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I had always been curious about Columbus, OH, partly because it is a big city that really isn’t known for much, other than being the home of Ohio State University and the birthplace of Jack Nicklaus.

Last week and this week, Patty and I had the opportunity to visit Columbus because Patty had a booth at the biannual Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly. (For 20 years, Patty has owned and operated a business that designs and manufactures clergy vestments. WomenSpirit is the women’s line, and AbidingSpirit is the men’s line.)

Columbus is a lively, hospitable city that is very easy to navigate. Its downtown is larger than Kansas City’s; it has an attractive area of bars and restaurants just north of the convention center district; and it boasts a historic, high-end residential and restaurant area south of downtown called German Village.

One aspect of Columbus I particularly liked, as a retired reporter and editor, was a the big sign on top of the building that houses the local paper, The Columbus Dispatch. The sign is impressive enough during the day, but at night its bold, red letters are visible for blocks…It made me wonder why The Star has never had a large, distinctive sign on its stately building at 18th and Grand. The only identifying sign on the old Star building is a bronze plaque next to the south-side door bearing the words “The Star.”

…I guess The Star is just humble and self-effacing…like its founder, un-huh, William Rockhill Nelson. 

Now the photos…

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The most striking building on the Columbus skyline is the Leveque Tower, an Art Deco style structure that stands 47 stories and once was the tallest building between New York and Chicago.

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The Dispatch building, by day.

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…and by night.

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The Ohio Statehouse, with its conical roof, which is sometimes likened to a “Chinese hat.”

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Nationwide insurance dominates the skyline and the town. 

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The convention center represents a laudable architectural achievement. From the outside, it looks like a series of buildings — done in pastels — but inside it’s the requisite “big box,” with an expansive exhibition space that can be subdivided.

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That’s Patty (right) talking to longtime customer Rev. Janet Long of Elyria, OH. At the convention, Janet ordered a red robe for Pentecost. It will be her seventh WomenSpirit robe.

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Just north of the convention center is the “Short North” area, distinguished by wrought-iron arches over High Street.

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Very near our hotel stands the former federal court building and U.S. Post Office — a “Romanesque Revival” style building, which a law firm has owned and occupied since 1984.

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I took this photo from our eighth-floor hotel room. The building at the left, with the glowing top, is the Leveque Tower. At center, of course, is the Statehouse.

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This is German Village, where almost everything is made of brick. (I understand southern Ohio used to be a major brick production center.) German Village is just south of downtown, part of which is visible in the background.

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Here’s an excellent German Village restaurant where we ate.

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Strolling around after dinner, we happened upon this house with an incredible flower garden.

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We struck up a conversation with the owner, Paul, and he invited us to see his patio garden.

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A hibiscus flower in full bloom.

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One morning, I feel obliged to report, I had to take an unexpected side trip to the Columbus Police Impound and Parking Violations Bureau.

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And there’s our rented Mazda CX-5, which got towed from State Street very early Monday morning. Sometimes even editors fail to read the fine print: Parking along that part of State is prohibited between midnight and 6 a.m. Mondays for street sweeping.

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Unexpected side trips often yield unexpected benefits, like this distant view of downtown…with a few minor obstructions. Two-hundred twenty-eight dollars later I was headed back downtown. And they are the friendliest people at the impound center; the clerk even complimented me on my Sam Snead hat!

Gradually and rationally, momentum is building to move ahead with construction of a new, single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

I didn’t see yesterday’s development coming — and maybe that’s the way city officials wanted it — but for a Southwest Airlines official, as well as an outside consultant, to say publicly that renovating KCI’s existing terminals would cost more than building a new, single terminal is a significant jerk of the needle.

The needle of progress, is what I’m talking about.

I realize a lot of people — thousands and thousands of people — still need to be convinced of the wisdom of a single, modern terminal. But more than ever, I now have real hope that an attitude shift will come.

The Star’s editorial this morning framed the debate perfectly, I thought…

“Kansas City should focus on what it would take to construct a new terminals and, for now, stop looking at major renovations to the current terminals.”

I have been saying this for well over a year now: The current, multi-terminal design, while convenient, is no longer practical and has outlived its usefulness. In addition, as I have said many times — and as is as clear as the realization that the Royals need another starting pitcher — KCI sucks.

