Another of the nation’s once-remarkable papers was the Des Moines Register. It assumed a thoroughly statewide focus, with locator maps pointing out where many of the communities were and an amazing ability to note where anyone mentioned in a national story had ever lived anywhere in Iowa. The front page had an old-fashioned, authoritative appearance with a prominent, staff-produced editorial cartoon and block-letter capital-letter banner headline. I appreciated the frequency of national and international stories that carried the byline, “Combined Wire Services,” meaning a copy editor had spent several hours comparing Associated Press, United Press International, New York Times, and other dispatches to glean details to rewrite into a more comprehensive report. All of that, of course, cost money.
Statewide newspapers began cutting back as the costs of distribution soared, combined with a recognition that nearly all of the advertisers – the principal source of revenue – were aiming at only the major metropolitan area.
It wasn’t just statewide coverage, either, that has been curtailed. Most of the biggest papers have since shuttered their foreign offices and cut back on national reporting, as well.
You can as easily say they’ve cheapened the product, but that’s a longer term issue.
For a surreal, playful, and often gallows-humor trip within one young and ambitious newsroom, pick up my novel, Hometown News.