A look to the Des Moines Register's future

Dale Alison was managing editor at The Hawk Eye for 27 years before being laid off in 2017, shortly after GateHouse Media bought the Burlington newspaper. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowans should be concerned that Gannett, owner of the newspaper they’re supposed to depend upon, has been swallowed by the smaller, lesser-known GateHouse Media.

Though the new company will adopt the Gannett brand (let’s call it new Gannett, compared to old Gannett), its DNA is certain to be GateHouse through and through. Despite what’s stated in company press releases, the company’s lineage is littered with bankruptcies, antiquated technology and deep staff cuts, particularly on the news side. The old Gannett had its own reputation for cost-cutting, but it was founded by a newspaperman, Frank Gannett, interested in covering his Upstate New York community. GateHouse was created by a Wall Street private equity fund only to make money.

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Dark days ahead for Iowa journalism

Old-timers often reminisce about how much better the Des Moines Register used to be, before Gannett arrived on the scene in 1985. The newspaper employed dozens more reporters and editors, had stringers in every Iowa county, top-tier journalists working in Washington, DC, and a powerful voice on the editorial page.

After several rounds of buyouts and layoffs, the Register has a much smaller newsroom, with no reporters on the ground in DC since 2011 and almost no stringers for more than a decade. The cutbacks have affected every aspect of coverage. The opinion page stopped running daily unsigned editorials in 2017. Last year, the Register “dropped the daily Business Page,” stopped running high school football scores in Saturday editions, and didn’t publish the midterm election results in print until Thursday, November 8.

Things are about to get worse at Iowa’s most important news organization.

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LGBTQ lives cannot be compromised

One Iowa Action: “We should not be encouraging half-measures and disparate treatment of our fellow Iowans.” -promoted by Laura Belin

Des Moines Register Opinion Editor Kathie Obradovich’s recent column sets out a laudable goal; protecting both religious liberty and the LGBTQ community (What if Iowa could protect both religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?).

Unfortunately, the substance of the piece misses the mark by pulling from erroneous source material that equates Utah and Iowa, two states with very different legal and political landscapes. In doing so Obradovich implies, perhaps unintentionally, that LGBTQ Iowans need to start from a place of compromise when their rights and freedoms are threatened.

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When politicians become assignment editors

For many years, the Des Moines Register regularly published dispatches from Washington on what the Iowans in Congress were doing. Coverage deteriorated after the newspaper laid off Jane Norman in 2008. To my knowledge, no Iowa-based news organization has had a correspondent in the nation’s capital since the Register let Philip Brasher go in 2011.

In a wide-ranging review of the Register’s political reporting four years ago, I commented, “If a member of Congress didn’t brag about it in a press release, conference call, or social media post, the Register’s readers are not likely ever to learn that it happened.”

The newspaper’s recent coverage of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley illustrates that problem.

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50 good political writers over 50

I turned 50 years old this month. Ten years ago, I marked my milestone birthday by flagging “40 good bloggers over 40.” This time, I am casting a wider net to highlight not only people with their own blogs (which are, unfortunately, in a state of decline), but any political reporters, commentators, or authors who are in their second half-century.

Many writers I enjoy reading were too young to be listed here, such as Douglas Burns, Andie Dominick, Todd Dorman, Juliette Kayyem, Andy Kopsa, and a star of political blogging’s “golden age,” Atrios/Duncan Black. An early draft of this post included William Petroski, who recently retired from the Des Moines Register. His coverage of Iowa legislative happenings is missed.

One of my all-time favorite bloggers, Steve Gilliard, would be in his 50s now. I’ve often wished he had lived to cover Barack Obama’s presidency and the Donald Trump disaster.

On to the list, in alphabetical order:

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