Most of you know, I’m sure, that Mi-Ai Parrish, KC Star publisher the last four years, is headed to Phoenix to become president and publisher of The Arizona Republic.
It got big headlines on this blog last week. Where it didn’t get big headlines, interestingly, was in The Kansas City Star.
The Star announced the change on page A8, the business page, in a bland, one-column, nine-paragraph story.
Maybe Parrish is humble and instructed the newsroom not to make a big deal out of it. But probably not. The writer, Mark Davis, probably gave the story exactly what it deserved.
Here’s the important thing about that story: Its brevity and positioning weren’t as much reflections on Parrish as they were on the state of newspaper publishing.
Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s — and earlier — it was almost always a big deal when the publisher of a major metropolitan daily resigned, retired or was fired. That was when a lot of papers were owned by families, the paper’s employees or newspaper barons, like William Rockhill Nelson.
These days, with so many metropolitan dailies owned by chains — such as Gannett (many dailies), McClatchy (The Star and several others) and Lee Enterprises (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others) — most publishers are like cogs in wheels. That is, pretty interchangeable.
You might have read former Kansas City Star executive editor Mike Waller’s comment on last Thursday’s post. He said:
“It doesn’t matter today who the publisher is of any newspaper. It matters only who owns the paper. Only an enlightened ownership–there are few remaining–can assure quality journalism.”
He should know; he’s a former publisher of the Hartford Courant and The Sun of Baltimore. Both those papers were once owned by a good chain — Times-Mirror of Los Angeles — and, currently, a bad one — Tribune Co. of Chicago.
In contrast to the short story about Parrish’s departure for the desert, when the last great Kansas City Star publisher retired in 1992 –the late James H. Hale — he went off to a crescendo of tributes.
The Star ran the announcement story on the bottom of Page One on Thursday, Nov. 12. The story “jumped” inside and ran a total of 48 paragraphs.
The story included laudatory quotes from Miller Nichols, former chairman of the J.C. Nichols Co.; Marion Kramer, a civic leader; former Kansas City Star editor Joe McGuff; and Phil Meek, senior vice president of Capital Cities Inc., which had purchased The Star in 1977 and shortly thereafter installed Hale, a Texan, as publisher.
During his 15-year run, Hale expanded the paper, approving the hiring of new employees and the addition of new sections; greatly increased the paper’s profitability — the profit margin soared to about 30 percent; and got the paper involved in the community in a big way, partly through sponsorships of major arts organizations. Plus, The Star won three Pulitzer prizes.
In short, he deserved every paragraph of that story.
He was succeeded by Robert Woodworth, another CapCities veteran.
Things started going downhill for The Star four years after Hale’s retirement, in 1996, when the Walt Disney Co. bought out CapCities (which had acquired the ABC-TV network). Disney owned the paper just one year before selling to KnightRidder. In 2006, KnightRidder folded its tent and sold out to McClatchy.
As the paper’s fortunes declined, the publisher’s post became less vital. The focus quickly shifted to McClatchy’s Sacramento headquarters, which delivered harsh marching orders in the face of rapidly falling advertising and circulation at all its papers.
The main job of KC Star publishers since 2008 — Mark Zieman and Parrish — has been to shrink-wrap the paper.
They’ve done a mighty fine job of it…It’s just not the kind of success that merits front-page headlines.