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This email from my friend Dan Margolies, formerly of The Star and now a standout reporter and editor at KCUR, said it all.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the astonishing news by now: Yael was axed this morning.”

…I don’t know how this didn’t register on the Richter scale, but regular KC Star readers certainly are being been shaken to the core by news that Star publisher Tony Berg today”laid off” longtime lead editorial writer and columnist Yael Abouhalkah.

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Yael Abouhalkah

Yael, along with perhaps columnist Steve Kraske, has been The Star’s highest-profile. For more than 30 years Yael has written hard-hitting editorials about City Hall, and in recent years, as The Star trimmed its editorial-page staff, he branched out into other areas. He was a strident critic, particularly, of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

Neither The Star nor Tony Berg has announced Yael’s departure, and no reason has been given. Most of us may never know why Berg, who took over as publisher early this year, decided to “axe” Yael, as Margolies put it. My personal opinion is that Berg is effectively clearing the deck for the arrival of Colleen McCain Nelson, whom Berg recently hired to become the next vice-president of the editorial page.

Nelson is a former Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, and she is currently covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Wall Street Journal. She will not start work at The Star, however, until at least late this year.

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:: Here’s what Yael posted on his Facebook page:

“Good Monday morning. I am on to a new adventure after The Star decided to lay me off this morning after almost 37 years there, including 32 years on the Editorial Board.

“Quick observations:

“1. Everything is OK! Great wife, two super kids, house paid for and even decent savings. And good severance pay (thanks, KC Star readers!) More time for gardening and running.

“2. Yes, will definitely miss writing about the local/state political worlds and miss the positive and negative reaction I got from readers.

“3. My wife already has plans for the future.

“4. Really appreciate all of the kind words – even from people who said they often disagree with me — that I’m hearing already.

“5. And FINALLY I get to say what I really think about Sam Brownback and Donald Trump.

“Cheers to all.”

…Gotta love the attitude, the quip about Brownback and the classy exit. This has got to be a gut shot for him, but it would appear he’s looking to the future and not the past.

(By the way, I put in a call to Yael today — he still had a voice mailbox at The Star as of this morning — but haven’t heard back as of this writing.)

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:: Here’s what former editorial page writer Barb Shelly posted on her Facebook page:

“This morning the Kansas City Star laid off Yael Abouhalkah, one of the nation’s smartest and boldest editorial writers. This comes after Star management has stalled for six months on replacing myself or Steve Paul after we took buyout offers. Yael and Lewis Diuguid have been working around the clock trying to keep the pages together. I can only surmise that Yael’s continuing advocacy for better web placement and visibility for opinion was too much for Star publisher Tony Berg to handle. Or maybe the complaints about Yael’s relentless scrutiny of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback had their effect. Either way, this is a terrible day for the Kansas City Star and for local journalism.”

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:: And here’s some of the first-hand reaction I got from friends.

— “I feel like throwing a chair across the room.” Mike Rice, former KC Star reporter who’s now working as a para-legal at an Independence law firm.

— “The question is, are they going to have an editorial page? What are they going to run? Cartoons? Old Andy Rooney columns? The prayer of the day?David Chartrand, longtime KC journalist and writer of humorous commentary.

— “I’m really sad about it. I think our city is not going to be well served without Yael at City Hall. I put a lot of stock in what he says.Pat Russell, dedicated KC Star reader.

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The departures of Shelly and Steve Paul earlier this year left The Star with two editorial-page writers, Yael and Lewis Diuguid. For now, I suppose, it will  be down to Diuguid…Good luck, Lewis!

And here’s my final thought, for now. Like Yael, I put in almost 37 years at The Star — came up three months short. The difference is I retired. That was in 2006, two years before The Star began laying off editorial employees. Had I hung around, I’m sure that I, too, would have been laid off. But I was lucky: I got my sheet cake and pizza party. I hope Yael gets one, but that’s not usually the way it works with layoffs: You collect your shit and clear out.

I was sorry to see in today’s Kansas City Star that Bill Clarkson Sr., longtime president of one of the region’s biggest road builders — Clarkson Construction Co. — died last Friday.

