Posts Tagged ‘Iowa caucuses’

Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

Before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, I wrote two blog posts about them, one complaining about Iowa hogging first place in our presidential selection process and one recalling my seven election cycles covering the caucuses as a reporter and editor.

Both pieces got more attention than I had anticipated, because The Atlantic republished my piece criticizing Iowa’s sense of entitlement and did a separate post on my 1983 board game (pictured above and mentioned in my post about my caucus experience).

I don’t have much to add this year, except that every critical thing I wrote four years ago is more true than ever this year. The reality-show series of debates, especially on the Republican side, has been a debacle of posturing and sniping that underscores all that is wrong with our system.

I will make no predictions about who will win tonight, but I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance that November’s winner won’t win tonight. And I know we can find a better way to choose a president. But we won’t.


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Melody Kramer asked a smart question this week about value in legacy media:

Update: Melody also did a longer post about the value of archives.

I have long felt that newspaper archives were a wasted asset that exposed our legacy mentality, always focused on the expensive task of producing new content while failing to think of new approaches to our business and failing to extract full value from content we’ve already paid to produce.

With the increasing value of video, TV station and network archives are similarly valuable. In both cases, older archives that haven’t been digitized present a cost-benefit consideration: You need to develop an effective way to generate revenue from your archives to justify the cost of converting old content from its original formats to digital. But I think archives have serious revenue potential that would cover the costs of converting and preserving archives. And much of your archives are already in the digital formats we’ve been using for years now.

I think press associations or media groups could hire developers to make do-it-yourself tools that allow users to make customized products such as front pages, newspapers and videos using content about themselves, their teams and their organizations. The ideal tool would provide search access to archives, with templates that offer basic products or some drag-and-drop options, giving the user flexibility choose or rearrange content, make simple edits and add original content.

Here are some ideas I hope legacy media operations will try to add value to their archives (if you’re already trying these or other ideas, please send me information, including links, and I’ll highlight them here): (more…)

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Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

I’ve had a lot of fun covering the Iowa caucuses. It feels odd to be mostly sitting this one out.

Last week I noted that I think it’s time for Iowa to relinquish its place at the front of our nation’s political line (or for political parties or federal legislation to reform the process, giving other states a turn).

Today, as Iowans get ready to caucus, I’ll note that, whether the caucuses should be first forever or not, they’ve been a fun story to cover and I’ll share a few memories from covering caucuses in four decades. (Memories is a key word here. Most of these caucuses were long enough ago that news accounts are not easy to find online. I didn’t do extensive research to verify the accuracy of all my memories, though I did verify all the caucus results – and remembered them accurately.) (more…)

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I got a lot of high-powered help in calling George Bush The Elder the winner of the 1980 Republican caucuses. Seated next to me is Jim Flansburg. Standing from left are Dan Pedersen, Paul Leavitt, Merrill Perlman, Michael Gartner, Jim Gannon and Arnie Garson. That’s an astounding amount of journalistic talent and experience surrounding me. And I had more hair then, but not on my face.

Let’s bid farewell to the Iowa caucuses. They’ve had a long run, but it’s time for someone else to launch the presidential campaign process.

This state with far more hogs than people has hogged its place at the front of the political line far too long. It is past time for the Hawkeye State to practice the manners that Iowa parents and teachers have been teaching Iowa children for generations: Take turns.

Someone will need to wrench the spotlight away from Iowa, but I hope someone does. Iowans will not relinquish without a fight what they unreasonably regard as an entitlement. (I use that word because the Iowa Republicans who would never give up their spot at the front of the line hate entitlements, except the ones they receive.)

I voiced this view privately during the 2008 caucus season, though I never wrote it. I wasn’t using Twitter regularly yet. My only communication outlet at the time was a blog about journalism training, and the caucuses didn’t fit my niche, so I didn’t express my views publicly. (It’s not a perfect fit now, but I blog more broadly about media, and let’s face it, the Iowa caucuses are a creation of media hype.)

When I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette later in 2008, I wondered whether I would have the courage to voice this heresy from such a prominent Iowa forum during the 2012 caucus season. Other opportunities drew me away from Iowa, so I offer my opinion now, one week before the 2012 caucuses, from the safety of Virginia.

While I am no longer living in the state, I offer this view with a lot of love for Iowa and a ton of caucus experience. (more…)

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Iowa is losing an important state institution when David Yepsen leaves the Des Moines Register to head the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

I was Dave’s editor many years ago when we both had dark hair and weighed somewhat less than we do now. He taught me a lot about this business and I hope I taught him a little as well. Through caucus campaign after caucus campaign as a reporter and later as a columnist and blogger, Dave defined the issues and handicapped the candidates for Register readers and for visiting reporters from around the nation.

We worked closely together in coverage of the 1980 and ’84 Iowa caucuses. In 1984, Jim Flansburg had left his post as the Register’s chief political reporter to become editorial page editor. That moved Dave up to the chief political spot and made him one of the first stops on the itineraries of national reporters visiting Iowa to cover the caucus campaign.

I had created a caucus board game in 1983, celebrating and spoofing our state’s quadrennial role in the nation’s political process. While the game was a bust commercially (the Register didn’t know how to sell anything that wasn’t a newspaper or an ad), it was popular among visiting reporters. Several times visiting reporters would stop and interview Dave, then swing by my desk to ask about the game. I was an optional stop, but Dave was a must. I got my 15 minutes of fame; he was starting a quarter-century of fame.

I said half-jokingly that Dave could always take credit for having called the caucus outcome, because he predicted (usually with some hedging) every possible scenario during the campaign: John Glenn will win if this happens, Gary Hart could upset if that happens, Alan Cranston could sneak through if all these things happen. Change the names to Gephardt, Obama, Huckabee or Bush and the scenario was the same, campaign after campaign.

My favorite two Yepsen stories come from the days before Dave was famous. I have to say that I can’t vouch for the accuracy of either story because I heard them decades ago in a bar, where I spent some evenings in younger days with Dave and other Register colleagues. But they both show the resourcefulness that later would make Dave nationally famous.

In the first story, Dave was covering a tornado (Fort Dodge, as I recall) in the 1970s. Reporters didn’t carry cell phones then, so disaster coverage required finding a pay phone or a home or office phone to call the city desk and dictate a story. Phone circuits were jammed and Dave was unable to get a long distance line out of town. He remembered that every police station had a pay phone (so prisoners could make the one phone call required by law). So he went to the police station, dialed the operator on the pay phone and said in an authoritative voice that Iowa politicians would later recognize instantly: “This is David Yepsen at the police station and I need a long-distance line right away.” He got the line and dictated the story.

Dave had served in the National Guard and after an incident when a police officer had discharged a gun (as I recall, it might have been accidental), Dave examined the unusual hole it left in the wall. He recognized the hole as having been caused by a hollow-point bullet. Before long, he was able to break a story on the police using hollow-point bullets, which cause much more serious injuries than normal bullets.

Dave broke a lot more stories before heading off for the professorial life. I have to wonder, though, where Iowa, Iowa State and Drake were when an Iowa icon began considering a move to academia. We should have kept Dave’s insights here in Iowa.

Godspeed to a friend who became a giant in politics and journalism.

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