For the sake of the loyal, hard-working journalists remaining at The Kansas City Star, I really dislike flogging the paper and its owner, the McClatchy Company, for their shortcomings.

Fact is, though, the problems are increasing, and subscribers, readers, employees and former employees are entitled to know about them.

Here’s the latest:

:: The Star is now running some editorials that are not being written by the four members of the editorial page staff. 

The Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others, are “outsourcing” some editorials to a service called “Opinion in a Pinch,” run by an Oregon man named Chris Trejbal, a former editorial writer for the Roanoke Times in Virginia.

The Columbia Journalism Review had an interesting story on Trejbal, who has shrewdly capitalized on reduced editorial-page staffs at newspapers across the country. The journalism review story says of Trejbal:


Chris Trejbal

“One of his first clients was The Kansas City Star, whose editorial page was then run by Miriam Pepper—who, after retiring from the paper in 2014, would go on to join Opinion in a Pinch as a freelance editorialist.”

…This is all news to me — The Star running some outsourced editorials and Pepper apparently writing some of the “commissioned” editorials in The Star.

The problem for me — and I trust for many of you — is that The Star isn’t identifying outsourced editorials. They are simply dropped in along with editorial researched and written by the four remaining editorial board members — Steve Paul (editorial page editor), Yael Abouhalkah, Barb Shelly and Lewis Diuguid.

The Post-Dispatch, on the other hand, has chosen to identify editorials not produced by its editorial page staff, which is now down to two members.

The Post-Dispatch uses this disclaimer in parentheses: “This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.”

…Now, that’s at least being straightforward. But listen to how Steve Paul rationalized The Star’s lack of transparency to the Columbia Journalism Review:

“When we’re ‘in a pinch’—vacation mode, etc.—we call on him (Trejbal) occasionally to help back us up. I discuss topics with him, we discuss ed (editorial) board positions, he reports and writes, we edit. I don’t see the need to disclose that; in a sense, he’s an adjunct member of the editorial board, a leg man who reports for us, or a ghost writer of pieces that never have been signed anyway.”

I think the non-disclosure is reprehensible, and I totally agree with the assessment of the former KC Star reporter who alerted me to the journalism review story.


Steve Paul

The former reporter — who declined to be quoted by name because he respects Steve Paul — wrote in an email: “I regard editorials as one of a newspaper’s sacred duties — they should be thoughtful, local and well-researched.  It’s hard for me to imagine that they accomplish any of those goals this way.”

…For the sake of its remaining credibility, The Star should immediately begin identifying outsourced editorials. To Steve Paul and KC Star editor Mike Fannin, I say, “Stop misleading the readers!”

:: Another example of The Star misleading, or at least confusing, readers appeared on the back page of Saturday’s paper.

In a legally required “Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation,” The Star listed Fannin as editor and Greg Farmer as managing editor.

But the part about Farmer is incorrect. After Steve Shirk retired as managing editor a few months ago, The Star didn’t name a successor. Instead, it divided his duties among a few people, including Farmer.

I left a voice message for Farmer this morning and he sent me an email addressing the published statement.

“That was a mistake,” he said. “I’m leading the investigative/enterprise team as Senior AME (assistant managing editor).”

…My guess is that whoever prepared the statement simply plugged in Farmer’s name for the sake of convenience. But to be totally honest and accurate, the statement should have said the post of managing editor was “currently not filled.”

It would have been that easy to be transparent.

:: Major problems persist with distribution of the print edition.

A longtime carrier told me today that changes over the last few months have prompted some carriers to quit and that many inexperienced and incompetent carriers have been hired as replacements.

The changes include:

— The Star distancing itself from direct responsibility for delivery of the paper by hiring distributors who have formed LLCs and assumed full responsibility for delivery operations. Carriers’ checks no longer come from McClatchy but from the distributors. In addition, when carriers don’t show up for one reason or another, the distributors — not  The Star — are responsible for getting the papers delivered.

— Reductions in the pay carriers receive for delivery of each paper. (Loss of circulation has also hit carriers hard in the pocketbooks, since their pay is on a per-paper basis.) The carrier I spoke with said his income from delivering the paper was about half what it was several years ago.