Clarkson, who was either 90 or 91, left a decided mark on the bistate area and beyond. The company is now in its fifth generation of family ownership. (Bill Sr. was the fourth-generation president).

Clarkson also left a mark on me, when I was a young reporter at The Star. It was shortly after I had been assigned to cover the Jackson County Courthouse in 1971. I was two years into my 36-plus year career at the paper and on my first major “beat.”

One of my duties as courthouse reporter was to track the final construction phases of the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, the then-massive, $100-million project that was unique in that it featured separate baseball and football stadiums.

The Clarkson company was not involved in the actual construction, but Clarkson was chairman of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority. Being a publicly funded project — thanks to a massive 1967, voter-approved bond issue — the complex was, and still is, owned by Jackson County taxpayers. The Sports Complex Authority, representing the taxpayers, was the body that oversaw construction and also enforced the terms of the stadium leases with the Chiefs and Royals.

As many of you will recall, both stadiums — Arrowhead and Royals Stadium — originally were outfitted with artificial turf, which was laid over a bed of asphalt.

One day shortly after the asphalt had been laid at Royals Stadium, I went to the complex for a scheduled on-field meeting between Clarkson and Don Sharp Sr., the primary contractor who led a three-company consortium called Sharp/Kidde/Webb.

The reason for the meeting was the quality of the asphalt job. It seems there were problems.

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Bill Clarkson Sr.

Clarkson was thin, less than 6 feet tall and about 45 at the time. His most distinctive physical features were a fine head of hair and slightly sagging jowls that contributed to a look of perpetual weariness and sadness.

Sharp, on the other hand, was about six feet tall, with a barrel chest, crew cut, neatly trimmed mustache and gravelly voice. I later heard reports that he and his son Don Sharp Jr. brawled in their Arrowhead suite during a Chiefs’ game.

For the asphalt meeting, several people gathered on the third-base side of the field, close to what would become the on-deck circle. I remember looking out at that vast expanse of fresh, black asphalt and thinking how odd it was that this was the underpinning for a baseball field. Not grass and dirt.

Clarkson was ordinarily a quiet sort of person, a slow speaker, and I had never seen another side of him. He began by telling Sharp that the asphalt job had deficiencies, namely, that the surface was very uneven in spots. He pointed to various places to make his point. Sharp immediately balked at the suggestion that the asphalt work was unsatisfactory, and in seconds the men were yelling at each other.

It was so explosive that we bystanders froze. Unwisely — not anticipating any trouble — I had not bothered to get my reporter’s notebook out of the pocket of my sports coat. (Back then, I wore a coat and tie to work every day.) I was paralyzed and afraid to reach for my notebook, thinking Clarkson or Sharp might turn on me and say, “Put that damn thing away!” So, I tried, as best I could to commit to memory what they were saying.

The only thing I clearly remember Clarkson yelling was something like, “I represent the taxpayers, and I won’t have this.”

In a couple of minutes it was over, and the group dispersed. I went back to the office and wrote a story from memory. It wasn’t a bad story. It would have been better if I’d had my notebook out. But, then, the words were flying so fast and I was so nervous I wouldn’t have been able to capture more than a few snippets of the exchanges, anyway.

I don’t even remember for sure what came of the clash, but I believe parts of the asphalt job were redone. Also, in an ironic twist, several years later Clarkson Construction bought (or merged with) Bowen Construction Co., the company that had laid the asphalt.

…I will always remember fondly, and vividly, the day Bill Clarkson set aside his deep affiliation with the construction industry and spoke angrily and profanely on behalf of Jackson County taxpayers.

Here’s his obituary.

Most of you have probably heard about QuikTrip’s plan to significantly increase its presence — i.e., new store — east of Roanoke Parkway on Westport Road. A Wednesday Kansas City Star story said the plan had “hit a roadblock” when the city Plan Commission voted 4-1 against it Tuesday.

The writer, City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley, made it clear, however, that the plan is by no means dead. The Plan Commission is merely an advisory body; the final decision will be made by the City Council. And that’s a whole other deal.

But a few facts first…QuikTrip wants to expand from about four fuel pumps to seven and build a new store of 5,773 square feet, compared with the existing 3,200-square-foot building. The most ambitious part of the plan, however, is that the grounds and building would “jump” over Mercier Street, which borders QuikTrip on the east and expand into the former Berbiglia store on the other side of Mercier. That would mean closing Mercier south of Westport Road.

