Tag Archives: The Gazette

#ICMA 2017—Things I Think I Learned


Kevin Kush, head football coach at Boys Town and author of “A Pieces of the Puzzle: Eight Traits of a Quality Teammate” speaks at the INA and ICMA conventions in Des Moines.

On Monday, IowaWatch.org is scheduled to publish a story that says, basically, college newspapers are changing all over the state—some college news media have abandoned print altogether and gone exclusively online, while those that still produce newspapers are printing fewer pages or issues as their core audience rejects print.

So it was interesting to me, in an afternoon panel Feb. 3 on “How Do Campus News Organizations Remain Relevant?” to hear a student at Buena Vista University and panelist among leading journalists from many Iowa campus, report this news from BVU: Print will be back.

For a university had led the way several years ago in shifting from a physical newspaper to strictly a virtual news source on-line, an upcoming special print edition is a big deal. Maybe it makes BVU’s college new media more tangible, real.

But, to me, the theme of Friday at the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA) convention was the inevitable media shift to mobile, instantly accessible journalism.


Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, moderates an ICMA panel.

One afternoon panel of college journalists was moderated by Zach Zucharski, executive editor of The Gazette. He had, for me, the quote of the day on media innovation:

“We have an opportunity, every day, to do it better,” he said. Then he said something like: Even if it didn’t work today, we still have tomorrow. I can’t put that second sentence in quotation marks, honestly, because my notes get too spidery at that point.

The second day of the ICMA conference on Friday began with a shouted inspirational speech by a football coach. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it—the Iowa Newspaper Association had brought in a football player last year as its morning speaker, and although his presentation was so compelling that I purchased his book right afterwards, I just wasn’t thinking before Friday’s speech that what my life needs is more wisdom from football.

But, despite his very coachish delivery style, Kevin Kush, the football coach at Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, turned out to be a very good speaker. His advice on how to be “A Piece of the Puzzle” was pretty straightforward and familiar—points like “a piece of the puzzle believes in the team concept,” or “a piece of the puzzle adapts to change.” Yet, the anecdotes and personal humor he used as illustrations made the advice more powerful than I expected.

Although it was number three on his list, he said his main point was “a piece of the puzzle respects everyone.”

Well, as journalism tries to puzzle together a changing media environment, remembering both respect and adaptability are important to us, too. And yes, once again, a football person talked me into purchasing his book.


Kevin Kush sells a book to MMU student Capria Davis.

Also on Friday, I attended a presentation by Kelli Brown of The Des Moines Register. She showed many examples of new news storytelling platforms, including interactive videos that let the viewer stitch together a story. To be honest, some of what she showed seemed to me to fit into the blurring of news and entertainment that is not a positive trend in our society, but I still appreciated the peek at up-and-coming storytelling tools.

And I’m going to email her to get a copy of her slide deck so I can check out those tools and some 360 cameras.

One points she made stood out to me—these days, a large majority of the Register’s online audience accesses the newspaper through mobile devices. If you’re producing content for the web, you have to take into account that most of your consumers will be looking at it via a tiny smartphone screen.

ICMA 2017 was an intersting conference. Thank you, INA, for again hosting us. Here is a link to my Facebook gallery of day 2.

And watch for that IowaWatch.org story Monday!


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‘Drinking From The Fire Hose’–Learning What Journalistm Is Like

Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

After touring the offices of The Gazette and KCRG Tuesday, one student in my Introduction to Journalism class vowed that she would never become a journalist. The hours and pay didn’t seem attractive to her.

Well, that’s OK. She’s a young mother, and making that kind of decision based on the kind of life balance she seeks isn’t wrong, in my opinion. As for me, I miss the madcap world of daily newspaper journalism any time I get to tour a newspaper office, so I had the opposite reaction–I envied those still caught up in that world.

Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, kindly led our tour. We saw the combined KCRG and Gazette newsroom, and the sports and circulation areas upstairs.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

Then, we entered the room that impressed the student’s the most—the KCRG studio. It’s interesting to see and hear how students react when some of them see an actual TV studio for the first time—I think the main shock is how small it is compared to what it appears to be on TV. You forget that when you point a camera at something, the camera only sees a narrow rectangle right in front of itself—it doesn’t see the tangle of cords, the robot cameras, the grid holding lights, the cement floor, etc. As one experienced student observed Thursday when the class debriefed on the tour—“that’s pretty much the way they all look.”

