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Civic Skinny

More layoffs at the Register. Branstad buys a house.


The Des Moines Register is making more news than it is reporting — and it isn’t reporting the news it is making.

The newspaper last week laid off five persons in the newsroom, including assistant sports editor Mark Emmert and city and county reporter Jeff Eckhoff. Both are what pass for newsroom veterans these days, and though the newsroom is seldom surprised by bad news in this era, those layoffs did shock the staff.

Also laid off: Sara Sleyster, who covers the Ankeny area; Janet Klockenga, who works for the Des Moines communities section; and Amber Bennett of the copy desk.

Editor Rick Green made the announcement to the newsroom at 10 a.m. Thursday. “He said they’ve all done great work and didn’t do a ‘damn thing’ wrong,” reports a newsroom person who was there. “But Gannett’s newspaper division didn’t meet the higher revenue goals it set for itself this year, and the division needs to stand on its own financially, he said. He called it a body blow, etc. etc. etc.”

On July 22, Gannett Co. reported second-quarter earnings of 58 cents a share on revenue of $1.3 billion. That’s up from earnings of 56 cents a share on revenue of $1.31 billion a year earlier. Operating income in the latest quarter was $202,882,000.

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The layoffs were part of a company-wide axing of more than 200 persons, and the Des Moines lay-offs follow closely behind the un-announced departures of photo editor Travis Graven, whose last day was Friday and who is joining Iowa Public Television; photographer David Purdy, whose last day was July 19 and who has taken a job as a photography instructor at Des Moines Area Community College, and lifestyles editor Tim Paluch, whose last day was July 24 and who will become a stay-at-home dad juggling his newborn triplets.

As of Monday, the Register had reported nothing about the layoffs. Just as it has reported nothing about its latest — and goofy — round of price increases. The editors apparently think layoffs and price increases at the paper are no longer news, and they may be right.

Meantime, with awful timing, on the day after the layoffs depressed the place the Register’s “events and community relations manager” sent a cheery “Hello All” e-mail noting that “The Company Picnic Planning Committee is excited that we will see so many of you at the 2nd Annual Company picnic on Sunday from noon to 4 at Sleepy Hollow Sports Park.”

The good news: “Everyone who attends will get 2 tickets for the Go-Karts.” The bad news: “Cash bar available.”

Next: The Register on Tuesday of last week — July 30 — ran a long and glowing profile of Chris Diebel, a “young professional” who has his hand in lots of doings around town. “Chris Diebel is ‘the guy,’ ” said the headline on the story by Todd Erzen. “The energetic YP makes it happen.”

One thing not mentioned: Diebel is running for the Des Moines City Council, trying to unseat Skip Moore. While it’s true that Diebel didn’t officially announce till the next day — an announcement also covered by the Register — it’s equally true that nearly everyone in town, except, apparently, Erzen and his editors, knew that Diebel is running. Among other things, it was printed in Civic Skinny on July 18, and Diebel filed his statement of organization with the state Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on July 24.

The big profile prompted Moore campaign operative Mitch Henry to lodge a protest with Carol Hunter, a Register editor. He told Cityview that Hunter said that the Register didn’t know Diebel was running for office and that had the editors known they wouldn’t have run the feature story. “Well, I don’t know how you couldn’t have known he was running,” Henry says he told Hunter. “If you read Cityview you would have known.” She didn’t like that, he said, and refused to give Moore equal space.

“The editorial page (of the Register) endorses candidates from time to time,” Henry told Cityview, “but you’ve got the news portion doing this” now.

Next: The Register last week began implementing steep price increases first reported by Cityview a week ago. It appears that you pay based on who you are and where you live, and it also appears that the price is negotiable.

An email from a longtime Register worker: “Friend of mine tells me he was approached by a salesperson offering the Register for $3.50 a week. That was a week or so ago. He called this week to accept and was told it would be $17.50 per month, he says. Miffed, he said, ‘forget it.’ The Register person, he says, then said, ‘OK, how about $14?’ ”

And this exchange another reader sent to Cityview:

“All agents are currently assisting other customers, please wait for the next available agent.

“Agent: Hello, how can I assist you today?

“Subscriber: Well, I was just cut off from another agent. So let’s start anew. I have questions about the new subscription rate of $33 a month, which is almost a 50 percent increase in our monthly bill. Some friends were told their rates would be $29 a month. Why the difference? And does the $33 include the revised TV guide, which we do not want?

“Agent: I am unable to speak to that account. I know we continually look at our rates and make adjustments as needed. There are costs associated with producing and distributing the paper to each customer. To ensure the security for all our customers I am unable to discuss the specifics of another account.

“Subscriber: But one friend lives farther out and another lives closer to Des Moines. And both have rates lower than mine. Why?

“Agent: I apologize, I am unable to speak about other accounts. Rates may be different for people depending on where they live.” …

The resignation of House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy might solve what was shaping up as a dicey issue on the south side. Former legislator Tony Bisignano lives in McCarthy’s district, and some Democrats are hoping he’ll run for that seat rather than for the state senate seat being vacated by gubernatorial hopeful Jack Hatch. Former legislator Ned Chiodo has his eye on that seat, and a Chiodo-Bisignano primary could be a Democratic Party nightmare — as well as a reporter’s dream. …

Hatch, meantime, has hired Grant Woodard to run his campaign. Woodard most recently was a top operative for Congressman Leonard Boswell and ran Boswell’s losing effort against fellow incumbent Tom Latham. But no one is blaming that loss on Woodard. …

Gov. Branstad’s home at 4112 Aspen Cove on Lake Panorama.

Gov. Branstad’s home at 4112 Aspen Cove on Lake Panorama.

A Cityview reader noticed that the obituary of Gov. Terry Branstad’s father said the Governor lived in Panora. Indeed, no one seems to have noticed, but the Governor and his wife sold their 3,800-square-foot log house on five acres in Boone County late last year for $500,000 and on May 6 of this year closed on the $335,000 purchase of a 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath home at 4112 Aspen Cove on Lake Panorama in Guthrie County. The assessed value of the house is $272,788.

The home was built as a cabin in 1985, was sold for $75,000 in 1992 and was extensively remodeled and expanded in 2005. The lot covers about three-quarters of an acre and has 199 feet of frontage on the lake, according to Guthrie County records. It appears from the assessor’s map that much of the governor’s driveway was built on a neighbor’s empty lot. …

Job watch: Iowa’s nonfarm employment stood at 1,546,300 for the month of June, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency reported last week. That’s up 1,600 from a month before — and up 58,200 since Branstad took office 2.5 years ago. At the time, he said he would create 200,000 jobs in five years. At about the halfway mark, he has 141,800 to go. CV

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