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On Dec. 31, Mark Zieman, former publisher of The Kansas City Star, will be leaving the McClatchy Co., where he has been vice president of operations the last eight years.

In a day of other swirling developments, Mike Fannin, editor of The Star, is becoming president of The Star, replacing Tony Berg, who has been The Star’s editor and publisher since 2016.

Oddly, The Star’s story about Fannin’s elevation does not say a word about Berg’s move. It was Dan Margolies of KCUR who got the scoop about Berg. Margolies’ story says Berg is becoming publisher of The Wichita Eagle.

Berg had been regional publisher for McClatchy’s Central Division, which included The Star, The Eagle, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat. Margolies said, however, that on Friday Berg’s LinkedIn site listed him as publisher of just the Eagle and as president and publisher of the Central Region until this month.

Mark Zieman

…For many years, The Star has not been forthcoming when writing about its own operations, but failing to report the ouster of The Star’s publisher is a new low in the “lack-of-transparency” category.

It is a terrible disservice to the readers, and it is one reason The Star has lost significant credibility with readers and civic leaders alike.

McClatchy also is guilty of not being forthcoming about personnel moves. It announced Zieman’s resignation not in a news release but very quietly in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday afternoon. SEC rules require publicly owned companies to report the departures of high-ranking corporate officers.

**

A Kansas native, Zieman has spent the majority of his career at The Star. He began there as an editorial intern in 1982 while pursuing a journalism degree at the University of Kansas. After graduating in 1984, he joined the Houston bureau of the Wall Street Journal but returned to The Star as an investigative reporter in 1986.

He became projects editor in 1989, managing editor in 1992, editor and vice president in 1997 and president and publisher in 2008, before moving to Sacramento with McClatchy in 2011.

As projects editor, Zieman directed the paper’s examination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

Interestingly, McClatchy said it would not be replacing Zieman, who is either 58 or 59. That could mean Zieman was told his job was being eliminated and was offered the chance to resign. Either way, I’m sure he’ll walk away with a lavish severance package. His total compensation for 2018 was about $1.8 million.

**

Fannin, 53, succeeded Zieman as The Star’s editor in 2008, after having served as sports editor and then managing editor. He joined The Star in 1997 after working as an assistant sports editor at The Dallas Morning News. Fannin is a Kentucky native who attended the University of Texas. He started his journalism career at the San Antonio Light, which closed in 1993.

The Star has won some significant journalistic prizes under Fannin, but, along with Berg, he has presided over a long period of stagnation at the paper. The editorial and advertising staffs are shadows of what they once were, and the paper’s “news hole” is much smaller than it was 10 to 15 years ago.

Editor’s note: I rewrote much of this after learning from a regular reader about The Star’s failure to report Berg’s ouster in its story about Fannin.

It appears the proposed merger between Gannett and GateHouse Media, the two largest newspaper chains in the country, will be accomplished by year’s end.

If that happens, New Gannett would have more than 260 daily papers and more than 300 weeklies.

The antitrust division of the Department of Justice has approved the deal, and shareholders of the two companies are expected to approve the merger next month. Closing on the $1.4 billion deal could follow within days.

The new company would own about one of every six U.S. daily papers and would have a combined print circulation of about 8.7 million — about five times more than the new No. 2 chain, McClatchy, which owns The Kansas City Star.

“Never before in U.S. history have we seen a single company own and manage so much of the American newspaper business,” said Ken Doctor, the foremost authority on the newspaper industry.

Ken Doctor

In the wake of the merger, Doctor foresees much more consolidation in the industry, with several chains — including Tribune Publishing, Lee Enterprises, MNG Enterprises (formerly MediaNews Group) and, of course, McClatchy — in play.

So where might McClatchy and its other papers, including the Miami Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Sacramento Bee, end up?

Last year, McClatchy, which has 29 daily papers, made an unsuccessful run at Tribune Publishing, which owns such papers as the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and the Hartford Courant.

Doctor believes McClatchy and Tribune will attempt to “dance anew,” but I’m not so sure about that. It never made any sense to me that McClatchy was the suitor. For one thing, it carries a hangover $745-million debt from its ill-fated acquisition of Knight Ridder in 2006, while Tribune is debt free. For another, its stock price has continued to slide, to the point that it is now in jeopardy of being de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.

