Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Civic Skinny

Small papers hit hard by new Hy-Vee ad strategy. A weaving Maserati. Sex with a stranger, sort of.


Hy-Vee’s decision to quit putting weekly advertising inserts into newspapers is another blow to Iowa’s newspapers — and it’s a particular hit at the 75 or so small dailies and weekly papers where grocery-store ads are an economic lifeline.

“It’s big money,” says the publisher of one small daily, but he thinks it will hit the weeklies the hardest. Another publisher says it will cost small daily papers upwards of $100,000 a year.

Hy-Vee decided late last year to abandon the inserts in favor of direct-mail. They sent small-magazine-sized booklets, and starting in March they will be sending through the mail what was their traditional weekly newspaper ad “filled with Hot Deals and Fuel Saver discounts.”

“We made the switch…to keep up with how our customers get their information and for their added convenience,” a Hy-Vee spokesperson says. The company “is still making adjustments,” she added.

Update: Hy-Vee has changed its mind, at least partially. Several small newspapers say they have received notice that the weekly inserts will resume starting with the week of March 12.

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The company won’t disclose how much it was spending with newspapers, but it has been a big number. The inserts probably cost from a nickel to 15 or 20 cents per paper, so a 10,000-circulation newspaper that charged 15 cents per insert would lose $78,000 over the course of a year. That’s significant.

Local store managers still will have some ad-spending discretion, Hy-Vee says, and that will soften the blow in some towns. Doug Burns, an owner of the paper in Carroll, says Hy-Vee will continue to buy a front-page “wrap,” for instance.

Many of Iowa’s small dailies — the ones with circulations of 5,000 to 12,000 or so — have escaped the drastic cuts and circulation drops that have hit big papers like The Des Moines Register. Many have a pre-tax profit margin of upwards of 20 percent, but the Hy-Vee decision “won’t make it any easier going forward,” says one small-town publisher. “It’s just one more thing that will continue the decline of newspapers.”

The blow comes at the same time that the number of auto dealers — car ads have been another source of steady ads for small papers — is declining.

In 2007, there were 369 franchised new-car dealers in Iowa; by 2013, there were 325, and now there are just 291, according to the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association. And many of those closings have been in small towns. Not long ago, for instance, Schallau Motor Company in Van Horne and Grovert Motor Company in Newhall — family businesses that had been open for more than 100 years — were purchased and combined into one dealership in Newhall.

And those dealerships that remain in small towns are spending more and more on online advertising and less and less on newspapers, says one publisher. …

If you drive a Maserati at night, it’s best to have your taillights on. And if you’ve had a couple of drinks, it’s even a better idea to have your taillights on. And if you’re driving a Maserati at night and your taillights aren’t on and you’ve had a couple of drinks, it’s really a good idea not to be swerving on the road.

But if you’re doing all those things — or allegedly doing all those things — and a policeman stops you, it’s debatable whether you should hand him a printed card that your lawyer once gave you that says: “Dear Officer, By handing you this card, I hereby invoke my constitutional and statutory rights under [the U.S. and Iowa constitutions]. I will not answer questions; I will not consent to a search of my person, property or affects; and if I am not in custody I hereby request to go on about my business and demand to be released immediately….”

If you do all those things, you might end up in the Story County jail, which is where Des Moines restaurateur Bruce Gerleman ended up the evening of Sept. 23. After being pulled over on Highway 30 by an Ames policeman, Gerleman was charged with a first offense of drunk driving, and on Sept. 26, his lawyer, Robert Rehkemper of West Des Moines, entered a plea of not guilty for him in Story County District Court. The trial has been delayed, at Rehkemper’s request, and most recently was scheduled for Feb. 27, after CITYVIEW went to press.

Update: After evidence was presented at the jury trial on Feb.27, Gerleman’s lawyer moved for a directed verdict. Story County District Associate Judge Seven Van Marel granted it and dismissed the case, assessing all costs against the state.

But the Iowa Department of Transportation, seeing the arrest record, on Dec. 20 suspended the driver’s license of Gerleman. He appealed, and on Jan. 24 the DOT affirmed the decision, revoking Gerleman’s license as of Feb. 4. The revocation is for a year, and for the first three months he will not be eligible for a temporary, restricted license.
On Feb. 1, the 66-year-old Gerleman went back to court — this time to Polk County District Court — and sued the DOT, petitioning for judicial review of the decision revoking the license. The suit says the decision to revoke was “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.” The suit says Gerleman wasn’t given an opportunity to call his lawyer before declining to take a blood-alcohol test — which he seemed to decline by presenting the card given him by his lawyer.

After handing over the card, Gerleman did try several times to call his lawyer and to call a colleague — before he orally declined to take a blood test — but he couldn’t get through to either, according to court records. Several hours later, in the Story County jail, he did consent to a blood-alcohol test, which showed “he was not intoxicated and he was allowed to bond out of jail,” according to court records. But the Ames police report says that after he was pulled over he failed the field sobriety tests, which he alleges he was coerced into performing, and that he had bloodshot and watery eyes and smelled of alcohol.

Gerleman told police he had had a couple of drinks at Jethro’s BBQ in Ames, one of several central-Iowa restaurants he runs. …

You can’t make this stuff up, but it all comes from documents filed in the Iowa Supreme Court:

In April of 2015, a 21-year-old guy named Michael Kelso-Christy set up a Facebook account under the name of Slater Poe, who had been a high-school classmate in Albia. Under that ruse, he then began an online conversation with a woman who also was a classmate. One thing led to another, and they agreed that he would go over to her house and have sex.