— Installation of a new computer system, which has resulted in paycheck delays, among other things. “The new system has not worked from Day One,”  the carrier told me.

Along the same lines, it continues to be very difficult to get through to a live person in the circulation department. A friend who was having delivery problems was put on hold for more than 30 minutes yesterday, and today, as a test, I held on the line for at least 10 minutes before giving up.

:: Finally, McClatchy announced today it is closing its foreign bureaus and bringing those staff members back to the Washington bureau.

The bureaus to be closed are in Beijing, Mexico City, Istanbul, Berlin and Iraq.

A Poynter Institute story about the restructuring said:

“In discontinuing its foreign bureaus, McClatchy is scaling back its international coverage in favor of an editorial strategy that emphasizes regional stories and political coverage.”

Poynter said McClatchy’s international reporting will be “project based and less frequent.”

Jonathan Landay, a high-profile reporter in McClatchy’s Washington bureau, was quoted as saying:

“At a time when the world is careening into greater chaos and mayhem, Americans want to know what’s happening and how this is going to affect them. By closing the foreign bureaus, we’re shutting off an important source of news and analysis at a time when we need to be paying more attention because our mission is to inform and educate.”

landayPerhaps not coincidentally, Landay recently announced he was leaving McClatchy for a job with Reuters. When Knight Ridder still owned the papers that McClatchy later bought, Landay produced some of the most skeptical coverage of U.S. intelligence claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Although McClatchy said there would be no layoffs, you can be assured that this is a money-saving move. Maintaining a foreign bureau is an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

In the same money-saving vein, many major metropolitan dailies, including The Star, have shrunk their national and international coverage in recent years. The emphasis on “local, local, local” is simply a cover story for reducing page count.


With all this going on, it is no mystery why publisher Mi-Ai Parrish departed for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, where she will be working for a new company, Gannett, that was recently spun off from its parent company (renamed TEGNA) and is starting afresh with no debt.

With McClatchy, every publisher who gets up in the morning and goes to work carries with them the burden of the parent company’s $100 million debt — a debt incurred when McClatchy unwisely bought the Knight Ridder chain just when things were starting to go south for the newspaper industry.

Now, at the local level, every McClatchy paper is crying out to be set free.

We just got home last night from south central Colorado, where we spent a few days with friends who have a cabin in the Wet Mountains (a range of the Rockies), near the town of Westcliffe.

I was there last year with the cabin owner and another guy, and that time we took the overnight train from Kansas City to Trinidad and drove the 60 miles up to the cabin in a rental car. This year we drove, and I can tell you even though it’s a long drive, sitting in the car for 12 hours is a lot more comfortable than trying to sleep in a tilt-back chair on the train.

An even bigger bonus: This year we had women! Woo-hoo! I tell you it was a veritable nonstop party for three days…well, as much of a nonstop party as one person in her late 50s (Patty) and three in their and 60s can have.

I know you’re dying to see the photos, so let’s get started!


We had just gotten to the town of Colorado City, not far from the cabin, when we happened upon this view.


I took this one from the same vantage point, different view.


Our cabin was a bit on the rough side, but…oh, wait…wrong photo.


Not rough at all, actually. Kaler, who co-owns the place with his cousin, calls it “the little cabin in the woods.” I call it the Grand Villa.


We shared the deck with some fine feathered friends.


One day we took a 4.2 mile hike (two up, two down) to St. Charles Peak, elev. 11,784 feet. Strangely enough, Patty and Kaler were the only two who made it to the summit. Maybe if Kaler’s wife Eileen and I had laid down and rested we would have made it, too.


The aspens had turned, and, boy, was it beautiful.


On Colorado 165, the road to Kaler’s cabin, looms a structure called Bishop’s Castle, which a guy named Jim Bishop built by himself. It’s quite a tourist attraction. You can climb all the way to the top, if you have courage, strong legs and an iron will. The four of us came up lacking in each of those departments. Ground level is as high as I got.


Then there’s the town of Westcliffe, at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. One of my favorite stores in Westcliffe is a pawn shop called the The Loan A Ranger. Lots of guns for sale…Oh, baby, I just love those firearms!


One day we went to a place called The Winery, at a former abbey near Canon (pron. Canyon) City.


