Monday, August 08, 2005

Column on Hansen Brings Feedback from Jack Hovelson, Jane Burns

Jack Hovelson and Jane Burns are talented writers who once worked very hard for the local paper.

After reading my recent column on Marc Hansen's appearance at a lunch meeting of Register retirees, Hovelson and Burns sent e-mails to me that recalled how things were once upon a time at the place.

Hovelson spent more than 28 years as a one-man Waterloo News Bureau for the paper, when there was once such a thing. Now there isn't. I assume there also are very few Registers sold in Waterloo these days--one reason being Hovelson is no longer busting his butt to research and write the stories.

Burns had a number of jobs at the paper. I don't know if I can remember all of them, but sports copy editor, sports news editor, sportswriter and movie reviewer [maybe even reviewer of stage performances] were some. Only Jane knows, but my guess is that the bosses kept piling more and more responsibility onto her workload, so she finally fled to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she became a sports copy editor.

Now she's moved again. Burns tells me she has taken a job on the news desk of the Madison (Wis.) Capital Times. Whatever she's doing, and wherever she is, Jane will do an excellent job.

Here are the e-mails, the first from Hovelson:

"Hey, Ron.....fellow ex-Register-type,

"Jack Hovelson, here.

"A friend of mine in Cedar Rapids was nice enough yesterday to e-mail me a copy of your column regarding Marc Hansen's talk to Register retirees. It's great to have friends who recognize something of interest to you and then take the time and effort to see that you get it. Anyway, I really enjoyed your Hansen coverage [of all the speeches I had to cover and write about, I doubt I had any as compelling as Marc's].

"I'm glad Hansen feels safe enough to say some of the things he does, knowing it all will get back to the big office downtown. I'm not so sure they wouldn't jump on some of it as an excuse for showing him the door. After all.....'Look at the money we could save by getting rid of Hansen.'

"Your comments [rather, Hansen's, I guess] regarding the Register's sports coverage, or lack of, hits me at a time when I'm particularly pissed at them regarding the recent Waterloo Open golf tournament. The Waterloo Open still ranks as one of the two-to-four biggest golf tournaments in Iowa, big enough that it always brought Buck Turnbull up here every year [with a photographer] to spend two to three days covering it.

"I, on occasion, would help him with getting results, etc. transmitted to Des Moines before deadlines. This year's Waterloo Open was a dandy--a chip-in eagle to win the $30,000 first prize in a playoff, but even better: A 21-year-old college student gets a hole-in-one on a 367-YARD PAR 4 hole, a 6 million-to-one shot. In golf parlance, they call that an 'albatross.' Even my wife realizes this is something newsworthy.

"So, I'm looking all over the Sunday and Monday sports pages in the Register for news of the Waterloo Open. Would you believe? Of course, you would. Not one word. Not one 6-point result. Not one photo. Not one anything. I can understand the Register not staffing the event anymore; that's been the case for years. But ignoring it completely? I'm appalled, even in the jaded state I've eroded to about the Register over the past decade or so.

"Anyway, it's nice to have someone to relate this to.....someone who appreciates Register-screw-up tales. This has been therapeutic. Keep up the good work.



