Saturday, June 25, 2011

Des Moines | How to take the 'op' out of op-ed

[Updated at 5:12 p.m. ET June 26: See my note, appended to the bottom of this post.]

[Opposites detract: Gartner, Hollingsworth]

At The Des Moines Register and many other newspapers, the "op-ed" page reflects its position and purpose. It appears opposite the editorial page, and its content -- columns, essays and the like -- is often in opposition to the paper's institutional, corporate view: the unsigned editorials.

And while op-ed pages attract their share of wing nut contributors, that doesn't describe Michael Gartner -- whose modest opinion piece about what he termed the Register's "devastating" layoffs was rejected by the paper this week.

As a former Register president, Gartner is one of Publisher Laura Hollingsworth's predecessors. In 1997, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials he wrote for Iowa's Ames Tribune. And he's a former president of NBC News.

Was his piece too long? At 11 paragraphs, that's doubtful. Did it merely repeat something the Register had already covered? Nope; just read the Register's own, bare-bones story about its layoffs.

Off topic or outdated? Hardly. It dealt with an issue of great importance to the Register's readers: the layoff of 13 mostly newsroom employees on Tuesday, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and the paper's sole Washington-based reporter.

'The news that we won't know'
Perhaps, then, it was his passing reference to a subject near and dear to Hollingsworth: Corporate's control of the daily.

"The layoffs at the Register," Gartner wrote, "may be the result of changing economics of the newspaper business or shareholder demands or absentee ownership. Or a combination of all that. But it’s foolish to point fingers and folly to assign blame. That matters not to the reader. What matters is all the news that we won’t know. And, of course, we don’t know what we won’t know."

Sounds like a subject worthy of an op-ed submission, doesn't it?

Not to Hollingsworth, who almost certainly would have been involved in the decision to reject Gartner's piece. Instead, it was published in Des Moines' Cityview weekly, and then, today, by Harvard University's Nieman Watchdog blog.

Paraphrasing Gartner, what matters also is all the opinions that we won't know.

[Note: After I posted this item, readers have pointed out that Gartner is co-owner of Big Green Umbrella Media, which publishes Cityview. Naturally, that makes him a competitor of the Register, and offers another reason why the paper may have rejected his op-ed.]


  1. It appears the heat and public outcry is growing more intense on Hollingsworth at the Register. I would bet she gets another assignment soon....for two reasons -
    A) To rescue her from the torture.
    B) More importantly so Gannett can put a fresh face in to throw the public a bone.....but continue to do business as usual.

  2. Incredible how the media is developing a split personality: The web, where readers get to say whatever they want, spiked columns are reposted anyway and there's an actual discussion about the Des Moines layoffs.

    And print, where a simple column asking simple questions by a former executive at the paper and, by the way, former president of NBC News, is rejected.

    Why not have a huge public discussion, air all sides, and perhaps, just perhaps, the readership would feel in the end that the Register is part of the community.

    Incredible they didn't run that.

  3. "Here in central Iowa - though we are in a better place economically than many, many markets - we are still seeing major areas of weakness." I think Des Moines' biggest area of weakness is Laura Hollingsworth. Everyone would be so happy if she moved on.

  4. 5:12 Not at all because it is not the way this company operates to yank an exec like you suggest. Corporate is the bully caught after punching out a nerd. It's not going to admit wrong doing, and in fact is going to heap as much blame on the nerd as possible, no matter how helpless the nerd might seem to us.
    If they had any guts, they would have run Gartner's piece. He's now in no position of any power in this company, so it would have been meaningless to anyone who didn't work for Gannett. He's a good newspaper editor, but I frankly didn't think much of his years at NBC, and I know NBC employees who share that view.

  5. 5:43 - If that's the way they operate it's ignorant....explains a lot. Most companies would know when to placate the employees and readers. Then they'd slip a new face in with the same marching orders. The new figure-head would get at least two-years grace period before the rumblings start.

  6. If we gave a fuck what the readers or advertisers thought or wanted, three things would have never seen light of day: COE, GPC, Design Hubs.

    Laura's going to continue to have a lovely time in Iowa - unless she cancels RAGBRAI or does a striptease at the caucuses next year.