The wine tasting was $35 a head, except for me, a non-drinker. I drank grape juice and got in for the discount price of $10…That’s Kaler in the front and Eileen, Patty and me.


As we left The Winery, a cloud buildup was underway.


Like I said, a cloud buildup was underway. The cloud formations change quickly in the Centennial State.


A friend of Kaler’s owns this place, with a view of Turtle Rock (left peak).


A closer view of Turtle Rock.


Naturally, I wanted to get an old-fashioned selfie, using the 10-second self-timer on my Lumix, but I couldn’t scramble down the rocks in time to join my companions. Tempus fugit, that’s for sure.

We’re in Day Two of The Kansas City Star’s redesigned website and print edition, and I thought you might be interested in getting some “expert opinions” on the changes. So, yesterday and today I sent emails to several former Star staffers, seeking their observations.

Here’s what the former insiders had to say…I will add the opinions of others, if I receive any, and I would like to get your observations. So, comment away.

Kevin Murphy, Metro Desk:

Web: I am still a print guy, but I like the redesign of the website better than I do the remade newspaper itself. The Star banner at top gives the home web page a newspaper look, and I like that a lot of headlines show up on the screen immediately without having to scroll down.

Print: The section fronts look like shoppers in a way, with the italic headings — Sports Daily, Chow Town, etc. The type face of the copy is unnecessarily large, especially in classifieds and makes for a smaller news hole. It’s encouraging to read that the paper will stress investigative work plus breaking news and beat reporting. Do they have enough reporters to do that?

Gene Meyer, Business Desk

Web: The new format looks a lot cleaner on the web. But the content seems thin. The Star was the slowest of five sources I checked to run the announcement that the Plaza was up for sale and didn’t add anything TV stations didn’t already have.
Print: The new format is going to take some getting used to. My initial impression of the print product is that it reminded me of the old Weekly Reader, the recap of each week’s news events prepared for elementary and junior high schools. About as deep and reasoned as some  of those old Ed Herlihy newsreels they used to show at movies when I was a kid. The waist-up portraits of the local columnists got me, too. We junked those shortly after I joined the old Kansas City Times staff in 1983.
Screen shot 2015-10-01 at 1.45.49 PM

Karen Brown, Editorial Page

Print: They may have finally lost me as a diehard subscriber. More air (white space) and less news. Who needs or wants that? I lived through many “redesigns,” and not one of them contributed to increased circulation or readership. I know many people now get the majority of their news online — I’m one of them — but for people who still want something of a print version, this latest iteration of The Star is even farther away than the last one.

Mike Rice, Metro Desk

Web: I think they’re just polishing a turd. Sure, they’re going to put a great piece of journalism like Laura Bauer’s story (“Saving Govi”) on the first day, but what comes after a week or two? I hate the pay wall and the pop-up ads. And most of all how there is no indication from the headlines whether it is a local or national story. For instance, you see a headline that says “Man Bites Dog.” You think, hmmm, that’s interesting — where did this sick puppy commit this act? Olathe, Northland, my neighborhood. You click it, and once you maneuver the story around the pay wall, you find that this happened in Florida!

Print: I cancelled my subscription to The Star after they laid me off and never renewed. I buy the print edition on occasion and am both amazed and depressed by how small it is.

Julius Karash, Business Desk

Web: I think the site looks better and is more compelling, and the electronic version of the print edition (E-Star) is easier to navigate on my laptop now. The website’s search mechanism seems to be improved but still needs work. To test it, I requested a search for the oldest Dave Helling byline and was presented with an item, “GOP Site Selection Committee Arrives,” which the website says is “about 174 years old.”  

Print: I am pleasantly surprised to see that there is still a business section. I like the additional subheads on news stories to help readers seeking quick summaries, but I question the value of publishing long, in-depth news features on weekdays. (Note: Julius stopped taking the print edition recently after experiencing delivery problems at his downtown residence.)


As Karen Brown noted, those of us who worked at The Star many years went through several redesigns, and it always took me at least a few weeks to get used to the changes.

Here are my initial, major observations of the redesign:

— The front page of the print edition contains just two stories a day, instead of three or four. Lame.

—  The ridiculously small amount of national and international news in both the print edition and on the website is not changing. Embarrassing.