Anyway, fun as the tour was, I think the conversation after the tour—when Kucharski; Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor, took time to speak with students in a conference room—was even more entertaining.

Zach Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsten, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

Zack Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

They summed up their experiences briefly. I liked Hemmingsen’s description of her first post-college journalism job working for a 6,000-circulation daily newspaper as her “drinking from the fire hose” experience. I worked for a small daily newspaper, too—it is indeed an intense first step.

She also said, and I agree, that despite all of the shakeups in the media world to date, there is still a vital role for the watchdog in our society. As Hemmingsen noted, people are so bombarded by instant information and misinformation that a journalist’s role in uncovering and telling the truth takes on new relevance. “That essential craft is more important than ever,” she said.

Kucharski went on to note that journalists are starting to learn some key lessons in the digital age. Early in the internet era, the new 24/7 internet news cycle put so much pressure to get the information online first that lots of mistakes have been made, even by credible news organizations.

That’s starting to change, he said, as journalists re-discover what they already knew—it’s more important to be right than to be first.

“Competition is a really dumb reason to make mistakes,” he noted.

Amen to that. As a professor, I see how hard it is for students who are in communication fields to learn the basic news gathering skills in the first place. To know what you know, and to take care to verify facts before passing them on, is not easy. And getting there first if you get it all wrong is not much of an accomplishment.

While one student may have been turned away from journalism, I don’t count that as a bad outcome. It’s important that students make clearheaded choices about what they want to do, and if you don’t feel the missionary zeal, than the life of a journalist is not for you. And the student I’m writing about is a PR major anyway; I don’t want to leave the impression that the Gazette turned off a budding new talent—her reaction against journalism as a career was more along the lines of affirming a choice she had already made, not changing a path she was on.

And not all students reacted that way. Most seemed to think it was really cool to see the inside of The Gazette. And I had one student speak to me briefly after class today. This student wants to add “News Processing,” a four-hour class that he would take as an elective, to his schedule next year.

Something has inspired him to learn more about journalism. Maybe it was partly the whole Gazette tour experience.

So, for me and my students, visiting the Gazette and KCRG was great fun. The Gazette is a smaller place now that it has relocated out of its older building into what once was just KCRG. But it’s still a vibrant hub of activity, an important place in the Cedar Rapids community, and it provides a vital democracy-building role.

So thanks Gazette and Zack and Jennifer and Diana. We had a great time. I hope to see y’all again soon. And y’all are invited to our fall faculty Vietnam War series of events at Mount Mercy University!

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife's class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Taking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it's close.

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife’s class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Talking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it’s close.

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The Vexation of Bike Taxation

I read a story in the Gazette via the KCRG web site about Tower Terrace Road, and commented on it because it mentioned bike commuting. I even wrote about it on my biker blog.

Then, some guy named Mark made an anti-biker, and, to my eyes, anti-grey-haired man comment. Clearly Mark is not shy about sharing his “wisdom,” since he’s a “top commentator” on the site, which says something a bit depressing.  Click on the picture to enlarge it to read our brief exchange, unless you saw it on the KCRG site already.

Selection of comments on KCRG site. My minor tussle with Mark.

Anyway, I’ll ignore the ageist Social Security reference. I’m not there yet, rude dude. Instead, I wanted to write about his vexation on taxation.

Should bikers pay taxes for the roads they use? As I noted in my response to Mark, I, like most bikers, already do. But then again, let me concede that roads are largely maintained by gasoline tax revenue, and clearly I’ve reduced my “buy in” to local roads through my use of a bike.

Do I feel guilty? No.

Personally, I clearly benefit. I enjoy biking or I would not do it. I also enjoy driving—if I’m going to be in a car, I have a clear preference to be behind the wheel of the car and preferably a fun car. It’s a guy thing. It’s also my only excuse for owning a vehicle as impractical as a manual transmission VW Beetle.

Still, all things considered, I’d rather be on a bike. I’m up higher, I’m enjoying God’s nature, I’m doing myself some good—exercise and all that. It gives me some satisfaction to know my habits might end up in Mark being able to enjoy paying me Social Security for many more years in the future.

It’s true. I’m selfish, therefore, I bike.

But, Mark and all other anti-bike bigots out there, there’s more to the story. While I’ll admit my motivations for being a bike commuter are clearly selfish, and my habits cost society some road-use revenue, I’d argue that everyone else benefits from my biking, too.

