If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend The Pitch’s story this week about The Kansas City Star’s decline and sagging fortunes.
Posted on The Pitch website Tuesday, the story is titled “Dimming Star: Things just get less and less bright at the city’s shrinking daily paper.”
The print edition of The Pitch is available at restaurants, coffee shops and other places where the paper is carried.
What used to be written off as merely an “alternative weekly,” The Pitch has been getting increasingly stronger in recent years, like many publications that have flourished in the Internet era, while the influence and power of “old media,” that is, most metropolitan dailies, have waned.
While I’m not a regular Pitch reader — still “old media,” you know — I have become familiar with at least two Pitch reporters, and both have struck me as first rate.
One is Steve Vockrodt, who did a great job of covering the campaigns for and against the proposed half-cent-sales-tax increase for translational medical research last fall. While The Star’s Mike Hendricks nipped around the edges and came in and out of the picture, Vockrodt was all over it.
The other reporter I’ve gotten to know — just by talking to him on the phone — is David Hudnall, who interviewed me for The Star story.
He spent several months developing the story, while working on other stories, too, and his exhaustive, methodical reporting paid off in a big way. He produced a seven-take piece of tremendous depth and breadth.
Among other things, the story covers 1) the sharp decline in editorial employees and the accompanying morale dropoff; 2) the McClatchy Co.’s ill-advised, almost disastrous, purchase of The Star and the other Knight Ridder papers in 2006; and 3) emerging journalistic models, such as the St. Louis Beacon. (The Beacon was founded by a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor in 2008. Late last year, the Beacon merged with St. Louis Public Radio, which, according to Hudnall, now “rivals the declining Post-Dispatch.”)
Very interesting stuff, all seven takes of it.
…I have to give myself a little promo at this point, because one of the most striking quotes in the story came from none other than JimmyC.
It comes in the first half of the story, where Hudnall is chronicling the various ownership changes at The Star.
I’ll let Hudnall take it from there:
(The Star) hasn’t been locally owned since 1977, when it was sold to New York–based Capital Cities Communications, which later merged with Disney, which in 1997 sold the Star to Knight Ridder. In June 2006, Knight Ridder sold the Star, along with 20 other newspapers, to the McClatchy Co., a Sacramento-based newspaper chain, for $6.5 billion. After the sale, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt came to Kansas City to give a customary newsroom pep talk.
“He’s standing up behind this podium, giving this big spiel about how great of a purchase it was,” says Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Star bureau chief in Wyandotte and Johnson counties, who was with the paper for 36 years. “When in fact McClatchy had bought all these papers at the exact wrong time and had taken on all this debt to do so. The previous few years with Knight Ridder had been pretty rough — lots of buyouts and layoffs. So I raised my hand and asked if he was planning any buyouts. He just laughed and said they were planning on expanding, not contracting. I just remember thinking, ‘How the fuck am I gonna get out of here?'” (Fitzpatrick retired later that year.)
…Actually, I was a little shocked to read my own four-letter-word quote. I didn’t specifically remember saying that, but I’m sure I did because I was rambling along pretty loosely in the interview, not doing much self-editing as I went. I’m kind of a reporter’s dream in that way because I sometimes speak before I think. Oh, well, c’est la vie; it added to the story.
Since we’re piling on The Star today, I’ve got a beef about this morning’s paper.
It’s about the front-page, JJ’s “back from the ashes” story by reporter Joyce Smith.
Overall, it’s an interesting and informative story, but Smith unfortunately failed to include the fact that a plaque honoring 46-year-old Megan Cramer, who died in the Feb. 19, 2013, explosion will be placed in the new JJ’s, which will be in the Plaza Vista development across the street from the old location.
I learned about the plaque after sending an e-mail to David Frantze, who owns JJ’s, along with his brother Jimmy. In the e-mail, I said I hoped that a plaque or another form of recognition was in the plans. He said it definitely was and that the plaque had been announced at the Wednesday news conference that Smith covered.
Either Smith decided that it wasn’t important enough to include in the story, or, less likely, she included it and her editor cut it.
Here’s the thing: Megan Cramer died because Missouri Gas Energy employees failed to follow simple, basic safety rules. She should be with us today and should be going back to work at JJ’s when it reopens later this year. Her name, life and death are inextricably linked to the explosion, and the fact that the Frantzes are going to honor her with a permanent plaque in the new restaurant definitely should have been part of The Star’s story. Very disappointing.