Thursday, October 07, 2004

Modersohn Gets a Raw Deal at the Local Paper

Bad things are going on at the local paper again

A guy e-mailed me with another horror story.

“I heard that Bob Modersohn is taking early retirement rather than accept a new assignment to a job he does not want,” my correspondent writes.

Modersohn is a man I enjoyed working with at the paper. We went on a number of assignments both in and out of the state. He was a sensational photographer who made an interesting career move in recent years.

He left the photo department and became a full-time reporter.

Everything seemed to be going well until Modersohn’s bosses indicated they thought they knew more about what he should be doing than he knew.

“Apparently, Modersohn was told he would have to give up that recreation beat and go back to being a photographer and would be assigned to the suburban publications,” is what I hear.

Obviously, Modersohn, 55, felt that was a demotion.

“That seems to be the routine down there when they are trying to cut expenses,” my source writes. “They give some long-time employee a demotion and hope he will quit. Then, if they even bother to replace him, they’ll do it with some kid just out of school at half the salary they were paying the veteran.

“If you remember, Modersohn has been doing the job they told Larry Stone he would have to move to Des Moines to do. That, of course, forced Larry to quit.”

Stone was the veteran outdoors writer who lives in northeast Iowa. When his bosses told him they wanted him to return to the Des Moines area to live, he said adios.

Modersohn was interviewed for Stone’s outdoors job, but it was given to Juli Probasco-Sowers. The description of that job has changed considerably in recent years, however. Juli now is a newsside reporter in addition to writing the “In the Open” column in sports on Sundays.


All of this made me laugh when I read what Rob Borsellino of the local paper wrote about Modersohn’s departure from the place.

On Sept. 24, Borsellino wrote: “Bob Modersohn is retiring after 33 years with the Register. For most of that time he was a photographer, and he got pictures of everyone from Pope John Paul II to Richard Simmons. He also photographed five U.S. presidents, Mick Jagger, Jack Benny, Debbie Reynolds and Andre Previn. In recent years he’s been a feature writer, focusing on recreation, fitness and travel.

“One of the high points of his career came in the late ‘70s when he photographed Olympians Al Feurbach and Mac Wilkins while they changed clothes in the men’s room at the Des Moines airport after their Drake Relays performances. But the photo never was published.

“It’s been almost 30 years, and Modersohn still hasn’t gotten over it.”


I worked with Modersohn on the story-and-photo package of Feurbach and Wilkins for the A-Section of the paper that Sunday. Modersohn took a hell of a picture that he says was never used.

Borsellino, of course, missed the whole point of Modersohn’s exit from the paper. If it had been some TV or radio guy who was retiring in his mid-fifties because he was pissed at his bosses, Borsellino would have been all over it like a wet blanket.

But Borsellino misses a lot of things these days. I pointed out his sloppy reporting recently when he wrote of Bill Reichardt’s death. On that story, he was factually wrong and too lazy to research things that could have easily been looked up. The story about Modersohn is another example of his poor reporting,


Incidentally, go to the local paper’s website and you’ll see that the people there are asking for comments on all of the columnists.

Hey, folks, that’s going out of your way to find trouble.

For instance, call up Borsellino’s name and readers are met with this message:

“[Borsellino] wants to read your comments and suggestions about this column.”

I’ll bet. Who knows what ol’ Rob will get in his envelope. Nothing pretty, I’m sure.


While on the subject of envelopes, the Detroit News reports that several newspapers in addition to the local paper and one TV network have received containers of snail poison from unknown sources.

The other papers are the Dallas Morning News, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Detroit News, the Charlotte Observer and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The TV network is CNN.


From a retired newspaper editor and reporter:

“I see the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors organization has decided that Nancy Clark is the best sports columnist in the state and that Sean Keeler is No. 3.

“I don’t know if that means there is not one good sports column in the state, or if the people who decide the winners have no idea what they are doing.

“Jack Germond of the Baltimore Sun, talking about the judges who select the Pulitzer Prize winners, once said: ‘Most of those guys couldn’t cover a fire.’

“That must be the case here, too.”

[This is what the local paper’s editors get for entering reporters’ and columnists’ work in statewide contests. There once was an editor at the local paper, Jim Gannon, who said the biggest daily in the state had no business entering writing contests like that. But the present editors are so fearful that the parent Gannett Co. will either fire them or send them off to Indianapolis to work with Dennis Ryerson that they enter the contests. Then they’re embarrassed that Clark, who writes sports columns on a parttime basis while also working on the sports copy desk, beats out Keeler, who is supposed to be the No. 1 sports columnist].


George Wine of Coralville sent this letter to the editor at the local paper:

“To the Editor—

“I opened the Register Friday morning eager to read your coverage on the debate between Bush and Kerry, only to find a note on page one telling me to go to your website for ‘complete coverage’ of the event. There wasn’t another word about it in the paper you delivered to me.

“This may come as a surprise, but I subscribe to your paper to read the news. If I wanted to go to your website for that purpose, I would drop my subscription.

“The debate was over at 9:30 p.m., not an unreasonable hour. Surely the Register could have sent a truckload of late-edition papers down I-80 to give us coverage of an event that drew an estimated 60 million TV viewers.

“But since you failed to do that, I went to the newsstand and bought an issue of the Chicago Tribune. It had full debate coverage even though Chicago is more than twice the distance from my home as Des Moines.

“If you truly believe the Register is the paper ‘Iowa Depends Upon’ then please give us a reason to think so.”

