There’s been another round of buyout/layoffs at The Star, I understand.
I don’t have it first hand — just don’t have any sources down there any more — but I get information from people who used to work there and remain in close contact with some of their former colleagues.
There have been several rounds of layoffs and buyouts since the mid-2000s, and, of course, this is a trend that has affected all major dailies, ever since readers and advertisers began defecting en masse to the Internet.
Let’s put The Star in perspective. In a recent piece on his Newsonomics blog, newspaper authority Ken Doctor wrote this:
“How big a hole is the U.S. daily newspaper industry in?
“We know the toll in newsroom jobs — about 20,000 lost in a little under a decade — and the fact that the industry as a whole took in about $26 billion less in 2014 than it did a decade earlier.”
Twenty-six billion less revenue between 2004 and 2014!! That says it all, doesn’t it?
…Anyway, my source — a good one — gave me this lineup of editorial employees who are out, or on the way out, as of this week.
Each of these employees is over 60, I feel sure.
:: Alice Thorson, art critic in the Features Department. Thorson, a prolific writer, has been at the paper at least 25 years. Although she’s been prolific, this is not a major loss, from my personal perspective. The Star’s arts and features coverage has been going downhill for decades. In my opinion — keep in mind I go back to the late 60s and early 70s — the decline began when The Star’s great architecture critic Donald Hoffman (I’m sure some of you remember him) took a buyout in the early- or mid-1980s, a few years after Capital Cities Inc. bought the employee-owned paper in 1977. When Hoffman left, I quit reading the arts section; it just didn’t hold any more interest for me. Don went on to write books, including several on Frank Lloyd Wright and some of the outstanding homes he designed.
:: Steve Everly, energy reporter on the business desk. This is a huge loss. Everly has had many ground-breaking stories, including the blockbuster expose several years ago on “hot fuel” — retailers selling gasoline and diesel without adjusting the volume for temperature. (You don’t get your money’s worth in hot climates because the fuel expands.) As badly as I feel about Everly’s departure, I understand he’s had some health problems, so this is the right time for him to step aside.
Everly’s loss has deeper implications for the paper. A decade or so ago, The Star had a powerful stable of more than 20 business-side reporters and editors. Now, it’s a broken-down barn — sorry to say and no offense to the capable folks who remain — consisting of three reporters and three editors. The reporters are Dianne Stafford, Mark Davis and Joyce Smith. The editors are Keith Chrostowski, Greg Hack and Steve Rosen. In all fairness, each of those editors either does some reporting or writes a column, in addition to their editing chores.
Adding insult to injury, Star Business Weekly, a Tuesday institution for more than 20 years, is folding. Little wonder: Over the years it’s gone from as many as 48 tabloid pages per week to eight…Oh, and don’t hold your breath waiting for The Star to apprise us readers of Business Weekly’s demise; in all likelihood, it just won’t be there one Tuesday when you open the paper.
:: Randy Covitz, longtime sports writer. Randy has been an all-purpose reporter throughout his career. For several years, he had the Chiefs “beat.” Although never a standout, he’s always been reliable and very productive.
:: Rob Perschau, the newsroom’s Information Technology expert. Without Rob’s help, scores of Star reporters and editors would have had to turn to manual labor because they couldn’t have made the transition from the IBM Selectric typewriter to the desktop computer. (I’m squarely in that group.) Rob is a former business reporter who jumped to IT at the dawn of the difficult changeover to computers in the newsroom. He’s an absolute wizard, as well as one of the nicest and most patient guys you’ll ever meet. I have to think he will be sorely missed.
Presiding over The Star’s emaciation is publisher Mi-Ai Parrish. I can’t criticize her too much because she’s simply carrying out commands — and hitting budget lines — coming out of McClatchy Inc. corporate offices in Sacramento. (McClatchy bought the Star and about 20 other Knight Ridder papers after the Knight Ridder chain put itself up for sale in 2006. (I retired at precisely the time that sale closed.)
I have said before, however, that I am very disappointed in Parrish’s lack of leadership and particularly in her total lack of interest in trying to rebuild The Star’s corporate and civic profile. Along with other large local companies, the paper used to sponsor various arts organizations and big artistic events, and I, for one, always took great pride in seeing our name up there with the likes of Hallmark, Sprint, Burns & McDonnell, HNTB and others.
Yet, even with all the employee losses, the shrinking news hole and the bursting golden-egg of print advertising, The Star remains, by far, the most powerful news-gathering organization between St. Louis and Denver. Yes, it is better than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Denver Post.
That said, the downward spiral is extremely discouraging to those of us who plied our trade at 18th and Grand for many years and loved being part of something that seemed magical when we plucked the paper off the front yard the next morning.
So, to those who are leaving the paper, best of luck to you. I know you’ll be happier and healthier in retirement or going on to something else.
To those of you who are staying and continuing to toil in unenviable circumstances, thank you, thank you, thank you. Hundreds of thousands of readers continue to reap the benefits of the great work you do every day.