— The larger type face is good, especially for the older readers, who comprise the vast majority of print-edition readership. One thumb up.

Finally, here are the opinions of the two women I live with:

Patty: “It looks like a small-town newspaper.”

Brooks: “It looks like they’re turning it into a picture book…You can quote me.”

Ah, the kid knows the lingo. Warms my soul.

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.

P1050395The 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.

hale retirement

hale jump

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.


It was quite an eclipse, wasn’t it?

No, don’t tell me you missed it…and don’t tell me you weren’t interested. It was a wonder of nature so rare it comes around only about once every other papal visit.

…Speaking of which, I was just as mesmerized by the pope’s departure as I was by just about everything he did in the U.S. the last several days.  I watched intently as his Boeing 777 and  crawled along the taxiways at Philadelphia International Airport and then began accelerating and finally lifted off and quickly disappeared into the night-time sky.

Patty and I have joked for years about post-Derby Depression — the feeling we, particularly I, get the day after each Kentucky Derby. And tonight I’ve got a bit of post-papal depression. Nothing clinical, you know, just situational. But enough that the eclipse seemed a bit anticlimactic compared with the vivid memories of the pope’s radiating presence.

But anyway, I pulled myself out of the dumps to try to get some memorable eclipse photos.

I have to admit, I failed miserably. When I pointed my glorified Panasonic point-and-shoot at the sky and “zoomed” in the maximum of four times normal, all I got were images of a small white blob, with a tinge of red…For some reason, my camera refused to acknowledge the eclipse; it was looking more like moon over Miami, and by Miami I mean it looked on the camera display like the moon was a long, long way off — even father than Miami.

However, I know you’ll just be thrilled that I did, in fact, get some excellent eclipse-related photos. Here are the three best, and you’ll note, I’m sure, that in each of these three striking images, something looks like it’s in a state of eclipse.

Here we go…


Here are a couple of ladies in the Romanelli West neighborhood who pulled up chairs to watch the grand event. (That shadowy looking thing in the left foreground is a Black Lab/German Shepherd who wanted in on the fun.)



A man at the same household strained to see the shrouded “supermoon.”



Since I couldn’t get the moon, I focused on a streetlight that was in nearly total eclipse. (You can see these just about every night if you position yourself right.)

Well, there it is. The pope is gone, and so is the eclipse. Now, off to bed and back to workin’ in the coal mine bright and early tomorrow.

After that brief interruption, we now return to our coverage of all things papal…

With The New York Times glued to Pope Francis’ visit to the States, it is hard to imagine that The Times yesterday once completely missed an entire papacy.

But it happened. Some of you will recall that the tenure of Pope John Paul I lasted only a month — from the end of August to the end of September 1978.

But readers of The Times didn’t get a word about John Paul I — not one word — until after he died. The reason? The newspaper went through an 88-day strike in 1978, and the strike spanned the entirety of John Paul’s brief reign.

After the strike, The Times published a Nov. 6 special section that included a page of obituaries of notable people who had died during the strike. Pope John Paul I got the longest obituary — 10 paragraphs — plus a photo.

However, an Oct. 16, one-time edition of a publication called Not The New York Times chronicled the demise of another short-lived — even less-known — pope, John Paul John Paul I.

P1050380It seems John Paul John Paul I had been “Archbishop of Liverpool.” He took his papal name from his three predecessors — John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I — although speculation has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney also influenced his choice. 

Here’s the Not The New York Times’ Oct. 16, 1978 report on the papacy of John Paul John Paul I.

Rome, Oct. 11 — Pope John Paul John Paul I, 264th Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, died this afternoon while administering the Papal benediction to thousands who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his investiture. He served as pope for 19 minutes, the briefest reign in the history of the church.

The cause of the Pope’s death was not immediately clear. The 41-year-old Pontiff, formerly Archbishop of Liverpool and the first non-Italian to ascend the throne of St. Peter, collapsed in mid-sentence and toppled forward into a battery of microphones as he blessed the faithful who filled the square below.

His last words, which were also his first as spiritual head of the world’s 49 million Roman Catholics, were heard by millions who watched the ancient rite of investiture via communications satellite. Raising his hand to make the Sign of the Cross, the Pope intoned, “In nomine patri” and seemed to falter. He regained his speech momentarily, but only long enough to pronounce the next two words of the sacrament, “et filio” in a choking voice. Then he emitted a high-pitched squeal, which many mistook as coming from the boys’ choir, and fell forward.