[COMMENTS: I enjoyed Hovelson's e-mail so much that I asked him if I could use it in a column. I also asked if he minded if I identified him. Here was his response: "Hell, yes, use my name. If you need more of my feelings regarding today's Register, let me know. My main complaints deal with their disregard of us outside the Golden Circle. It takes me no more than 7 minutes to read all I want of each day's state edition. Thanks." I then asked Hovelson to tell me how long he worked for the Register, as well as anything else he cared to write about. Here was that response: "I started at the Register on Jan. 15, 1968 and retired Jan. 31, 1996---28 years and 2 weeks. All of that time was spent at the Register's Waterloo News Bureau, which I opened for the Register when I began, and closed when I retired. I was the only one ever to have that job with the Register. My only absence from the bureau was for four months in the fall of 1993 when I volunteered to be a loaner at USA Today in Washington. It was a good experience. At the Waterloo Bureau, I covered every type of story imaginable [at one time, I did a personal assessment of all the things I had covered and conclued that the only one I hadn't covered was an earthquake. Some time after that Iowa had a tremor that, among other effects, did something to someone around Traer or somewhere down there and I wrote about it. Thus, I added earthquake to the list]. I even chipped in with a few sports assignments, which I enjoyed, but that really wasn't part of my job description. Job description! What's that? There never was one for any of the state bureaus, and that was fine with us. I suppose we spent one-fourth to one-third of our time covering stuff assigned by editors in Des Moines, the rest of the time coming up with our own stories. We [other bureaus were in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Ames and Sioux City, but not all in operation at the same time] always felt that our stories were much better than what Des Moines dreamed up for us to do. Of course we would feel that way. I really enjoyed my job. I joke about editors, but most of them were fine people and good newspaper men and women. A couple who will go nameless were not. David Witke was absolutely super. I'd walk through fire to cover something for him. Damn near did that one day when a gas pipeline blew up near Hudson, killing five guys. Randy Evans is an ex-Register state bureau chief who, because of that experience, could relate to our circumstances. I most enjoyed spot news -- cops and courts, etc. -- and those were the stories I'd jump on. I groused when D.M. would put me on some bong-clank story that interested hardly anyone and took me away from the action stuff. Times change. We geezers get more disgusted and grouchier by the day when we see what some newspapers, the Register especially, are doing these days, much of it I see as futile attempts to lure young people to the daily printed pages. I say, good luck with that, but wake up, publishers and editors: Traditionally, younger people have never been great newspaper readers, with some exceptions [those of us who always wanted to work for papers. I feel that newspapers need to go back to doing what they used to do, namely, simply telling readers what's going on out there. The Register -- at least, its state edition -- isn't doing that. Example: Recently, on a Monday I think, four Boy Scout leaders were electrocuted in Virginia at the international Scout jamboree. It happened in the early to mid-afternoon, Iowa time. The next morning's Register had not one word on this tragedy. The following day there was a lame follow-up leading with the fact that counselors were at the scene. This is newspapering? Hardly. Occasionally the Register does come up with a flicker of its glorious past [I strive to be fair] with in-depth investigative pieces and series. Witosky and Kauffman are great investigative reporters, as is Lee Rood. They come up with really fine stuff, but I have this nagging feeling that there are restrictions [monetary, of course] that inhibit their efforts at times. Also, Marc Hansen, Carlson, Borsellino, Yepsen and, of course, Fuson, do good work that I always look forward to reading. As far as I'm concerned, they're carrying the paper. But, a good newspaper has to have more than words typed by columnists. It needs good, solid, complete, timely and interesting coverage of, again, what's going on out there. I don't see a whole lot of that in the Register these days. At least, not in the Register that lands on my porch in Cedar Falls every morning. I used to think that while the Register's state edition is woefully lacking, its city edition must be a really fine product. I'm told that's not the case most of the time. As you well know, there is a number of us who worked many years -- sometimes even 'worked hard' -- at making the Register a damn good newspaper. In my case, I was concerned that it contine to be a first-rate 'state paper,' a reputation it had and deserved for decades. No other paper covered an entire state like the Register did. Of course, it cost money to do that -- having four or five state bureaus, for example, didn't come free despite the starvation wages paid to its chiefs. No, no, no.....just kidding about that. I always felt adequately compensated, and never complained about the pay. Now, of course, profit means everything. Good journalism be damned -- how much money can we make sending papers to Waterloo? Not all that much? Well, then, screw them. Close that bureau out there. Drop the second edition; put everyone beyond the Golden Circle on that early-deadline first edition, the one that has Tuesday's news in Thursday's or Friday's paper. I get furious when I think about all that [thanks a lot, Ron, for kicking up my blood pressure], but I'm really more sad than mad. It's a shame, a criminal shame no less, that the Register has been allowed to deteriorate to its present state. I know some of the editors today are proud of its appearance. No argument from me: The paper is prettier. But, as that little old lady used to say on TV, where's the beef? The Register, of course, is only following in the footsteps of many other once-great papers which now are locked into the cadence of "Make more money, make more money..." No one of us ever wanted the Register not to make money. Fools that we are today, I guess, we somehow think a profitable paper also can be a journalisticly good product. How naive can we be? I just scanned this rant and rave.....I'm betting you're wishing you'd never asked. It's been fun communicating with you, Ron. Would love to sit down with you sometime and do all this over a beer or martini. Let me know if you're ever headed this way.....maybe we can do it. --Jack]."


