116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Few companies — in any sector — reach the 140th anniversary milestone. Even fewer share their work product in the community each day. It’s part of what makes Tuesday — the 140th anniversary of the first edition of The Gazette — so special.
While it’s a day worthy of celebration, it also should be a call to action not to take local media for granted. The Gazette has played an important role in the growth and success of Eastern Iowa. We’ve done it as we tell the stories of our region — one day at a time.
The history of The Gazette is the history of Eastern Iowa. Our journalists have covered triumphs and successes, agonizing defeats and challenges. We ask questions at some of the most dark and difficult moments. And while we strive to always get our facts right, we sometimes fall short. While there’s a common saying that the customer is always right, we operate in a way that sometimes alienates and upsets people that we also want to support us.
It has to be that way because we would lose trust and credibility if we only offered information everyone agreed on. We strive daily to maintain that very fragile trust, which hinges on accuracy and fair reporting practices and the hundreds of decisions that go into each story. We can’t knowingly pursue news — or avoid it — because of our business interests. That’s what given us credibility and trust through the years — that our greater purpose is to help communities across Eastern Iowa grow stronger.
But the story of The Gazette is pretty darn unique, too. Local ownership and the focus on local news is what allowed The Gazette to stand apart from the more than 30 newspapers that were started in Cedar Rapids. In the first edition of The Evening Gazette in 1883, L.H. Post and E.T. Otis said the edition — which sold for 3 cents and was one of 11 newspapers in Cedar Rapids, a city of 10,000 at the time -- was their “earnest endeavor to publish a paper worthy of the support and confidence of the people.” That commitment — still delivered each day in print and now on digital platforms anywhere in the world -- has never changed.
In today’s media landscape, we’re one of three employee-owned media companies in the United States. We’ve maintained our editorial independence — never being part of a chain of papers or a hedge fund — throughout our history. That matters, as it gives us the ability to focus on matters of local importance. As a community partner, we’re used to wearing many hats: connector to business and information; sharer of information that holds officials accountable; provider of information and feedback that can be used to shape the community; organizer of forums for ideas and discussions to improve our communities. And, sometimes, we just strive to entertain.
We face the same headwinds as other newspapers and media organizations, and it’s difficult to deny those winds have been pretty strong in recent years. The economic and technological revolutions have each applied their own pressures. The executive summary of the 2022 State of Local News by Northwestern University summarizes the landscape clearly:
• Since 2005, the country has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose another third by 2025.
• There are 50 percent fewer newspaper journalists than there were in 2008, the year epic flooding swamped Iowa.
• Roughly one-fifth of the country lives in a news desert — a community without a newspaper or in danger of becoming one.
While we’re tremendously proud of The Gazette’s history, the future is what matters most. Just as it has throughout history, our future depends on our community understanding how and why we do things and making sure we’re always in a position to ask critical questions of the community and its members. Gathering information and sharing opinions have real costs, and if people just assume we'll always be there, that’s not the case.
Would you miss The Gazette if it were gone? The answer should be yes. This has nothing to do with whether you like reading a print edition or whether you agree with a columnist. The Gazette’s impact goes beyond simply covering local news. Multiple studies have shown the link between strong media companies and economically vibrant communities. Losing local newsrooms like The Gazette’s is a threat to democracy. The loss of a local newspaper has political, social and economic impacts. It also increases the chance that misinformation and disinformation will spread more freely without an authoritative voice that finds and reports the facts. In communities where there isn’t a credible source of local news, voting rates decline, the cost of taxes and goods go up, with increased levels of corruption in government and business.
Historically, The Gazette has played a role in educating people and building community. It’s come through coverage of government bodies or editorials suggesting specific courses of action. Our 1936 Pulitzer Prize came as a result of reporting about corruption in state government. We started the annual Iowa Ideas Conference in 2016 to take deeper looks at challenges and opportunities facing our state. We’ve created programs that provide in-kind advertising for area nonprofits, and we’ve created free access to our website at public libraries in Linn and Johnson counties and made our decades of archives available through the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
The Gazette has connected local businesses and customers since the launch of its first edition. Advertisements for Banker G.F Van Vechten and Pharmacist W.F. Severa were among the nine large ads on the front page of the Jan. 10, 1883, edition. While newspaper advertising has long provided most newspapers about three-quarters of their revenue, those numbers are a fraction of what they once were. It’s compounded because roughly 75 percent of all digital advertising goes to just two companies: Meta and Google. Local media — radio, television, online and print — fight for the remainder.
Finally, The Gazette takes national and state stories and adds local context. We strive to explain how conditions here may or may not be similar to events elsewhere, or how lessons learned elsewhere can apply to our communities. The Gazette spends thousands of dollars each year seeking the release of public records, advocating for government transparency at all levels.
Conversations this year
In the period of economic, social and technological disruption that we’re living in, a newspaper’s job has never been more important. Our 140th anniversary won’t just be a celebration of achievements. We are planning several events throughout the year meant to help better explain how and what we’re doing, and why that matters to our region. We’ll be hosting events and conversations with our team — past and present — to share more of our history and our processes and to talk about why these matter in a democracy. We’ll also be examining and discussing trends in the industry and how they impact us, our readers and our communities.
As we celebrate our 140th anniversary, we are humbled by the trust you place in us each time you turn to The Gazette for news you can trust. We thank you and request your continued support.
When The Gazette celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1983, it created the slogan, “A past to remember, a future to report.” For all the changes we’ve seen in the past 40 years, that slogan still works today. As does the promise we first made Jan. 10, 1883: to publish a paper worthy of the support and confidence of the people.
Zack Kucharski is executive editor of The Gazette, where he began as a correspondent more than 20 years ago. He was honored as a 2022 Master Editor-Publisher by the Iowa Newspaper Association, where he serves as a board member and chair of the government relations committee. He was recognized with an Iowa Freedom of Information Council Friend of the First Amendment Award in 2021. Kucharski is a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he is an adjunct and member of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Professional Advisory Board.