Good news, bad news

Bleeding Heartland user dbmarin is a musician, former Register reporter and sound designer. His collaboration with video artist Oyoram (7even Stories High) is currently featured at The Des Moines Art Center’s IMMERSIVE installation.

I’ll start with the good news.

It looks as if Matthew Smith, deputy superintendent for the Des Moines Public Schools, has been tapped as the interim superintendent while the district searches for Tom Ahart’s successor.

Only God knows the sausage making that will go into selecting the next permanent superintendent, but in the meantime, Smith’s selection is a good move. After moving to Des Moines from his native Texas, he served as North High School principal for two years before moving to administration. (Disclosure: I was offering music and media workshops with high school students in the summer of 2010 when Smith was hired.)

Matthew Smith knows kids. I have personally not seen a struggling public school turn around as completely as North High School did in the two years following his assignment there. It takes talent, devotion, and savvy of the best sort to gain the respect, trust, and confidence of an embattled faculty and perhaps the most diverse student body in Iowa. (More than 70 percent of North’s student body are on free or reduced price federal lunch programs.)

The Des Moines school district is lucky that someone with his character is available during this most challenging time. In light of the aggressive assault on public schools by local pols (as witnessed by Governor Kim Reynolds’ ill-advised obstruction of public school COVID-19 mitigation policies), I believe Smith will steadfastly defend the values that public education has always championed.

Now, the bad news.

I went out to get the Des Moines Register this week and was the recipient of a demand for three dollars and 49 cents. Folks, that’s 50 cents more than the New York Times, which actually publishes new news every 24 hours, unlike our local journo-scam that puts late editions to bed by 3:30 in the afternoon! CORRECTION: According to Des Moines Register executive editor Carol Hunter, “Press start is 8 p.m., which requires that the last plate goes to the printing facility at 7:30 p.m. We can’t push up right against deadline for every page, of course, but if it’s a big story, we can get late evening news into print.” Hunter added that the newspaper “covers breaking news at any time online,” such as a big political story that went up at 11:46 pm on April 10.

I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but when a newspaper reaches this advanced degree of gangrenous lack of relevance, it usually means death cannot be far behind.

I joined the Des Moines Register as a 16-year old in 1967. In addition to covering sports, I assisted senior reporters who covered the civic upheaval following the assassination of Martin Luther King. This crew up there now couldn’t carry our galley proofs. Amazing downfall.

I remember when Gannett acquired the Register during the 1980s. Gannett president Alan Neuharth was riding high, but the truth of it for the local paper got ugly quickly and has never abated.

Let me remind you that because we lack a Washington bureau (and hardly a local political/police reporting function) we are “blind” to significant events.

Three dollars and 49 cents for a paper not even produced in town by people who don’t have any vested interest in our police, education, economic, or especially our local high school and collegiate sports news.

Obviously you can find stuff in other channels, but the local newspaper’s position in the information chain is a key that apparently Gannett/Gatehouse management is ready to throw away.

And no, I’m never going to Facebook. But apparently, that’s where the advertising revenue on which Gannett and print journalism relied, has fled to.

Top image cropped from dbmarin’s photo of the headline from a November 1997 article by Sig Gissler for the Columbia Journalism Review: “What happens when Gannett takes over: culture clash and some disturbing changes at two formerly family-owned newspapers.”

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  • Another View

    As a subscriber to the DSM Register, I ask why daily.
    Actual content is sporadic at best.
    For another take on the problem, below is a link to the independent Iowa writer Lyz Lenz’s article on the situation.