What Happened with the Des Moines Register?
By Steve Deace
I have received numerous inquiries as to the whereabouts of my debut column in The Des Moines Register, which according to an announcement from the Register itself was supposed to debut on June 24th.
I am writing this in response to those inquiries, beginning with the sequence of events that led up to this point—most of which I can document.
- In March I invited to lunch Randy Evans, editor of the op-ed page of The Des Moines Register, after the paper ran my guest editorial. I invited Randy to lunch because a mutual friend had indicated to me the Register might be open to inserting some diversity into its notoriously liberal op-ed page if I was interested. Evans and I met, we discussed the reaction my guest column received, and the need for mainstream media to reach out to conservatives more. Randy noted the newspaper was becoming increasingly irrelevant among conservative readers. Two examples he cited was the lack of influence the paper had during the Iowa Caucuses, and the lack of conservative letters to the editor being submitted. Randy expressed a desire to have the paper add a conservative such as myself who was well known in the community, a good writer, and wouldn’t be a GOP cheerleader. He noted my many appearances on MSNBC indicated I could disagree respectfully. We even discussed some preliminary financial and publication parameters.
- Over the course of the next few weeks Evans and I went back and forth on a proposal to bring me on board as a columnist, until we finalized the details. (I can provide email documentation of this)
- Via email on May 16th, Evans formally invited me to be a part of the Register’s op-ed page. (I can provide email documentation of this)
- On May 24th I submitted my first column to the Register. In an email to me after we finalized the details of our arrangement, Evans expressed excitement for the column. (I can provide email documentation of this)
- Evans indicated his plan was to announce my addition to the newspaper on June 14th or 15th and then begin the column on June 16th. Then on June 13th, Evans emailed me and told me after consulting with his boss, Des Moines Register editor Rick Green, they wanted my addition to make a bigger initial impact. Therefore they would delay announcing this to their readers until publishing it on the front page June 19th, and then debut my first column in Sunday’s edition on June 24th. (I can provide email documentation of this)
- On June 16th I received a Google alert that my first column was on the Register’s website. I clicked on the link provided by Google, and sure enough the column was there and already eight people had commented it. The byline listed me as a Register columnist as well. I emailed Evans that Saturday morning expressing my confusion because I had been told this wouldn’t start until the following Sunday. He followed up with me and found out it was published incorrectly because the online staff had not been informed of the delay. I received an apology email from the person in charge of the Register’s website. (I can provide email documentation of this)
- The evening of June 18th the Register tweets to its followers my addition to the op-ed section, including a link to an online story about the announcement. The Register’s online story making the announcement has over 400 Facebook recommends. By comparison, an online article about the vice president visiting Iowa on June 26th had fewer than 10 Facebook recommendations as of 11 a.m. central time. Rekha Basu and Kathie Obradovich’s op-eds on June 24th & June 25th had only 56 Facebook recommendations combined as of 11 a.m. central time on June 26th. Obradovich’s op-ed on June 26th about the vice president’s visit to Iowa had only 1 Facebook recommendation as of 2:15 p.m. central time. As of 2:20 p.m. central time on June 26th, all of the articles listed in the “most popular” section of the Des Moines Register’s homepage had only 20 Facebook recommendations combined. It’s evident the publicity generated by this announcement created an unusual amount of buzz for the Register compared to other stories in the same news cycle.
- On June 19th my addition to the Register is printed in the paper.
- At 7:42 a.m. on June 19th I receive a direct message via Twitter from longtime Register sportswriter Randy Peterson which says “I don’t agree with all your stuff, but it’s good to have you back. Maybe you can be a sports columnist, too?”
- On June 19th my addition to the Register’s op-ed page was cited in the top talk radio trades in the industry. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time my show has been cited by all of these major trade publications/websites on the same day.
- After not receiving any feedback from Register management all day regarding the announcement, at approximately 7:35 p.m. on June 19th I receive a phone call from Editor Rick Green. This is the first time I have ever communicated directly with him. His first question to me is “what is your understanding of our financial arrangement?” I reply we had agreed on $200/column. He tells me some budget issues came up just today that will only allow him to pay me monthly what they were going to pay me per column. He asks if it’s okay if they cut my column back to monthly instead of weekly. I said that was fine, but offered my willingness to do the column for only $50/column in order for them to not have to go back on the announcement they just made. He indicates to me that his legal department may not allow him to pay me so far below market value. I inform him that since I am an independent contractor, I determine my own market value, and if he wants my addition to the paper to have the impact they want it to have, we should do everything we can to maintain the continuity of content and the integrity of their announcement. Green responds by telling me how important it is for his columnists to be respectful in what they write, and cites a recent column about the late Chuck Colson by Donald Kaul as an example of what he’s not looking for, and then says he will get back to me tomorrow.
- The afternoon of June 20th Green leaves me a voice mail telling me that now the Register was going to “punt” on running the column at all. I call him back, and he tells me he needs to hire a sports columnist by football season—something he said nothing to me about the night before. I ask him how they plan on announcing they’re not going to do it now. He replies, “I don’t know the whole situation kind of sucks. Randy (Evans) got way out in front of me on this.” However, according to email exchanges I can document, Evans made it known to me Green was aware of this arrangement and in favor of it the whole time. I ask Green if I am not entitled to know how they will announce this. “I’ll probably just have Randy put something in the paper on Saturday.” He then says he hopes they can work it out so I could maybe come on board next year, and that concludes the phone call.