Here's Jane Burns' e-mail:


"Your comments about the newspaper biz of old with smoking and drinking and all made me think of a story you might enjoy. [And I'll add that I'm old enough to have set foot in the Office Lounge, but too young to have directed the composing room from there.]

"When I was in the hospital with my fun little Guillain-Barre Syndrome a few years back, the doctors were trying to find the virus that triggered it. My liver counts were screwed up and a liver specialist was called in to examine me. He returned the next day and said:

"'I should have asked you this yesterday when you told me you work at the
newspaper: Do you have a drinking problem? I know a lot of your co-workers.'

"[Incidentally, I responded that while I liked my beer, I didn't like it so much
that it would have destroyed my liver by age 34.]

"By the way, I'm back home in Wisconsin these days. I just took a job on the news desk at the Capital Times, the newspaper I grew up reading and one of the few independently owned, proudly progressive daily publications in the country these days. I have only been here a month, but I'm loving it.....

"Take care,



A couple of TV guys who are the best in the state and surrounding areas at what they do teamed up on this one. One man noticed something in a sports column written by Nancy Clark, and another sent me this e-mail about it:


"I like Nancy Clark, but in her rant against the accuracy of bloggers, she misused--or the editor did--the word 'voracity' when she meant 'veracity.' It
definitely equals 'irony.' Thought you'd get a kick out of that."

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Thanks, guys. I do get a kick out of it. If I were Clark, I'd blame it on an editor, and obviously she did. The paper admitted the editor changed the word and the meaning of what Clark was trying to say. It's always the editor's fault!]


An e-mail from Marv Hiddleson of West Des Moines:

"Great article on Marc Hansen. I really hated to see him leave the sports
department. I got to know him at the Iowa basketball games, because he sat
about six rows behind our seats. He was always on the aisle of press row.

"I think of Marc often at work. When I sign on my computer, of course, I
type in my name, Marv. Many times in haste, it comes up as Marc. I have
often thought I should send an e-mail about this to Marc.

"Keep cool. Keep writing good articles on how the newspaper has lost its
zip. Hardly any good local coverage, in any length, anymore.

"--Marv Hiddleson"


A Quad-Cities man wrote this about Hansen:

"One of the best remaining things about the Register."


An Iowan vacationing in France had these thoughts on Hansen:

"Greetings from France. I am here with my entire family......our daughter is studying/working here this summer and so we used it as an excuse to visit her. We were in Paris five days and now have come to the Normandy area, where today we will visit the beaches and cemeteries.

"In the meantime, I was up early checking my e-mail and found your column about Marc. Ron, it is a very special column....even by your standards. And it is about a very special guy. Marc has produced as many quality inches as anyone in the last three decades. I still think of him as a fresh-faced young man with a keen intellect, and now only half of that remains!

"I often think of certain people as 'community treasures.' In this column we have one of them writing about another."

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Both Marc and I thank you very much].


Bud Appleby of Des Moines writes:

"The Des Moines City Council voted on June 6 to turn the city animal shelter over to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

"That switch took place on July 23.

"The Register reported it on Aug. 3.

"The paper's motto should be 'All The News That's Fit To Print -- Eventually.'"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: I guess it says something when the e-mailers write funnier stuff than what's in the paper].


A Central Iowan who is a Hawkeye fan sent this e-mail:


"The Iowa Shrine All-Star fotball game was played [recently] at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. I was looking forward to reading a report of the game in the Sunday Register to see how the University of Iowa recruits fared. However, after scouring all 10 pages, I could not find a story on the game. So I turned to the Sports Roundup page to get the stats and a score. But, there was not a stat recap or score of the game.

