Tag Archives: Iowa College Media Association

The Candidates Stand On Their Soapbox

Second in my posts from the ICMA convention. Stay tuned, probably at least two more to go before I move on from Des Moines.

Bruce Braley was not in town, and not all of the minor candidates showed up, and at least one major contender for the Senate was AWOL.

But I was pleasantly surprised at the number of statewide candidates who did attend a “soapbox” event at the Iowa Newspaper Association Convention Feb. 6. The INA very kindly allows and supports the Iowa College Media Association, ICMA, to co-convention with it, which is why I was there to see the soapbox.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who is running for re-election and probably will win, was there, as was his major Democratic rival. And several GOP hopefuls for U.S. Sentate showed up, too.

I had several impressions from the event: One, Branstad can stay governor as long as he likes. Neither of the erstwhile candidates who are running against him who were at the forum can lay a glove on him. Two, I think Braley is going to win Tom Harkin’s Senate seat, if the depressing parade of white, Wonder-Bread Republicans on the right are any sign. Anyway, a rundown of my interpretation of what the candidates said:

For Iowa Governor:

Jack Hatch, candidate for Iowa Governor.

Jack Hatch, candidate for Iowa Governor.

Sen. Jack Hatch—he made a big deal of being a housing developer in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. I can’t help but feel he was deliberately reaching out to Iowa’s second city. He also chided the current governor for putting himself above the law on numerous occasions—of having a special arrogance. I don’t disagree, but am not sure that’s the policy question on which an election could turn. Most of all, I wanted a vision for a different Iowa from Sen. Hatch, who is the likely Democratic nominee. It was only a few minutes in one appearance, but I didn’t get one.

Jonathan Narcisse, candidate for Iowa Governor.

Jonathan Narcisse, candidate for Iowa Governor.

Jonathan Narcisse—he says he knows how to win and will. I’m more than a bit skeptical. His emphasis is on jobs for Iowans—not a bad choice, and a focus not just on jobs but on the kind of job being attracted to Iowa would be an important point. He pledges to support Hatch if Hatch is nominated. And, running against Narcisse, Hatch probably will be. Jonathan seems like an interesting guy, but I didn’t hear a vision or issue that would make him catch fire. He is running for the role of interesting character in the race.

Terry Branstad, Governor for Life of Iowa.

Terry Branstad, Governor for Life of Iowa.

Gov. Terry Branstad—The dude abides. He was off like a racehorse when his time came—full of energy and confidence, as only a governor-for-life can radiate. What he said, sort of: Iowa needs to keep going because it was broken and he fixed it and he would like to keep it fixed. I am not one who buys into that narrative—Iowa’s roads, for instance, are falling apart and further economic development may prove difficult in a state you can’t get around in—but the narrative will probably sell. And today, if not on Election Day, this dude can wipe the floor with any of the challengers he faces. I kind of hope things change in this race, but I suspect we’ll have to get used to the Terry as our gov. Seems a shame, to me. I would like a Democrat to emerge who can really take Terry on.

For U.S. Senate:

Matt Whitaker, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate.

Matt Whitaker, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate.

Matt Whitaker—it says right on his web site that he is a “Christian who attends church.” So am I, Matt, but the way you slip that in and noted it in your stump speech totally turns me off. I’ll vote for a Muslim or a Jew or an agnostic or an atheist if she advocates public policy that I consider wise. I don’t see Christianity as being a requirement for public office, and the fact that you do pretty much disqualifies you from my consideration. He is a former Iowa Hawkeye football player. Strike two. He is worried about growing debt. OK, I am concerned about federal debt too, a bit, but as a share of GDP, that debt is shrinking under Obama, so listing that as crisis number one seems like strike three, to me. Go home and enjoy those energetic kids, Matt. The U.S. Senate is a better place without you.

Mark Jacobs, running for U.S. Senate of this great company.

Mark Jacobs, running for U.S. Senate of this great company.

Mark Jacobs—If Matt was the GOP’s scary “Christian” in the race, Mark is the scary businessman—the GOP candidate who is convinced that business experience is just what public service needs. I don’t know why CEOs think that they would make good legislators, and I don’t think Mark would. My favorite Freudian slip of the day was when he stated he was concerned about the direction the “company” was going in, and had to quickly correct that to “country.”

Sam Clovis. Get me out of academia, please.

Sam Clovis. Get me out of academia, please.

Sam Clovis—the best speaker among the GOP group, although Matt spoke well, too. A political science professor, ex Air Force pilot who wears his service ring to remind him what “service” is all about. I can’t say much about what he said, although it was said well. He has read the Constitution. He has flown on planes. And he is a conservative college professor, which maybe explains the desire for a career change since he’s a rare bird. It’s early in the campaign, and maybe he needed to deal more with image and biography, but I would have preferred a bit more talk about what he wants to do.

There you have it. I think Terry Branstad might as well settle in, he’ll be governor as long as he wants to be. Rep. Braley may face more of a battle in the fall—this doesn’t feel like the year of a Democratic surge—but I didn’t see anybody in this trio of GOP hopefuls who could easily knock him off. I guess I would say Matt Whitaker looked strongest on first impression, but if he’s going to run as the right-wing Christian kook, second and third impressions won’t be so positive.

You know, despite my complaints about them, I really enjoyed seeing the candidates. Even if I know I would not like some of them should they be elected, I don’t hate any of them. True, I greatly disagree with many of them. But it’s early, and they are sincere, and they want to serve Iowa. Most of them are going to lose, but it’s important to note that we owe a debt to the losers in political campaigns for raising issues and ideas and helping us discover ourselves.

So, thanks candidates, and thank you, Iowa Newspaper Association, for bringing these guys together.

On the other hand, before the candidates spoke, some reporters who cover politics in Iowa had a discussion in a previous session. And Simpson College professor Brian Steffen noted in a question to them that Iowa shares the distinction of being the only state, besides Mississippi, that has not elected a woman to represent it in Congress or as Governor.

The reporters had various theories why, including lacking a deep bench among women leaders in Iowa politics.

Well, ladies, the stage still seems open, to me. I know the election is very soon, but there seems some room for alternatives in the major statewide races. Joni, are you still in the race? And do you seem a bit more sensible then your guy GOP opponents?

The candidates that I have now seen who are in the arena are not the best that Iowa has to offer, I hope. Even if I credit them with having their hearts in a good place, we need leaders with more effective heads. And I wonder whether we’re doing something fundamentally flawed in our politics that makes such leaders so hard for us to find.


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Anybody Know a Great Des Moines Journalism Speaker?

Who will work for free, entertain students and has great stories to tell?

My presidency of ICMA, the Iowa College Media Association, has come to an end. I fulfilled my role well, I think, in that I didn’t really do anything (as I told the vice president, “you’ve been just a heartbeat away from….nothing.”). Anyway, now I’m the convention director. It feels like a much more substantial job—none of the “glory,” but lots more pain.

Wartburg gym lobby

Lobby of new Wartburg gym made me think of a train station or cathedral.

Well, the Iowa Newspaper Association is a tremendous help to ICMA, and as I scramble around looking for ideas in Des Moines next February, I’m sure both the INA and the central Iowa ICMA members will be helpful.

Anyway, yesterday the ICMA summer meeting was at Wartburg in Waverly. It’s a very nice college with enviable facilities. One enduring impression I have, however, is how huge the lobby is of the new exercise center. It’s not quite cathedral in proportion, or old train station in size, but it reminded me of both, and I thought what an expression of how cultural priorities have changed that in 2011, at a small religious private college, the grand new expanse of steel and brick is a gym lobby.

Wartburg pool.

The pool at the new Wartburg/Waverly fitness center.

I don’t intend that as any criticism of Wartburg. Heaven knows MMU could use some more bricks and mortar—and a large recreation facility would be high our wish list.

Anyway, the ICMA meeting was great fun. Thank you, Wartburg, for hosting.