[Wine said he received this response from Dick Doak, whose days are numbered as editor of the editorial pages: “You must receive the 1st edition, which goes to press around 9 p.m. I’ll forward your letter to our editors. Thanks.” After receiving that explanation from Doak, Wine e-mailed me: “Hell, I know I’m getting the first edition, which is my complaint. I think my letter to the editor has been place in the round file.” Frankly, I’m surprised anyone in Iowa subscribes to the first edition of the paper. It’s a throw-away, sufficient only to use in a bird cage. The Iowa City Press Citizen, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Quad City Times and Chicago Tribune put much better papers into Iowa City].


I hope you weren’t looking for the results of the Boston-Anaheim baseball playoff game in today’s local paper.

The game – which the Red Sox won, 8-3, lasted 3 hours 48 minutes – and finished at 12:58 a.m. Iowa time.

I guess that was too late to get it into today’s city edition.

Just think, they used to call the now-defunct Des Moines Tribune the “practice paper.”

Now we know what the real practice paper is.


A reader’s comment on the fact that the Chicago Cubs have fined Sammy Sosa one day’s pay—a cool $87,400--for sneaking out of Sunday’s season finale:

“Sosa’s salary is obscene.”


This memo was sent to members of the sports department at the local paper:

“Sports Staff:

“Larry Lehmer had a ‘minor’ heart attack Saturday night. He said Monday morning that he is feeling much better, and doctors say there is no permanent damage.

“Larry is at Mercy Medical Center, but hopes to return home on Tuesday.”

[Lehmer is a longtime sports department employee. He once was assistant sports editor and now is a sports copy editor. He’s a nice guy and a smart guy. However, the problem I’m having with that memo about his heart attack is that no heart attack is “minor.” Just ask anybody who’s had one. The clown who wrote the memo should be shifted to the farm department as the person assigned to fill Jerry Perkins’ gas tank. Meanwhile, get well soon, Larry].


I wanted to find out more about Jason Reid, the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who tangled with Los Angeles Dodgers nutcase Milton Bradley yesterday in St. Louis.

So I got hold of my West Coast Correspondent, who came through again with flying colors. The guy is doing a sensational job and deserves a big-time raise.

If you recall, Bradley, who is black, called Reid, who is black, an “Uncle Tom” and said he was a “sellout.”

Reid, 35, and a veteran of covering the Dodgers for the Times, didn’t particularly like what he was called. The wire service stories say Reid became outraged and had to be held back by several players and coaches.

Reid was fully supported by Bill Dwyre, the former sports copy editor of the local paper who now is sports editor of the Times.

“We back our reporter from every angle of this,” Dwyre said.

Imagine that—a sports editor backing his reporter.

Adding to this bizarre scenario is the fact the AP reported today that several media outlets said the TV crew that taped Bradley’s confrontation with Reid erased the tape at the behest of a Dodgers spokesman.

John Venneman, head of Fox Sports Net Midwest’s news operations, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was outraged by the pressure to erase the tape. The Fox Sports Net reporter, Brent Stover, said the situation “felt very threatening” and was “very intense,” adding that erasing the tape “felt like it was the best thing to do.”

My West Coast Correspondent kicked in with this good stuff about Reid:

“Jason is a USC grad. Nice, nice guy and really fair with people. Was somewhat unproven when he was handed the Dodger beat,, but arguably has become the Times’ best beat writer. He gives 100 percent every night on what is a bear of a beat, with endless games and brutal deadlines. He’s in a tough spot. The other papers all gang up against the Times and as a result, Jason is the first at the park and last to leave for fear of getting scooped.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jason end up on TV, as he’s a great talker who has something to say compared to a lot of the ‘experts’ I see on the tube.

“I’m really not in the know as to what exactly happened, but Bradley has been on a roll as of late. Although I’m sure my fuse would be short if the hometown and drunken fans were throwing things at me, I’m still mystified as to where Dodger security was that night.

“The next day, Bradley was interviewed by Vin Scully and apologized. He seemed sincere and everybody appeared to give him the benefit of the doubt, even with his history of blowups. Now I can’t imagine he will be back with the club. But as usual, there’s plenty of takers. Looks like good fit for the Cubs to me.”

[I think that Cubs comment was meant for my benefit. Hey, the Cubs will have a couple of outfield vacancies next season—right field and left field. I’m sure Dusty Baker will welcome Bradley with open arms. They deserve each other].


Like my dad always said, if a person wants work, it’s there.

And if there’s nothing open as a Wal-Mart greeter, there’s always something in Baghdad.

Here’s a copy of a Los Angeles Times memo from yesterday:

From: Wolinsky, Leo
Sent: Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2004, 4:36 p.m.
Subject: Baghdad duty


The foreign staff is once again seeking experienced reporters for three- to four-week rotations in Baghdad and for four- to-five-week tours with American forces as embeds. The first rotations begin in November, but the need for volunteers will continue into the new year.

These assignments are extremely dangerous—but the story is also extremely important, and we are keeping a staff of four reporters on the ground to cover it. If this is an opportunity that interests you, please contact me or Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller as soon as possible. Thanks.


[Leo, there are a couple of people at 8th and Locust and in Indianapolis who might be interested. I’ll let ‘em know you’re looking].


A guy tells me he’d like to call Diane Graham to see what she thinks of all the issues at the local paper.

“But I was told she was asleep, and would get back to me as soon as she wakes up,” the guy said.

Well, maybe getting back to callers isn’t part of the deal anymore. A reader writes:

“I was interested in the question of what the hell does Diane Graham do at The Register? Well, she doesn’t reply to inquiries about job openings…..I sent her my resume twice a while back, but got no replies…..”

The question of what Graham does comes up often. Other than tidying up the meeting room that’s used for news conferences, no one is quite sure.

Vol. 4, No. 265
Oct. 7, 2004