"If there had been a gay parade in Des Moines on Saturday, the news department would have covered the faggot fest with a blow-by-blow account, so to speak.

"How much further could The Newspaper That Iowa Used To Depend Upon degenerate?"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Actually, the paper did have an account of the game buried--as former Drake football coach Chuck Shelton used to say--"back by the tire ads." It turned out that the Iowa fan who complained that there was no story at all on the game had been delivered a paper by the circulation department that, for some unknown reason, didn't contain that page. That, folks, is unbelievable].


In an e-mail, a sports-savvy Iowan writes:

"The group of pups putting out the paper now don't even have a sense of Iowa traditions. One of the deepest baseball traditions in the state is Granville Spalding. In [a recent] listing of state baseball pairings, it lists Spalding [Greenville].

"Nice column on Hansen. God, I wish he were still doing a sports column. Keeler just irritates me.

"Peterson, Brown and McCool seem to be the only real 'pros' left."

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Tradition? What's that anymore in the newspaper business--especially in Des Moines?]


It's easy to take a fungo bat and start whacking manager Dusty Baker and the pitiful Chicago Cubs these days, and that's exactly what Travis Simpson of Des Moines did in this e-mail to me:

"Hi, Ron,

"I love the Corey Patterson bits on your website. He's a big disappointment and he doesn't even realize that himself. The way the Cubs have played without him I don't think anyone would mind him spending the rest of the season in the minors. What is even more disappointing at times, though, is the excuse-of-a-manager the Cubs seem to have in Dusty Baker.

"My opinion of him has nearly done a 180 since that magical 2003 season as he's finally being exposed as somewhat of a fraud. How can a team with this much talent [even with all the injuries] look so bad at times? I've come to the conclusion it has a lot to do with Dusty and his constant lineup shuffles and in-game management. Why would you sit a rookie [Matt Murton] for two games after he went 4-for-5 at the plate against the Marlins the other week? Murton went 3-for-4 with a walk [recently] and I'll bet he sits again today. I realize he's doing a lot of it against lefties, but sometimes you just have to let the kids play and learn otherwise he'll never improve against right handers. It's not like he's playing behind a great player, as Todd Hollandsworth is far from adequate as a starter. Just like Jason Dubois before him and Ronny Cedeno currently, Dusty loves to play his journeyman veterans over capable young kids who need consistent time to be effective and it does no good for their confidence to play a good game and then sit the next three. Of all the playoff-caliber teams in the hunt right now, I can't think of another team that shuffles their lineup around as much as the Cubs seem to do. A running joke I've heard a few times on a Cubs message board I check up on once in awhile is it's almost as if Dusty spends half his time trying to find a way to get Jose Macias into the game just for him to basically contribute nothing.

"Keep up the great work!

"--Travis Simpson"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Dusty Baker is a hopeless case, and so are the Cubs. The only thing keeping the Cubs alive in recent weeks has been a faint hope of making it into the playoffs as the National League's wild-card team. Forget that now. Look for the Cubs to go into a tailspin that will have fans at Wrigley Field booing Baker and his troops. It's going to turn into a very, very ugly August and September at the old ballpark. Baker is an idiot when it comes to knowing or teaching fundamentals, and it's going to cost him his job--hopefully sooner rather than later].


Gordy Scoles is a former Iowan who now lives in South Carolina. He was a coach who now writes books. Here's his latest e-mail:


"I remember working at Iowa State when Earle Bruce was coaching and the physical education department went nuts when his salary was raised to $38,000. That was around 1978 or so. But salaries are just part of the supply and demand equation. Are Larry Brown or Phil Jackson worth $10-12 million a year? Supply and demand. I'm kind of glad that an old North Central Conference player like Phil Jackson makes that kind of dough. I also remember the late Pete Spoden [of State College of Iowa, now Northern Iowa] kicking his butt in a game at the old West Gym in Cedar Falls. Of course, Spoden kicked everyone's butt in those days. Sixty-five bucks for a [college football] game in Iowa? What happened to getting in for a dollar and sitting in the end zone? I watched a great Hawkeye-Kansas game in 1960 that way. That was a bargain to pay a dollar to watch John Hadl play. I had a personal technical breakthrough with the computer and the Greene football book is close to being finished. Two months ahead of time--maybe.

