By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate

The quality of journalism and the missed journalistic opportunities in a particular area say a lot about a particular region and the people who live there. With that in mind, it’s time for a round-up of Corridor media market observations.

Big shoes to fill

The CBJ’s senior business reporter, Dave DeWitte, is hanging up his notepad after 37 years in the media business. He says you can call it a retirement. He looks forward to spending time with family and friends and catching up on some much needed to-dos.

A journeyman of print dailies and business weeklies, DeWitte’s reporting was always guided by deep research of the industries, markets and kinds of businesses he covered. I know PR directors in the area who speak similarly of DeWitte – they loved it when he was writing about their companies because he did his homework. They also feared him when the story involved company decisions or numbers that weren’t so rosy.

In this market, it’s not unusual for a young general assignment TV news reporter to be assigned a big business story and get thrown a bit off the trail. That didn’t happen with DeWitte – he always sniffed it out. DeWitte’s last day at the CBJ is October 22nd. Please join me in pushing him to write a book about his decades as a reporter.

Lenz is out

Columnist Lyz Lenz has been sacked by the Gazette. She tweeted the news Oct. 5, leaving many of her readers wondering what happened. Lenz’s left-leaning voice brought a lot of balance to the paper’s boisterous editorial pages and Pints & Politics events. Sizable camps of Gazette readers absolutely adored and loathed her. She also wrote some notable stories for the paper and earned praise for a Washington Post perspective piece about the area’s resolve while dealing with the derecho. Filling her shoes won’t be easy, either.

The scoop

Nothing invigorates a newsroom more than a big scoop that outshines the competition’s coverage. When Eastern Iowans arose to the news of University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld’s retirement on the morning of Oct. 1, the Gazette outclassed other local coverage, showing that in-the-know beat reporters are not only still a thing, but a valuable thing.

Higher education journalist Vanessa Miller had a smorgasbord of reporting ready and waiting while other local media outlets had tiny blips summarizing and linking to the story’s basic info provided by the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

Miller had authored a 1700-word story on Harreld’s retirement and the events leading up to it (and provided a photo of Harreld’s actual retirement notification letter to the Iowa Board of Regents), a 700-word piece on the Regents’ pending search for his replacement (and provided documentation of the American Association of University Presidents’ best practices for presidential searches), and a comprehensive timeline of Harreld’s tenure. The Gazette also had a staff-bylined editorial outlining the realities and challenges the next U of I president will face.

Election Help

Chances are, you’ve checked boxes next to unknown names on a ballot while standing at a voting booth. (If I could, this is where I’d insert that emoji of the guy nervously gritting his teeth.) Maybe in that moment you used your smartphone to do a quick search for a local voting guide featuring bulleted info on candidates and the party affiliations of judges on the ballot. Such a fact-based, neutral-aspiring voting guide, prepared and vetted by local news outlets, doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t easy to find. This is a disappointment, considering the need for such information during a mail-in-heavy election.

Journalist-authored candidate profiles aren’t as helpful as they once were. They get lost in the ether as the hyperbole, bluster and misdirection of campaign ads and PAC-funded messaging muddy the media flotsam and jetsam that bombards us before an election. So do us all a favor, local news outlets – make a helpful, fact-based voter guide that’s easy to find online. Suck it up and deal with the resulting criticism storm when everyone accuses you of unfairly describing the candidates. Such a guide would be a great service to us, not to mention a great way to judge the quality of your information gathering.

Top story

The new Casey’s logo was the top-of-page top story on WMT’s website for much of the morning when news of Harreld’s retirement broke. The station’s piece about Harreld was positioned directly next to a day-old story with the following headline: “Zoo Moves Profane Parrots After They Curse At Guests.”

Yes, I clicked and read the cursing parrot story before texting it to friend.

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.