Whatever happens and wherever McClatchy ends up, the prospects for an improved Kansas City Star don’t look good. At least three of the chains in play for consolidation are indebted to or in the grasp of hedge funds. In the case of McClatchy, it’s Chatham Asset Management, which owns at least 20 percent of McClatchy. With Lee Enterprises, which owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it’s Cannell Capital. And MNG, which owns the Denver Post, it’s Alden Global Capital.

The hedge funds have closed in because as bad as things are for most chains, they are still generating lots of revenue. Cash is the lifeblood of the hedge funds, and what they’re doing, generally, is looking to bleed the newspapers of revenue and reinvest it in other, more profitable ventures. For example, The Columbia Journalism Review reported that a group of Alden shareholders filed suit last year alleging that Alden “had sucked money out of the newspapers it owns in order to make risky investments in Greek sovereign debt and a troubled pharmaceutical chain, among other areas.”

The hedge funds’ strategy has a euphemistic name, “harvesting market position,” but what it really amounts to is gutting an industry with a failing pulse.

**

Unfortunately, I don’t see any promising outcome on the horizon for McClatchy and The Star. McClatchy is not going to sell The Star, probably its most profitable paper, so The Star is probably going to be owned by another chain within a year or two.

The worst possible outcome would be that it ends up in the hands of MNG, that is, Alden Global Capital. Before GateHouse came along, Alden made a run at Gannett, but Gannett was strong enough to fight off the hostile takeover bid. Alden probably would be less deterred by McClatchy’s $745 million debt than some of the other chains because Alden is more interested in what’s coming than what is owed.

Among other papers, MNG — Alden — owns the Denver Post, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Detroit News.

Here’s what it looked like last year at The Denver Post after 30 newsroom layoffs were announced…

You KC Star editorial employees who are reading this blog, take a good look at this image. I truly hope a scene like this doesn’t materialize in Kansas City, but if Alden should get its hands on McClatchy, there could be lots of tears on the keyboards.

Until about the fifth grade, I was a bully. I would punch classmates if they did something that irritated me, like one kid, Wally Clifford, who peed on a ruler and wiped it on my shirt in the boys’ restroom.

I tagged him with a roundhouse right, and I’ll never forget the shocked look on his face, even as he maintained a goofy, frozen smile.

But then one day on the playground I got into it with a heavyset kid named Russell Armstrong, and Russell put me in my place — and kept me there — by sitting on my chest. I realized then that I was not invulnerable, and it dawned on me that I’d better retire from fisticuffs before I took a really good beating.

I lost one more schoolyard fight before I quit altogether and became an inveterate coward.

Later, in all the years I spent in the bars as a bachelor — didn’t get married ’til I was a week shy of 39 — I can’t ever recall being in a bar when a big fight broke out. I saw a couple of guys get kicked out of bars for minor stuff, but I never saw any confrontation that I suspected would lead to somebody returning and trying to take revenge. At the same time, I was always vigilant about what was going on around me and tried to be attuned to any signs of barroom trouble.

Now you know where I’m going with this personal history…I’m pretty sure that even back in my single days, I would have left a bar immediately if I had witnessed a confrontation that resulted in someone threatening to return while getting thrown out.

And while it’s implausible that I would have been in Tequila KC on Central Avenue last Saturday night, if I had been…if I had been, I would have been gone in 10 seconds after seeing a guy throw cups and bottles at a bartender and hearing him threaten to return as he was escorted out.

(Moreover, if I had been in any bar where a guy looking as menacing as Hugo Villanueva-Morales does in his mug shot, I think that would have been enough to send me running for the door.)

I also would have been gone the afternoon or evening of Feb. 22, 2017, after Adam Purinton was kicked out of Austin’s Bar & Grill in Olathe after yelling racial slurs at Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani. Purinton came back with a gun later and killed Kuchibhotla and wounded Madasani and a man who had come to their aid.

I’m not saying I would have left those bars because I was smarter than those who didn’t leave; I just have a finely honed sense of self-preservation. Some might call it paranoia, but whatever it is, it has served me pretty well. So far, anyway.

I seldom go to bars any more. Oddly, though, after the symphony last Friday night, we went to the bar at Grunauer’s restaurant in the Freight House area. We had eaten dinner there with several other people before the performance and had left a car in the lot. We weren’t quite ready to wrap up the night when we got back to Grunauer, so we popped in there for a while.

