The Des Moines Register

The Des Moines Register is the daily morning newspaper of Des Moines, Iowa.

The Des Moines Register
Front page of the May 3, 2011 edition
TypeDaily newspaper
EditorCarol Hunter
Founded1849 (as The Iowa Star)
Headquarters400 Locust Street, Suite 500
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
 United States
Circulation33,077 Daily
53,274 Sunday (2020)[1]


Early period

The first newspaper in Des Moines was the Iowa Star. In July 1849, Barlow Granger began the paper in an abandoned log cabin by the junction of the Des Moines and Raccoon River.[2]

In 1854, The Star became the Iowa Statesman which was also a Democratic paper. In 1857, The Statesman became the Iowa State Journal, which published 3 times per week.[2]

In 1870, The Iowa Statesman became the Iowa State Leader as a Democratic newspaper, which competed with pro-Republican Iowa Daily State Register for the next 32 years.[2]

In 1902, George Roberts bought the Register and Leader and merged them into a morning newspaper. In 1903, Des Moines banker Gardner Cowles, Sr. purchased the Register and Leader. The name finally became The Des Moines Register in 1915.[2] (Cowles also acquired the Des Moines Tribune in 1908. The Tribune, which merged with the rival Des Moines News in 1924 and the Des Moines Capital in 1927, served as the evening paper for the Des Moines area until it ended publication on September 25, 1982.)

Under the ownership of the Cowles family, the Register became Iowa's largest and most influential newspaper, eventually adopting the slogan "The Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon." Newspapers were distributed to all four corners of the state by train and later by truck as Iowa's highway system was improving.

Nationwide development

In 1906, the newspaper's first front-page editorial cartoon, illustrated by Jay Norwood Darling, was published;[2] the tradition of front-page editorial cartoons continued until December 4, 2008 when 25-year veteran cartoonist Brian Duffy was let go in a round of staff cuts.

The Register employed reporters in cities and towns throughout Iowa, and it covered national and international news stories from an Iowa perspective, even setting up its own news bureau in Washington, D.C. in 1933. During the 1960s, circulation of the Register peaked at nearly 250,000 for the daily edition and 500,000 for the Sunday edition–more than the population of Des Moines at the time. In 1935, the Register & Tribune Company founded radio station KRNT-AM, named after the newspapers' nickname, "the R 'n T." In 1955, the company, renamed Cowles Communications some years earlier, founded Des Moines' third television station, KRNT-TV, which was renamed KCCI after the radio station was sold in 1974. Cowles eventually acquired other newspapers, radio stations and television stations, but almost all of them were sold to other companies by 1985.

In 1943, the Register became the first newspaper to sponsor a statewide opinion poll when it introduced the Iowa Poll, modeled after Iowan George Gallup's national Gallup poll. Sports coverage was increased under sports editor Garner "Sec" Taylor – for whom Sec Taylor Field at Principal Park is named – in the 1920s. For many years the Register printed its sports sections on peach-colored paper, but that tradition ended for the daily paper in 1981 and for the Sunday Register's "Big Peach" in 1999. Another Register tradition – the sponsorship of RAGBRAI – began in 1973 when writer John Karras challenged columnist Donald Kaul to do a border-to-border bicycle ride across Iowa. The liberal-leaning editorial page has brought Donald Kaul back for Sunday opinion columns. Other local columns have faded and given way to Gannett-distributed material.

Under Gannett ownership

In 1985, faced with declining circulation and revenues, the Cowles family sold off its various properties to different owners, with the Register going to Gannett.[2] At the time of sale, only The New York Times had won more Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting.

In 1990, the Register began to reduce its coverage of news outside of the Des Moines area by closing most of its Iowa news bureaus and ending carrier distribution to outlying counties, although an "Iowa Edition" of the Register was still being distributed throughout most of the state. Many of the Register's news stories and editorials focus on Des Moines and its suburbs.

The Register opened a new printing and distribution facility on the south side of Des Moines in 2000. The news & advertising offices remained in downtown Des Moines. After 95 years in the Des Moines Register Building at 715 Locust Street, the Register announced in 2012 that they would move to a new location in 2013, settling for Capital Square three blocks to the east.[3] On June 15, 2013, the Register moved to its new location from 715 Locust Street to 400 Locust Street.[2] In 2014, the old building has been sold for $1.6 million and will be redeveloped into a combination of apartments and retail space.[4]

In 2019, the Register switched from two print editions - a State and Metro edition - to one edition statewide.

