As an organization, the Argus Leader has been around for nearly 130 years.
But that longevity pales a bit in comparison to a statistic compiled this week by our marketing department. The reporters, editors, photographers and other staff members in our newsroom today have a combined 582 years of service to Argus Leader Media.
A collective 5+ centuries spent reporting and photographing news in this community is impressive.
And represents a lot of daily deadlines met.
This weekend’s “Branch Out Project,” will match volunteers to yard cleanup needs at the homes of elderly or disabled city residents.
Argus Leader Media is sponsoring the event with the HelpLine Center and United Way. More about that effort is below.
Planning the event reminds me of the annual city bike trail cleanup we spearheaded for several years. A couple of hundred volunteers would gather on a spring Saturday morning armed with garbage bags and gloves to fan out across the s bike trail network.
Mixed in with the garbage, paper and cans, were some more unusual items that somehow had been dislodged by the river or left behind by melting snow. Over the years, volunteers found an old wooden boat, a rusty rifle, a couple of bicycles and some broken toys. One year, a volunteer found a corked bottle, lodged in the mud along Skunk Creek. Inside was a piece of paper with a handwritten message. Battered by water and time, it was only partially readable, but the mystery behind that message remains.Here is reporter Peter Harriman’s 2000 account of the find:
“Water unfortunately, leaked past the cork stopper of the bottle found by Monica and Calie Helms. But a photo survives. It shows a dark-haired man with his arm around a woman’s waist and a girl about 10 standing in front of him. Portions of an accompanying note are faded beyond recognition. But the letter seems to represent a private ceremony, a wistful closure to a romantic relationship.
“I did set you free but maybe you didn’t love me as … because you haven’t returned to me,” it reads in part in big, looping script.
” I still live in Sioux Falls, S.D. on 14th Street. But where you are, I haven’t a clue. I guess it’s time to say goodbye. I love you. R.E.S.D.”
To take part in Saturday’s cleanup, call the HelpLine Center or go to helplinecenter.org to register. Teams will meet at the Argus Leader’s parking lot between 8 and 9 a.m. Saturday to get their assignments.
One of the most tragic events in South Dakota history unfolded 20 years ago this week. An airplane carrying Gov. George Mickelson and seven others smashed into a silo on a farm near Dubuque, Iowa, killing all aboard.
I was working that night as city editor. Our first hint of the disaster came in a phone call from a former Argus Leader reporter who worked at an Iowa newspaper, telling us that an airplane had crashed in eastern Iowa. The plane’s tail number was registered to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, he said. Our business editor, Brenda Wade Schmidt, immediately noted that Mickelson and others should have been returning to South Dakota after a trip to Cincinnati to try to persuade the owners of John Morrell and Co. to continue operations in Sioux Falls. Could the plane be theirs?
It was almost impossible to believe that it was and I think back at how we numbly worked to find out and to confirm the news that we were all dreading. There was no Twitter back then, no Facebook, no text messaging or cell phones to keep in touch with the reporters we dispatched via a chartered plane to the scene.
Reporters working that night across the state undoubtedly remember those tortured hours trying to piece together information and finally, the sad confirmation we all silently hoped would not come.
The tremendous sense of loss resonated even deeper in Sioux Falls because in that plane along with the governor were three prominent city business leaders. The men - Roger Hainje, president of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation; Angus Anson, general manager of Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) and David Birkeland, chief executive officer of First Bank of South Dakota (now US Bank) – were respected community leaders. Four others - Ron Reed, director of the state Office of Energy Policy and Roland Dolly, commissioner of the Office of Economic Development as well as state pilots David Hansen and Ron Becker – also died in the crash.
The tragedy and the funerals that followed bound this state together in unprecedented fashion.
In tomorrow’s Argus Leader, Brenda Wade Schmidt recalls that sad day And, in Sunday’s newspaper, Steve Young looks back on Gov. Mickelson’s funeral procession from Pierre to Brookings and the spontaneous outpouring of grief and support shown by average South Dakotans who lined that highway to pay their respects.
I had the opportunity last night to meet a young woman from Madison, SD. Amy Shan, one of our Argus Leader Academic All-Stars, is a high school senior who is headed to the University of Pennsylvania to study business.
How did she arrive at her college choice? She says that once she had decided to major in business, she simply Googled “best undergraduate business programs in the country.” First on the list – Penn. She decided right then that she wanted to attend the Ivy League school and set out to be accepted.She was and is flying out today to finalize her registration and get a closer look at the Philadelphia campus before enrolling this fall.
Other schools that showed up in her search: MIT, Cal – Berkley and Michigan. Great SEO strategy by Penn’s Wharton School of Business. But Amy admitted she also was impressed by the fact that Penn was founded by Benjamin Franklin.
I wish her and all of our 2013 Academic All Stars the best as they move on this spring. You can meet them all Sunday in the newspaper or in this really neat online presentation: http://www.argusleader.com/section/aas
We learned this week that some 2,600 tons of steel will be needed to build our new Sioux Falls events center. We also learned that Egger Steel and Gil Haugan Construction along with two out-of-state firms will be working that steel into place over the coming months.
What we did not learn – and may never know – is just how much all that steel work might cost. As in earlier rounds of sub-contractor bid lettings, the city’s construction manager at risk isn’t releasing any information on the bids. The city hasn’t seemed inclined to find an avenue to present it either, though there is always hope for a change of heart.
I know city taxpayers wouldn’t mind a more detailed report.
Another interesting public record dispute centered on government spending is playing out in Huron.
The Huron School District reached a settlement agreement with a former superintendent. The Mitchell Daily Republic has been trying to find out what the agreement provides, but has been denied a copy. Reporters did discover that the former superintendent has been receiving nearly $11,000 a month since his resignation.