"--Gordy Scoles"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: College football has done a great job of eliminating Joe Six-Pack from the ticket-buying business. When a guy knows he has to spend $60 or $65 for a ticket, and wants to take his wife and three kids to the game, guess how many times he's going to Iowa City, Ames or any other place in the Big Ten or Big 12? Zero. Fortunately, ESPN and some of the other TV networks have done a fine job of providing plenty of football on the tube on Saturdays].


Former Iowan Richard Hayman sent me another thoughtful e-mail:

"Hello, Mr. Maly,

"The following thoughts came to mind after I stayed up late last night watching [again] the 2005 Capital One Bowl:

"I've been metering my reviewing of The Game, lest I become jaded. But it's interesting to note that despite knowing the outcome and having watched The Game at least 20 times [and the last play countless times], I still find myself near to tears with joy and pride with the accomplishments of last year's Iowa football team.

"You know, there are just a few reasons why I watch football. One, I am
fascinated by the dynamics of crowd behavior. There's nothing quite like
hearing 70,000-plus people screaming their heads off...contrasted with the
silences during which you can almost hear yourself breathe...the ebb and the
flow...just fascinating! Two, I like football. Personally, I stopped
playing football [defensive end] when I found myself turning into somewhat
of an animal. I mean, when I hit someone, I felt disgusted if they were
able to get up on their own. While I'm sometimes troubled by my enjoyment
of others acting out my throttled aggression, there is something about the
game that just keeps me coming back for more. And finally, I love the rare
breakout performances [team and individual], which are testament to our
competitive spirit and the amazing things we can do with these bodies of
ours. I'm almost certain it is this last element which inspired the great
world competitions of old. We're not as far removed from the Coliseum as
some would like to think. No matter what the sport, I find myself with a
profound appreciation for those moments when we can really experience the
'thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat'...those times we can sit
back and marvel at the athleticism and/or skill of a finely tuned human machine. I think of some NBA days gone by with Vinnie 'The Microwave' Johnson.

"Everyone knew when Vinnie came in the game he was going to get the ball and shoot, repeatedly. Yet, time after time, he stepped into the game and quickly heated things up.

"In much of the business world, focus tends to be more on managing expectations rather than on exceeding expectatiions. We do it because we don't want patrons to get accustomed to a level of service/quality which is not sustainable. But, breakout performances don't conform to the managing expectations methodlogy.

"What I'm really trying to say is -- and I hope it expresses the thoughts of
at least a few other fans: We recognize last year, and especially the Capital One Bowl, as one of the all-time great moments in sports, let alone college football. Thank you, Iowa [and LSU] for a classic. Our appetite has been whet for more. We will struggle for some time with managing our expectations.

"This is a new year and the Big Ten appears to be loaded. The Rose Bowl is
the BCS national championship game. What a year it would be to win the Rose
Bowl. Oops! See what I mean about managing expectations?

"Best regards,

"-Richard Hayman"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: Good hearing from you again, Richard. I'd say you're doing a better job of managing your expectations than are a lot of Hawkeye fans who are confident Kirk Ferentz will automatically have his team in the national championship game. Some other teams--Iowa State, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin among them -- will have a lot to say about those expectations].


John Cavanaugh is a longtime Wisconsin fan who is surrounded by Iowa and Iowa State followers in central Iowa. He asks a question about the recent announcement that former Iowa player and assistant coach Bret Beliema will succeed Barry Alvarez [also an ex-Iowa assistant] as the Badgers' head coach in 2006:


"I would think he is a clone of Alvarez, don't you?

"--John Cavanaugh"

[RON MALY'S COMMENT: John, I know that both Alvarez and Beliema are big-time competitors. At 35, Beliema is getting quite a break being named the next coach at a football-crazy place like Wisconsin. Even though Bret doesn't have head coaching experience, he's learned under some of the best (Hayden Fry, Bill Snyder and Alvarez). I expect him to do well].

Vol. 4, No. 364
Aug. 8, 2005