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Woster Says Keep Reading Rapid City Journal… But Demand Better News Coverage

If you're thinking of canceling your Rapid City Journal subscription to protest the departure of veteran reporters Kevin Woster and Mary Garrigan, Kevin Woster says, Don't do it.

Kevin Woster says much more in this Facebook post about why we all should pay for a newspaper... but he also says what a paper must not do if it wants to earn that pay:

...The Journal should matter in your life. It matters in mine. It always has. I hope it always will.

Of course, it's not the paper it was 20 years ago, or even five years ago. You can't reduce the reporting staff to half of what is was when I was the Journal's capital reporter in the early 1990s and not hurt your news coverage.

You can't dismantle a newsroom staff that was once the state's most stable and most connected to its vast coverage area and not hurt the product.

You can't cut editing slots and virtually eliminate the copy desk, relying instead on a regional design center in another state staffed by young design specialists, not editors, who don't know the Journal, its readers or western South Dakota and not have more errors end up in print and online.

And you can't push out older, more experienced and slightly better-paid staffers who understand and are connected to this town and region in favor of promising-but-inexperienced, lower-paid, pass-through employees (bless their hearts) who don't intend to stay and are barely part of the community unless you are willing to accept shallower, less-insightful news coverage.

You just can't.

Neither can you, with such illogical, inhumane management ideals, maintain the type of team-family news environment capable of producing truly meaningful, accurate, compelling community journalism. It’s hard to know a community when you barely even know your own colleagues... [Kevin Woster, Facebook post, 2013.08.16].

Read Woster's full post here. Then ask yourself where you should get your news, and what you expect for your money.


  1. In the know 2013.08.16

    All true.

    The timeline of events was essentially:

    February 2012: Editor Michael LeFort was fired. Lee brought in an editor from its paper in northwest Indiana for a 30-day trial run.

    March 2012: The temporary editor doesn't get the gig. Features editor Deanna Darr named interim editor.

    June 2012: Lee beancounters spend a day and a half in Rapid City, tell editorial to cut 9 positions. They get talked down to 6. That's right about the same time David Montgomery left for that Sioux Falls paper and night editor Robert Ohap went to the Des Moines Register.

    Design of the RCJ is outsourced to Lee's northwest Indiana newspaper. Two copy desk staffers are laid off as part of it (one of them gets a position in pre-press).

    June 2012-June 2013: Roughly 25 RCJ editorial (news, sports and photo) staffers vote with their feet, leave of their own accord, either because they found another job or just couldn't take it anymore.

    Sept. 2012: Bart Pfankuch is hired as the new editor, coming from the paper in Sarasota, Fla.

    August 2013: Kevin and Mary leave the RCJ. This leaves just 4 newsroom staffers who were there in mid-2009 (courts reporter Andrea Cook, photo editor Kristina Barker, sports writer Padraic Duffy, and Deanna Darr, who last I knew was part-time mainly handling Black Hills 2 Go).

  2. In the know 2013.08.16

    5 actually. Forgot to count Randy.

  3. Bill Dithmer 2013.08.16

    I have read the Journal every single day from the time I turned twenty years old from front page to back. That is until about the time I hit forty five years old. Then something changed at the paper. First it was the high prices, then came news that didn't make sense, Wyoming instead of east of Rapid towards Wanblee. Then we started getting our paper with three day old news that had already been covered on the radio or TV. Add all of that together and the paper just didn't seem to have the value that it once did.

    Online was fun for a while until the reporting got so bad that you had to sift through it with a fine tooth whatever to get any real news. That's right it had turned into a rag. There were still some good reporters but they didn't seem to get the same hard hitting news that they once did. The truth became harder and harder to find and unless it happened in Rapid it just didn't seem to happen at all. Honestly if it weren't for the obituary's it just wasn't worth the trouble of reading in the first place.

    Still I would have paid for that online paper, but, That wasn't the paper that ended up being online. From there we got something entirely different. A collection of mismatched articles that didn't have any real meaning to me out here. State news that didn't have any real teeth but instead seemed to bend in the direction of the person that was being interviewed at the time. What ever happened to journalism where a question was asked to get answers and not to keep the person happy so they would give future interviews? That's bullshit!

    Kevin and I had our differences. We argued about outdoor things because that is what I have know all of my life. He was to close to the GF&Ps commission and it showed in his TIO Blog. He fell in line every time with the commission when it came to landowners rights. He would defend the GF&Ps secretary even when he knew they were wrong, because they were his friends. An example of this was Cooper getting caught breaking the law while elk hunting with one of our then senators buddies because our convict governor Bill Janklow said it was ok. Because of Kevin's lack of journalism it got swept under the rug. He just didn't want to make waves.

    Still I conceder him a friend. We both new our differences, yes I have many. I like what he writes as much as anything that is printed today. He was a man doing a tuff job not only at the paper but raising a grandson. My hat is off to him every time.

