A letter to Professor Stephen Bloom


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Editor's note: The following is a version of an email University of Iowa law student Alex Johnson sent to UIProfessor Stephen Bloom in response to Bloom's Dec. 9, 2011 Atlantic article, "Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life."

Dear Professor Bloom,

My name is Alex Johnson. As a graduate of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Iowa resident since my birth 25.5 years ago, I find it important to tell you that you have done a great disservice to your readers that is in direct contravention with the liberal principles you supposedly have taught your journalism students.

I am not writing to you because I am biased and in love with Iowa. I do think it's a great state, but I feel strongly about journalistic integrity, which your article completely lacks. It is with these values in mind that I am going to be very critical of your article.

I believe you have trashed Iowa unjustly. First, you use the populations of cities such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, ignoring their true reach as indicated by the metropolitan area population. The appropriate journalistic thing to do would have been to provide both figures, so as not to paint the numbers in your slanted favor. Furthermore, you greatly generalize the apparently demoralized, moribund life of those rural Iowans. But you also provide zero numbers when it comes to population growth or decrease, you do not show employment numbers, and you use your own "quotes" that are supposedly representative of the population and conjure up spectral ideas like the smell of pigs is the smell of money to everyone.

Really? How many sources do you have for that claim?

Did you realize that if you add the population of the metropolitan areas of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Davenport (excluding the Illinois Quad City counterparts), Dubuque, Council Bluffs (again, excluding the Nebraska side), and Sioux City (excluding Nebraskan/South Dakotan residents) that you have approximate number (conservatively rounding) of 1.67 million people, or just over half the state's population? Did you even think about that?

You have also chosen to represent Iowa in a very ignorant light: "could just as easily involve Jews, Moslems, or Hindus (if you could find any in Iowa)."

Did you realize Cedar Rapids is home to the longest-standing mosque in America? Not only that, but you talk about how the UI is struggling to get students, so it recruits a great deal of Chinese exchange students … Doesn't that suggest, at very minimum, that Iowa City is becoming more ethnically diverse? And not necessarily greatly so in any manner, because many probably do leave post-graduation (but I don't have numbers on this, so unlike you, I will choose not to declare this as fact).

You may have visited all 99 counties, but no reader could possibly take from your article that you have truly spent time conducting in-depth interviews or social-scientific research that could possibly support what come across as ignorant, biased claims. This is particularly true of the non-rural citizens of the state. Look at page 17 of this Iowa workforce report. 1,469,000 Iowans were employed in non-farm industry (and only 200k of those in manufacturing). That number is now 1,504,800 according to the same site's information.

Also important to note, 1,504,800 is the total number of non-farm (and thus non-rural) employment in Iowa, but the total available workforce is only 1,657,200. Furthermore, 98,900 people are unemployed. That means that farm jobs total 53,500, or a grand total of 3.22 percent of the workforce (and thus approximately 1.67 percent of the entire population of Iowa). Sure, many of those unemployed could very well be formerly rural individuals, and a good deal of the non-farm workers could and probably are living in rural areas. That said, by presenting these factual numbers, I have at least done my due diligence, which you totally and utterly failed to do in your reporting and your "article."

Also, on page 39 of the Iowa workforce report, its states, "In addition, all but one of the state's Metropolitan Statistical Areas showed significant growth." Wouldn't that be important to know when you discuss the mass exodus from the rural areas of the state? Also, the total change in population is actually to an increase. The growth in metropolitan areas (which would include most, if not all, of the 1.67 million people I named above in my list of city populations) is greater than the loss of population in rural areas (non-metropolitan areas). In fact, in 2010, for the first time in the state's history, Iowa's population topped 3 million.

Finally, your percentage of the Iowa population you claim is white was 96 percent. Look at page 42 — that number is actually 91.3 percent. But I guess that report is too difficult to find for someone who does not wish to report on facts, only on impressions.

Please, do not continue providing such a disservice to the apparently terrible journalistic community that Iowa is (and which you have all but out-done in your article). Report the facts. Your opinion and personal account would be much more believable if you used them.

Sincerely (and regrettably, considering I graduated from the UI journalism school),

Alex Johnson is an alumnus of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a former DI staffer. He is studying law at the UI.

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