Dear subscribers of The Marion County Express,
Nobody asked me to say that, but I thought I should.
I’m saying thank you because you’re paying money for something I believe is essential to democracy: the local newspaper.
Owner Steve Woodhouse is doing something bold, beautiful, and terrifying: He’s trying to build a print newspaper in the 21st century.
I think he’s crazy.
But he pays me a little bit of money to write about high school football games and a column in the vein of Andy Rooney.
When I think about it, that’s all I ever wanted to do in journalism.
Watch sports for money and complain about small problems with nice turns of phrase.
But the Express is about more than me or any one person that contributes to its weekly edition.
It tells people what its local governments and school districts do with their tax money.
That’s an important function, one that the state’s larger newspapers have lost sight of in chasing viral stories that will get lots of clicks and ad views but don’t do so much to keep the subscribers informed.
You might have read Gannett laid off another 400 employees and eliminated another 400 open positions.
This includes Iowa’s largest newspaper, or at least it used to be, the Des Moines Register.
Gannett ordered the smaller newspapers the chain owns in Iowa to take the brunt of the cuts such as the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the Burlington Hawk Eye, and other newspapers.
Gannett overlords say they want to preserve their larger assets, like the Register.
This is a fine irony since their business leadership is a reason why those newspapers struggle so badly.
Some of you know I used to work at the Register.
That used to be my dream job.
But since about 2005, every day was haunted by the notion that today was the day you would get the call that your job was cut, and your career was over.
I lived with that for 15 years. It was like living at a hospice without the morphine drip.
The end finally came in 2020 during the pandemic.
I tried to get back on the way a hungry rat tries to get through a maze to the cheese.
It was a dead end.
I was 45 at the time and nobody wanted someone to who they had to pay more than just out-of-college wages.
The constant worry about trying to score big on internet metrics plus the fear of losing my job ultimately left me hating journalism.
I tried TV journalism and quickly failed at it.
I went to graduate school and became a middle school teacher.
I spend my days being bullied by 11-year-olds, but it is still better than life in 21st-century journalism.
Except for the Express.
God bless the Express.
These are not my best bylines, but they may be the purist in years.
The stories I write about city councils, school boards, or county supervisors are dry, with no flair, and without adverbs and adjectives.
But they tell you what is going on.
I live in Des Moines. I work remotely. I watch local ball games on YouTube.
I’m not trying to be Tony Kornheiser or Michael Wilbon.
I’m just trying to get as many local kids’ names into the paper as possible so their families will have a reason to clip out the game story whether the local team was blown out or blew the opposition out.
My columns are just me, little riffs on the oddities of life.
I avoid politics and religion.
Nobody needs another political analyst and I leave the religion to the clerics.
Woodhouse, my friend, and my boss have not announced layoffs.
He has instead aggressively pursued advertising revenues.
He got me to work for him just by asking if I would be willing to write a column for him.
I am vain enough that I still like seeing my name in print.
There’s something about that which seems to make my writing more official than a blog post.
It’s old-school thinking, but I am old-school and so is the Express.
It’s just a little newspaper trying to tell people of Marion County what’s going on in their communities.
The kind of people who care about what’s going on took it hard from those hedge funds and corporate goons.
Those types killed the Pella Chronicle and the Knoxville Journal-Express, the oldest of which dated back to at least 1860.
I don’t get rich off this gig. It’s a side hustle for me.
But it allows me to keep my pinky toe in a trade I spent most of my working life in.
And if anything I write amuses you or, even better, informs you about what’s going on in your community, then I’ve done my job properly.
That’s an opportunity provided to me by the Express and your loyal readership.
As previously stated: God bless the Express.
And our readers, too.
Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Of course you are correct. Local journalism is an essential part of democracy that not only holds local government accountable but also creates a shared culture. Small screens are no substitute for large sheets of newsprint. Bravo to both the Express and to you!