The bullpen holding areas…the lack of a common security checkpoint…the dearth of any decent food places (not to mention shopping possibilities)…the dark, depressing environment…It’s a disaster.

And…it’s getting worse by the day. The movement to scrub the multi-terminal design began with the Aviation Department in 2012, and the Aviation Department is still pushing hard for modernization. So, do you think we’ll see the department pouring a lot of money into maintaining and improving what we’ve got now?

By benign neglect, the Aviation Department has the power to make KCI unbearable. I don’t think that will happen, but continued deterioration is what we’re going to get at the 47-year-old airport.

…We’ve seen tremendous improvements and modernization in our city during the last decade. Sprint Center is an unqualified, booming success; the Power & Light District has played a pivotal role in downtown resuscitation; the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is a stunning jewel; the Crossroads district is a terrific, southward extension of downtown and a powerful attraction for residents and tourists alike. And if you drive Main Street these days and see those steel rails going down, you can feel in your bones (drive it, you’ll feel it, I guarantee it) that the streetcar is going to be a powerful lure…again, for residents and tourists alike.

In the midst of all that progress, to stand pat with a rundown, pathetic airport is like buying a house and totally renovating it inside but keeping the broken-down furniture and refusing to paint the exterior.

Yes, building a new terminal at the site of Terminal A and razing terminals B and C is an expensive “paint job.” But it needs to happen for Kansas City to continue to call itself a first-class city and for us to remain competitive with cities like St. Louis, Louisville, Tampa and Nashville.

Next year, very likely, we will get a chance to vote on whether to keep Kansas City moving forward or to continue wallowing in the quicksand of “convenience.”

Come on, Kansas Citians, let’s put the broken down Laz-Y-Boy on the curb, hire a good painting crew and finish the makeover of this great place we call home!

They’re late to the party, but several major American newspapers are now putting the pedal to the electronically charged metal.

In recent weeks, at least three papers — The Star, the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post — have signaled their intentions to accelerate the transition from print to digital and thereby try to reclaim some of the customer loyalty they’ve lost as the Internet left them in the dust.

They’re doing this because they have no choice; it’s change or die. Newspapers have the best news-gathering operations of any media but still have lost much of their former dominance in news dissemination.

…Let me be clear that I am not blaming newspapers for this state of affairs because, like most people in the newspaper industry, I didn’t see the wave coming until well after it had engulfed us.

During the infancy of the Internet, I would have endorsed — and laughed with — Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger’s dismissive attitude toward the Internet.

In a May 1994 speech he made right here in Kansas City, he said:

“This evening I should like to try out another old-fashioned view. It is my contention that newspapers are here to stay. They are not going the way of the dinosaur – rendered extinct, in this case, by the wonders of a new technology that will speed us down an interactive information superhighway of communications.

“I’ll go one further. I believe that for a long time to come this information superhighway, far from resembling a modern interstate, will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded and swarming with cows. Or, as one might say, udder confusion.”

That was a funny line, but the joke was on Punch and the rest of us old-media sorts who clung to tradition and denied what was unfolding before our eyes.

Finally, though, many newspapers are flying full tilt toward digital — and specifically toward readers using mobile devices.

Here are a few examples:

:: The Kansas City Star is implementing on July 27 a reorganization plan designed to put the digital product on a higher plane than the print edition. In a June 10 memo to the newsroom, editor Mike Fannin wrote: “We all share in the mission of making the transformation to a fully digital newsroom…All of our content will be scheduled on a digital timeline.”

:: The Wall Street Journal recently initiated a paid, digital-style news app called What’s News. The app is named for the news briefs column that has been a fixture on the Journal’s front page. The Journal has also set an ambitious goal of increasing subscriptions — print and digital — from 2.2 million to 3 million by 2017.

:: The New York Times conducted a one-week experiment where it blocked employees inside its Manhattan headquarters from accessing the paper’s homepage on their desktop computers. The point of the experiment, of course, was to highlight the growing importance of mobile.

