Your local journalism policeman is On The Job, readers! Here’s Round 2 of the (already) wildly popular feature that had its inaugural run last week —Plums & Prunes, a periodic critique of recent editions of The Kansas City Star.
~ “Families aghast at cremation scandal” (A-1, Friday, April 2) — Joe Lambe and Dawn Bormann scored a “holy crap!” story with their piece about a New Mexico man who allegedly sent body parts to a medical waste facility in KCK. The New Mexico man is charged with three felony fraud counts. As a friend of mine, a former Star reporter, put it: “It’s a story that has legs….and arms and…”
~ April 2 centerpiece photo (above) of Jeanne Tiller, the widow of slain abortion doctor George Tiller, being hugged by a female family member at the sentencing of killer Scott Roeder. Both women’s eyes are closed, and the two are melded as one by hands, arms and gently touching heads. Photo by Jeff Tuttle of The Wichita Eagle.
~ “Hey! That really gets my goat” (A-4, Friday, April 2) — That was the “overline” above a priceless photo of a baby goat tugging at the shirttail of a 4-year-old boy at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. Photographer John Sleezer not only caught the nibble but also the boy in the act of stepping off a tree stump to elude his pursuer.
~ “Tragic loss highlights revoked driving toll” (A-1, Saturday, April 3) — Excellent follow-up by Christine Vendel on an earlier story about Clayton (Revoked and Dangerous) Dunlap, whose out-of-control SUV killed 12-year-old Damian Slayton and seriously injured his mother in a crash at Watkins Drive and Gregory. Vendel reported that Jackson County Court officials and Kansas City police intend to crack down on revoked drivers.
~ “Model parole program collapses with budget” (Sunday, April 4) –Auspicious kick-off to a what promises to be an informative, occasional series about state budget cuts in Kansas and Missouri. Rick Montgomery wrote about the gutting of a program that provided broad treatment and support services to Kansas inmates about to re-enter society.
~ “He’s the reason you’re not bored with the board” (B-2, Sunday, April 4) — In his weekly political column, Steve Kraske explained the presence of all those yard signs for Crispin Rea Jr., Kyleen Carroll and Joseph Jackson, Kansas City School Board candidates. (All three won last Tuesday.) Current board member, 30-year-old Airick Leonard West, who supported Superintendent John Covington’s school-contraction plan, stoked up a big effort on those candidates’ behalf. The caveat: The column would have benefitted from a photo of West, whom many people, including me, wouldn’t recognize on the street.
~ “She saves at a speedy clip” (A-1, Tuesday, April 6) — Irrepressible story about “extreme couponer” Brandie Mavich of south Kansas City. James A. Fussell, of The Star’s features department, wrote colorfully that when the sales clerk started deducting the coupon savings from Ms. Mavich’s tab, “The register began to smoke, or at least it should have.”
~ “No longer sold on real estate” (D-1, Tuesday, April 6) — Timely piece by Kevin Collison about the thinning ranks of real estate agents as the home-selling business has fallen on hard times.
~ “”Power battle turns deadly in central Asian country” (A-1, Thursday, April 8) — An international story…out front. Hooray!
#% Still no sighting of a Pope story on the front page. The Star had a good opportunity on Sunday, April 4, with an Associated Press story about two Arizona priest-abuse cases that languished under Benedict XVI before he became pope. That story, which ended up on A-9, could have substituted for Lee Hill Kavanaugh’s local story about a teen cancer patient’s visit to the U.S. Supreme Court. Once again, The Star cast the die with an “all-local” front. The result? Craps.
#% “Desperate hunt for miners” (A-1, Tuesday, April 6). Well, at least the story made the front page. But, boy, was there a gaffe in this story. The overline (above the headline) and the story’s first sentence both said, authoritatively and with finality, that the blast “killed 12.” At the bottom of the front page, before the story “jumped” to the inside, the article noted that “others were thought to be missing,” but it brushed past that point quickly. What a surprise, then — for Star readers, anyway — when, radio and TV reports on Tuesday morning reported that the death toll had jumped to 25. The story should have said that “at least” 12 people were killed and should have emphasized that the death toll could rise. The story was still developing when The Star went to press Monday night, so enveloping the story in a tone of finality was a big mistake.
#% “Finally, Tiger’s apology is right” (A-1, Tuesday, April 6) — Appearing on The New York Times’ front page this day were, among others, stories about the U.S. seeking a record $16 million fine against Toyota and President Obama revamping American nuclear strategy. Star readers got neither or those stories on A-1 but, instead, a Jason Whitlock column about Tiger Woods speaking to the media.
#% “It’s a UConn job” (B-1, Wednesday, April 7) — This is a joke, right, sports editors? The UConn women completed a second consecutive perfect basketball season Tuesday night and it’s worth one paragraph on the sports front, guiding to an inside story? Wow. Pathetic. (By now, readers, you probably know I’m a diehard women’s basketball fan. Nevertheless….)
Special category: ” ‘Personhood’ movement seeks end to abortion” (A-1, Tuesday, April 6) — This one probably had some readers scratching their heads. The story, by The Star’s Laura Bauer, is about several states in which anti-abortion activists are trying to extend the legal definition of “person” to cover the fertilized egg. The story measures 33 column inches, but less than three inches of that are on the front page. When a story is “buried” on the front page like this, it’s usually because the editors aren’t convinced of the strength of the story, but they are hesitant to consign it to the inside because a lot of time and effort has been invested. It usually leaves the reporter miffed about the placement (or “play,” as it’s called in the newsroom) but happy that it goes onto his or her A-1 count.