The West Plaza Neighborhood Association adamantly opposes the plan, saying it might be fine in the suburbs but not in an urban neighborhood. And, indeed, Horsley’s story said the four commissioners who voted against the plan “agreed with many neighbors who said the expansion didn’t fit with their mixed-use residential neighborhood and could create many traffic and safety headaches.”

But from here on out, this will be a political decision. And that’s where the neighborhood — and perhaps logic — will “hit a roadblock.”

The plan’s first stop at the City Council level will be the council’s Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee. The committee consists of Scott Taylor, chairman, and Katheryn Shields, Heather Hall, Lee Barnes Jr. and Quinton Lucas.

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Councilman Scott Taylor

I have no idea how any of them will vote on the QuikTrip plan, but Shields is the only one of the five who lives in Council District 4, where the QuikTrip is located. Also, Taylor, the committee chairman, who lives in south Kansas City, has a reputation as being pro-development. Last night, I checked out his campaign finance reports for the last three years, and he’s taken in tens of thousands of dollars from development lawyers and law firms, contractors, engineering companies, as well as labor and building-trades organizations.

Of particular note, since January 2014, the development law firm White Goss has contributed $6,775 to Taylor’s campaign committee…And White Goss is representing QuikTrip.

QuikTrip, for the record, has contributed $750 to Taylor. That’s not much, relative to White Goss’s contributions, but enough to get Taylor’s attention.

I covered City Hall from 1985 to 1995, and I saw up close how this works. Just like Donald Trump has said, if he makes a large contribution to someone, he expects something in return. At the city level, Scott Taylor has been “good for business,” and business has been good to him and expects him to continue to deliver.

…On the QuikTrip deal, here’s what I foresee: The company makes a couple of very modest concessions, perhaps reducing the footprint slightly or going down one fuel pump, and the P&Z Committee recommends approval of the deal. (QuikTrip will never compromise on jumping Mercier, though.)

When it goes to the full council, the vote could be close, but my guess is the plan ultimately gets at least the seven votes it needs to go forward.

Many years ago, a friend, now deceased, used to quote his uncle as saying, “You can’t beat the Yankees.” At City Hall, it’s almost impossible to beat the development crowd.

It was big news earlier this month when headlines in papers across the country announced that Wells Fargo had agreed to pay $185 million in fines because its employees, under extreme pressure from management, had opened more than a million bank accounts, some of which were opened without customers’ knowledge.

This huge story continues to make headlines: On Tuesday members of the Senate Banking Committee grilled Wells Fargo C.E.O. John G. Stumpf for more than two hours.

The occasion gave Banking Committee members an opportunity to grandstand and expel their wrath at Stumpf for firing more than 5,000 employees — although not a single one in senior management, where the pressure originated and was maintained.

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Scott Reckard

One thing I think is important for people to know — although relatively few people ever will — is this snowball ball started rolling because, three years ago, an editor at the Los Angeles Times sent an email to the paper’s banking reporter, E. Scott Reckard, about something that had been called to his attention.

Here’s how Reckard, who retired last year, explained it to the Columbia Journalism Review in an article published Sept. 12.

“I got an email from one of the editors, Pat McMahon, saying there was this weird story. I talked to this [Wells Fargo employee] who claimed he had signed people up for accounts and services they didn’t need, but never without them knowing it—he would just talk them into it. Anyway, he told a story about these incredible pressures to make sales numbers and about how the branch had basically been setting records and getting kudos for doing this, but then people started complaining, and some trouble came down. Before too long, all these people got fired, these front line workers. He said all they were doing was responding to pressure from above and coaching from above about how to get the numbers up.”

If he wasn’t conscientious, Reckard probably could have blown off the editor, saying it was an aberration. Instead he jumped right into it, and on Oct. 3, 2013, the paper ran a 12-paragraph story saying Wells Fargo had fired about 30 branch employees in the Los Angeles region for opening accounts that were never used and attempting to manipulate customer satisfaction surveys.