:: Denver Post editor Greg Moore issued a memo that said: “We need the entire staff more in tune with producing digital content during the work shift. There is no reason that every reporter and photographer can’t contribute daily to our digital effort. The key is time management. And we need to settle on what is a reasonable level of production.” (In other words, like cops on traffic duty, reporters better get ready for quotas.)

**

In addition to its newsroom reorganization, The Star has commissioned a redesign of the print product and digital versions of the paper. I’m not sure when we will see the new layouts, but indications are that The Star will start putting heavier emphasis on fewer stories.

Fannin wrote:

This should be liberating. For years, we’ve focused on generating 18-20 front-page stories every week. It was a good plan, for its time. But even good plans can become formulaic. Going forward, we won’t assign stories to fill holes. We won’t shoot photos to fill holes. We’ll bless assignments based on their journalistic merit — and their ability to drive readership, engagement, credibility and impact.

I wish The Star the best with the new design and the fresh approach to news gathering and story selection. I hope it’s a successful business model and goes over well with readers.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of reorganizations at The Star over the years, and the worst was the last I saw, in 2004, when the newsroom was turned upside down. Of course, it didn’t help that Knight Ridder sold the paper two years later and that two years after that The Star began laying people off…In retrospect, the reorganization was the first domino to fall, and they’ve been toppling ever since.

In addition, Fannin seems to be so preoccupied by digital that he’s no longer thinking in plain English, which is troubling. He ended his memo like this:

“In conclusion, let me add these assurances: This is an iterative plan, we have a great staff, we’ll keep evolving the strategy, and we can do this.”

If I was still an employee, I would feel a lot better about things if I saw that thought phrased like this:

“Let me add these assurances: You are a great staff with the flexibility and skill to pull this off. We’re doing this by trial and error, and we will continue making adjustments until we get satisfactory results.”

But “iterative“? Please, hold the mumbo jumbo.

I’ve gotta tell you — and it won’t come as a surprise to many of you who are Royals’ fans — the emperor of the Royals’ broadcasting crew, Denny Matthews, is wearing no clothes.

How this guy has remained on the broadcast team since the team’s inception in 1969 is a mystery to me.

His game calls are about as interesting as if he were describing a dog washing…

“There goes the soap on pooch’s coat; he’s getting his back and tail lathered now; he’s shaking off the water…”

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Matthews

I wish somebody would take Denny’s pulse when the game is tied in the bottom of the ninth, and we’ve got runners on second and third, one out, with Sal Perez or another or our top hitters at the plate…“There’s a slow grounder to short, the throw comes home, safe, the game is over…We’ll be right back with the totals.”

Oh, it isn’t quite that bad, but you know — we all know — it’s pretty damn bad.

But nobody dares criticize the guy.

One day last week on Kevin Kietzman’s “Between the Lines” show on WHB radio, Kietzman said, “You won’t hear me say a bad word about Denny Matthews; he’s great.”

That was after Kietzman had spent a couple of minutes extolling the skills of Ryan Lefebvre, the Royals’ best broadcaster by far.

Then Denny’s broadcast partner Danny Clinkscale jumped in and said something like, He paints a perfect picture in your mind of what’s going on.”

Baloney. He describes nothing and gives out precious little information.

Take today’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, which the Royals ended up winning 11-10. It was a wild game, with a total of seven errors, and both teams looked like they were mailing it in.

I watched several innings on TV, including the top of the 6th inning, where the Blue Jays scored eight runs and wiped out a 7-0 Royals’ lead. In the bottom of the inning, which I also watched, the Royals bounced back and took a 10-8 lead.

At that point, I headed to the grocery store. Actually, I had to go to two grocery stores — the Brookside Price Chopper and then the Brookside Market — to run down everything on the list. I lost track of the game for a couple of innings, and when I turned it on while heading to the Brookside Market, Paulo Orlando was up.

Orlando hit a home run, and, I have to admit, there was actually a trace of excitement in his voice when he said, “Gone!” But then Denny didn’t give the score! I kept waiting for him to give the score, but it wasn’t forthcoming. He did say something to the effect that Orlando had given the Royals “a margin,” but no specifics.

I didn’t find out ’til I got home the game had been tied 10-10 and Orlando’s blast was not only the tie-breaking run but, ultimately, the winning run.

