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Civic Skinny

The Register’s circulation takes another big fall. Mezvinskys, Kushners, Clintons and Trumps.


For the first time in close to 100 years — since the early 1920s — fewer than 100,000 people across the state now are getting the Des Moines Sunday Register delivered to their doorsteps or mailboxes. Sales at newsstands are declining, too.

For the quarter ended March 31, paid circulation of the print edition of the Sunday Register totaled 120,032 — down 10,065 copies from the 130,097 copies sold a year earlier. That’s a drop of 7.7 percent. Delivered subscriptions fell to 98,858 in the March quarter, down from 104,711 a year earlier.

In 1951 — before television bloomed and before the Internet was conceived — the circulation peaked at 553,000. The circulation today is 25,000 less than it was in 1925.

In the four-county metro area — Polk, Dallas, Warren and Story counties — the Sunday circulation has dropped to 69,703, with slightly fewer than 60,000 of those being delivered to doorsteps and mailboxes, according to the latest report from The metro circulation was 75,522 a year ago.

Digital subscriptions are coming nowhere close to filling the gap. In the latest quarter, digital replica subscriptions — the digital version that contains all the news and most of the advertising that is in the print edition — totaled 2,582, up 733 copies from the 1,849 of a year earlier.

Prep Iowa

The Register is not alone. Last year, print and digital circulation of Sunday newspapers fell 4 percent nationwide. Print and digital circulation of weekday newspapers fell 7 percent.

The daily Register circulation in the March quarter fell 7.3 percent to 63,985 from 69,083 a year before. In the four-county market that the Register considers its home territory, the Monday-to-Friday circulation dropped to 41,608 from 44,976.

The Register doesn’t report its finances, but its parent company does. If you factor out results from newspapers Gannett has bought in the past year, its overall circulation was down around 9 percent and its advertising revenue about 10 percent in the most recent quarter. The results don’t seem to have been reported in the Register.

Meantime, a suit from a disaffected former reporter for the Register is inching its way through federal court. The reporter, Victor Epstein, sued the Register and Gannett last November, alleging the Register refused to pay him for overtime that he says he was required to work. Further, he says, the paper fired him for complaining.

Federal Judge John Jarvey dismissed two of the counts in February, including the count about being fired. A person with no employment contract can be fired for no reason unless the firing is somehow against public policy, the judge noted. And the firing of Epstein violated no public policy, he said.

Depositions were scheduled to be taken the other day, and a trial has been scheduled for September of next year. In June, lawyers for Epstein and the Register agreed to a protective order keeping secret information or documents that “it may be necessary for the parties to disclose” but that “one or all of the parties consider confidential.”

Epstein has talked of making the suit a class-action proceeding. But the court must conditionally certify a federal wage lawsuit as a collective action before co-workers could elect to join in. As of the other day, Epstein had not yet filed a motion for conditional certification.”

Epstein’s LinkedIn page says he now is editor of The Cynical Times, “a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization devoted to the faltering middle class.” “Our agenda is the truth,” the website says. But also: “If you’d like to commission a specific investigative report, please contact us with your story idea. Funding begins at $500. The Cynical Times reserves the right to reject any offer, especially those advancing personal vendettas and investment strategies.” …

Ed Mezvinsky — former Iowa Congressman, father-in-law of Chelsea Clinton, convicted felon and Ames native — will be back in Ames on Sept. 20 for a panel discussion at Iowa State on what happens when there is a clash between the branches of federal government.

Mezvinsky is half the answer to a political trivia question: What do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have in common? Answer: Each has a son-in-law whose father spent time in federal prison.

Mezvinsky is the father of Marc Mezvinsky, the husband of Chelsea Clinton. Ed Mezvinsky, who represented Iowa’s old First District in Congress from 1973 through 1976 (when he lost to Jim Leach), was in prison from 2003 to 2008 after pleading guilty to 31 felony charges, most of which involved fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes in which he pocketed $10 million or so of money put up by family and friends and acquaintances. He was on probation until 2011.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is married to Jared Kushner, whose father, Charles, spent a year in prison after being convicted of tax evasion and witness tampering in connection with illegal campaign donations.  Among other things, according to an article in The New York Times in 2005, Charles Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his sister’s husband, “who was cooperating in a federal investigation against him, and then sending [his sister] a videotape of the encounter.” (It’s a complicated world. Kushner was prosecuted by Chris Christie, then the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey.)

There were no signs of Ed Mezvinsky at the Democratic convention, but his ex-wife — Marc Mezvinsky’s mother — was there as a member of the Pennsylvania delegation. Marjorie Margolies (formerly Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky) served one term in Congress, where she cast the vital and deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget bill, which raised taxes on the wealthy.

She was defeated for re-election and later was a correspondent for the “Today” show.

(If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Marc Mezvinsky will become not only the only person whose parents-in-laws both were presidents of the United States but also one of the few whose parents both were members of Congress.)

Ed Mezvinsky, who graduated from the University of Iowa and received a law degree from Berkeley, served on the House Judiciary Committee and voted to impeach President Richard Nixon. He has given his Congressional papers  — 35 boxes of them — to Iowa State. …

Lou Norris, who died the other day at age 97, was the last of the bunch that ran the Register and Tribune for a generation. He was a tight-fisted financial guy (earlier he was a field auditor for the Internal Revenue Service) surrounded by men (and only men) who liked to spend money on news and marketing. He often was a lone voice — but sometimes a persuasive one — in board meetings and discussions with his colleagues David Kruidenier, Ken MacDonald, Lyle Linn and Bob Hudson. ■

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