  7. I attended a public event last year at which Hollingsworth and then-editor Carolyn Washburn spent 50 minutes talking about the Register's evolution in the 21st Century. Thirty minutes passed before the word 'journalism' was even uttered. That said about all I needed to hear.

  8. The Register should level with their community. There's no harm in hearing all sides.

  9. 6:17, humor me. Enlighten me as to the point of those three things you mention. I think I know where you're going with GPC, but I'm not sure about the other two.

    In the future, try to do less ranting and swearing and more explaining. Then you might actually sound as if you have something to offer.

  10. I don't disagree with Gartner about the Register because in recent years it has fallen flat on its face - but, in all fairness, it might be noted he is also co-owner of Big Green Umbrella Media, which publishes Cityview. If I were Hollingsworth, I might be hesitant to publish anything from a "competing" publisher and my guess is that would be the excuse given.

    For generations the Register was something trusted by Iowans, even when they did not agree with its editorial stances. Now more and more of us are finding we get more news affecting central Iowa from the Ames Tribune, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, small weekly papers and even the Omaha World Herald. Meanwhile the Register continues to pull in its horns, covering less and less and becoming even less of a force within the community.

    The hardest thing to believe in the latest "layoff", beside the personnel chosen to be let go, was that the choice was made just prior to the Iowa Republican straw poll and with the Iowa caucuses looming. Pray tell - is the rest of the chain going to rely on AP for caucus coverage? The Register just does not have the staff remaining to adequately cover those events.

  11. Publishing Gartner's piece would have shown Hollingsworth had integrity and even class.

  12. Yes it would. Unfortunately class and the words "Des Moines Register" have been mutually exclusive for some time now.

    But my guess is if anyone presses - that is going to be the excuse. It is just so handy.

  13. An organization's & person's true character is revealed when times get tough. When they were "the media" in Iowa it was easy to be gracious. Stier and her predecessors we're welcome guests at any event.....their input was welcome.

    Now the Register is just one of many media folks enjoy coverage from....but that is all. Their opinion isn't valued due to their lack of credibility/relevance. Their Editorials are often comical.

  14. Why did Register editors and the publisher reject Gartner's piece? They are ashamed of themselves and what they have allowed to happen to a great newspaper. Shame on them, indeed.

  15. Gartner is an honest enough journalist, but he's a little light on the God's gift department. He writes well, and he once was the flavor of the month. But he couldn't carry that through to other areas like NBC. In the military, that sort of thing results in your being denied a promotion and so lined up for retirement. Not promotable, but not a failure. Sorry to be harsh, but that's my personal view and I have followed his career.

  16. @7:14, have you ever called the COE? I have several times with little to no satisfaction on my part.

    Have you ever worked on a consolidated desk? I have, with little to no satisfation on my part.

    In the future, try to know what you're ranting about.

  17. I'll have two of what ever 10:28 has been drinking!

    If your trashing Gartner, I'd love to read your assessment of Hollingsworth.

  18. 12:02 it is 10:28 here. Unfortunately, my assessment of Hollingsworth falls into my same view of Gartner. Sorry if that offends, but it is my honest view.

  19. 6:17 PM Laura's going to continue to have a lovely time in Iowa - unless she cancels RAGBRAI or does a striptease at the caucuses next year.

    I just about dropped my bottle of whiskey when I read that one. Thanks for the laugh. But RAGBRAI makes money last I heard and her striptease doesn't.

  20. 12:02 What do I think of Hollingsworth? Not much. Ron Maly, a retired Register reporter who now writes a blog, says she's "hot," but I think she's become a little long in the tooth in her 5 years at the helm of the paper and now dyes her hair to cover the white hairs she's got from the strain. The Register boasts it gives "the news Iowa depends on" but under her regime you can't even count on the paper to tell you what Des Moines is doing, and certainly not the rest of the state. For God's sake, the Omaha paper even routinely beats the Register in Iowa sports coverage, and Iowa is one major sports state. Now we get pretend statewide stories based on silly and often meaningless polls, and the full impact of last week's layoff aren't yet fully clear, but it cannot be anything good.
    Laura is a pal of Dickey and has golfed with him. But I don't think her heart is really in golf as it clearly is for Dickey. My impression is she's a lost soul and truly befuddled about what to do with the paper as ads dry up. She will not go down as one of the succeesful Register leaders.