On another game I was listening to several days ago, the opposing team had the bases loaded in a close game, and one player had a long at-bat, fouling off several pitches. Never during the at-bat did Denny say how many outs there were…Turned out there were none.

What does this guy think? That everybody’s driving around having listened to every pitch and understands exactly what the circumstances are at any given moment? 

He’s ridiculous and should have retired long ago.

…On the same “Between the Lines” show I was listening to last week, either Keitzman or Clinkscale noted that Denny wasn’t in the mode of modern-day broadcasters, who display emotion and excitement.

Oh, really? Broadcasters of days gone by didn’t display emotion?

I guess Kietzman never listened to the legendary Harry Caray, of the St. Louis Cardinals and later the Chicago Cubs, or Waite Hoyt of the Cincinnati Reds. As a kid growing up in Louisville, I hung on every broadcast of the Reds’ games, and I remember one game when the score might have been tied, and Reds’ great hitter Frank Robinson came to the plate.

On one of the first pitches, Waite said very calmly, almost in a monotone, “There’s a drive down the left-field line that, if it stays fair, is a home run.”

A second or two or silence followed, and the next thing you heard was Waite shouting, “Home run!” It was one of the most dramatic and exciting baseball broadcasting moments I have ever heard.

…Hell, there were lots of animated announcers in days gone by. Kietzman knows that, but he, like other Kansas City sportscasters, says whatever he has to say to keep from uttering a critical word about “Royals’ Hall of Fame Broadcaster Denny Matthews.” That would be breaking the code of silence.

Well, I just hope the Royals don’t commission a bronze bust of Denny after he’s left the park for the last time. It would be a miscarriage of broadcasting. Truth is, Denny is enshrined in Teflon.

About 10 months ago, I wrote a post titled “Good Catholic boys making a killing in the payday loan business.”

That post really struck a nerve. It had hundreds of views around the time I posted it in September 2014, and since then it has drawn more views than any other past post.

Yesterday and today, the number of views spiked, in the wake of The Star posting on its website a story about the federal government banning a huge, online payday lending operation run by Timothy Coppinger and Frampton T. Rowland III.

To give you an idea of the scope of the operation, between 2012 and 2013, Coppinger’s companies issued $28 million in payday loans and withdrew more than $46.5 million from people’s bank accounts.

Here’s how dirty were the dealings of those companies: The vast majority of the victims hadn’t actually applied for loans but had shared enough personal information about themselves to give the lenders access to their checking accounts. The lenders then deposited “loans” in the people’s accounts and systematically withdrew “interest” payments. Many victims didn’t realize for a long time that they were being fleeced.

Coppinger was one of the “good Catholic boys” I wrote about back in 2014. He comes from a family that is a pillar of Visitation Catholic Church, 51st Terrace and Main.

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Vince Hodes

The other family I wrote about was the Hodes family, also of Visitation. Like Coppinger, Chris and Vince Hodes went through Visitation Catholic School and Rockhurst High and later went into the payday loan business.

The Hodes family, also of Visitation, has owned a very successful plumbing supply business (they have related businesses, too) since 1943. Nobody from the Hodes family should have any need whatsoever to be in the payday lending business. There should be plenty of business, and income, to make everybody happy for life.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know what drove these “good Catholic boys” to the seamy business of exorbitant payday loans — GREED.

But there’s more to this story — and more Catholics with greedy hands — than Tim Coppinger and Vince and Chris Hodes.

Coppinger and Vince Hodes are now members of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village. So are Coppinger’s payday-lending partner, Frampton (“Ted”) Rowland, and Stephen and Julie Zanone.

The Zanones were principals in a company called MMG, which the state of Maryland fined and banned from doing business in Maryland last year because they were charging interest of up to 1,000 percent or more on payday loans…Maryland law limits annual interest rates to 24 or 33 percent, depending on the type of loan made. (Missouri needs a similar law but probably won’t get one anytime in the near future because of the conservatives’ stranglehold on the General Assembly.)