It was distractingly loud because of blaring, teeth gratingly bad music, but it was safe — a lot safer than it was about 24 hours later across the state line at 10th and Central.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathan Pena and his parents, Chris and John, the last several days.

I didn’t know Nathan and don’t know his parents. Nathan, 19, was a resident of Brookfield, Illinois, a western Chicago suburb. He worked at a Best Buy, ran cross country in high school, had a sister named Lauren and a cat named Cheech.

Last week he was driving to Boulder, Colorado, to visit a friend, and on the way through Kansas City he got caught up, indirectly, in a Kansas Highway Patrol chase of a KCK man with some kind of car registration violation.

Near the Kansas Turnpike Authority Terminal in Leavenworth County, the KCK man, 29-year-old Anthony Dorsey, turned around and began speeding away from his pursuers, going eastbound in the westbound lanes.

Pena had seen Dorsey’s vehicle make a U turn, and he saw the other vehicle coming toward his. He took evasive action, whipping the steering wheel to the right, toward the right shoulder and a grassy incline.

Nathan Pena

Dorsey also took evasive action, but, maddeningly, he turned the same way. His significantly larger vehicle struck Pena’s vehicle nearly head on. As usual in these kinds of cases, the slower-traveling vehicle — Pena’s — took the brunt of the crash, and Pena, who was wearing a seat belt, was killed. Dorsey — the speeding killer — was not seriously injured.

The story didn’t get a lot of play in the news columns of The Star. Thankfully, The Star came out with an editorial questioning the Highway Patrol’s decision to take up a high-speed chase over the matter of a registration violation. The editorial said, “As a general matter…concerns with a car’s registration are not sufficient reason to risk the lives of others.”

I’ll say…We hear about far too many of these cases where law enforcement officers give chase for relatively minor offenses and then the driver trying to get away ends up crashing into and killing one or more innocent people.

It’s ridiculous. The Star pointed out that the highway patrol has a good policy: It requires the responding officer to undertake a pursuit only if he or she believes the risk to the public is lower than the immediate danger from the suspect remaining at large.

At that point in the editorial, The Star editorial writer lost his or  her nerve, saying, “It isn’t clear if that standard was met in this case.”

Well, I can tell you with finality — and you know it as well — the standard was definitely NOT met. No vehicle registration issue could possibly warrant a high-speed chase endangering innocent people…Now, if the runaway driver pulls out a shotgun and fires at the patrol officer, that’s a different story. But to get involved in a high-speed chase over nothing more than improper or expired registration…No way. No way!

This is heart-breaking. Nathan Pena. Nineteen. His whole life ahead of him. Couldn’t have been more than a year out of high school.

Nathan Pena was in the red vehicle.

At this writing, 40 people have posted condolence messages on the website of Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield. One message, from Debby Donovan, says: “I am so terribly sorry for your loss in this tragedy. I know John and Chris (patents) and can’t believe you are going through this. My deep sympathy for the entire family and friends.”

On another website, a woman named DeAnna Scofield of Oklahoma wrote…

“I passed this accident on the east(bound) side while on a trip to Des Moines and my heart sunk seeing the wreckage. It stuck with me so much that I searched for the details today on my way home/passing the scene again. Reading about Nathan absolutely shook me to my core, as I also have a 19 yr old son who road trips to Colorado frequently. I am so sorry for your loss…I cannot even fathom the pain. I will be keeping your family in my thoughts. Such an unnecessary tragedy.”

**

As in many such cases, the driver’s life is also probably ruined. Dorsey, who is charged with first-degree, felony murder, will surely end up doing 20 or 30 years in prison. All over a stupid vehicle-registration issue.

My God, why don’t law enforcement agencies come to their senses and clamp down on these ridiculous chases over inconsequential violations? The cowboy mindset has got to go.

I wrote Tuesday how three of the biggest names in golf — Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and TV commentator David Feherty, managed to get into town last month, play a couple of benefit rounds at the Kansas City Country Club and get out of town without anyone in the media finding out about it for more than a week.

Nicklaus, Trevino and local golfing hero Tom Watson played with a dozen people who teed up $100,000 each for a Watson foundation that supports The First Tee organization, which promotes golf among youths. (I’m told Feherty, who has his own show on the Golf Channel, might not have played and was along for his considerable entertainment value.)

