspapers in the past and future of the newspaper business.

The all-day World-Herald

I joined the World-Herald in 1993, a little leery of the fact that it still had an evening edition. The deaths of afternoon newspapers in Des Moines in 1982 and Kansas City in 1990 had caused considerable disruption in my journalism career. And in 1992, I had overseen the newsroom aspects of a switch from afternoon to morning publication as editor of the Minot Daily News. While the World-Herald didn’t maintain separate news staffs (as Des Moines and Kansas City had done), it did have two shifts of editors and two production and circulation shifts. This seemed to me another disruption waiting to happen. (more…)

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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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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 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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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.
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Note displayed at APILike a drawing on the Etch-a-Sketch that is so popular in politics now, my journalism past has pretty much been shaken clean. Almost everywhere I worked has been shut down or sold:

  • Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal. Newspaper carrier, 1968-70. Citizen-Journal died in 1985.
  • Shenandoah (Iowa) Evening Sentinel. Sports reporter, 1971-72; intern 1975; reporter, editorial page editor, managing editor, 1976-77. The Tinley family sold the Sentinel to Park Newspapers in the 1980s and the Sentinel died in 1993. (more…)

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Each time I take a new job, I think it’s going to be my last move.

I thought that when I came to The Gazette and gazetteonline as editor, and I thought that about the previous job and the one before that. And … well, a lot of jobs in the newspaper business.

My next job won’t be in the newspaper business. The news business, yes, but not the newspaper business. (more…)

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First Amendment plaqueI was a panelist yesterday, Wednesday, April 15, at First Amendment Day at Iowa State University. Dr. Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State, opened with remarks that I recommend reading first. My response follows (I ad-libbed a few lines, but mostly followed this prepared text):

I’ll start with a couple requests. If you have a cell phone, please get it out and hold it up. Now, if you have used that phone today to send or receive written communication or images, whether by text message, email or web, please open or activate your phone so that the screen lights up. Now wave that phone and look around you. (Nearly everyone in the crowd, mostly students, waved a glowing phone.)

This is the future of freedom of the press. It is healthy, it is thriving and it will not be stopped, even if the companies that own printing presses can’t find their way to a prosperous future. The light of freedom shines as bright as those lights we see throughout this auditorium. (more…)

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Update: Ken Doctor’s blog Content Bridges notes one of the most intriguing aspects of the SeattlePI.com plan: Aggregating regional advertising opportunities for business.

Rest in peace, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

When I was in Des Moines in 1982 and in Kansas City in 1990, I saw the deaths of two newspapers, the Des Moines Tribune and the Kansas City Times. So when I was unemployed in 1992, I applied all over the country, except in cities that had two newspapers.

I love the mountains, so Denver and Seattle were two cities I would have enjoyed working in. But I didn’t apply at either, because I didn’t want to be around when one of the newspapers died. Both cities had joint-operating agreements that kept the second newspaper alive a lot longer than I anticipated back in 1992.

In both Des Moines and Kansas City, the two newspapers were operated by the same company, so JOA’s were not an issue. The companies could see the duplication involved in dual staffs and the efficiencies offered by killing the afternoon paper and merging the staffs.

Even anti-trust exemptions were not enough to keep the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News going in today’s economy. The Rocky died Feb. 27. I have the final edition displayed in my office, courtesy of Judi Whetstine, who was in Denver that day.

The P-I followed suit today, announcing that Tuesday’s paper would be the last print edition, Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby announced. Seattlepi.com will continue as a news web site with a much smaller staff.  

Add the deaths of the Capital-Times in Madison, Wis., last year and the cutback at both Detroit newspapers to three days per week, and two-newspaper cities are becoming increasingly scarce. Even twin papers in twin cities, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas-Fort Worth, are viewed as precarious.

Cedar Rapids is a one-newspaper city. The Gazette is far healthier than most newspapers. But the deaths of long-established newspapers in Denver and Seattle underscore the importance of innovation and developing new business models. We have to change dramatically and swiftly.

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