Pope John Paul John Paul’s death followed by two weeks that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, who reigned for only 38 days. The latest papal death produced renewed controversy, confusion and speculation inside the church about choosing a successor for John Paul John Paul and the circumstances of his demise. Highly placed Vatican sources predicted that many of the 112 members of the College of Cardinals would decline to remain in Rome for the selection of a new pope. Rather than return to their spartan quarters deep in the basilica, many cardinals were said to favor choosing John Paul John Paul’s successor in a conference call.

The Italian newspapers immediately seized on the latest papal demise as evidence of a conspiracy. Several possibilities were advanced, with the most serious consideration going to the “single heart attack theory” to account for all the deaths.

Meanwhile, from every corner of the globe came expressions of deep mourning for the little Liverpudlian…Only hours earlier the jocular Pontiff had told his closest aides that he wanted to be called Jay-Pee Two, as a symbol of the informality and bold change that he hoped would mark his reign.

…The moral, I suppose, is you can’t pay close enough attention to a papal visit, because you never know when the Almighty is going to call his representative on earth home.

KC Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, who never appeared to be a good fit for Kansas City or the Star during her four years here, is leaving the paper.

Parrish, 44, will become president and publisher of The Arizona Republic on Oct. 12.

Parrish has some history with The Republic. She served as a deputy managing editor there from 1999 to 2001.

In making this move, Parrish is going from one big corporate newspaper chain, McClatchy, to an even bigger one, Gannett.

I’ll tell you this much: Either company is a bad place to work. Both have been cutting staffs at their papers; their major newspapers have been losing circulation; and they have struggled with the transition from print to online.


Mi-Ai Parrish

One factor that might have lured Parrish is that Gannett’s newspaper division recently was spun off from the broadcast and digital businesses. The result was two new publicly traded companies — Gannett, the newspaper company, and TEGNA, the broadcast and digital company. In a break for Gannett, TEGNA retained the company’s $4.6 billion debt, so Gannett gets the benefit of a clean slate.

McClatchy, on the other hand, carries a debt of about $1 billion, which weights on all newspapers in the chain.

Time will tell if there’s an underlying story here — if Parrish was frustrated with McClatchy or, perhaps, vice versa. In any event, Parrish presided over several rounds of newsroom and company-wide layoffs; pulled the plug on The Star’s longstanding sponsorship of major arts organizations; and shunned public appearances and civic involvement.

One recent firing that shocked me was that vice president of advertising Julie Terry, who was extremely popular with nearly everyone who worked with her. The firing bore all the hallmarks of…“Advertising is down, and you’ve gotta go.”  The fact is, print advertising — which had spun gold for The Star for decades — has been plummeting at most major metropolitan papers for a decade. It wasn’t Julie Terry’s fault that ad revenue kept falling. If anything, McClatchy should have fired Parrish. But that would mean McClatchy admitting failure.


The Republic, as you would expect, put a very positive spin on Parrish’s move. the paper quoted John Zidich, Gannett president, as saying: “In her industry and in her publisher roles, she has provided great leadership and also great results.”

Great results? There aren’t any I can think of at The Star, and many people would raise their eyebrows at the “great leadership” assessment.

The story also said:

“At The Kansas City Star, Parrish found success in growing the traditional media company’s connections with a changing community that wanted news on its Smartphones, fresh experiences at festival and events, and quality journalism in all its products.”

Fresh experiences at festivals and events? People might have wanted fresh experiences at, say, the Renaissance Festival and the Lyric Opera, but I can’t imagine in what way The Star would play a role.


For Parrish, this transition marks a clean getaway. Naturally, she told The Republic she was excited about the opportunities that lay before her in Arizona.

“Great people, great community, great tradition. We are going to do amazing things.”

Can’t wait to hear the reports about those amazing things.

…In the meantime, I wish the remaining employees at The Star the very best and hope they get a good, new publisher…Actually, my fondest wish is for McClatchy to sell The Star to Warren Buffett so the employees of this once-great great newspaper get a shot at a clean getaway. They deserve it.


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