  21. p.s. yes, I realize I'm a sexist pig.

  22. In 2009, after laying off 36 people, Hollingsworth said:
    "With all due respect to other fine newspapers and media organizations in the state, there is still nothing else like the Des Moines Register in Iowa. No other news organization in Iowa brings you that depth of content, that kind of credible, trusted coverage."
    Interesting she didn't say that again last week, did she?

  23. Gartner sticks it to the Register all the time in unsigned pieces, via his baby, CityView. And he tut-tuts about corporate ownership of newspapers and conveniently forgets that his own attempt to buy the Register when he worked there put it into play, resulting in Gannett coming in. The Register ignores what he says about the Register, for good reason; if he has something to say, as a competitor, he has his venue to do so. He may maintain credibility in many circles, but he's viewed in many others as a snake oil salesman with small man syndrome.

  24. Gartner, in short, has a conflict of interest. It is extreme, if you are familiar with the history and his practices. If I were editor or publisher there, I would have rejected any piece he writes based on that alone.

    If he was a straight shooter (and he never has been), he would have revealed that conflict of interest when he printed this in HIS newspaper, Cityview, but he didn't. It is a reflection of just how great a journalist he is (not).

    And any non-flowery biography of Gartner would have to include the debacle at Dateline under his watch at NBC, which led to his departure there.

    Having said that, Hollingsworth is an advertising sales person ONLY. She doesn't begin to understand journalism, and doesn't care. Her predecessor, Mary Stier, came from the same background but was a true advocate of journalism. She understood what was important. Laura just turns her nose up.

    But look at all the publishers put in power or retained in important roles during Bob Dickey's rule. He only cares about advertising sales background. That is why Carol Hudler maintains her important post; she should have been ousted years ago. And the leaders like Stier and Curtis Riddle who either understood journalism or were journalists? Long gone.

    All the quality is gone folks. But Michael Gartner is no voice in the wilderness spouting truth. Let's not be delusional.

  25. Yes. And if the Nieman Watchdog blog has any credibility, the conflict should be pointed out in the course of reporting this.

    And you, Jim, should also point this out by updating your own post. You do a great job, but updating something like this is the least we would do on a "write-thru" back when there was journalism.

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. 4:58 and 5:03 have raised good points about Gartner's conflict of interest, and I've appended a relevant note to this post.

    Having said that, it's hard to imagine that Cityview is major competitive threat; if that's the case, then the Register really is in big trouble.

  28. I've removed 5:10's comment because it made some significantly disparaging remarks about one of the Register's just laid-off employees.

    Note: I don't personally know the employee, and I don't have reason to reference them again.

    Also, I've removed similar comments directed at other laid-off Gannett employees.

  29. Poor Laura Hollingsworth, she's trying so hard to be a "star" player for Dickey but all the decisions she's making will put her in the dog house when all is said and done. A little homework before making a decision would be wise. And what's this about a striptease?

  30. For the record, Michael Gartner is a minority owner in Cityview he also has a very cordial relationship with Laura Hollingsworth as indicated by the interview he conducted with her in April which can be read here:
    As for his attempt to buy the paper back in the mid-'80s,he could see what was happening with distant newspaper heirs wishing to cash in on a product that they had no interest in other than what they could get out of it money wise. He help put it into play to keep the ownership local and out of the hands of chains like Gannett. If he had been successful the Register would still be one of the best newspapers in the country as it was before Big Al got his claws into it.

  31. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  32. Just read 7:48's post. Fascinating. Nice to see Mr. Gartner is writing for this Web site.

  33. 2:45 I agree with you.

  34. 7:48
    Of course Hollingsworth will be cordial....she might need a job soon.

  35. Michael Gartner became known for self-serving conduct as president of NBC News. He blacklisted a reporter who got exclusive video of US carpet-bombing in Iraq. NBC Nightly News outed a rape victim against her will (the suspect was a Kennedy). There was also a shady deal with Disney World -- free hotel rooms and airfare in exchange for coverage on the Today show.

    What forced this bow-tied bumkisser out? Exploding pickup trucks. General Motors dealers were ready to cancel all advertising on all NBC stations unless that infamous "Dateline NBC" story was retracted.

  36. 7:26 I'll have two of whatever you are drinking, too.


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