The most interesting part of this fiasco going on at The Star — management asking veteran reporters Dawn Bormann and Karen Dillon to decide which of them should be let go in a down sizing — is that The Star apparently has done this at least once before. And got away with it.
Back in January 2011, five months before Mi-Ai Parrish was named publisher at The Star, my friend Hearne Christopher reported on his kcconfidential blog that a longtime copy editor name Don Munday (who also has a humorous verse in The Star every Monday) had been let go in a down sizing.
Hearne came back a day or two later, however, saying that might not be right, and it turned out that Munday was staying. It struck me as very odd that a guy would be cast off one day (I trusted that Hearne simply didn’t misidentify the target) and then be pulled back aboard the next.
But, as I recall (I could be wrong), nothing ever came out about the possibility that Munday and another employee might have been presented with the “you two make the call” option. Now, though, Hearne is reporting that the flip of the coin, so to speak, was between Munday and another longtime copy editor, Mike Garbus. Garbus lost the toss, or whatever, and Munday continued penning his verses.
And so the episode passed quietly.
Hearne sniffed out the latest game of “you-or-him” or “you-or-her,” and it has grabbed headlines in blogs and mainstream media partly because two women are involved. In addition, each has family caretaking duties: Bormann has a young child, and Dillon apparently helps care for two grandchildren.
What I make of this situation is that editor Mike Fannin in all likelihood engineered both rounds of this foolish game. Fannin would have brought the proposal to Parrish, who probably thought to herself something like, “Well, it worked out OK the first time, when I wasn’t here, so we might as well give it another run.”
If that is the correct scenario, this 41- or 42-year-old publisher has now found out that delegating significant personnel decisions to underlings is a huge mistake.
In addition, Parrish has not impressed me in the least. She has not built a civic profile for herself and her paper, and she is not a good salesperson, which a publisher has to be these days to be successful. Remember Jim Hale, publisher back in the late 1970s and into the 80s? He presented as an easy-going, aw-shucks Texan, but he wielded tremendous power of personality and built an imposing profile on the civic front. As a result, The Star’s profile rose to its highest point in decades and made money hand over fist.
After Parrish was named publisher in 2011, I wrote that “putting a 40-year-old person with five years of publishing experience — especially small-market experience — looks like a rather big roll of the dice.”
I pointed out that she came from a paper, the Idaho Statesman, that was four times smaller than The Star in terms of circulation. Plus she had jumped to publisher in Idaho from the mid-level management job of deputy managing editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
In that same blog I also wrote this: “On the digital side, her youth should work to her advantage because that appears to be where the future lies for newspapers. But her youth could work against her on the personnel side, unless she gets some very good advisers.”
Well, her youth and relative inexperience at the highest level of journalism has worked against her.
But the Dillon-Bormann situation isn’t the first time she has dropped the ball. Just before she was announced as publisher, Hearne reported (with the reportorial help of a much less prominent blogger…ahem) that Fannin had not one — as previously thought –but two D.U.I. convictions. We also uncovered a misdemeanor assault conviction in Texas, where he worked before he came to Kansas City.
That would have been the perfect time for Parrish to unload Fannin and bring in her own editor. But, as I told Hearne at the time, that’s not the way The Star operates. When its managers come under fire, they circle the wagons and hunker down.
Now, Parrish has no one but herself to blame. If she fires Fannin, it won’t change the fact that the buck stopped with her.
I think it very likely that, as a result of this debacle, Parrish is in her first and last publishing job at a major metropolitan daily.