Friday, May 14, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Register daily and Sunday circulation falls another 10 percent. Jailed Kent Sorenson praises God but not Judge Pratt.


Circulation of The Des Moines Register continues in its free fall. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2016, home delivery and mail and single-copy sales of the Sunday Register totaled 112,317, down an alarming 11.1 percent from the 126,400 of a year earlier, according to the latest filing with the Alliance for Audited Media.

And the number is less than half the 237,870 of 10 years ago.

The circulation for the Monday through Friday editions averaged 62,334 in the latest quarter, about 9 percent from the 68,270 of a year earlier. A decade ago, that number was 145,653.

What’s more, some folks listed in the “paid” circulation figures aren’t paying. According to the audit, 1,801 copies of the Sunday Register and 497 copies of the daily Register were being delivered to deadbeats.

Circulation of the digital edition is rising, but it’s still quite small — and a majority of it is in so-called “non-replica” circulation, meaning it has far fewer paid ads than the print edition. Overall, in the latest quarter digital circulation was 10,998; but 6,161 of those subscribers bought the edition that has limited advertising. A year ago, the combined number was 8,801.

Prep Iowa

The daily Register now reaches just 20 percent of the households in Polk County. The Sunday Register reaches less than a third.

The Register is one of 120 or so newspapers owned by Gannett Co. and doesn’t disclose its financials. But Gannett said print advertising revenue fell 15.3 percent at its U.S. newspapers in the quarter; its digital advertising rose 11.9 percent, but digital remains much smaller than print. Layoffs have become routine at the chain’s newspapers.

The Register and Gannett papers are not alone, of course. The newspaper business is terrible almost everywhere — so terrible that the industry has cut back on the data it releases. As business worsened, the Newspaper Association of America quit issuing industry-wide revenue data in 2014. And individual audits, too, now give far less information than they used to. But the Pew Research Center on Journalism and Media estimates that in 2015 — the latest year it has studied — weekday circulation at newspapers fell 7 percent and Sunday circulation fell 4 percent.

Meantime, the Register has been increasing its prices — often without notifying the subscribers who pay automatically. One reader who buys the daily and Sunday papers suddenly saw his bill had gone up $8, to $43 a month from $35. He called to complain and, ultimately, told the circulation office to cancel his subscription. “Okay,” the person said, without trying to keep the business. Many people who had been paying $10 a month for the Web and Sunday papers saw their bills rise a dollar, without notice.

But the website offers the Web-Sunday combination for $4.30 a month for six months, the weekdays and Sundays and Web combination for $13 a month for six months. At least some subscribers buy the introductory offers, cancel after six months and resubscribe under a different email address. …

Attorney General Tom Miller who decided he had the appearance of a conflict and couldn’t represent the state in the suit AFSCME has filed over the union-busting legislation passed this session — has chosen the Belin McCormick law firm to represent it.

The AG’s office says it negotiated a 15 percent discount in rates. Attorney Mike Reck will be paid $345 and hour, Matt McDermott will get $275, Kelsey Knowles $245 and Espnola Cartmill $220. The money will come from the general fund.

Side note: The Attorney General did not see any reason to disqualify his agency in the AFSCME suit against the state on the closing of the mental-health facilities. …

Andrew Miltenberg, the New York lawyer representing former Drake trustee Tom Rossley and his son Thomas Rossley III in their suits against the university stemming from a sexual-assault investigation of the younger Rossley, filed a suit against Grinnell College the other day.

Miltenberg’s Grinnell client, a student from the state of Washington, had sex with a female classmate on the first day of their freshman year in 2014 and with another student in the summer of 2015, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Des Moines. Ultimately, sexual-assault complaints were filed with the college, and the college hired investigators and an independent adjudicator.

The student — “John Doe” — denied that the incidents were coerced or without consent. His lawsuit alleges denial of due process against the college and violation of Title IX against the college and six persons and a Kansas City law firm involved in the proceedings, among other things.

The suit asks for compensation for “damages to physical well-being, emotional and psychological damages, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational and athletic opportunities and loss of future career prospects.”

Query for a law-school class somewhere: If a lawsuit is filed under an alias, how can it damage the reputation of the student? Discuss….

Meantime, Drake has asked the court not to allow young Rossley to continue his suit under the pseudonym. “The relief [Rossley] seeks, to cloak himself in a veil of secrecy while asserting serious claims against a non-profit institution and its leadership, is exceptional,” Drake told the court. Further, it says, his father screwed him by filing his own complaint that “is so explicit and precise that the local press deduced the identity” of the son.

The “local press” is Cityview. …

Before former state senator Kent Sorenson headed off to federal prison the other day, he posted a long message about how much he will miss his wife and children and all of their activities, but he said he refused “to be just inmate 15000-030” and is “going to dedicate every waking moment developing a prayerful life, a lifestyle that’s filled with knowing Him better than ever before.”

