The Kansas City Star has undergone a lot of changes since I retired in 2006, and now a very big change is on the way.
This time, fortunately, change apparently won’t involve staff cuts.
But it will alter the basic look and direction of The Kansas City Star.
From what I gather, the biggest changes will be:
:: Shifting the focus from print to digital.
:: A redesign of both the print edition and the kansascity.com website.
:: The print-edition deadline moving up to 9.m. instead of about 11...The sports department is said to be particularly unhappy about that because, if true, it will be almost impossible to get the results of most Royals’ games and other 7 p.m. start-time events in the print edition.
A reliable source told me editor Mike Fannin laid out the plan at a meeting last Friday and said the changes would be phased in between now and September.
My source said the redesign probably will be along the lines of the Idaho Statesman, another McClatchy Co. paper that rolled out its redesign and new website early last week.
Also known as the “replica” edition, this is an electronic facsimile of the print edition. The reader can skim headlines and sections, and click on specific stories and photos for an enlarged view. (The New Yorker magazine went to the online replica several years ago, with the “zoom-in” feature, and it’s very easy to navigate.)
The Statesman is betting the e-edition will be a significant money-maker. For non-print subscribers, the Statesman digital package will be $9.99 a month or $99.99 for an annual subscription. As an introductory offer, the Statesman will give digital-only customers the first month for 99 cents.
If The Star follows the Statesman’s lead, it will continue to publish a print edition every day.
A big change at the Statesman’s is that there will be just four Sunday sections, including a separate sports section. Monday through Saturday, however, sports will go to the back of the A section.
Somehow, I have a hard time seeing The Star dropping its daily sports section. This is Kansas City, after all, and we have three major professional sports teams (the Chiefs, Royals and Sporting Kansas City) and four Division I schools (KU, K-State, Missouri and UMKC).
In addition, while other sections have shrunk (and some, like Metro, have gone away), sports has held its ground and is the biggest draw for many male subscribers. Indicative of the emphasis The Star puts on sports, just last week the Associated Press Sports Editors named The Star as a “Triple Crown” winner among large-circulation news organizations.
It was the fourth consecutive year The Star has won that honor.
To win the APSE’s version of the Triple Crown, a paper must rank in the top 10 papers in three of four categories: daily coverage, Sunday section, special print section and website.
The Star made the top 10 in website, Sunday section and special section, the latter being the paper’s “Football 2014” section.
I’m a little surprised The Star hasn’t moved its focus to digital before now. But it’s all got to do with revenue. Print advertising is still the cash cow and newspapers haven’t been able to get nearly as much revenue from digital ads. As a result, papers have been shifting the financial balance from advertising to subscriptions, raising prices for print as well as online subscriptions. The Star bumped up its print subscription price at least 20 percent this year.
For the sake of the city and KC Star readers, I hope Fannin and publisher Mi-Ai Parrish are able to make this change work, and I hope the paper doesn’t lose too many readers in the transition. What Fannin and Parrish are betting on is any downturn in print subscriptions will be more than offset by an upswing in digital subscriptions, ideally from younger readers.
This is a long-term proposition for The Star: It will take years to determine if the digital part of the equation pans out.