Bill Casey: The Man. The Mentor. The Publisher.
In May of 1972, William (Bill) Casey(BGS ’81) stumbled upon a job listing for The Daily Iowan: address-o-graph operator and truck driver. Forty-five years later, he is retiring as the publisher who raised the DI to one of the best college newspapers in the country. “I didn’t have any idea I wanted to be in the newspaper business,” says Casey.
Casey grew up in Mason City, Iowa, where his dad owned and operated one of six family-owned pharmacies. Casey originally came to the University of Iowa to follow in his father’s footsteps. But after landing the DI jobs, his life steered from medicinal distribution to media distribution.
In 1974, Casey was promoted to circulation manager. Two years later he became publisher, a position he’s held for almost one third of the paper’s existence.
Hot Off the Press
As Casey fed newspapers into the address-o-graph machine on his first night at the DI, things started to heat up.
“I start up the machine and immediately get it jammed because I don’t have the rhythm of it at all,” Casey says. “I keep working and working at it, going slower than molasses, and finally, all of a sudden, the machine starts on fire. I get up and say, ‘Mr. Wilson, the machine is on fire.’ So Wilson, the old production manager, ever so slowly walks over. And the whole building’s full of paper, right? And he looks at me, and he says, ‘Oh, I think yah outta unplug it’. So, I unplugged it, and it turns out it was an electrical fire in a box, so he re-wired the machine.”
Today, Casey tells students, “That’s how we train you at the DI—we’re trained under fire.”
Casey is invested in the success of every student who comes through the DI newsroom doors. He has worked with more than 4,000 students, always keeping his office door open.
Being a mentor to DI editors and writers isn’t just a task for Casey, it’s a way of life. Seeing the impact of an education at the University of Iowa is a moving experience for him.
“I’ve seen how many kids come in here with nothing,” Casey says, withholding tears, “and leave and have something later because of education.”
For this reason, Casey started the Bill Mertens Memorial Daily Iowan Scholarship in 1987. The scholarship is awarded each year to up to four incoming journalism students, who then work for The Daily Iowan. Since ’87, $929,000 in scholarships has been awarded.
“The happiest thing I get to do every year is call a kid and give them a scholarship to college,” Casey says.
Ever since she interviewed for the Daily Iowan Scholarship, current editor, Lily Abromeit, says that Casey has been a mentor to her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone to him with a question that he hasn’t had an answer or a story for,” says Abromeit.
Renee Manders, advertising manager at the DI since 1993, has witnessed Casey’s mentorship proficiency over the years. Manders has been working with Casey since 1984, when she joined The Daily Iowan as an undergraduate.
“Bill has been the face of The Daily Iowan,” says Manders. “I’m hoping the new publisher continues to mentor students. They’ll probably have a different style than Bill, but his mentoring really made an impact.”
On Nov. 1, 1991, DI Editor John Kenyon (BA ’92) was in Denver, Colorado, attending a student newspaper conference with Casey when he got a call—there had been a shooting at the University of Iowa.
“It was a Friday afternoon,” Kenyon says. “I remember saying, ‘We’re going to do an extra.’ And Bill said, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’” So, Kenyon tracked down staffers—who were away because they don’t work on Fridays—to put a paper out on Saturday.
Casey started calling “business folks” and The Gazette, who printed the paper, letting them know that The Daily Iowan was going to do this.
“At no time did Bill say, ‘Well that’s going to cost too much,’ or ‘Logistically, we just can’t do that,’ or ‘We can’t ask anybody to do that.’ He just says, ‘Of course, we’ll do this.’ And that really impressed me,” Kenyon says. “Even at the time, I realized it wasn’t a quick, easy thing for him to do, but he did it.”
Now, as the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, Kenyon models Casey’s leadership style.
Casey began his publishing career in the late 1970’s, when there was an increase in journalism interest due to Watergate.
“We had great students right from the get-go,” Casey says.
“When I was the editor, Casey was new to his own job,” Brown says, “but he seemed to be a natural at cutting through the bull and getting to the facts of a situation to figure out how to solve a problem.”
Brown is grateful for Casey’s guidance throughout his career, including two lessons he values to this day: 1) Quality Matters; and 2) Embrace Change.
Under Brown’s editorship, the DI published an April Fools edition called The Daily Rooster, written by Tom Drury (BA ’80) and Rod Boshart (BA ’80).
One article involved spoofing The Des Moines Register’s over-the-top coverage of Pope John Paul II’s anticipated visit to Iowa with a front page headline: “Pope to Fly Over Iowa City.”
Brown says, “Incredibly, The Associated Press didn’t realize it was a spoof and picked up the story.”
One big change Casey brought about as DI publisher was the addition of a broadcast television program, DITV. Now in its 11th year, the latest improvement to the program includes airing live at 8:30 a.m., Monday through Friday.
The idea of adding a TV program came after Casey attended a seminar at the Lawrence World-Journal with Jennifer Sturm (BA ‘06), DI editor at the time, and Tony Phan, DI webmaster at the time. On the drive home, Casey jerked the wheel to wake the sleeping college students in the backseat.
“I just want to tell you,” Casey said, “when we get back home, we’re changing every single thing we do.”
And they did, transforming the DI into a product available across multiple platforms today.
Casey’s impact on The Daily Iowan is monumental. Whether offering advice, working to put out an extra, or reforming the way the University of Iowa receives its news, Casey has demonstrated what it means to be a successful man, mentor, and publisher. His retirement will signify the end of an era, but as Casey says…
“Stop worrying. Start working.”
Just as the DI will always be present in Casey’s life, so will his passion of sailing. He plans to start a racing team with his niece this summer.
“It’s a wonderful sport. It’s fun, and it’s quiet,” Casey says. “I especially like the quiet of it.”
And yes, there’s even a story about how sailing has helped Casey as a publisher.
“I remember the first time I had to go to a small claims court for the DI. My lawyer says, ‘You know what you’re doing.’ And I said, ‘Yes. It’s just like going to the sailing race judges’ protest meeting.’”
Click here to see Bill Casey's retirement video created by the Daily Iowan staff!