The Register came under scrutiny in September 2019 after uncovering a pair of controversial tweets made by Carson King, a 24-year-old Iowa man whose beer sign on ESPN College GameDay resulted in over $3 million in contributions to a children's hospital. King was 16 at the time of the posts. According to Carol Hunter, the paper's executive editor, the Register elected to include the information toward the end of a story about King. "Reasonable people can look at the same set of facts and disagree on what merits publication. But rest assured such decisions are not made lightly and are rooted in what we perceive as the public good," she explained after receiving complaints from readers.[5] Some readers later found social media comments previously made by the reporter, Aaron Calvin, which contained racial slurs and condemnation of law enforcement.[6] The Register defended its decision and announced that they would launch an investigation into the "inappropriate social media posts" made by a staff member, though it did not name anyone involved.[7] On September 27, the Register announced that Calvin was no longer employed by the newspaper.[8] Calvin later wrote an op-ed in the Columbia Journalism Review blaming Gannett and the Register for what he considered to be an "unfair" firing.[9][10]

In October 2022, the Register was discovered to have provided commercial printing services[11] to a "pink slime" media client, Local Government Information Services, which the Columbia Journalism Review describes as publishing "multiple misleading, decontextualized, and often nonfactual stories on hot-button issues in Illinois[12]."

Editorial philosophy

In the three decades before the Cowles family acquired the Register in 1903, the Register was a "voice of pragmatic conservatism."[13] However, Gardner Cowles Sr., who served as a Republican in the Iowa General Assembly, was a delegate to the 1916 Republican National Convention, and served in the administration of President Herbert Hoover,[14] was an advocate of progressive Republicanism.[13] The new owners presented a variety of viewpoints, including Darling cartoons that frequently made fun of progressive politicians.[15]

During the Cowles family's ownership, the Register's editorial page philosophy was generally more liberal in its outlook than editorial pages of other Iowa newspapers, but there were notable exceptions. The publishers strongly supported Republican Wendell Willkie's 1940 presidential campaign against Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.[16] The newspaper also supported Republican Dwight Eisenhower's campaigns for the Republican nomination and general election in 1952, and again in 1956.[16] Although the Register endorsed presidential candidates Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964,[17] Hubert Humphrey in 1968,[18] and Jimmy Carter in 1976,[19] it endorsed Richard Nixon in 1960[17] and 1972.[20]

The paper was a severe critic of George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping strategy and claimed that in doing so, "President Bush has declared war on the American people."

In December 2007, two weeks before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the Register endorsed Hillary Clinton (in the Democratic caucuses) and John McCain (in the Republican caucuses).[21] In October 2008, it endorsed Barack Obama for president in the general election.[22]

In 2011, 24 days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, the newspaper endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican Iowa Caucuses. The Register endorsed Romney over Obama ten days before the general election on October 27, 2012, the first time that it supported a Republican for president since 1972.[23]

On July 24, 2015, the newspaper announced that it had been denied press credentials to cover a Donald Trump presidential campaign family picnic in Oskaloosa, Iowa, because of an editorial the previous week that had called on Trump to drop out of the race.[24][25]

On January 23, 2016, it endorsed Republican Senator Marco Rubio for the GOP nomination and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidate.

On October 13, 2018, the Register endorsed all Democratic candidates standing for the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections and stated that Republicans have "failed to govern."[26]

On January 25, 2020, the newspaper endorsed Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren for her party's presidential nomination.[27]

Register and Tribune Syndicate

In 1922, Gardner Cowles' son John launched the Register and Tribune Syndicate. At its peak, the syndicate offered other newspapers some 60 to 75 features, including editorial cartoonist Herblock and commentaries by David Horowitz, Stanley Karnow, and others. The cartoons and comic strips included Spider-Man. Will Eisner's The Spirit was part of a 16-page Sunday supplement known colloquially as "The Spirit Section". This was a tabloid-sized newsprint comic book sold as part of eventually 20 Sunday newspapers with a combined circulation of as many as five million copies. The most successful comics feature was The Family Circus, eventually distributed to more than 1,000 newspapers. In 1986, the Register and Tribune Syndicate was sold to Hearst and the King Features Syndicate for $4.3 million.[28]

Columnists and notable journalists

Brianne Pfannenstiel was selected chief politics reporter for the 2020 United States presidential election and co-moderated the seventh Democratic debate with Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip on January 14, 2020.[29] Rekha Basu is a current Register columnist.

Former columnist Rob Borsellino authored the book So I'm Talkin' to This Guy... (ISBN 1-888223-66-9).

Steve Deace started his career as a sports reporter at the Register.[30]

Bloomberg's Senior White House Reporter Jennifer Jacobs was formerly Chief Political Reporter at the Register.


The Register has won 16 Pulitzer Prizes:[31]

  • 6 for National Reporting: 1954, 1958, 1968, 1976, 1979, and 1985
  • 4 for Editorial Writing: 1938, 1943, 1956, and 2018
  • 3 for Editorial Cartooning: 1924, 1943, and 1963
  • 1 for Photography: 1952
  • 1 for Feature Photography: 1987
  • 1 for Breaking News Photography: 2010
  • 1 for Public Service: 1991

Register photographer Robert Modersohn was one of four finalists for the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for a selection of photographs the jury described as unusual.

