The Des Moines Register is looking for a new chief politics reporter

The Des Moines Register announced in late March that Jennifer Jacobs was leaving the newspaper after twelve years, the last five as chief politics reporter. A national search is under way for her successor, who will handle “top-level political reporting, including breaking news, Iowa Poll results, analysis of the Iowa political scene and how it relates to the national conversation.”

As a heavy consumer of Iowa political journalism, I look forward to seeing someone new take on this important job. I wish Jacobs all the best covering the presidential campaign for Bloomberg News, but it’s no secret I wasn’t a fan of how she approached her beat, sometimes seeming to favor certain candidates, recycling comments reported by others as clickbait, and even occasionally allowing newsmakers to review a full story draft before publication.

While campaigns and elections will remain the primary focus for the Register’s chief politics reporter, I hope Jacobs’ successor will also dig in to the work of Iowa’s elected officials at the state and federal level. Though the Register’s editors seem to like the “8 things to watch for” genre, my preference would be for less speculation about what might happen and more scoops on what politicians have done or said, especially actions that were never intended to reach a wide audience (as opposed to news leaked with the goal of maximizing exposure in Iowa’s leading newspaper).

I enclose below excerpts from the job listing Gannett posted on April 11. Another must-read for any journalist thinking about applying: the memo Gannett circulated in early 2015 on “Minimal job requirements of a self-directed reporter” at the Des Moines Register.

From the job listing posted on April 11:

The Des Moines Register is seeking a chief politics reporter for its top-level political reporting, including breaking news, Iowa Poll results, analysis of the Iowa political scene and how it relates to the national conversation. This is the lead and most visible member of the Register’s political team, and the successful candidate is expected to collaborate with other team members, build strong sources and be comfortable appearing on television and in other mediums.

In this role, you will:
• Develop and report top-level enterprise work on the Iowa political scene and the Iowa caucuses
• Break political news that is both relevant in Iowa and on the national scale
• Collaborate with editors and other political team members on longer-term projects
• Use metrics and news judgment to decide which stories to pursue
• Be a leader on social media, including emerging social networks
• Make regular television appearance and produce videos and other multimedia packages

Here’s what you need:
• Five plus years of experience reporting, with at least three years of dedicated political reporting
• A strong sense of urgency, a competitive spirit and an ability to develop deep sourcing
• Proven ability to work independently
• Advanced journalism skills (reporting, editing and social media)
• Exceptional planning and organizational skills
• Ability to multi-task and excel under intense deadline pressure in a rapidly changing environment
• Aptitude for managing time effectively in a 24-hour news environment
• Attention to detail and strong communication skills

Here’s what we have to offer:
• Competitive compensation
• Comprehensive Health, Dental and Vision coverage
• Life Insurance
• 401(K) Saving Plan
• Paid Time Off
• Paid Company Holidays
• Paid Time Off to Volunteer in the Community
• Employee Discount Program

I had never heard of paid time off for volunteering as a perk for a journalism job, so I asked the Register’s executive editor and vice president Amalie Nash for more information. How many hours a year are covered? Can reporters volunteer for any 501(c)3 organization, or do they need permission from a higher-up? Nash responded, “It’s 10 hours, and you fill out a form that your supervisor approves in advance (can be all at once or couple half-days).”

I assume Gannett would prefer for reporters to help uncontroversial causes that assist the poor or the sick, rather than volunteering for a lightning rod such as Planned Parenthood or Iowa Right to Life.

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  • more on volunteering

    Organizations: Charitable organizations classified by the
    IRS as 501(c)(3) non-profit, public charities and municipalities
    (i.e. public schools) are eligible.
    Activities: Volunteer activities that benefit the local
    community are eligible, including, but not limited to serving
    meals at a soup kitchen; helping to build houses; mentoring
    area youths; leading a scout troop; assisting students with
    reading or writing; chaperoning field trips.
    Not eligible: Programs or initiatives where the primary
    purpose is the promotion of religious doctrine or tenets.
    Activities to carry on propaganda, to attempt to influence
    legislation or the outcome of any public election or to carry
    on any voter registration drive.
    Volunteer activities performed on personal time (e.g., on
    vacation days, holidays, weekends, before or after regularly
    scheduled work hours, etc.) are not eligible for this program.
    Volunteer activities should not reflect negatively on the
    company or conflict with our responsibility to provide fair
    and objective news coverage.

    • thanks--so interesting

      I have never heard of this perk. It’s easy to see the potential for people to charge bias, depending on a reporter’s beat and the non-profit organization.

  • Don't get too excited

    I predict that Gannett will ‘install’ some winsome young know-nothing (male or female) in the position. Someone with native knowledge of what DM or Iowa culture is all about will not be offered the position. I surprised they haven’t found an ‘internal hire’ to shift over her from Nashville or the (shudder) Arizona Republic already.
    This may not end well.