Now, does anybody know of any great, free Des Moines speakers who have something to say to media students (journalism, PR, broadcast journalism, etc.)?

Wartburg foutain

Fountain on Wartburgs nice central campus green area.


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Hooray! MMU Times Earns 11 ICMA Awards!

Times students at ICMA

Feb. 3, Times students with ICMA awards: Biz Brumm, Campus Editor; Ryan Pleggenkuhle, Managing Editor; Jennifer Koenighain, Design Editor; Erich Pilcher, Multi-Media Producer; Jason Novak, Sports Editor and Cynthia Petersen, Editor-in-chief.

Or, an even dozen, if you count the headline-writing award a staff member earned while he was at Kirkwood.

Anyway, the ICMA award ceremony Feb. 3 in Des Moines during the annual Iowa College Media Association Convention, hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Association at their convention, turned out to be a good night for the Times. The Mount Mercy University students won 11 awards in the ICMA Better Newspaper contest, which I think is a record for the Times.

The Grand View Views won best newspaper overall in a point-based contest that relies on the category awards, but I think if we improve next year, we may have a shot at that award, too.

Anyway, here are awards the Times won:

First Place, Best Editorial Leadership for staff editorials.
First Place, Best Blog, by Zach D’Amico.
First Place, Best Explanatory/Interpretive News Story, by Cynthia Petersen.
First Place, Best Opinion Writing, by Zach D’Amico.
Second Place, Best Profile Story, by Brian Heinemann.
Second Place, Best Review, by Erich Pilcher.
Second Place, Best Blog, by Cynthia Petersen.
Third Place, Best Sports Feature, by Brian Heinemann.
Third Place, Best Opinion Writing, by Cynthia Petersen.
Third Place, Best Blog, by Ivory Davis.
Honorable Mention, Best Review, by Brian Heinemann.

D’Amico wrote a column last fall about his father’s deteriorating health. Sadly, his father passed on this January, but D’Amico’s column, and his blog, were both judged the best student newspaper writing in the state of Iowa in their respective categories by ICMA. “Good work” seems like a bittersweet sentiment under the circumstance, but is none-the-less true. D’Amico did outstanding writing as a staff writer, and we’re glad he’s joining our staff on a more regular basis as a Special Correspondent this spring.

Heinemann and Petersen are last year’s and this year’s editors-in-chief of the Times. Pilcher is our multi-media executive producer, and should be key to our efforts this spring to beef up our web site.

By the way, this year’s managing editor, Ryan Pleggenkuhle, earned a headline writing award for the Communiqué at Kirkwood. We’re glad to have Ryan at MMU this year. Ryan won third place for best sports headline.

I’m a little surprised that certain other stories did not earn any awards, and we received no recognition at all for page design. I’ve seen other Iowa college newspapers, and I’m not sure why that’s true, except that maybe they’ve done a few special pages that stand out.

But, that’s looking back. What’s the message looking ahead?

I’m hoping we can make more progress this spring semester and next year on one of our ongoing issues—a need to improve photography. Images are very important—and, I think photo skills display a visual sense that most journalists need these days. Yes, I think there will always be a place for great writers, but a writer who can craft good layouts, shoot decent video, design both print and web pages and shoot compelling still pictures—well, that generalist, whether she ends up in journalism or PR, has more of a future in our evolving communication environment.

That’s the message, kids. Don’t be good at just one thing—you have to be a triple or quadruple threat.

The other takeaway, for me, is that we must fix the sorry state of our newspaper web site and do more multi-media reporting.

But, note the blog near sweep of all the awards. The ICMA judge wrote “pay attention to what the ‘Mount Mercy Times’ is doing with blogs.” We did very well in the fall, which earned us the ICMA honors, and now we have to energize and keep up the good blog work—and promote the blogs.

That and our continued excellence in editorial commentary are points to be proud of.

Eleven is a nice number of awards—more than most (or, possibly, all but one) other newspapers earned. Good work, Times staff present and past.


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