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Archive for December 2008

Happy New Year, east-central Iowa: Fewer newspapers serve you

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The I-80 corridor in eastern Iowa, for those motorists interested only in hastening their way between Des Moines to the west and Iowa City to the east, may appear empty save for fields that produce part of the state’s 2 billion bushels of corn each year.

But north and south of I-80 lie many small towns, populated by only a few hundred or few thousand Iowans. Towns like Belle Plaine, Brooklyn, Benton, Marengo, Montezuma, North English, Williamsburg, Parnell, Homestead, Oxford and Holbrook. These are towns whose median household income is less than the $47,000 statewide average.

The people who live in those towns need information to effectively make political and consumer decisions. They need it just as much as people in big cities do. But come Monday, local news may not flow quite so freely in Benton and Poweshiek counties.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 30, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

‘Don’t go! It’s a jungle out there! Stay in school!’

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For your reading pleasure: A commencement speech I delivered Saturday night.

Good evening, everyone, and especially our graduates. Your families, your friends and your faculty are very, very proud of you.

I’m going to quote today that late, great American philosopher — Rodney Dangerfield. You may remember his role as “big & tall” wardrobe king Thornton Melon in that 1986 classic film, Back To School.

At the film’s end, Melon addresses the graduating class of Grand Lakes University. This is what he says:
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 14, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

‘You want me on that wall! You need (a good journalist) on that wall!

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For 20 years, I was a newsman. A damned good one. I learned the craft from good newsmen who learned it from other good newsmen before me. No steenkin’ journalism school for me.

I learned to parse cop code by making daily phone calls to the cops to get the police log — and often walked to the cop shop and read it myself when the damned desk sergeant wouldn’t read it to me. I learned by paying attention to details. I listened to what sources said — always more than one, y’know — and wrote it down. I had a newsroom godfather who taught me well: “Get it right. Period.” I only used anonymous sources three times in 20 years.

One day Editor Bob said he’d heard somebody was going to build a nuclear plant up river. “Find out,” he said. I did. I had to learn how nukes operated in less than two hours before going to the presser for the announcement. I was the only newsman who asked: “Will this be a boiling water or pressurized water reactor?” Hell, the PR types didn’t know. I did. I knew the in’s and out’s of each. Score one for me. I learned the beat quickly. I reported what the utility and the government didn’t want my readers to know. I wore a button given to me by my news editor: “Question Authority.” I found facts — so my readers found out something they needed to know.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 12, 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Trib is dead; long live the Trib

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The first domino has fallen.

The Tribune Co., publisher of what used to be some of America’s best newspapers and operators of 23 television stations, has filed for bankruptcy, citing nearly $13 billion in debt compared with $7.6 billion in assets.

Let’s make book: Who’s next?

Could it be McClatchy, the nation’s third-largest newspaper chain, which is looking for a buyer for its flagship, the Miami Herald? Or the New York Times Co., struggling with debt and trying to cop a $225 million mortgage on its year-old grand edifice of a headquarters in Manhattan to get more cash on hand?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 8, 2008 at 6:48 pm

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Beyond 2010 census: Will redistricting help Democrats? (Hint: Maybe not.)

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Beginning in 2010, the number 722,000 will rule state-by-state congressional politics. When the Census Bureau finishes counting Americans, it’s expected to find that the U.S. population will have increased from about 281 million in 2000 to 315 million. Many states will face reapportionment based on about 722,000 residents per district — gaining or losing seats in the House of Representatives according to the states’ populations as determined by the 2010 census.

State populations in the South and Southwest will have grown appreciably more than in the Midwest and Northeast, reflecting immigration and migration trends that took root after World War II. Consequently, the shift of political power from the latter to the former will continue (see map). For example, the population of California, the most populous state in the union and larger than all but 34 nations, will grow nearly 8 percent from 2000 to 2010 — but California will lose a seat in the House.

Following redistricting is important because reapportionment and redistricting may shift power in the House of Representatives. How great a shift depends on an intricate political calculus involving party control of legislatures and governorships.

This decennial dance may determine which party is best positioned to retain or regain control of the House following 2012 elections. That’s why Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, pushed his “50-State Strategy” to rule as many state legislatures as possible to take control of mapping new congressional district boundaries. The Democrats now control both chambers in 27 states. But did it really work? In the 21 states expected to gain or lose House seats, 16 seats are at issue with the GOP holding the upper hand for more than half.

In this post, S&R examines states likely to lose or gain House seats through reapportionment and the role and influence of state legislatures and governors in redistricting.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 1, 2008 at 11:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized