With the impending retirement of longtime Kansas City Star Managing Editor Steve Shirk, Editor Mike Fannin and Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish have a significant decision to make.
Replacing Shirk, who was at The Star more than 35 years, will be difficult. If this job had come open 10 years ago, several senior editors would have been competing for the job. Among them, in all probability, would have been then-Assistant Managing Editor/Metro Randy Smith; another (but lower ranking) assistant managing editor, Michael (O.J.) Nelson; and Anne Spenner, who was Smith’s right-hand person.
But all those people left when it became clear that down sizing was the order of the future after the McClatchy Co.’s ill-fated, $4.5 billion purchase of the KnightRidder chain, including The Star, in June 2006.
It only took a couple of years to see that the fish — McClatchy — was trying to get its jaws around a whale. (McClatchy wasn’t the only fish whose eyes were bigger than its stomach: Lee Enterprises, of the Quad Cities, overpaid for the Pulitzer papers, led by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
I retired the month the McClatchy purchase closed, and two years later, The Star started laying people off. (Whew!)
Among those laid off was Jeanne Meyer, then co-managing editor, along with Shirk. (Her husband, Keith Chrostowski, is The Star’s business editor.)
With one managing editor out, Smith and Nelson saw the writing on the wall and started making other plans.
In 2008, Nelson got a chance to return to his home state of Nebraska as editor of the Lincoln Journal Star. And off he went. (He has since retired.)
Smith moved out of the newsroom and for a year or two worked in the Human Resources Department, where, to his chagrin, he had to help determine who got laid off. (As a result, through no fault of his own, he became persona non grata in the newsroom.)
But in 2009 a great opportunity surfaced for him: He was offered the new post of Donald W. Reynolds Endowed Chair for Business Journalism at the University of Missouri. Of course, he snapped it up.
Spenner, the third leg of what had been a solid Metro stool, completed the trifecta in 2011, when she took the post of vice chancellor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
She was succeeded by Greg Farmer, who had been news editor (overseeing the copy desk and deciding most story placement) and then website editor.
He has held the AME/Metro job the last four years, and, as far as I can determine, has done well. I never worked for him, but it seemed to me that he had good interpersonal skills and strong news judgment.
He’s relatively young, in his early 40s, I would guess, and, to me, he’s the odd-on favorite to succeed Shirk.
Someone who will get consideration — and probably will apply — is News Editor Charles (Chick) Howland, who’s in his 50s. Howland was formerly an assistant metro editor, whose relaxed and even-keeled personality contributed to him being extremely popular with reporters.
A long-shot candidate might be Scott Canon, a former national reporter and business-desk reporter who has been an assistant metro editor the last several years. He, too, is probably in his 50s. Like Farmer, he is strong in web technology, having covered the field for many years.
If I had to pick another long shot, it would be Sports Editor Jeff Rosen, who came to The Star four years ago from the Houston Chronicle. He’s in his early 40s. I don’t know anything about him, except that the sports section continues to ring up big honors. But The Star has a history of elevating sports editors to lofty newsroom positions.
Fannin made the jump from sports editor to editor, and before him, a former sports editor named Dinn Mann (grandson of Roy Hofheinz, the man who built the Astrodome) was promoted from sports editor to Page One editor in the early 2000s. He left two or three years later to become vice president at MLB.com.
With all the layoffs and down sizing that have been taking place, there has been speculation that the Star won’t replace Shirk, whose last day is April 10. On his blog, kcconfidential.com, my friend and former KC Star colleague Hearne Christopher recently quoted an anonymous newsroom source as saying, “I don’t know that anybody’s taking his (Shirk’s) place. I think they may just consolidate jobs.”
I think the source is off base. I can’t imagine The Star, or any other major metropolitan daily, operating without a managing editor. The managing editor is the person who has his or her hands on the copy every day — reads every story nominated for Page 1 — and who supervises all newsroom personnel and, in general, is the judge who keeps order in the court.
The newsroom cannot run itself, and the editor, Fannin, would be hard pressed to run the newsroom, although, with the slimmed-down staff, I suppose it could be done.
If, on the outside chance, we should learn that The Star intends to juggle positions so it doesn’t have to name — and pay — a managing editor, you can bet that, in short order, at least the Monday and Tuesday print editions would be dropped. We may see that anyway, the way things are going, but dropping the position of managing editor would seal the unholy deal.
So, Mike and Mi-Ai, let’s get cracking on naming a new managing editor.