Des Moines Register’s Yepsen replacement is married to a lobbist

The Des Moines Register has finally found someone to replace longtime political columnist David Yepsen. Kathie Obradovich, the paper’s poltical editor, took the post.

The Register‘s story announcing the change mentioned, in a throwaway line at the end, that Obradovich “is married to Jim Obradovich, a lobbyist for multiple Iowa organizations including the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Wind Energy Association.”

Not that she hasn’t been operating with this way for a while, but doesn’t the Register owe us a greater explaination of this potential conflict of interest for what is considered a pretty prominent media job?

Where have all the reporters gone?


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.

Gannett continues to kill Iowa’s newspapers

Earlier this week, Gannett slashed at least 1,900 jobs by one tally. The Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen are among the Iowa newspapers Gannett owns and both saw layoffs; 41 at the Register and 11 at the Press-Citizen.

Sure the economy is in bad shape, and newspapers have been shedding jobs everywhere, but these were the first obvious newspaper layoffs in Iowa. Gannett has widely been blamed for turning the Register, a Pulitzer-winning, local-family-owned paper with state and national relevance, into one of the chain’s local newsletters that avoids controversy and regularly runs rewritten press releases.

On his blog, Rogue Columnist, Jon Talton argues that Gannett has been helping to bring this crisis on for years and, as a corporation, pushed American newspaper journalism to the brink it is at now.

Gannett also poisoned Wall Street for all publicly held newspaper companies. Its margins were far above, say, Knight Ridder. Never mind that Gannett didn’t really produce the same product. KR execs were obsessed with matching Gannett and terrified that The Street would punish them — again, the journalism suffered.

And while Gannett’s Information Center plan, for which the Register was a test site, helped the Des Moines organization improve its newsroom to the point where it was nationally recognized for its online journalism excellence, it didn’t do much for the chain’s actual journalism quality. And a Gannett executive Mr. Talton quotes agreed.

So besides the huge color weather map that now adorns the back of every newspaper’s A section, what has Gannett offered the newspaper industry that has been so good to it and its shareholders (to the tune of 40 percent profit margins even recently)? A business model that prevents news companys from caring about news quality instead of profits.

Obama election front page winners and losers

If only we could have historic events every day, maybe newspapers wouldn’t be in such trouble. Some very nice A1s ran this morning.

The nicest A1 I saw was from Mr. Obama’s hometown tabloid, the Chicago Sun-Times. Simple. The Des Moines Register‘s was simple and effective and I’m a fan of not trying to make the headline do too much. We know who Barack Obama is and what his victory means. No need to do too beat readers over the head with your, um, hed. The Gazette‘s Yes, He Did! is too obvious (we saw tons of Yes, He Did and Yes, He Can heds today, best to avoid the cliche). The layout is striking, though. The Press-Citizen was apparently in a Star Wars mood after CNN’s Princess Leia hologram. Or perhaps those on the universal desk there are too young to know better remember the original movie’s full title (it was 1977, after all). The Sioux City Journal again tries to do too much. No need to root. Understated heds only, please. The worst was from the Weatherford (Oklahoma) Daily News. Simply awful. The Rockdale (Georgia) Citizen was awful, too; It led with a dog story (albeit a dog-attacks-school-kids story).

Somebody’s watching

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.