New year, new byline

Laura Belin’s not a new byline for me, but it’s new to this page. As of today, “desmoinesdem” is being retired.

When I began commenting on national websites around 2003, I put little thought into choosing a username. In those days, many handles conveyed a person’s general location and political orientation. I had been writing about Russian politics since 1995 and was still doing freelance work in that field under my real name. I never anticipated running a website devoted to Iowa politics.

During the heyday of progressive blogs, lots of serious authors favored screen names for various reasons. Some wanted to preserve their privacy. Some had day jobs that weren’t compatible with partisan writing. Many women adopted gender-neutral handles, which made them less likely targets for harassment and helped their work gain acceptance in male-dominated online spaces.

By 2007, I had given up on covering Russia as a career and was active on sites like Daily Kos, MyDD, and Swing State Project. When Drew Miller invited desmoinesdem to be a front-pager for the Iowa community blog he and Chris Woods had launched, I thought Bleeding Heartland would be a fun hobby. This website allowed me to dig into the same topics I loved covering in Russia during the 1990s: campaigns and elections, legislative happenings, corporate influence over public policy, and media bias.

As writing about Iowa politics began to occupy more of my time and energy, I often considered dropping the handle. But desmoinesdem had become my brand, for better or worse. Plus, I had grown fond of my alter ego. Whereas previous jobs required me to stay detached when reporting on newsworthy events, I was able to develop a different voice on this platform. I cherished that freedom.

A few years ago, I settled on a compromise: putting my real name on the site’s “about” page while continuing to publish new material as desmoinesdem. Other writers I admire (such as Heather “Digby” Parton and Marcy “emptywheel” Wheeler) still use handles dating to those early years of blogging.

But over time, the drawbacks of my approach became more apparent. Most readers who click on an article don’t find their way to the website’s “about” page. They may get the impression the anonymous author doesn’t stand behind the piece. Mainstream journalists and editors typically associate screen names with trolling, not credible reporting. Even worse, because my handle indicates a partisan preference, it may suggest that all posts here are ideologically driven. Although I don’t hide my support for progressive policies and some (not all) Democratic politicians, my work is grounded in facts and research.

My writing style will not change. Some posts will stick to what happened, but I will often blend reporting with commentary or analysis or media criticism. In addition to synthesizing and building on scoops by others, I will occasionally publish exclusive interviews and material obtained through my own public records requests. I will strive to dig deep on major political events and sometimes revisit news from the recent past.

I don’t renounce anything previously published here. All of desmoinesdem’s 7,098 posts from the last twelve years are archived and accessible. I’m starting fresh with Laura Belin only because the site doesn’t permit changing a username on an existing account.

Pseudonyms are still allowed for Bleeding Heartland guest authors, as long as writers don’t use handles as sock puppets or to conceal conflicts of interest.

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  • desmoinesdem

    It’s nice to meet you Laura Belin.

  • Still Bronxiniowa

    Interesting soul-searching, Laura. Thanks for sharing.

    As for me, I will retain my username because it speaks to who I am, where I am. Being from the Bronx is special to me: like illustrious Bronxites General Colin Powell and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, we are children of working-class parents who benefited from a kind and generous City Of New York while taking advantage of our talents and opportunities. Being from the Bronx, we were looked at in lower esteem than our neighbors from other boroughs, especially Manhattan. And now that Brooklyn has become the trendy place to be in the city, the Bronx has receded even farther from view.

    No matter. Bronxites are talented, perceptive, defiant and confident, and are determined to change the world, for the better. And I am determined to do it in Iowa, my adopted home, where I have lived for nearly 34 years. Where I have learned about and come to appreciate other people, other lifestyles, other traditions, other points of view.

    So I remain Bronxiniowa. Wherever I go.

    – Ira Lacher

  • GMcGdem

    Dear Laura, Note my name on this account is GMcGdem…referring to my work on Sen. George McGovern’s Senate staff, my first job out of college.When I signed up for your blog I used that because I shared your idea that perhaps it would be better if my own name was not on the post, thinking it may not be taken as seriously with. my own name on it. I was also very proud of my time with Sen. McGovern. It was a very formative job for me and brought me a life long set of friends and beliefs. I then moved right from that job to a TV job…in SD. So I worked hard to create an unbiased and fact driven reporting reputation. My varied contributions to the AP, the UPI, CNN and the ultimate airing of a package on the TODAY show were only possible with that unbiased and dispassionate reputation. My only passion was to the facts of any story. After grad school becoming a lobbyist again required a drop back from public statements of personal positions on many issues. Upon my premature retirement onto Soc Sec Disability when I was 41 I realized I could shed my public persona of neutrality. I felt liberated when I realized I could write letters to the editor. It was very gratifying to write..and even more gratifying when they would get published. I never read the 2Cents Worth column in the Register…I did not respect people that wouldn’t put their name to their comment. I understand entirely why a person would opt for the anonymous name of a political type column..especially in this age of instant communication and instant harassment and threats. I appreciate you putting your name on your work, because it is incredible work and your effort needs to be recognized as yours. I am always amazed and impressed with the work of you and your contributors. Thank you again, for what you provide me and our state.

  • Excellent!

    I affirm your decision 100 percent, Laura, and I like your explanation a lot. ~Dan in Muscatine aka Iowapeacechief

  • I really like the photo...

    …and it’s great to see your name getting direct credit for your very good work.

    • the picture was taken

      a few years ago in front of one of the prairie plantings at Colby Park in Windsor Heights.