What happened next took Reckard by surprise:

“(T)he phones started ringing off the hook and the emails started landing from people all over the place. Mainly current and former Wells Fargo employees, but customers too. They wanted to tell stories about what had happened to them.”

With the help of another editor, Brian Thevenot, Reckard dug deeper, and what he found was “the scope was really big” and not just limited to Southern California.

On Dec. 23, 2013, the Times published a much more comprehensive story, which Reckard began with an anecdote from a former Florida branch manager. Reckard quoted the former manager, Rita Murillo, as saying: “If we did not make the sales quotas…we had to stay for what felt like after-school detention, or report to a call session on Saturdays.”

From there, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state regulators got involved, and early this month the story exploded when the CFPB announced the $185 million settlement.

A Sept. 8 New York Times story quoted CFPB director Richard Cordray as saying, “Unchecked incentives can lead to serious consumer harm, and that is what happened here.”

I’m not taking anything away from the CFPB. I’m glad its investigators got in there and cracked open the pineapple. But there wouldn’t have been any pineapple if it hadn’t been for Scott Reckard and the Los Angeles Times. 

**

As I mentioned, Reckard retired last year, after 18 years with the Times and 14 before that with the Associated Press. He told the CJR he retired “because it wasn’t as much fun…working for newspapers these days.”

Almost any veteran newspaper reporter would say the same thing. Yet the work remains as important as ever, and let’s hope many in the new generation of reporters are as dedicated, resourceful and enthusiastic as Reckard. The dividends can be great, not just for the individual but, as the Wells Fargo story clearly demonstrated, for the public at large.

Reckard acknowledged the personal and professional satisfaction when he told the CJR:

“It’d be easy to look back and say, ‘Why the hell did I spend my life doing something?’ But when you get a chance to actually see that there was some action that resulted on something important you covered, it sort of restores your faith in the whole process.”

The latest case of police killing an unarmed black person — the one in Tulsa last Friday — is jaw-dropping and maddening.

Even though one officer was preparing to Taser 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who was presenting no apparent threat, a 42-year-old officer named Betty Shelby fatally shot him in the chest as he stood beside the driver’s window of his broken-down SUV.

Shelby was one of three officers (the other two were men) dealing with Crutcher, who seemed, in police video, to be walking a bit aimlessly. Far from being menacing, Crutcher was walking slowly, away from the officers, back toward his vehicle in the seconds before Shelby shot him.

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Officer Betty Shelby

Shelby’s attorney said today that Crutcher ignored officers’ commands, kept touching his pocket and was reaching through a window of his SUV when he was killed. Shelby is a five-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department and was a sheriff’s deputy before that. 

Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Monday, before police video and audio recordings were released, that Crutcher had no weapon on him or in his SUV when he was shot.

In the video, from the cautious way officers approach, Crutcher appears to have been acting strangely. An attorney for Crutcher’s family said Crutcher looked like “someone in distress, someone needing help from either a mental or a medical condition — perhaps intoxicated, but in a condition of needing assistance of the police.”

The strangest and most damning part of the recordings is the audio. The listener hears the voices of two or three male officers, one of whom is in a police helicopter. Here’s part of the dialogue among the male officers in the seconds before the shooting. It’s not clear if Shelby can hear the exchanges.

— “All right, Betty Jo, where you at?”

— “He’s got his hands up there for her now.”

— “Time for Taser, I think.”

— “That’s kinda the feelin’ that’s about to happen.”

— “That looks like a bad dude, too.”

— “Where are you facing?”

At that moment, in the video, Crutcher goes down to the ground, grabs his chest and rolls onto his back.

— “Westbound” comes the answer to the previous question of direction. After a pause, the officer says, “I think he may have just been Tasered.” (In fact, one officer did use a Taser on Crutcher about the same time Shelby fired her service weapon.)

A couple of seconds later, Shelby says in a loud, quavering voice, “Shots fired!”

**

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Terence Crutcher

Now, I know things happen quickly in tense situations like that, but the video and audio raise a few key points:

First, if Shelby was hearing the chatter, she should have known one of her fellow officers was getting ready to employ his Taser.