Before starting that prayerful life, though, he took a shot at Senior Federal Judge Robert Pratt, saying the 15-month sentence Pratt handed down “was politically motivated” and noting that Pratt’s wife “is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” In fact, the sentence was less than federal guidelines call for, though more than federal prosecutors asked for.

Sorenson, once a rising star in Iowa Republican politics, sold his name and fame to the highest bidder among Republicans vying in the Iowa caucuses in 2012. In 2014, he pled guilty to two felony changes — willfully causing false reports of federal campaign expenditures and falsifying records intending to obstruct justice in relation to a federal investigation.

He has appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the moment, Federal Inmate 15000-030 is in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, an administrative center that ultimately will assign him to a federal prison. …

Iowa State University has appealed to the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals the decision handed down by a panel of the court. That three-judge panel upheld the injunction issued by Federal District Judge Jim Gritzner in a case involving use of an ISU trademark by a student group seeking the legalization of marijuana.

Lawyers for the students have asked the court to order Iowa State to pay their legal fees of $193,000. That’s just for the appeal. The lawyers have yet to submit fees for their work in district court since there is still work to do in arguing the extent of the damages due the students. The suit could end up costing the university $500,000 or more — about the price of a small airplane. ♦

Life on Fraternity Row

From a complaint in the case Thomas Rossley III filed against Drake University after it expelled him following a sexual-assault investigation:

“On the night of October 8, 2016 and morning of October 9, 2016, Plaintiff and Jane Doe consumed a significant amount of alcoholic beverages and then went to John Doe’s [Rossley’s] parked car where Jane Doe initiated oral sex on Plaintiff, which activity stopped because Plaintiff could not maintain an erection.

“The two then went to Plaintiff’s fraternity room; he said he did not recall having sexual relations with Jane Doe, only that she was standing next to his bed telling him she was leaving, whereas Jane Doe said that she ran into the fraternity (which was not possible, as entrance required a security code) and that she recalled next being in Plaintiff’s room with Plaintiff having a condom on (despite his inability to maintain an erection).

“Jane Doe then went to the Annex across the street to another fraternity member’s room, stayed there and performed oral sex on that member; at some point, she texted Plaintiff that she had arrived home safely and ‘all good, babe.’

“On October 9, 2016, Jane Doe… reported Plaintiff to campus public safety for sexual assault, but then refused to take a forensic sex exam. When Plaintiff was questioned by Defendants, Plaintiff informed them that he was too intoxicated to have consented to oral sex performed on him by Jane Doe. Jane Doe later at the hearing admitted that Plaintiff was too intoxicated to consent to the oral sex and admitted that she had initiated the oral sex….” ♦

A baseball story in six parts

Part 1. I grew up in Des Moines, and in 1947 when I was eight years old professional baseball came back to town with the arrival of the Des Moines Bruins.

My father — once a shortstop for the semipro Hannibal Busy Bees and later a sportswriter for the Waterloo Morning Tribune — often would take me down to watch the Bruins at the new Pioneer Memorial Stadium that had been built on a dump midst warehouses and lumberyards and gas-storage tanks where the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers joined.

He insisted I learn how to keep a boxscore so I could better understand the game and, probably, so I would pay attention. (Later, when I was 11 or so, he insisted I learn how to type. Those are the only two things he ever made me learn — and the only ones I’ve really needed in my lines of work.)

The baseball outings became a summertime habit, and while I occasionally forget the names of my grandchildren I still can name many of the players on those Bruin teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s — Sawatski and Peden and Mauro and Morgan and Treadway and Terwilliger and the like.

Part 2. A few weeks ago, as I sat in the Cub Club with Gerry Neugent and looked out over the field, he said “I’ve got a baseball story for you.”

He said that his brother, Dennis, of Menominee Falls, Wis., had died in November, and that the owner of the funeral home had once been a baseball coach at the high school where the Neugents went to school. The undertaker’s name was Schramka — ah, the hustling Paul Schramka of the Bruins! I interjected.

Yes, that Paul Schramka, Gerry said, a little puzzled that I would know the name. And he said he’d tell me a story that I probably didn’t know. He was right.

Part 3. But first, a little background. Paul Schramka was an outfielder who would race out to his post each inning as the Bruins fans yelled “Hustle, Paul!” He joined the Bruins in 1949 as a 21-year-old right out of the University of San Francisco. (His fellow student and life-long friend was Pete Rozelle, which led to lots of free Super Bowl tickets in later years, recalls Schramka’s son, Steve, who was born in Des Moines.) Paul Schramka hit .260 in 129 games that year and was back in 1950, when he hit .246 in 151 games. Paul Schramka remembers hitting four home-runs in the opening series in 1950. (Baseball players, like golfers, never forget a good moment.)