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Coppinger, in 2010 photo, holding a trophy for winning a poker tournament at St. Ann’s Catholic Church

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Stephen and Julie Zanone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**

To be fair, none of the people I have named have faced criminal charges. But they do have to answer to the Kansas City community, and five of them — Coppinger, Rowland, Vince Hodes and the Zanones — have to answer to their faith community, St. Ann’s.

You might think that people who are making oodles of money by gouging people in dire straits would have the gumption to keep a low profile. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the five people named in the previous paragraph.

A few years ago, St. Ann’s launched a capital campaign with the primary goal of raising funds to build a chapel adjacent to the church, which is on Mission Road, between 71st and 75th streets. The church has raised nearly $7 million toward its goal of $8.5 million, and the chapel has been built, but the interior is not quite finished.

When churches have capital drives, they often designate “lead givers,” or they have “steering committees” to lead the drive and set the example for other parishioners or congregants. I learned today from a second-hand source — but a source that I trust — that the lead givers at St. Ann included Tim Coppinger and his wife; Vince Hodes and his wife; Ted Rowland and his wife; and the Zanones.

I think it is fair to assume that all of them made significant pledges to the campaign. In addition, as far as I know, Rev. Keith Lunsford, the pastor, had no qualms about accepting money from people who made millions on the backs of poor people.

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The Pitch and investigative reporter David Hudnall have led the way on the payday-lending story, and Kansas Citians can be grateful Hudnall has pulled back the curtain on this ugly situation.

His first expose came in December 2013. He began that story with a discussion of the influx of “new money” at St. Ann, which parishioners had begun to notice. Hudnall anonymously quoted one parishioner as saying:

“People on the finance committee and the school board were talking about the morality of taking that money. But in the end, I think they just looked the other way.”

When Hudnall asked Fr. Lunsford about the revenue surge, Lunsford said, “I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of anybody at St. Ann involved in the payday-loan industry.”

**

Here are my observations…

First, Lunsford must have had his eyes closed and his hands over his ears. Of course, he didn’t have “firsthand” knowledge. Coppinger and Rowland weren’t going to approach him and say, “Father, we’re making a fortune in the payday loan business, and we want to share the bounty with the church.”

But all Lunsford had to do — and probably did but wouldn’t acknowledge — was to consider the source!

Like the parishioners, he had to have heard that some of his people were neck deep in the payday loan business, and he should have had the courage to confront them and then turn his back on their filthy lucre.

Second, every time I look at that new, multi-million-dollar chapel, I will think of Jesus (yes, he also rates bold-face type) angrily denouncing the moneychangers in the temple and chasing them off with a whip he fashioned out of cord.

The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, ” My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

Yesterday’s moneychangers are today’s payday lenders. Woe betide them.

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The new chapel at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village

Ah, Jack Steadman.

What a bold, imposing figure he was on the Kansas City sports and civic scene for so long.

I read with sadness that he had died over the weekend at age 86. Also disturbing to me was reading that in recent years he had suffered from Alzheimer’s…It’s hard for me to envision Steadman without that steel-trap, all-business mind.

Jack was not one of those people of whom you’d hear people say, “What a teddy bear,” or “He was such a nice guy,” or “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

No, none of those were Jack, although I’m sure his friends and close associates would say he was a nice guy…and I’m sure he had some warm moments…and undoubtedly he was generous at times.

But that’s not how I remember Jack, and I don’t think that’s how anybody who dealt with him very much will remember him.

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Lennie, “The Mentor” and Jack

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Jack was mean or unfriendly or difficult to get along with. What he was was Lamar Hunt’s hammer and enforcer. Lamar could go around smiling and waving and shaking hands with tailgaters in the Arrowhead parking lots, knowing all the while that Jack had his back.

Lamar recognized early on that Jack, the accountant and bare-knuckles negotiator, was a resolute protector of the Hunts and their fortune. Jack was the Dale Earnhardt of the Chiefs “family” — the man you had to get past to forge a deal with Lamar. Whenever he felt it necessary, which was a lot of the time, Jack could be tart, and he was always direct. He didn’t care; he was doing Lamar’s business.

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I didn’t know Jack extremely well, but I encountered him enough in the course of my KC Star reporting to exchange casual greetings with him and to understand exactly what his role was.