Register writer Clark Kauffman was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for his exposure of glaring injustice in the handling of traffic tickets by public officials in Iowa.

Editorial writer Andie Dominick was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for her series of editorials on Iowa's job licensing laws,[32] and later won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize.

Iowa Sports Hall of Fame

The Register sponsors the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.


  1. "Food fight at Fong's. Register's circulation drops again. Court okays Dico-city deal. Ernst lines up with Hawley". March 3, 2021.
  2. "Timeline: History of the Des Moines Register". Des Moines Register. 2015-09-10. Archived from the original on 2018-10-27.
  3. Eller, Donnelle (September 17, 2012). "Des Moines Register signs lease for new space in Capital Square". Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on 16 June 2013..
  4. Aschbrenner, Joel (November 27, 2014). "Des Moines Register building sold". Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on 2015-05-20.
  5. Jones, Tom (September 25, 2019). "Impeachment, and how to cover it; plus Vox buys New York Media and Showtime snags 'Vice'". Poynter Institute.
  6. Wulfsohn, Joseph A. (September 25, 2019). "Des Moines Register hit after report digs up old, offensive tweets of local man who raised $1M for charity". Fox News.
  7. "Des Moines Register Investigating Employee's Social Media Posts Amid Carson King Backlash". WHO-DT. September 25, 2019.
  8. "Des Moines Register Responds to Outcry Over Carson King Article; Reporter No Longer with Paper," WHO-DT, September 27, 2019. Accessed 09-27-2019.
  9. Calvin, Aaron (November 4, 2019). "Twitter hates me. The Des Moines Register fired me. Here's what really happened". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  10. Wulfsohn, Joseph (November 4, 2019). "Ex-Des Moines Register reporter suggests Carson King shares blame for 'unfair' firing". Fox News. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  11. Belin, Laura (2022-11-06). "Gannett prints fake newspapers at Des Moines Register plant". Bleeding Heartland. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  12. "'Disinformation Weekly': How midterm newspapers are failing the electorate". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  13. William B. Friedricks, "Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, 1849-1985," pp. 40-44 (Blackwell Pub. 2000), ISBN 0-8138-2620-9.
  14. Herbert Strentz, "Gardner Cowles, Sr.," at Cowles Family Publishing Legacy, Drake University (accessed 2009-03-08).
  15. Editorial Cartoons of J.N. 'Ding' Darling (Iowa Digital Library: University of Iowa Libraries) - Cartoons referencing or depicting progressivism or progressives (accessed 2009-03-09).
  16. Herbert Strentz, "Gardner (Mike) Cowles, Jr.," at Cowles Family Publishing Legacy, Drake University (accessed 2009-03-08).
  17. "How Iowa Dailies See Candidates", Des Moines Register, October 25, 1964 at 6-F.
  18. Editorial, "Difficult Choice for President", Des Moines Register, October 27, 1968 at 12-T.
  19. Editorial, "The Presidential Ticket", Des Moines Register, October 24, 1976, at B1.
  20. Editorial, "The Choice for President", Des Moines Register, 1972-10-29 at 10-C.
  21. "'Des Moines Register' backs McCain, Clinton," USA Today, 2007-12-17 (accessed 2009-03-08).
  22. Register editorial board endorses Obama for President, Des Moines Register, 2008-10-25 (accessed 2009-03-08).
  23. "'Des Moines Register' Endorses Romney With Eye Toward Economy". npr.
  24. Noble, Jason (July 24, 2015). "Trump barring Des Moines Register from campaign event". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  25. "Editorial: Trump should pull the plug on his bloviating side show". Des Moines Register. July 21, 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  26. "The Register's endorsements for Congress: GOP has failed to govern; give Democrats a chance". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  27. "Des Moines Register Endorses Elizabeth Warren". NBC News. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  28. Strentz, Herb. "John Cowles," Cowles Family Publishing Legacy: Drake University, Cowles Library. Accessed Jan. 3, 2018.
  29. Tracy, Marc (2020-01-13). "The Iowa Reporter in the Middle of the 2020 Action". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-15.
  30. Calmes, Jackie (3 November 2015). "Steve Deace and the Power of Conservative Media". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  31. "Des Moines Register Pulitzer Prizes and awards". Des Moines Register. 2012-05-18. Archived from the original on 2013-01-22.
  32. Register's Andie Dominick named Pulitzer finalist, The Des Moines Register

Further reading

  • Friedricks, William B. Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, 1849-1985 (1991)
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