- At approximately 5 p.m. on June 21st I receive a call from Dan Winters at WHO-TV asking about a rumor the Register wasn’t going to run my column now. I do not respond because the Register has not yet announced it to their readers, and since it was their decision I believed the onus was on them to announce it.
- On June 24th the Register posts on its Facebook timeline they decided to hire a sports columnist first in reaction to a question about where is my column. Evans provides a similar reply in response to a question from one of my radio listeners. Again, it wasn’t until my second conversation with Green when he told me they would renege on the agreement they initiated and acted upon, that the idea of needing to hire a sports columnist first was even brought up.
- On June 24th Dave Price of WHO-TV sends me a Facebook email asking me if it’s true “the Register went back on its word” about bringing me in as a columnist. Again, because the Register had yet to announce anything to its readers, I replied “no comment.”
- At approximately 3 p.m. central time on June 26th, my company attempted to reach out to Register publisher Laura Hollingsworth asking for a meeting to discuss how this was handled, and try to come to some sort of peaceful resolution in one last attempt to resolve this before it became a matter for public consumption. For example, knowing that many of my fellow conservatives would right away jump to the conclusion of liberal media bias, I held off commenting on this publicly for almost a week in an attempt to deal with them in good faith. Especially considering the Register is where I started my media career as a 21-year-old college dropout in 1995, so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the paper that gave me my first break. We asked Ms. Hollingsworth to respond to us in 24 hours. She did not respond.
- As of 3 p.m. central time on June 27th the Register has published no update in the paper or on their website as to why my column did not run on June 24th as they had previously announced to their readers.
Anticipating many of you reading this will have follow up questions, I will attempt to answer a few of them preemptively.
Do I believe the Register’s explanation for all of this?
At first the Register told me they were going to cut the column back for budget reasons, but by offering to write for just $50 per column so as to avoid them looking foolish by reneging on a contract they negotiated, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t fit into their budget. For example, I write blogs for a Michigan sports site on the Scout.com network (mainly for fun) and am paid $50 per blog. So a Michigan sports site can afford $50 per blog but the Des Moines Register cannot? I know times are hard in the newspaper industry, but considering the amount of buzz for the paper my inclusion originally created, surely $50 apiece is a bargain, let alone the $200/column they originally agreed to.
The Register also changed its story – twice. The second time I spoke with the editor I was told now they needed to hire a sports columnist. Again, does anybody think $50/week or $200/week is the difference between hiring a competent sports columnist or not? Given how many layoffs exist in the newspaper industry sports columnists are cheaper than they were a few years ago. In order to accept this second version of the story from the Register at face value, one would have to assume they’re in even worse financial shape than first thought. If Iowa’s largest newspaper can’t afford $50/column or $200/column from a person it thought enough of to announce on its front page, website, and Twitter account, then those still working there probably need to wonder if their next payroll check will clear at the bank.
The third story the Register told was to one of my listeners: “We are hopeful he will write an occasional column for the section throughout 2012, especially as the presidential and statewide elections heat up.” The first time I heard about this from anybody at the newspaper was when they told this to one of my listeners, who posted it on my Facebook page. No one at the Register has suggested this to me.
Not to mention the fact if the Register were really being honest, transparent, and operating in good faith, then why didn’t the publisher respond to my company’s attempt to settle this matter privately before it got to this point? After announcing my addition on its website and in the paper, why didn’t the Register announce its decision to forego the arrangement it proposed to me in similar fashion? Those of you reading this can determine for yourself if the potential answers to these questions are professional or legitimate, and then ask yourselves if the Register caught a public official treating them in such a manner how they might respond if the shoe was on the other foot?
How much of this can I document?
Much of the communication I had with the Register was via email, including all the financial and publication parameters leading up to the announcement, and I have kept all the emails.
What do I think happened here?
What follows is my opinion only.
I think a once-proud newspaper with declining readership, especially among conservatives, came to a “one of the best known conservative media voices” (according to its own announcement) in an earnest attempt to reach out to former conservative readers who had given up on the paper and bring them back in the fold. They got the big splash they wanted, and then maybe got a little more than they bargained for. I think either the Republicrats who used to my loathe my former drive-time local show on WHO, or the liberals that are the Register’s base (or a combination of both) put the fear of Mother Earth in the Register (since we know it wouldn’t be the fear of God at such a liberal paper). I think Editor Rick Green got cold feet and wobbly at the knees, and clumsily tried to get out of a contract his op-ed page editor Randy Evans negotiated. I also think Green made a clear attempt to hang out Evans out to dry.
I think Evans is a professional working for unprofessionals. Evans strikes me as a guy that just thinks the Register ought to have the best op-ed page it can get. I feel bad for Evans, who is caught in the middle of all this and I don’t think it’s his fault. Sadly, I think the same can’t be said of those he reports to, who appear to care more about pandering to a Leftist worldview that represents a sliver of Iowans than they do putting out a good product that represents all the viewpoints of the community it claims to represent.
I also think this entire episode is just a microcosm of why liberal newspapers are struggling across-the-board. They refuse to adapt to technological changes in media, and now their former writers are having to work for the same blogs and websites that 10 years ago they treated with mockery and scorn. And they believe they can arrogantly get away with catering to a Leftist worldview while calling it “news,” while at the same time failing to provide the same transparency about themselves they demand of others.
Thankfully, the changes in technology no longer allow them to get away with it. So we’ll continue to fear God, tell the truth, and make money here at SteveDeace.com. Where tomorrow we will publish the column the Register decided you shouldn’t see.
You can friend “Steve Deace” on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.