I first met him in the early- or mid-1970s, when I was covering the Jackson County Courthouse. The county, of course, paid most of the construction costs of the Truman Sports Complex, and I was covering the county when the stadiums were going up in 1971 and 1972. As you would expect in the course of a $100-million construction project (a phenomenal deal for taxpayers), there were several hitches along the way, including a labor strike and arguments among the various parties involved in the project.

Steadman was in the middle of some of the dust-ups. I remember one time when he got into it with someone — can’t remember who or over what — and he wrote the guy a nasty letter. I will never forget this line in that letter: “I am not going to be your whipping boy!”

I don’t think I had ever heard that term, and to see it on paper from a person of Steadman’s stature riveted my attention.

As I recall, that letter was one reason I decided to do a feature story on Jack in the early or middle 1970s. I talked to several people about him, but no one was willing to go on the record with critical quotes. I used one unattributed, off-the-record quote from a key member Sharp-Kidde-Webb contracting consortium — I believe it was from Don Sharp Sr. — who called Steadman a “knife-in-the-back” or “knife-in-the-gut” kind of person…I caution, Sharp was speaking figuratively.

I interviewed Steadman at what was the Arrowhead Club — I think it’s gone now — and he bought lunch. The greeter and wait staff all bowed and scraped and called him “Mr. Steadman.”

Very naively, I said, “They all know you.”

To which he replied, curtly, “They should.”

Another thing I remember about the interview is that when we were talking about the Chiefs and the new stadium — which had been opened a couple of years at that point — Steadman said, “We’ve only had one or two exciting games there.”

I was a wild Chiefs’ fan at that point, even though the team was well into its decline, and I was taken aback; I thought every game was exciting.

“One or two?” I said. “Really?”

“Well, maybe three or four,” Steadman said with a slight smile.

I don’t remember too much else about the interview, or the story, and I didn’t save the story…It’s one of many “clips” that I pitched a few years after The Star’s library staff returned to us the by-lined stories we had built up over the years.

(An aside: For decades, the librarians neatly folded those stories and maintained them in gold, No. 10 envelopes. When we needed to refer to something in “the clips,” we called the library — often in a dither, on deadline — and one of the librarians would put the pertinent envelopes on a metal lift that clanked and clanged its way between the third-floor library and the second-floor newsroom.  A red light would come on to indicate the shuttle’s arrival on the second floor.)

…But back to Jack. That was the only time I wrote about him in depth.

Years later I saw him at City Hall one day when I was on that beat (1985-1995). He was chairman or past chairman of the board of Starlight Theatre, as a I recall, and he had played a big role in rejuvenating the theater. Jack wasn’t supposed to know why he had been summoned to City Hall, but I think he sensed he was going to be honored for his Starlight achievement. I had looked at the council agenda and knew about the resolution honoring him.

Accompanying him that day was Anita Gorman, who was also on the Starlight Board. I knew her very well from covering her when she was on the Park Board.

Anyway, on my way to the 26th-floor council chamber, the elevator doors opened and in the car were Anita and Jack. I got on, we exchanged greetings, and then there was an awkward silence. I broke it, saying, “Well….”

And Jack instantly cut me off, snapping, “Well what?!

Just like that he nipped in the bud any possible allusion to why he was in City Hall.

**

The last time I saw him was a few years ago at Bruce Smith Drugs in Prairie Village. Time had taken its toll, and he was no longer the erect, intimidating figure he had been for so many decades. I didn’t approach him. I don’t know why; I just didn’t. It wasn’t like we were old buddies.

But Jack was a great one. A legendary, towering figure on the Kansas City scene. A difference maker…For one thing he was instrumental in convincing Lamar to bring the Chiefs to Kansas City instead of taking them to New Orleans, which also wanted the team. We owe Jack our gratitude for that, if nothing else.

…I really liked Lamar — whom I also wrote a feature story about — and I miss him. I miss Jack, too. He wasn’t your ordinary second banana.

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At a game last October, with his wife Judy and Clark Hunt

 

 

 

Writing about another redesign and reorganization at The Star (see previous post) prompted me to think, once again, about how far The Star and most other major U.S. dailies have fallen in quality and monetary value.