    I hope he can find a place where the truth, "at any cost" means more then getting the next story. Where making someone mad is a part of journalism if it gets to the facts. Where a lie is brought to the front page instead of left to rot somewhere in the past issue of the paper. Is that possible? I don't really know anymore.

    My dependence on print is almost through, but for every school kid the paper is the thing. Nowhere can you find so much to learn about then the paper. IF you don't understand it the first time reread it again until you do. Ask questions of other people and find out what life is all about. You cant do that with a radio or TV once the news is over its over.

    Kevin my friend good luck. You and Mary are always welcome out here on Pass Creek to hunt or fish or just set and shoot the bull. Our deck is big enough for everyone and the creek will make you smile.

    The Blindman

  4. Rorschach 2013.08.16

    Well said, Kevin. I know you will land a good gig, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

  5. Donald Pay 2013.08.16

    I think the point is how do you demand better news coverage, except by sending a message with your subscription dollars (ie., canceling your subscription). We have a Lee paper in Madison, WI, where the same thing has happened. A good paper ruined. Basically, the news rooms in Lee papers get hit to pay for the excessive debt run up by the corporate leadership. I doubt these folks cut their own salaries.

    I stopped getting the paper for several years to send a message, but I don't think they got it. Now I get the weekend and Wednesday papers, which still have decent heft, but the others are just shells. Of course, they run a lot of series to try to get you to buy the whole week. Most people just read it at work.

  6. Wayne Gilbert 2013.08.16

    @Bill Dithmer--I appreciate your post. I have noted, and I respect and admire, your friendship with Kevin over the past few years as evidenced by blog posts. I beg to differ with you on one point only. My recollection is that the facts you mention about "Cooper getting caught breaking the law while elk hunting with one of our then senators buddies because our convict governor Bill Janklow said it was ok" did get reported by Kevin, and were not swept under the rug. I rely on my recollection for this because I can't think of any other place I would have learned these facts.

  7. Bill Dithmer 2013.08.16

    Yup Wayne that is exactly where you heard it but it could have turned out a lot differently if the reporting had been done by someone that wasn't a friend of Coopers. Cooper broke the law while he was the setting secretary of GF&Ps the same law that he would have thrown the book at had it been someone else that had broken it, and then instead of being put in jail he was awarded a seat on the commission when he retired from that position by then Mike Rounds.

    "swept under the rug" you tell me. I cant blame Kevin for it because he was Coopers friend and wanted an interview once in a while. If he had been anything else Cooper would have stopped talking to him altogether.

    Like I have said many times before, our GF&Ps handles more money without any oversight then any other state agency. When you are appointed by the governor you pretty much do what that governor wants you to do. It needs cleaning from the top down, not from the bottom up like they are trying to do now.

    I'm off topic here but it's time to elect GF&Ps commissioners instead of letting the governors do the picking. That is the only way the common person in this state will ever have any say in what they do with that money.

    The Blindman

  8. interested party 2013.08.16

    stick it out, dudes: hell's coming to breakfast.

  9. Wayne Gilbert 2013.08.16

    @interested party: I like the sound of your poetry but I don't get the metaphor. Should I expect company tomorrow morning for coffee and cakes?

  10. interested party 2013.08.16

    every junkie's like a setting sun.

  11. Kal Lis 2013.08.16

    IP quoting from Outlaw Josey Wales? I hope he didn't spit out a stream of tobacco juice on the keyboard.

  12. Curtis Price 2013.08.16

    The RCJ lost my subscription one warm election day morning in 2004 when the paper came to our doors in plastic Thune bags, capping off a year RCJ collusion in the nasty character assassination of a great son and servant of South Dakota, Tom Daschle. My wife and I will never forgive them for that.

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.08.16

    Oh Curtis! That is unforgivable in terms of journalistic impartiality. I don't blame you.

  14. interested party 2013.08.17

    Wayne: not going to make it to Rapid today, sorry.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.17

    Bill, the saving grace of Woster's biases are that we know what they are.

    Donald brings up a good point: just how are we to communicate our demands to a corporation if not through our buying decisions? Are sales and advertising audience the only data that matter to a publishing corporation?

  16. mike 2013.08.17

    I quit reading the RCJ a long time ago.

  17. Kevin Woster 2013.08.17

    While I appreciate Bill Dithmer's kind words above, I have to respond to his inaccurate allegations that I didn't cover the story about former GF&P Secretary John Cooper and former Daschle aide Eric Washburn and their elk hunt. Working off a tip from a source, I actually broke the story in November of 2003. That initial story ran on the front page of the Journal.

    I wrote many subsequent stories, including:

    And this:

    And this:

    Those were difficult stories to write. It's always more difficult to write tough stories about people you know and like. But it's the price of doing business as a reporter in a small state like South Dakota.

