Herb Strentz

Missing in action: Copy editors, a loss to all of us

Herb Strentz: The essence of copy editing was not catching errors in spelling or grammar, but making the news more understandable.

When writing posts for Bleeding Heartland, I’ve learned that if you don’t have a good way to introduce a topic, you can find someone who does.

This commentary is about how much we’ve lost as many newspapers have all but eliminated copy editors—people who helped reporters provide the answers and clarity you expect to find in news stories, and saved them from publishing work that raised questions and confusion.

How to sum it up? Consider Michael Gartner’s recollection from when he had just begun working at the Wall Street Journal. (This was some fifteen years before he became editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune; later he was president of NBC News and won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing as an owner and editor of the Ames Tribune.)

He recalled: “The setting is early July 1960 in the newsroom of the Wall Street Journal:

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The not-so-hidden costs of paid obituaries

Herb Strentz: Treating obituaries as news cemented ties between the newspaper and the community, and was great training for young reporters.

People may pay from hundreds to thousands of dollars these days to have loved ones’ obituaries published in local newspapers. But few if any ponder the impact “paid obits” have had on the newsroom.

As an old man (83) who grew up in a newsroom that routinely ran an obit as a news story, and published obits on everyone who died in town, I want to share some costs of today’s approach to obituaries.

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Should Iowans finance more government secrecy? No, but...

Herb Strentz discusses the disappointing work of the Iowa Public Information Board, which was created ten years ago to enforce the state’s open meetings and records laws.

Question: Should “We the people” of Iowa pay for our government not telling us what it is doing?

Answer: The question is rhetorical, because we already do so—even though as a matter of principle and given the intent of Iowa’s Sunshine laws, we should not.

The center of this Q&A is the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB). When created in 2012, after years of work with state lawmakers, the board was heralded. The concept was, challenges to government secrecy would be subject to quick, inexpensive answers. No need to hire a lawyer to represent your concerns.

But two good commentaries illustrate how those dreams were more like delusions.

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2022 election merits more concern than Iowa caucuses

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Worse things could befall Iowa and the nation than the Iowa caucus losing its “first-in-the-nation” status in presidential election years.

For example, it might be worse if the state kept that status and was viewed as a bellwether in the 2024 election.

Let’s face it. Iowa has little left of the virtues that had the state press routinely boasting about Iowa being “the center of the political universe” when it came to January and February every four years.

For an art-becomes-life perspective, consider a 1947 movie that kind of foretold the story of the Iowa caucuses.

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Notes on 75 years of flying saucers

Herb Strentz, a frequent contributor to Bleeding Heartland, wrote his Northwestern University PhD dissertation on press coverage of flying saucers/unidentified flying objects. He also was a research associate with the Defense Department project on UFOs conducted by the University of Colorado in the late 1960s.

I offer some bits of UFO trivia and story telling as part of the 75th anniversary of the onset of the flying saucer phenomenon. That’s generally taken to be June 24, 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Boise, Idaho, reported seeing disc-like objects over the Cascade Mountains.

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