Thirteen Des Moines Register staffers take buyout offer

The Des Moines Register is losing another group of longtime fixtures in the newsroom. Publisher Laura Hollingsworth announced on Friday the 13th that ten writers and editors are among 13 employees who accepted the Gannett Corporation’s early retirement package.

The Des Moines Business Record reported in February that Gannett offered early retirement buyouts to 25 employees who have been with the Des Moines Register for at least 20 years. Employees were given 45 days to consider the offer. Gannett planned to accept a maximum of 21 buyouts from Des Moines. The offer was part of a larger cost-cutting strategy to offer early retirement to 665 Gannett employees across the country.

Hollingsworth announced the departure of 13 “accomplished, veteran workers” on the Register’s website today. Two advertising employees and an administrative assistant in finance accepted the buyout, along with the following newsroom staff:

Senior reporters Tom Alex, 33 years, and Tom Perry, 36 years; business columnist David Elbert, 36 years; sports columnist Marc Hansen, 33 years; page designer/copy editors David Rhein, 40 years, and Jody Horning, 33 years; senior copy editor Dan Carr, 30 years; business reporter Joanne Boeckman, 23 years; editorial page assistant Sandy Walter, 27 years; and investigative reporter Tom Witosky, 33 years.

“This is an all-star group of talented writers, editors, designers and columnists whose greatest passion was being involved in the telling of important stories for Iowa,” said editor Rick Green, vice president/news. “It’s impossible to capture their collective contributions. I believe I speak for their fellow newsroom staffers and all of our readers who have been touched by their good work when I say thank you and good luck.”

We soon will be announcing some exciting changes at Des Moines Register Media that involve our website and a reinvigorated approach to issues and topics that readers say are important to them.

I’m not looking forward to seeing the Register’s “reinvigorated approach.” A site produced by a smaller, overworked newsroom staff with less collective experience doesn’t sound promising. Presumably there will be less political and investigative reporting and more lifestyle-type feature stories.

Editors tend to be invisible to readers, but the bylines of Alex, Perry, Elbert, Hansen, Boeckman and Witosky are very familiar, and I will be sorry to see them all disappear. Hansen was a sports reporter and columnist at the Register a long time ago but later moved into the Metro section, where he did an excellent job. He went back into sportswriting last year when the Register laid off sports columnist Sean Keeler and several other staffers. At that time, former Register columnist Ken Fuson worried,

“Are you going to let Clark [Kauffman], one of the best investigative reporters in the country spend eight months on a project that produces real news, or is he going to have to be out covering spot news somewhere or a local politician’s speech because they don’t have anybody else to cover it? Those are the kind of questions that they’re going to have to face.”

Today’s news makes Fuson’s comment even more relevant.

UPDATE: Register sports writer Rick Brown comments, “Very difficult day today saying goodbye to the best reporter I ever worked with, Tom Witosky, and columnist extraordinaire Marc Hansen.”

SECOND UPDATE: Hansen shared some funny off-the-field memories in his farewell column:

But my most widely recognized sports-writing moment occurred at the 1990 World Series in Cincinnati when I forced Reds owner Marge Schott to remove the beer from the media room at old Riverfront Stadium.

At one time, most pro and many college teams made a practice of serving beer to media members at the bigger events. Twenty-five years ago, even schools like Iowa and Iowa State passed out postgame cans of beer and sandwiches. “Passed out” is probably the wrong term here because it never got that crazy.

Sportswriters on the job these days are more likely to sip Diet Coke, but here’s what happened in Cincinnati after I stopped at a Waffle House before heading to the ballpark.

Before the game, I interviewed former Iowa Cub Billy Hatcher, who hit a World Series record .750, and I wrote a column for first edition. While transmitting the story, I started feeling queasy.

By the time I was finished, I felt really queasy and found myself getting sick all over the media room. I cleaned it up as best I could and looked for a place to die. Somebody put me in a wheelchair, rolled me to a first aid station, called a cab and sent me to my motel by the Waffle House.

By game time the next day I was ready to go. A former Des Moines Tribune colleague working for the New York Post greeted me at the stadium.

“You’ll never believe this,” he said. “Marge took all the beer out of the media area. She said some sportswriter got wasted and lost his lunch all over the place. How does it feel to be the guy who ruined it for everybody?”

He laughed. I laughed. The moral of the story: If you must dine at a Waffle House restaurant, especially before the opening game of the World Series, stick with the waffles.

In this business, you take your life lessons where you find them.

  • First Job....

    I used to be a Register carrier as my first job as a kid. I was proud of that paper.  I am not proud of it now.

    The paper is a shell of what it was then.  Not even comparable in quality to anything it was in the past.

    I urge you all to research what the late Ralph Gross wrote after he served on the “reader advisory” board a few years ago.  Very eye opening and on target.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/s…

    • The Register in 1985

      At your NPR link it is implied by the Register person that the paper was sold because it was not making money.  Did that have anything to do with the farm depression?  Or was it really the paper’s fault for spending too much on news gathering?

  • White space...

    …more and more white space on the news pages.  An indication that there’s less and less NEWS being printed in ‘The Newspaper Iowa Depends On’.  I forsee the day when the Sunday paper’s front page is nothing but the masthead, white space, and the word “News” centered in the middle of the page.

  • shell of its former self

    I used to help my buds deliver the Tribune! Imagine — TWO dailies in Des Moines.

    I’ve been calling what’s left of this “newspaper” the Dumb Moines ERORRegister for months and months.  

    Lack of editors? I actually found Iowa misspelled a couple years ago!

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