…In 1977, a little-known company called Capital Cites, which owned TV and radio stations and some relatively small newspapers, bought the employee-owned Kansas City Star for $125 million.

Twenty years (and two more KC Star ownership changes later) the Knight Ridder newspaper chain bought The Star, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and two smaller papers for $1.65 billion — the largest ever sale of one or more newspapers.

At that time, considering that The Star was the premier part of the package, The Star probably was worth more than $500 million.

Today, The Star has a market value of less than a tenth of that.

I can understand if you’re thinking, “Where’s the support for that statement?”

Example No. 1: Two years ago a Boston businessman named John Henry, who owns the Boston Red Sox, among other enterprises, bought The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for $71 million. That’s The Boston Globe that The New York Times had paid $1.8 billion for in 1993.

Example No. 2: In 2012, a group of Philadelphia investors bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, for $56.7 million. Six years earlier, the papers had sold for $605 million.

Such declines in value are astonishing — almost incomprehensible to those of us who spent careers in the newspaper business.

But that’s the way it has gone for almost all major metropolitan dailies since the Internet established unequivocal and relentless dominance over print the last 10 years.

About the only newspapers that are worth anything close to what they were a decade ago are The New York Times, which had deep enough pockets to lose a lot of money while adjusting to the new newspaper landscape, and the Wall Street Journal, which has long had a prosperous niche.

**

I have written several times about McClatchy’s spectacular overpayment of $4.5 billion for 32 Knight Ridder newspapers, including The Star, in 2006.

At the time, that purchase looked like a big gamble. Today it looks like the worst newspaper purchase of all time. McClatchy assumed $2 billion in debt and has lurched around with a debt of at least $1 billion ever since.

I understand why McClatchy bought the Knight Ridder papers: McClatchy was an ambitious company that had been successful with mostly minor-league papers, like the Sacramento Bee, and they wanted to break into the majors…So, company officials convinced themselves that they could. Gary Pruitt, then-McClatchy CEO, said:

“Opportunities like this come along once in a company’s lifetime. These papers are a natural fit for us.”

At the time of the purchase, shares of McClatchy stock were selling for more than $50 a share. I know because I bought, as best I can recall, $10,000 worth, or 200 shares. At the time, I convinced myself that McClatchy knew what it was doing, and I mistakenly placed my confidence in the future of the newspaper business.

Very soon the value of McClatchy shares began plummeting, and they fell to less than a dollar each. (I sold at eight, thank God.)

The deal was a colossal miscalculation by McClatchy.

In December 2006, six months after closing on the Knight Ridder deal, McClatchy unexpectedly announced plans to sell the Minneapolis Star Tribune — its largest paper before the Knight Ridder purchase. The sale price was $622 million, less than half the $1.7 billion McClatchy had paid for the paper in 1998.

Pruitt explained the sale like this:

“It (The Star Tribune) was a drag on the bottom line and we felt we would do better without it. We could also pay down debt and be more flexible to make digital investments…”

With good reason, reporters and other employees at The Star Tribune were alarmed. Nick Coleman, a metro columnist, was quoted as saying, “At a fire sale people get discounted, so we’re very concerned, worried and anxious.”

**

Earlier in that fateful year of 2006, Gary Pruitt had come into the newsroom a couple of months before the Knight Ridder deal closed and told reporters and other editorial employees McClatchy expected the newspaper to grow and that he did not foresee any buyouts or layoffs.

I remember the gathering very well because I had been hoping for a buyout under Knight Ridder, and I still had outside hopes McClatchy would offer some buyouts. When Pruitt dashed those hopes that day, I realized there wasn’t going to be any golden parachute for me, not even a gentle letdown. I was on my own.

I had just turned 60 and still had plenty of time to do something else in life. And even though I was betting stock money on the future of print journalism, the future looked hazy.

In May 2006, I told my supervisor I was retiring, and June 30 was my last day.

I was one lucky duck. Within two years, good friends and longtime, dedicated Star employees were being shown the door…Boy, was I wrong about McClatchy and the future of the newspaper business.

**

Below is a graphic from the Pew Research Center showing the sharp decline in the value of several major U.S. dailies.

newspaper values

 

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