  18. Kevin Woster 2013.08.17

    May I also say, thanks to Wayne Gilbert, who remembered my Cooper-elk coverage.
    And on another subject, in response to Curtis Price, that I agree that it was a dark day when the Rapid City Journal was delivered on Election Day in a Thune campaign wrapper. Had I been of stouter spirit and less fear of unemployment, I would have quit that day. I nearly did quit on the day four years later when we ran an editorial, which I argued against strenuously, which said that Tim Johnson was unfit for a third term in the U.S. Senate because of his impairments from the brain hemorrhage.
    That was so wrong and so inaccurate on so many levels. Again, I chickened out, because I couldn't stand the thought of not having a reporter's job.
    Back to Daschle, I do disagree strongly with Curtis that there was any collusion on the part of the Journal newsroom against Tom Daschle that 2004 campaign year. Denise Ross handled most of that coverage, and handled it well, and fairly. She asked me for help on a couple of stories, including one really tough campaign story on the abortion issue and Daschle's apparent shift in positions. This was not a story I sought. And it was not one I enjoyed writing, at all. I had the most unpleasant interview with Daschle that I ever had. And I didn't sleep the night before it ran. I knew it would hurt him, a man I'd admired and covered for many years, at a bad time in close race. But I thought my story was accurate and fair. I tried to make it so. And I don't think my relationship with Daschle has ever been the same. That is a much-bigger loss to me than it is to him.

  19. Taunia 2013.08.17

    I left SD 12 years ago but still (obviously) pay some attention to the happenings there. I generally read the RCJ in high school in Mitchell before I read the Mitchell paper. Woster articles were the only reason I checked RCJ after leaving, and then mostly just Mt. Blogmore. I haven't checked the Mitchell paper but a handful of times since.

    Of course I didn't agree with everything Woster put out, but that writing style of his was soothing, respectfully mindful of the opposition and I generally left his articles thinking someday, age, grace and knowledge allowing, I would look at the world like it's not always a war zone.

    I sort of feel like his last two paragraphs here should be somehow immortalized into some great South Dakota Hall of Journalism. I believe he's one of the last statesmen of journalism.

    All this in light of Breitbart News coming out with a "breaking story" in the past week where they announce they will start a new site that attacks reporters, journalists and news sites they disagree with, fully intending to take down that source, all in the name of "real news". It's just another testament of where we've gone and continue to go.

    This is all sort of melodramatic, I suppose.

    Even still, thanks, Woster, for the memories.

    If Cory folds, in my opinion and with no disrespect meant to anyone else's efforts, there won't be a lot left for decent, informative SD news.

  20. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.17

    Woster, don't feel too bad about Daschle. He and his handlers ran a mediocre last campaign. His response to the attacks from Thune on his family values was to talk about his Russian grandfather. That never seemed to me like much of a response to the Thune load of crap. Daschle was too polite and over-confident. He had few South Dakotans working for him because he had so much money to higher out-of-state young people who knew nothing about South Dakota and refused to pass on any negative information which might have saved Daschle's campaign. It was a self-inflicted wound.

  21. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.17

    Obviousy "hire" not "higher". This gets to much like phonetic talking rather than writing sometimes.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.17

    Kevin, thank you for taking time to comment. Let us know when you start your new blog! (Of course, if you'd like to submit guest posts to the Madville Times, I'd welcome them!)

    Taunia, thank you. I won't presume to put myself in the same category as Woster. He and I both love South Dakota, but we do very different things.

    But I have no intention of folding. As a matter of fact, I'm planning even more good blogging. Stay tuned!

  23. Bill Dithmer 2013.08.17

    I stand by my post KW. We have talked about this many times before and I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I wont chnage my mind and you cant change yours.

    Now come out to Pass Creek for a hunt.

    The Blindman

  24. Sarasota 2013.10.24

    Bart Pfankuch, while employed @ Sarasota Herald-Tribune, was arrest for stealing fishing lures from Walmart.

  25. Fried Fish 2013.10.24

    Was Florida too hot for Bart?

    Thomas Bart Pfankuch
    Case # 2005MM002800AX
    Retail Theft (stealing fishing lures from Walmart)

  26. SoDakota FL 2013.10.24

    Enterprise reporting can be a good thing . . . or not. When Sarasota Herald-Tribune brought aboard a new crew in 2011, Bart Pfankuch made one newbie SH-T staffer a star -- Lee Williams (now The Gun Writer) who previously reported for a Sioux Falls newspaper. It was generally considered that Pfankuch let his reporter use an anchored putter to write wormer burners.
    More here:
    And here:

  27. Award Winning 2013.12.05

    Bart Pfankuch’s star reporter in Sarasota, Lee Williams, did indeed win an FSNE second place award for his 2012 series on Sheena Morris. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s office looked into the contents of that series and recently drew a conclusion: DEBUNKED IN SUM AND SUBSTANCE.
    BartLee’s linchpin source: Dr. Michael Berkland, too atrocious to describe here.

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