Ralph Gross remembered the glory days of The Des Moines Register and he didn’t like what it had become.
“Thirty years ago,” he wrote in a 2005 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, “I would pass in front of the Register building and with great pride read a display that said: ‘The Des Moines Register has won more Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting than any other newspaper except one. Congratulations, New York Times.’”
The national reporting prize has been awarded since 1948 and, at the time Gannet bought the Register in 1985 , the paper had six — the same as the Times. The Wall Street Journal had won just three national reporting awards and this year’s winner, the Washington Post, held zero.
And while the Post, Journal and Times now hold, respectively, three, seven and 11 national reporting Pulitzers, The Des Moines Register, “The paper Iowa depends on,” hasn’t won since the chain bought it, winning its last that very year.
Mr. Gross was upset and joined the Register’s citizen advisory board when the opportunity arouse with the hope of improving his hometown paper.
I know little more about Mr. Gross. I talked to him once on the telephone about a book project shortly before he died in February of this year. But I respect what he did: take an active role in improving the media his community depended on.
I hope to do the same on this blog: let Iowa’s newspapers, television and online news organizations know that someone’s watching.