Second — again, if she was hearing the chatter — how might she have been influenced by the oral observation that Crutcher “looks like a bad dude.” In my opinion, that could easily have planted the notion with Shelby that Crutcher was dangerous.

Third, if Shelby wasn’t hearing the chatter, why would she not ask the officers standing beside her if either of them was preparing to use the Taser? She must have known one of the other two officers had a Taser, but there is no indication the officers were talking among themselves, although they had plenty of opportunity to do so. All it would have taken was six words: “Are you going to Taser him?”

Instead, it appears each of the three officers was operating in his or her own world, determining how he or she should proceed. This inebriated or addled man had those three officers so flummoxed they didn’t know what to do. Either of the male officers could have jumped the guy at any time and taken him to the ground. Crutcher was big, but, as one of the family’s attorneys said, he appeared to be in a compromised condition. He certainly didn’t look like he was ready to start throwing punches or resisting vigorously.

**

I noted there is no indication the three officers were communicating with each other or formulating a take-down plan. Oddly, at the end of the video, after Crutcher is down, bleeding profusely and not moving, the three officers decide to act in unison.

With shoulders touching, they slowly back away from Crutcher’s motionless body — guns still pointing straight ahead — as if tiptoeing away from the door at a surprise party as the honored guest prepares to enter.

It’s almost comical, except for the mindless, reflexive shooting that took place seconds earlier.

I’ve got to hand it to Jason Kander, Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Roy Blunt:

He appears to winning the gun game.

Many candidates are playing the gun game these days, that is, trying to show that they are stronger Second-Amendment rights supporters than their opponents.

That’s why you see an ad with Republican gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens shooting some huge, machine-gun type weapon while seated behind it. The viewer sees a close-up of the weapon spitting out dozens of shell casings in seconds. At the end of the ad, Greitens turns toward the camera and offers a big grin, as if to say, “Yep, I’m your guy!”

Then, of course, there’s his Democratic opponent, Chris Koster, who, while he doesn’t have any ads (not yet anyway) of him handling, firing or stroking a weapon, his record on gun control is so strong that he got the NRA’s endorsement over Greitens. It’s the first time in memory that a Democratic candidate got that endorsement over a Republican in the governor’s race…Of course, Koster once was a Republican, so he must have history with the NRA.

But you’ve gotta love the current TV-ad exchange between the National Rifle Association (which is backing Blunt) and Kander.

(You can see both ads if you go to this Kansas City Star story.)

First, there’s the NRA ad, which starts out with an intruder breaking into a resident’s home in pre-dawn darkness. The front door crashes open, and a voice says: “You have a right to protect your home with a firearm. But liberal politician Jason Kander voted against your right…Jason Kander refused to defend your 2nd Amendment rights in Jefferson City. How could you trust him in Washington?

Not bad. But Kander’s counterpunch ad is one that could go down as a classic in pulling the rug out from under a candidate who thinks he has one interest group nailed down.

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It shows Kander, blindfolded, standing in what appears to be either a vacant underground parking lot or perhaps an industrial building. A gun similar to an AK-47 lies in front of him on a table. Kander starts to assemble it, and he conducts a monologue about Blunt while doing so.

“I’m Jason Kander,” he begins. “Sen. Blunt has been attacking me on guns. Well, in the Army, I learned how to use and respect my rifle. In Afghanistan, I’d volunteer to be an extra gun in a convoy of unarmored SUVs.

“And in the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks, so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.”

While he’s talking and proceeding through a basic four- or five-step assembly process, the gun pieces click with an echo as they go into place.

As he finishes, he says, “I approve this message…” and pauses as he removes his blindfold, before delivering the kicker…”cause I’d like to see Sen. Blunt do this.”

I laughed out loud at that closing when I first saw it today…This is one of the most creative political ads I’ve ever seen, and it grabs and holds the viewers’ attention.

…The Star’s story about the ad says Kander owns a gun but that the one in the commercial belongs to his brother. Reporter Scott Canon also notes that Blunt is not a military veteran.

In this election, where playing up to military veterans is a top priority at many levels, the Republicans and the NRA are going to have trouble denting Kander’s armored vest.

