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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Gannon’

A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

When I blog about historic front pages, I normally tell about papers that actually made it to homes and/or vending machines. This one didn’t make it out of the Des Moines Register’s building (except for the copies spirited out by a few editors for keepsakes).

Usually when editors stop the presses to update a story or dump a bad one, the papers that have already been printed go out to the early routes because the mistake is found too late. But all the papers were still in the building 35 years ago when we learned that a deal for a Republican presidential ticket of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford had fallen through.

The Reagan-Ford discussions had been the buzz all day. Ford, who was more popular after his presidency than during it, would add some heft to the ticket of a former actor at the top of the ticket who was genial and popular, but perceived as a lightweight.

As the presses started rumbling late the night of July 16, our front page proclaimed the ticket as likely. Appearing under the triple byline of three of the best journalists I ever worked with, Jim Risser, George Anthan and Jim Flansburg, was this lead:

Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, in a stunning political move, reportedly persuaded former President Gerald Ford Wednesday night to be his running mate, after promising that Ford would not be a mere figurehead.

As I recall, Dave Westphal, who was editing the story, insisted on hedging with “reportedly.” Our three reporters, and everyone else covering the Republican convention, thought the Reagan-Ford ticket was a done deal.

A commentary by our editor, Jim Gannon, noted how the remarkable deal came together, first raised in a live TV interview of Ford by Walter Cronkite.

Eventually, Reagan decided he would be sharing too much power with his former rival.

With the newsroom floor vibrating from the fast-moving press below, Risser called with news that the deal had fallen through. News Editor Jimmy Larson called the pressroom to stop the presses. But before they could throw away all the outdated papers, I grabbed the one pictured above.

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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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Alan Mutter makes a point that I’ve been hearing editors make most of my career: Most newspaper stories are too long.

I’m sure he’s right. But some newspaper stories are too short. And story length is way down the list of problems facing the newspaper business.

I remember when I was at the Des Moines Register, Jim Gannon, who I believe was executive editor at the time, decreed that no story could be longer than he was tall. He was 5’10”, as I recall, so a story couldn’t be longer than 70 inches. 70 inches! Register reporters were writing so long that Gannon’s idea of introducing some discipline was to limit stories to 70 inches (and newspaper columns were wider then than they are today). (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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Being the spouse of a young editor at a morning newspaper doesn’t carry a lot of perks, unless you like being alone in the evening. I thought I had delivered a perk to Mimi in 1980 when I was an editor on the city desk of The Des Moines Register.

The Register was going to be hosting the only debate before the Iowa caucuses between President Jimmy Carter and his Democratic challenger, Sen. Edward Kennedy. (California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted in, but Register Editor Jim Gannon said he needed to be campaigning seriously in Iowa, and he wasn’t. Brown eventually campaigned and Ganon relented, but Brown remained largely a sideshow to the Carter-Kennedy race.)

The obituaries and eulogies for Kennedy today focus on his long career in the Senate and on the tragedies of his family and personal life more than on that one run for the White House. But at the time, it was a huge deal that the last of the Kennedy brothers was challenging the sitting president for the Democratic nomination.  (more…)

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