Where have all the reporters gone?

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When The Des Moines Register isn’t firing its high-profile staffers, they’re quitting. David Yepsen, the Register‘s senior political columnist, is expected to leave to become the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, the paper reported. (The New York Times‘ political blog The Caucus sounds pretty convinced that that he is leaving journalism.)

It’s hard to blame Mr. Yepsen for leaving. The Iowa Public Television Iowa Press regular is 58; his employer, Gannett, is forcing the employees it hasn’t laid off to take unpaid furloughs; and, if you haven’t noticed, the journalism trade isn’t exactly a cheery place right now, what with 2,118 newspaper layoffs since the beginning of the year.

Sure, it’s a loss to the state and the craft: Mr. Yepsen had access to the Big Boys and Girls every four years when people cared what Iowans thought about politics and the intelligence and care to not abuse it. It’s sad to see a prominent journalist and native son of Iowa (Mr. Yepson was born in Jefferson) give up on both the trade and the state. (Update: Steve Buttry, editor of The Gazette and a former Register editor, has some kind things to say about Mr. Yepsen, too)

But here’s the thing: when Mr. Yepsen and hundreds of other smart, skilled reporters leaving journalism, they create openings for other smart, skilled journalists who want to help redefine journalism. And the people and institutions that will take those places are starting to crop up.

Yes, it’s a scary, terrifying, exciting time in the world of journalism, folks.

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