The Korean War occupied him for the next couple of years, but in 1953 he was back in baseball and with the Chicago Cubs.

Part 4. Now, back to Gerry Neugent’s story.

“I was talking with Schramka,” Neugent told me, and Schramka told him that he — Schramka — was one of the very few Cubs who had had his number retired. That surprised me, as I didn’t recall any great baseball feats of Schramka with the Cubs. In fact, I didn’t even know Schramka had been with the Cubs.

But he was, and he was in two games. He was a pinch-runner in one, a late-inning replacement in the outfield in another, and then he was sent back to the minors — to Springfield, Des Moines, Beaumont and Macon over the next couple of years before he decided to go home to Milwaukee and join the family funeral-home business.

Part 5. But when he left the Cubs, without ever having an at-bat, Schramka told Neugent, he turned in his number — 14 — and the Cubs issued it to another newcomer, a young man named Ernie Banks.

Part 6. Well, yeah. ♦

— Michael Gartner

Steve Leath…

A university president is not supposed to be in the news.

A photo congratulating a student who just won a big award, OK. A gracious quote in a story about a big gift, sure. A thoughtful response in a story about state funding problems, perhaps.

But a front-page story about a questionable personal land deal with the head of the Board of Regents? A series of stories about probable misuse of a university airplane — and hiding the fact that he damaged it? Disclosure of a string of Republican political hires for jobs that weren’t posted? An editorial about the firing of foundation bosses because they didn’t give him the respect he demanded or refused to bend the rules for him?

Never, never, never, never, never.

Yet there was Steve Leath, seemingly always in the news since shortly after he arrived at Iowa State University in late 2011 and seldom in a good light. It’s true that he raised a ton of money in his five years as president, and it’s true that enrollment has soared — though it’s not clear he gets the credit for that.

But the man has bad judgment.

He is always right. A Branstad administration official questions a T-shirt that students produce — and the ISU president casts free-speech aside and censors the students. A federal court rules against him with some pretty harsh language — and he appeals. He loses the appeal and re-appeals. The case could end up costing the taxpayers $500,000 in legal fees.

He is always right. An athlete is arrested in a sexual-assault case, but the county attorney decides the evidence was tainted by the accuser and drops the case. But Leath pursues the case under university rules. A judge overrules him. He then ignores the judge. A higher court then overrules the president. The president doesn’t give up.

He is always right. He wants the university to buy a $3 million airplane — but doesn’t want to ask the Regents. So he decides to go to the university foundation for the money. The foundation president apparently asks questions — and soon he is gone, with a big buyout. (His highly regarded predecessor was fired for not showing due respect to the Leaths during a fund-raising call, apparently.) The president gets his plane — and then spends another $600,000 upgrading it with foundation money.

He is always right. One of the university’s most famous graduates — former Sen. Tom Harkin — agrees to give his papers to the university, and the Senator’s friends agree to raise millions to start a Harkin Institute. Powerful Republicans object — and the Leath-led university then signals it will censor the output from the institute. No way, Harkin says. The institute now is prospering at Drake.

Steve Leath, who sang the praises of Iowa when he arrived, now is off to Auburn University, “a very special place.” But he is leaving a lot of baggage in Ames. ♦

— Michael Gartner

…and Ben Allen

Ben Allen will be the acting president of Iowa State while the Regents look for Steve Leath’s successor.

It would be hard to find a better person for the job.

He rose through the ranks of Iowa State to become provost before being plucked away to head the University of Northern Iowa. He is everything Steve Leath isn’t: modest, strategic, careful. And gutsy. He got crosswise with the UNI faculty after making a tough decision to close the Price Lab school — and help ensure the financial stability of the university. He was right; the faculty was wrong.

He and his wife, Pat, know and love Iowa State, and Iowa Staters know and love them.

An interim president who knows the institution can accomplish a lot. He needn’t worry about campus politics or job security. He can just do what needs to be done. Gary Fethke may have accomplished more in his 15 months as acting president of the University of Iowa than his successor did in eight years.

It’s a great move to bring Allen back from his retirement home near his grandchildren in St. Louis. Next, the new head of the Board of Regents — rumor is it will be Dr. Mike Richards — should try to talk the 70-year-old Allen into staying for five years. ♦

— Michael Gartner















One Comment

  1. John Frank says:

    I object to be referred to in your April 5th Civic Skinny as a “dead beat”. I had cancelled my subscription as I no longer wished to read about the wonderfulness of Hillary Clinton or watch Rekha follow her around like a baby goose. The Register delivered to me and still delivers to a neighbor who cancelled her subscription long ago. I curse at the callers who want to restructure my credit card debt as I have none due to my wife and my hard work and her strong Dutch heritage. I think of it this way “Find a penny etc” but in this case find a paper in my driveway and the ARL has bedding for their animals.

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