Richard Tapscott, a respected Iowa journalist and original member of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism board of directors, died of cancer Sunday. He was 65.
Tapscott was the board’s vice president. An adjunct professor since 2007 at Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Des Moines, his was a storied career that included serving as managing editor at The Des Moines Register.
Tapscott became ill in late October and required emergency surgery. An email he sent Iowa Center board president Erin Jordan at that time to tell her about the cancer carried the subject line “down but not out.” Earlier that month he had been appointed to a new three-year term as director but said he likely would not complete that term because he preparing to retire.
“This is so saddening,” Iowa Center co-founder Stephen Berry said. “Rick was the first person Ted Gutsche (Center co-founder) and I met with to get his insights and thoughts about creating IowaWatch, and I relied on him several times to help me edit stories. He was a terrific journalist with a heart of gold and I am going to miss him.”
Tapscott was managing editor of The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal from 2005 to 2007 after serving as managing editor of The Des Moines Register from 2001 to 2005. Earlier, he was an assistant managing editor and metro editor during his tenure Register tenure, which ran from 1998 to 2005.
Tapscott reported on Maryland politics, covered Congress and was part of a team that covered the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections for The Washington Post. He also was an assignment editor and acting Maryland editor at the Post, which he joined in 1987.
From 1981 until 1987 Tapscott was a reporter and editor at The Kansas City Times. The Times and its sister paper, The Kansas City Star, won a Pulitzer Prize for its staff coverage of the 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse.
He was a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. At Drake, he taught beginning reporting and writing, an advanced class on writing for the web and a history course on media responsibility for coverage of minorities.
“IowaWatch has lost one of its guiding lights,” said Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and a member of the IowaWatch board. “From the earliest days, Rick believed in IowaWatch. Rick drew upon his vast experience as a newspaper reporter and editor to ensure that IowaWatch would produce public-service journalism while training a new generation of journalists.
“I will miss his baritone voice, his gentle wit and his keen sense of what’s right.”