The newspaper is appealing the school board’s refusal to provide the information. The dispute will be heard by the state Office of Hearing Examiners. It’ll be interesting to learn the decision.
The same general question is involved: Shouldn’t Huron taxpayers know what this agreement is costing?
It was a cyber mystery to me.
Earlier this week, I received a call asking about a pair of police mug shots that were appearing on one of Argus Leader Media’s websites.
It seemed odd, considering that particular website had been discontinued several years ago - or at least that’s what we thought.
Perhaps even odder was the contention that police mug shots were appearing there, since in this state, such photographs are not released for public view.
So, how were these booking photos showing up on a defunct website? The answer appears to involve a mixed-up feed we were receiving from a Tennessee newspaper.
Clearly, in Tennessee, police booking photos are available for public view.
Actually, that is one of the changes being studied by Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Open Government Task Force this year. I’m on that task force, as is Argus Leader reporter Jonathan Ellis and many other news, government and law enforcement officials. We are hoping to effect some important changes in state law – among them, making booking photos public.
The task force also is looking at opening to the public the transcripts from 911 calls as well as as additional information on police logs and related incident reports.
The group is meeting again next month and presumably will arrive at recommendations for changes that then will be presented to the state legislature for consideration.
I encourage you to find out how the legislative candidates in your district feel about these and other such moves.
Open government should be an important campaign issue in this state.
If you have never had the chance to cover a press conference, here’s your opportunity.
Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether will be at the Argus Leader on Wednesday for our first citizen-led interview session.
Three members of the Argus Leader Opinion Advisory Panel will be asking the questions and if you have something you’d like them to ask, let us know.
You can send your suggested questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or just log in and ask your questions live.
The citizen interview begins at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Watch it at argusleader.com.
As journalists, we sometimes have to tell tragic stories.
Energy and adrenaline fuel the effort to get answers and to try to explain the unexplainable - at least for a while.
In my experience, it’s only much later that personal emotions can surface.
When I look back on major news events, sad news events whether local, such as the shooting this week, or national as the Sept. 11 terrorism attack, it’s the in-the-moment coverage and the sense of being immersed for hours in a gigantic story that stand out.
I remember driving to work the morning after Gov. George Mickelson and others died in a plane crash in eastern Iowa in April 1993. We had worked into the night on the story and after a couple hours of sleep I was headed back to the newsroom.
As I drove along 41st Street, that morning though, I noticed the giant flag that flies over Perkins Restaurant.
It had been moved to half-staff to salute those who died. But that big flag was drooping so low it seemed as if it might touch the cars streaming below it.
It was stunningly sad. And that’s the moment the tragedy really hit me.
You can tell the political season is heating up.
In just the past two days, I have fielded several complaints on Argus Leader coverage of the presidential campaign.
One person complained about an opinion piece written by one of our syndicated national columnists, Mona Charen. She disagreed with Charen, obviously, but also thought her writing was based on falsehoods. Why, she wanted to know would the Argus Leader carry this column? “Give me Pat Buchanan any day even though I don’t always agree with him.”
The answer, of course, is that we try to offer a broad array of opinions on national issues. Those columnists usually draw added attention during a heated political campaign. But then, that’s the columnist’s goal after all.
Another reader criticized our coverage of President Obama’s visit to Sioux City, Iowa on Saturday. The complaint wasn’t that we covered the appearance, but that our reporter included comment from a state Republican Party official in his story. The writer believed apparently that it was an unnecessary attempt to provide balance in the report.
We’ve even had some reaction to the posts from our guest bloggers. Two South Dakota delegates agreed to give us their insights on the national party conventions. I think their contributions, which are posted on David Montgomery’s blog, “Political Smokeout” have been interesting. If you haven’t read them, take a look here and here.
It’s only 61 days till Nov. 6.
It’s possible South Dakota could execute three men before Thanksgiving this year.
Attorney General Marty Jackley has asked that Eric Robert be put to death the week of Oct. 14. Convicted murderer Donald Moeller’s execution already has been set to occur during the last week of October or early November.
And an execution date could be set in upcoming weeks for Rodney Berget, who is on death row with Robert for killing corrections officer Ronald Johnson.
No matter what your view of the death penalty, some sobering weeks lie ahead here.
Traditionally, a representative from the news media is allowed to witness an execution. The Corrections Department decides who that will be. The death of Elijah Page in 2007 was witnessed by two reporters – one from the Rapid City Journal and one from the Associated Press.
The Argus Leader will apply once again to witness these upcoming executions. They are important events to chronicle.
Our former city editor, Jeff Martin, witnessed an execution while working at the Tulsa World. In August, 2006, he wrote an account of what he had seen.
Here’s an excerpt:
In the moments before witnessing an execution, the sights and the sounds rain down on the senses.
And the rituals of death are seared into memory:
The rhythmic pounding and kicking of steel cell doors, a traditional show of respect as the inmate is led to the chamber;
The condemned man’s last words, barely audible over a prison microphone that hardly works;
His chest, heaving violently as a final burst of air rushes from the lungs.
The images are as vivid now as they were five years ago on a surreal autumn night inside H Unit, death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Several steps in the march toward death are universal. In 37 states, the method is the same: Injection, a process developed with advice from a University of Oklahoma doctor in 1977. Northern states still learn how to carry out executions from southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma, where death is now routine.
Unless there’s a last-minute reprieve, life will end for Elijah Page in Sioux Falls the same way it did for Alvie “Jim” Hale in Oklahoma on Oct. 18, 2001.
I don’t know if Jeff volunteered to witness that execution. I hope so.
In my opinion, it’s not a story assignment an editor would make lightly.