Not only was I mightily irked that the media was caught with its balls in the clubhouse, I wanted to know who the people were that forked over $100,000 each to play.

Well, I’ve found out who three of the big hitters were.

I’m not free to divulge my sources, but let’s just say my barber, who’s been clipping and listening for 60 years, is a font of knowledge.

I can’t claim this as a full, 100 percent scoop, but let’s call it a “one-quarter” scoop. (My first editor told me to never make the reader do the math, so…three over 12 is 25 percent.)

The wealthy swingers…

Don Wagner is a private investor who made millions in the steel tank industry. He has served on various civic and community boards, including having been chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City. He has been a trustee for the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was appointed to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners two years ago by then-Gov. Eric Greitens. (I believe he lives in KCMO.)

 

Alan Atterbury co-founded Midland Loan Services, a national real estate financial loan services firm based in Overland Park. It is now owned by PNC Financial Services of Pittsburg, PA. Before starting Midland, Atterbury was a partner in the law firm Morrison & Hecker. He has served on many boards, including the Harry S. Truman Library Institute, Midwest Research Institute and the UMKC Board of Trustees. (He may live in Naples, FL, now.)

 

Tom Devlin co-founded Rent-A-Center, the country’s largest rent-to-own chain, in 1973, when he was 25. The company was sold to a larger company in 1987 for $584 million. As recently as 2014, Devlin headed an investment holding company. (Devlin lives in or near Wichita, where Rent-A-Center was founded. It is now based in Plano, TX.)

**

I wanted to note the passing of Jack Campbell, a lawyer, civic activist and personal acquaintance since my early days in Kansas City.

I didn’t know a soul here when I arrived in September 1969, but in short order I caught on with — and moved in with — a group of fairly recent MU graduates. Five of us lived in a rental house at 58th and McGee. Not far away, on 50th Street between Main and Wornall, lived several other friends and MU graduates, including the late R.J. Roper Jr., who was in the beer distributing business, and lawyers Jim Bowers and Jack Campbell.

Jack was a serious-minded but lighthearted fellow, and unlike most of the rest of us he had a girlfriend, Marsha Mulford. As a result, he seldom was out with the rest of us, who often drank late into the night and battled hangovers the next day.

Not only did Jack forge an excellent legal career, he served several years as a state representative from the Brookside area. After he left office, his wife, Marsha Campbell (nee Mulford), was elected to the State House and served several terms. (Do any of you remember her ingenious yard signs, which mimicked the Campbell’s Soup label?)

One of my outstanding memories of Jack was crossing paths with him one day when I was covering the Jackson County Courthouse (1971 to 1978). I was walking to my car in the courthouse parking lot, when Jack looked at my car — a white, 1959 Pontiac I had driven from Louisville — and said, “What’s a man of your station doing driving a beat-up old car like that? You need to get a new car!”

He was smiling, but he was serious. Shortly after that encounter, I went to Art Bunker Volkswagen on Wornall and bought a new, 1971 VW Super Beetle.

Jack died Sunday at Research Medical Center. He was 73 — and a damn good man. Even though I rarely saw him in recent years, I, along with countless others he touched over the decades, will miss him.

It’s been a busy few days on the local news front…Let’s get right to it.

** It’s extremely rare for federal judges to be sanctioned, but Judge Carlos Murguia of U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, made the cut with good reason:

The Judicial Council of the Tenth U.S. Circuit found 1) sexually harassing court employees; 2) engaging in a “years-long extramarital sexual relationship with a drug-using individual,” exposing himself to possible extortion; and 3) being habitually late to court because he was playing basketball during lunch.

Unfortunately bad form seems to be a “family tradition” with the Murguias.

The judge’s former wife, Ann Brandau-Murguia, an elected member of the Unified Government Board of Commissioners, was arrested in February 2018 on suspicion of domestic battery involving “a long-time friend.” Two months later, the Wyandotte County District Court attorney announced he would not file charges.

In the face of the judicial sanctions, Carlos Murguia issued a statement of apology, but the special committee investigating the case said the apology “appeared more tied to his regret that his actions were brought to light than an awareness of…the harm he caused…”

By the way, The Kansas City Star made a terrible decision on placement of the story in today’s print edition. The story clearly should have run on A1, but the editors buried it on A4. On the front page, meanwhile, was a story about a hospital fraud case in Putnam County in north-central Missouri. The Star discontinued its outstate coverage decades ago and probably doesn’t have a dozen readers in Putnam County.