From cleaner air. From more gas available for your SUV. From less congested roads.

Now, now, don’t e-mail me that you were on I-90 and some biker was there and he slowed everybody down, etc. etc. As a bike commuter, I’m choosey about where I ride, and based on the quiet streets and sidewalks I use, I personally don’t slow anybody much. I occupy much less road space and take up far fewer parking lot square footage due to my use of two wheels.

So I think it’s a wash, at least, and some karma in my favor, at best.

There is a logic about taxing bikes for road use.  Bikes and streets predate cars. One could argue that, in the historic sense, roads were paved for bikes before any asphalt was laid down with cars in mind. The “safety bike” craze was a 19th century fad, and our friend Ford didn’t foul the air with millions of Model Ts until the 20th century.

If I use the roads, should I not also pay for the roads?

Sort of. Except that you have to balance that logic against the amount of road damage I do on my bike (none at all) and the fact that others (pedestrians, joggers) are sometimes found on the public rights of way, too. By the logic that bikers use the roads and thus should be taxed for them, we would charge a sales tax premium on running shoes, too.

And there are other practical matters that argue against taxation for bikation. If you licensed bikes or required a spoke tax, or some such scheme, it would involve 6-year-old kids and their toys. My daughter Amanda learned to balance on two wheels while she was in kindergarten. Do we want to charge kids who can’t be licensed drivers for their bikes?

Plus, any bike license scheme creates a law enforcement hassle. When I lived in western Iowa, the city of Storm Lake required bikes to be licensed. I actually lived in Early, Iowa and commuted to Storm Lake, and rode on a bike trail there often on an illegal, unlicensed, Schwinn. Clearly, I was a criminal. Clearly the Storm Lake PD didn’t give a damn. Even in quiet Iowa villages, the cops do not have time to case after old grey-haired hippies on bikes to collect small license fees. Besides, in 10 years of flouting the Storm Lake laws, I wasn’t even aware that the law existed until I was about to move away from the area.

Bike licensing would be expensive to administer, hard to enforce, irritating to parents of young bikers and to old men who commute by bike—and in the end, would produce little revenue.  That’s why bike licensing is so rare.

And if the bikers are taxed under the premise that the streets have to be paid for by those for whom they were created, we’re back to having to tax skateboards and running shoes, too.

So, Mark, what are we to do?

Well, for one thing, look at ways to support roads beyond gas taxes. With more fuel-efficient pickup trucks, electric vehicles and hybrid cars, the gas tax alone probably shouldn’t be the only way roads are maintained. Even if I don’t drive on them or pedal on them, I live in a society whose existence and commerce depends on roads, so as a taxpayer, I say, go ahead, make my day, take my pay, use general tax revenue to put some tar in a pothole.

Not that I’m opposed to gas taxes. They not only make sense as a kind of road user fee. They also make sense for the same reason that tobacco taxes make sense. Those who purchase a known carcinogen and burn it in the environment in a way that causes all of us to suffer should pay some premium for their bad behavior.


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In A Warm Gazette Newsroom, Waiting For Vic by Rick

Gazette Newsroom

Gazette Newsroom, doubled as second TV studio, too, on caucus night. That's a U of I professor surfing, which is what I was doing, too.

Who would have thought it?

It’s 10:05 p.m. and Jefferson County is the biggest one with no votes counted. Will it tip Iowa to Mitt Romney? Rick Santorum?

I spent caucus night in the newroom of The Gazette, acting as an on-line and on-TV “expert” of sorts. I hope I sounded OK. It’s been fun and I wouldn’t mind a chance to do this sort of thing again.

The caucus results themselves are a bit of a surprise. Based on the kinds of things he’s said in the past, I don’t think Rick Santorum is going to play that well after Iowa, so if he pulls out a win (and even if he only comes in second, he has pulled out a win), he won’t be in the race in the long run. The Mike Huckabee of 2012.

A less likeable Mike Huckabee. Not sure Fox will be offering him an on-air deal soon.

Anyway, Iowa doesn’t really picked the nominee anyway, it just eliminates thet candidates who hang on, hoping for a miracle that doesn’t come. Sorry Michelle.

And the other Rick says the race is a marathon, but frankly I think he’s been done for a while.

So, on to New Hampshire. And while it was fun, I’m glad my TV time is drawing to an end. Any of you that caught the act on TV or online, what did you think?


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