After 9/11, he enlisted in the Army National Guard, and while attending law school at Georgetown University, earned his commission through the university’s ROTC battalion. After getting his law degree, he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan, where he served as an intelligence officer — rank of lieutenant — investigating groups and individuals suspected of corruption, espionage, drug trafficking, and facilitating Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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When Kander announced his Senate candidacy early last year, I thought he didn’t have a prayer. I speculated he was looking to build name identity for another statewide race somewhere down the line. Obviously, that’s not the case; he’s running to win now.

When they go to the polls Nov. 8, Missouri voters are going to face some interesting and provocative choices at the top of the ballot: Trump-Clinton, Greitens-Koster, Blunt-Kander. Not too long ago, I would have bet the winners would be Trump, Greitens and Blunt. Now, I’m more interested in watching than betting.

Back in January 2015, several days after the attempted robbery and shootout at the She’s a Pistol gun store in Shawnee, I wrote a post — not for this blog but someone else’s — asserting that everyone would have been better off if Jon Bieker, co-owner of the gun store, had not come out of his back office firing away.

Bieker ended up getting shot to death by one of four robbers — ironically a robber who lay paralyzed by a bullet but kept firing as he lay on the floor near the front door.

Now that the video of that horrifying incident has been made public — and other new information has come to light — it’s clear I was completely wrong. I should have resisted the urge to draw conclusions without knowing more about how things evolved.

If you haven’t seen this video, be sure to watch it; it is mesmerizing, as well as terribly frightening.

We, the viewers, see one of the robbers jumps onto the counter and strikes Becky Bieker, Jon’s wifein the head, breaking her nose. She goes down and loses consciousness temporarily.

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Becky and Jon Bieker

Within a second or two, Jon Bieker emerges from the back office, holding a handgun in his outstretched, right hand, apparently firing rounds…A key thing I learned from The Star’s story yesterday is that Bieker had a video monitor on his desk and apparently saw on the monitor what was unfolding out front. When he saw his wife being attacked, he sprang into action.

Bieker apparently wounded three of the four in the melee. Two of the wounded men and one not wounded got out the front door. But the fourth man, De’Anthony Wiley, whom Bieker had also wounded, lies out of camera view near the front door. In a dramatic sequence, we see Bieker start to circle around one display stand and then double back and go around another one, which offered a better angle to fire directly at Wiley. Unfortunately, it also gave Wiley a better angle to shoot at Bieker.

The last thing we see in the sequence where Bieker is firing is him falling forward and hitting the floor.

Jon Bieker was very brave, indeed. He wasted no time coming to his wife’s defense, and he almost managed to resolve the situation without getting shot himself. The Star speculated, from the video, that Bieker might have been trying to clear a jam in his weapon when he got shot.

Besides the 21-year-old Wiley, Hakeem Malik, 20, and Londro Patterson and Nicquan Midgyett, both 21, are charged with first-degree murder. All four are scheduled to appear at a hearing tomorrow in Johnson County District Court.

…Jon Bieker would have been alive today had he decided to wait it out in the back office. Instead, he bolted to his wife’s defense. It’s a damn shame his heroism cost him his life.

**

Here’s the kind of situation that pops up when a paper like The Star is making the transition to younger reporters.

In an online story about the Westport shootings the other day, reporter Katy Bergen, apparently in trying to tie in other shootings in the Westport area, mistakenly alluded to a previous shooting that had taken place in the 8700 block of East 63rd Street.

That allusion puzzled a couple of commenters, who noted that the East 63rd Street location was several miles away from Westport.

“One of the commenters, Jess Buck, wrote: “The reporter either does not know this city or is trying to scare people away from a good part of town with misleading information.”

Bergen was monitoring the comments and came back with this:

“Hi, Jess. As a new reporter, I’m certainly guilty of the former (not knowing the city). I was working with a data set that plotted the East 63rd Street address on a map close to Westport, and did not immediately realize the mistake. Thanks for pointing it out.”

The exchange wound up on a friendly note, with Jess Buck saying, “Katy Bergen, thanks for owning it and making the corrections.”

…A simple acknowledgment of error often goes a long way toward restoring credibility. I second Jess Buck’s hat tip to Katy Bergen. She handled that perfectly.

The episode also serves as a reminder to all other Star reporters that it pays to listen to your readers.