** Earlier today, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced he had declined to halt the execution of Russell Bucklew, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 following a rampage that ended in St. Louis County.

Convicted murderer Russell Bucklew is scheduled to be executed in Missouri after midnight Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

A spokeswoman for Parson announced his decision in a brief email.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said: “In signing an anti-abortion law in May, Parson declared that ‘all life has value and is worth protecting’ — giving death-penalty opponents hope that he would spare the lives of those sitting on death row.”…

I suppose the gov just forgot to add an asterisk when he said “all life has value.”

Bucklew was executed by lethal injection and declared dead at 6:23 p.m. today.

**

Somehow, three of the biggest names in golf — Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and TV commentator David Feherty came to town, played a couple of benefit rounds at the Kansas City Country Club at the invitation of Tom Watson and apparently got out of town without anyone in the news media finding out about it for 10 days.

Ten days!

This is not only perplexing, it’s “outrageous, egregious, preposterous.”

The Star’s Pete Grathoff — one of the laziest reporters I’ve ever encountered — had an online story more than a week after Nicklaus, Trevino and Feherty had played with a dozen people who each paid $100,000 (i.e., $1.2 million) that went to a Watson foundation for the benefit of The First Tee of Greater Kansas City.

A First Tee official was quoted as saying, “We didn’t organize it and it was pretty confidential.”

…While I applaud the discretion of the people involved, this episode of non-reporting will be the subject of a new class I’m creating called The Decline of Journalism 101. It will revolve around the failure of news outlets to maintain staffs large enough to cover the news. (I hope to teach the course in 200-seat lecture halls in universities all around the country. Watch this space for details…)

**

P.S. I said Pete Grathoff (who writes under the “For Pete’s Sake” handle) is one of the laziest reporters I’ve ever seen. Let me explain.

In April, he wrote a story about the Kansas City Royals’ supposedly lowering concession prices. A couple of days later, I went to a game, visited several concession stands and could find no evidence of any price reductions; they were as outrageous, egregious and preposterious as ever.

That led to this exchange of emails:

Me to Pete: I published a blog post last night about what appears to be non-existing concession price reductions at Kauffman Stadium…I think a follow-up column is in order; if stadium management is playing games with the public, you have a responsibility to let KC Star readers know.

Pete to me: That is interesting. Next time I am at Kauffman Stadium, I will check it out for myself. Thank you for the heads up.

And that was the last I ever heard of it…”Thank you for the heads up.”

…In my Decline of Journalism course, I think I’ll ask Pete to be a guest speaker…

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

“I’ve said before, I do not have the medical background to analyze the president’s behavior.”

**

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president…

“People were talking about impeaching this president before he even got inaugurated. Now they are getting their wish. Nancy Pelosi finally capitulated to her angry mob.”

**

Thomas Wright, of the Brookings Institution, on the resignation of Kurt Volker, special envoy for Ukraine…

“Kurt was one of the good ones who went in to the administration to stave off disaster. They all have to speak out now about everything they know and let the chips fall where they may.”

**

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a former constitutional law professor and now a member of the House Judiciary Committee, on Attorney General William Barr

“Just as the president is not above the law, the attorney general is not above the law. The president’s betrayal of his oath of office and the Constitution is the primary offense here, and we need to stay focused on that, but the attorney general’s prostitution of the Department of Justice for the president’s political agenda has been necessary to the president’s schemes and he will face his own reckoning.”

**

Chris Wallace of Fox News…

“To dismiss this (whistle-blower) as a political hack seems to be an effort by the president’s defenders to make nothing out of something, and there is something here.”

**

President Donald Trump on his phone call with Voldymyr Zelensky

“If that perfect phone call with the President of Ukraine isn’t considered appropriate, then no future President can EVER again speak to another foreign leader!”

**

Roger Cohen, a New York Times opinion writer…

“The conversation was indeed perfect — as a basis for impeachment, that is.”

**

Fox News host Laura Ingraham to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who talked so long about Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption that he became hoarse…

“Sorry to cut you off. You gotta get your voice back.”

**

Giuliani…

“It is impossible that the whistle-blower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons — when this is over, I will be the hero.”