[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Off topic or outdated?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.]