News of the death of young Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura makes it difficult to be cheery about anything today, but nevertheless it’s important to report — and take satisfaction in — the fact that The Kansas City Star’s editorial page roared back to life today, after months of dispiriting enervation.
Not to overstate the situation, but it’s almost as if flesh that had fallen away from a body was suddenly, almost miraculously, restored.
It’s like a Higher Being intoned the words “Get off your pallet and walk!” — and somehow it happened.
I’ll tell you, the mug shots of six new editorial board members stripped above The Star’s flag on the on today’s front page was a welcome and encouraging sight. (Also pictured was editorial cartoonist Lee Judge, who is not a member of the “editorial board.” Not pictured was publisher Tony Berg, who heads the editorial board.)
An even more encouraging sight was two pages, 14A and 15A, of exclusively local editorial content. In addition to two staff-written editorials (the first in months), new editorial board vice president Colleen McCain Nelson wrote about her vision for The Star’s opinion pages. She summed it up by saying, “The Star is redoubling its effort to take a leading role in civil public discourse and to deliver unique, impactful opinion content.”
To some readers, today’s hoopla might seem over the top, but I think it’s completely warranted in light of the fact the bottom had fallen out of the editorial page, leaving readers to guess if a resurrection was even possible.
The lead opinion piece on the editorial page (the left-facing page) was titled “Giving Trump a chance.” The second editorial was titled “Greitens off to strong start with call for ethics reform in Jefferson City.”
Those headlines, along with the text beneath them, told us a lot about the editorial tone and philosophy we’ll be seeing. This will not be a “slash and burn” approach, like it was when the editorial page was under the unofficial direction of longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah. With Nelson, we can expect restrained evaluation of issues and individuals, segueing into strong opinions. Today, Nelson put readers on notice she will taste before she chews and tap before she hammers.
In recent months, The Star has probably lost a lot of readers who vote Democratic. And while the new editorial tack might run off even more of those, I think a tone of moderation will bring back many readers who felt abandoned. It could also attract new readers who haven’t taken notice previously and who have never looked to The Star for guidance on local and national issues.
For evidence of the new, measured approach, let’s take a closer look at today’s two editorials.
:: In an email, Nelson told me Dave Helling, political-reporter-turned-opinion-writer, wrote the lead editorial, “with input from the rest of the board.”
The headline, “Giving Trump a chance,” surely will have many local readers grinding their teeth because Trump, with his arrogance and his reckless and contradictory pronouncements, has already exhausted whatever trove of goodwill opponents apportioned him immediately after the election. You have to read the editorial, however, to see The Star is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Trump presidency.
The editorial said that “declaring this a failed presidency before it even begins won’t help our country.” At the same time, it noted the “widespread unease” with Trump that overflowed Saturday in Washington D.C. and several other major cities, and it acknowledged the fear Trump has aroused with his attacks on the press and individuals who have criticized him.
The editorial closed with these thoughtful words:
We are committed to measuring the president’s words and actions against the same yard sticks this newspaper has always used to judge public figures: honesty, transparency, facts. If President Trump succeeds, you’ll read it here. If he fails, we’ll write about that, too.
:: Just as the headline on the editorial about Republican Gov. Eric Greitens could give the impression The Star will support him gung-ho, the editorial itself bestowed qualified praise. It applauded Greitens for his push on ethics reform, including a ban on lobbyists’ gifts to legislators, and it suggested the paper would support Greitens’ call for term limits for all statewide officeholders.
At the same time, the editorial laid into Greitens for hypocrisy by refusing to disclose the sources of about $2 million in anonymous contributions he received and also for accepting $1 million in contributions from a Joplin businessman and his sister.
As critical as I’ve been of The Star in recent months, particularly about the demise of the editorial page, I have said all along I was confident Tony Berg had a long-range plan for change. We saw signs of it last year with the addition of the four-page “In Depth” pullout section that runs in the Tuesday-Saturday papers, and today we see it in even more striking fashion.
I don’t think it’s overstating the situation to say that even with its depleted reporting and editing staff…even with the loss of more than 1,500 total employees…even with its parent company lugging around a debt of $900 million…even with print circulation and advertising continuing to decline…this could be — should be — the start of a new, better era for The Kansas City Star and its readers.
Berg deserves a round of applause, and — as today’s lead editorial said about Trump — Berg and Nelson deserve to be given a chance.