To make it more interesting, apparently (and to conceal his true identity), Kelso-Christy suggested to the woman that they have the sex while she was blindfolded and restrained, and she agreed. So she blindfolded herself (there is some question whether she put on the handcuffs or Kelso-Christy put them on her) and awaited “Poe’s” arrival. Kelso-Christy showed up, they had “an intimate encounter” while she was blindfolded and handcuffed, and then he left.

But “she became suspicious when he left abruptly after the sexual encounter,” according to court documents, and the next day she called the real Slater Poe, who said he hadn’t been at her house. She went to the police, and through a phone number and a fingerprint on a condom wrapper in the woman’s bedroom, they identified and arrested Kelso-Christy.

At the trial in Marion County District Court, Kelso-Christy said the sex was consensual — that it was not sex abuse because it was not accomplished by force or against the will of the woman — and that the fact that he wasn’t who he said he was was immaterial. And his lawyer argued that “Iowa law does not punish the fraudulent inducement of sex as sexual abuse.” In a non-jury trial, he was convicted of burglary in the second-degree. (The burglary charge stems from entering the house without permission. Both sides had agreed that if he were found guilty he would be sentenced to 10 years “with all the collateral consequences of a sex crime.”)

The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with the Marion County court, and the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Arguments were made on Jan. 17. No decision has been handed down yet. …

Rumors in the newspaper industry are that Gannett is eliminating the job of publisher and president at its newspapers, a rumor that doesn’t bode well for the journalism career of Register president David Chivers. The talk is that he’s looking for a job in town.

“As I’m sure you can appreciate, I won’t comment on rumors,” Chivers told CITYVIEW the other day. “I will say that (like you) I love Des Moines, am thoroughly enjoying the role that I’ve been afforded in the community in which I was born and raised, and hope to stay here for a long time.”

Meantime, his predecessor, Laura Hollingsworth, who left Des Moines to become publisher of the Tennessean in Nashville, left that job on Feb. 2. She was not replaced. …

From an article in the New York Times about Italian real-estate:

“Scandinavians, particularly Norwegians, are probably the largest group of foreign buyers in Piedmont at the moment, brokers said. Other European buyers include the Dutch, Swiss, Germans and Belgians.

“Since Brexit, Britain’s decision to leave the E.U., there have been fewer British buyers, Mr. Edwards said.

“In recent years, however, there has been increased interest from North American buyers, said Ms. Smith-Aichbichler, who attributed it to the purchase of ‘desirable vineyard estates, plus a holiday property near Barolo,’ by the American businessman Kyle Krause, president and chief executive of Krause Holdings, Inc. “This has had a knock-on effect, bringing in many new investors.” …

Jim Duncan, CITYVIEW’s Renaissance Man, now is the co-host of “Kitchen Insider” on Saturday mornings at 10 o’clock on KFMG radio. …

CITYVIEW joins those in mourning Bob Burnett. Burnett was a big, garrulous man with a big heart and a hearty laugh. He spent 40 years at Meredith Corp. — the final 13 as chief executive — and guided it to record success. He worked equally tirelessly to make Des Moines a good place to live and work. Bob Burnett died on Feb. 7 at age 90. ♦

Don Forsling

There was a time, a generation or so ago, when Iowans woke up to the quirky humor and eclectic tastes of Don Forsling. He ran the “Morning Report” on WOI radio — a one-man show in which listeners quickly learned to expect the unexpected. There is nothing like it today.

He was a funny man, droll and deadpan on and off the air, and he had a touch of the cynic in him. If you listened regularly, as thousands of Iowans did, you got the feeling he was talking just to you — finding the odd news item that would amuse, the bizarre fact that would amaze.

He liked saloon singers, and many Iowans first heard Wesla Whitfield and Marilyn VerPlanck and Diana Krall and Nancy La Mott on his show. He was nutty about trains, and on vacations he would ride off on his motorcycle to photograph them. (He was a first-rate photographer.)

He would put all those things together — the odd news item, the bizarre fact, the sad torch song, with an aside about locomotives — into a show that you built your own morning around. You got up a little earlier, perhaps, or left for work a little later so you could hear more of Don Forsling.

He was raised in Sioux City and educated at the University of Iowa, and he then spent 40 years at WOI — including stints as general manager and program director. He and his colleague, the wonderful Doug Brown, made WOI a station of distinction and a jewel for Iowa State University, which then owned it.

More important to the wider world, Forsling was one of the people who helped get National Public Radio off the ground in 1970. He was an early board member and always a champion of NPR.

Forsling, who died on Feb. 6 at age 80, retired from WOI 12 years ago. In recent years, he began to lose his memory. A couple of years ago, former Lt. Gov. Art Neu and I stopped by to see him in a care facility — he would hate that term — where he was staying. He had changed very little. I asked him whether he listened to the radio these days, and he said he didn’t.

But, he said, he did watch television news. “I watch Fox News,” he said, and then, knowing my politics, he added:
“But don’t worry. I forget it right away.” ♦

— Michael Gartner

Is there a better name anywhere than that of the current husband of one of the former wives of ousted White House aide Rob Porter?
Skiffington Holderness. ♦

In France, the “me too” movement is called #balancetonporc, or “expose your pig.” ♦

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