All too often the print edition of The Kansas City Star makes me wonder what’s going through the minds of the editors.
The latest puzzlement was on Sunday, when the editors relegated a timely, can’t-put-it-down story about the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and its shirttail cousins to the bottom left corner of the front page.
Below a one-column headline, only slightly more than three inches of text appeared on the front page before the story “jumped” inside. On Page 12, the reader was greeted by, or I should say treated to, an additional 82 inches of text. The writer was Darryl Levings, a highly respected senior editor and writer.
The AR-15, or variations thereof, have been used in several of the nation’s mass shootings in recent years, including the Aurora, CO, killings last July. In addition, the weapon is one of the chief objects of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s gun-control bill, which she recently introduced before the Senate.
I emphasize that the story could not be more timely and it was incredibly informative, especially for the thousands of Star readers, including me, who probably know very little about guns, other than .22-caliber pistols and 12-gauge shotguns. The story was chock-full of details, such as that the weapon had its “breakthrough” after Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay saw its promise more than 50 years ago.
Why then, was this story not the “centerpiece” of the Sunday paper?
The centerpiece, for those not attuned to newspaper lingo, is the story that, each day, gets the biggest play on the front page. The centerpiece is always at least three columns wide and is accompanied by at least one large photograph, illustration or, infrequently, a graphic.
The editors chose instead to feature a story about charitable organizations — like The Salvation Army and Uplift — that provide meals for people who live on the streets, in the parks, under bridges and elsewhere without four walls around them.
The gist of the story was that while the agencies are rendering an important service, they probably are contributing indirectly to the trashing of neighborhoods and theft and vandalism.
This was, by no means, an unimportant story. To me, however, it paled beside the weapons story, which is probably the biggest story in the country right now.
I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out why the editors made the choice they did.
I’ve developed a theory…Hang with me now.
I think that one thing that boosted the “Help or Hindrance” story about the homeless was that it had four good photos with it — three of them taken on the night-time streets and featuring heavily bundled people receiving or eating recently dispensed meals.
On the other hand, the AR-15 story was accompanied by an excellent 4 1/2-column photo showing an intense gun-store manager firing a rifle that was emitting a sunburst-like muzzle flash. But that photo, which I think would have made for an outstanding centerpiece, appeared on Page 12, not on Page 1.
The more I thought about that photo the more I tended to think that the muzzle flash held the key to the story’s back-seat placement.
From my 36-plus years at the paper, I know how the editors think and the idea comparing that they go through while deciding what is appropriate and what is inappropriate for front-page display.
It’s my opinion — based solely on experience and instinct — that the editors decided that many readers would see the AR-15 photo, with that splash of orangish-yellow erupting from the rifle tip, as menacing and sensationalistic.
Certainly, the photo would have drawn some reaction from people on both sides of the gun-control issue:
Some of those in favor would have said the photo glamorized the AR-15 and its power, and some of those against would have contended that The Star was trying to demonize the weapon.
So, the editors went milquetoast, in my opinion, and opted for the innocuous, no-risk photos of the homeless and the Salvation Army trucks.
Too bad, eh? The editors had, right in their hands, an edgy, compelling story that was well illustrated and would have been read by thousands and thousands of more readers than it was. It’s a story that would have made a splash and would have been talked about at the water coolers on Monday.
Let’s strip away all subtleties, then:
This was a pitiful, gutless decision that showed, once again, why The Star is losing subscribers.