Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2015

Most of you know, I’m sure, that Mi-Ai Parrish, KC Star publisher the last four years, is headed to Phoenix to become president and publisher of The Arizona Republic.

It got big headlines on this blog last week. Where it didn’t get big headlines, interestingly, was in The Kansas City Star.

P1050395The Star announced the change on page A8, the business page, in a bland, one-column, nine-paragraph story.

Maybe Parrish is humble and instructed the newsroom not to make a big deal out of it. But probably not. The writer, Mark Davis, probably gave the story exactly what it deserved.

Here’s the important thing about that story: Its brevity and positioning weren’t as much reflections on Parrish as they were on the state of newspaper publishing.

Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s — and earlier — it was almost always a big deal when the publisher of a major metropolitan daily resigned, retired or was fired. That was when a lot of papers were owned by families, the paper’s employees or newspaper barons, like William Rockhill Nelson.

These days, with so many metropolitan dailies owned by chains — such as Gannett (many dailies), McClatchy (The Star and several others) and Lee Enterprises (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others) — most publishers are like cogs in wheels. That is, pretty interchangeable.

You might have read former Kansas City Star executive editor Mike Waller’s comment on last Thursday’s post. He said:

“It doesn’t matter today who the publisher is of any newspaper. It matters only who owns the paper. Only an enlightened ownership–there are few remaining–can assure quality journalism.”

He should know; he’s a former publisher of the Hartford Courant and The Sun of Baltimore. Both those papers were once owned by a good chain — Times-Mirror of Los Angeles — and, currently, a bad one — Tribune Co. of Chicago.

**

In contrast to the short story about Parrish’s departure for the desert, when the last great Kansas City Star publisher retired in 1992 –the late James H. Hale — he went off to a crescendo of tributes.

The Star ran the announcement story on the bottom of Page One on Thursday, Nov. 12. The story “jumped” inside and ran a total of 48 paragraphs.

hale retirement

hale jump

The story included laudatory quotes from Miller Nichols, former chairman of the J.C. Nichols Co.; Marion Kramer, a civic leader; former Kansas City Star editor Joe McGuff; and Phil Meek, senior vice president of Capital Cities Inc., which had purchased The Star in 1977 and shortly thereafter installed Hale, a Texan, as publisher.

During his 15-year run, Hale expanded the paper, approving the hiring of new employees and the addition of new sections; greatly increased the paper’s profitability — the profit margin soared to about 30 percent; and got the paper involved in the community in a big way, partly through sponsorships of major arts organizations. Plus, The Star won three Pulitzer prizes.

In short, he deserved every paragraph of that story.

He was succeeded by Robert Woodworth, another CapCities veteran.

Things started going downhill for The Star four years after Hale’s retirement, in 1996, when the Walt Disney Co. bought out CapCities (which had acquired the ABC-TV network). Disney owned the paper just one year before selling to KnightRidder. In 2006, KnightRidder folded its tent and sold out to McClatchy.

As the paper’s fortunes declined, the publisher’s post became less vital. The focus quickly shifted to McClatchy’s Sacramento headquarters, which delivered harsh marching orders in the face of rapidly falling advertising and circulation at all its papers.

The main job of KC Star publishers since 2008 — Mark Zieman and Parrish — has been to shrink-wrap the paper.

They’ve done a mighty fine job of it…It’s just not the kind of success that merits front-page headlines.

 

Read Full Post »

It was quite an eclipse, wasn’t it?

No, don’t tell me you missed it…and don’t tell me you weren’t interested. It was a wonder of nature so rare it comes around only about once every other papal visit.

…Speaking of which, I was just as mesmerized by the pope’s departure as I was by just about everything he did in the U.S. the last several days.  I watched intently as his Boeing 777 and  crawled along the taxiways at Philadelphia International Airport and then began accelerating and finally lifted off and quickly disappeared into the night-time sky.

Patty and I have joked for years about post-Derby Depression — the feeling we, particularly I, get the day after each Kentucky Derby. And tonight I’ve got a bit of post-papal depression. Nothing clinical, you know, just situational. But enough that the eclipse seemed a bit anticlimactic compared with the vivid memories of the pope’s radiating presence.

But anyway, I pulled myself out of the dumps to try to get some memorable eclipse photos.

I have to admit, I failed miserably. When I pointed my glorified Panasonic point-and-shoot at the sky and “zoomed” in the maximum of four times normal, all I got were images of a small white blob, with a tinge of red…For some reason, my camera refused to acknowledge the eclipse; it was looking more like moon over Miami, and by Miami I mean it looked on the camera display like the moon was a long, long way off — even father than Miami.

However, I know you’ll just be thrilled that I did, in fact, get some excellent eclipse-related photos. Here are the three best, and you’ll note, I’m sure, that in each of these three striking images, something looks like it’s in a state of eclipse.

Here we go…

P1050391

Here are a couple of ladies in the Romanelli West neighborhood who pulled up chairs to watch the grand event. (That shadowy looking thing in the left foreground is a Black Lab/German Shepherd who wanted in on the fun.)

 

P1050384

A man at the same household strained to see the shrouded “supermoon.”

 

P1050392

Since I couldn’t get the moon, I focused on a streetlight that was in nearly total eclipse. (You can see these just about every night if you position yourself right.)

Well, there it is. The pope is gone, and so is the eclipse. Now, off to bed and back to workin’ in the coal mine bright and early tomorrow.

Read Full Post »

After that brief interruption, we now return to our coverage of all things papal…

With The New York Times glued to Pope Francis’ visit to the States, it is hard to imagine that The Times yesterday once completely missed an entire papacy.

But it happened. Some of you will recall that the tenure of Pope John Paul I lasted only a month — from the end of August to the end of September 1978.

But readers of The Times didn’t get a word about John Paul I — not one word — until after he died. The reason? The newspaper went through an 88-day strike in 1978, and the strike spanned the entirety of John Paul’s brief reign.

After the strike, The Times published a Nov. 6 special section that included a page of obituaries of notable people who had died during the strike. Pope John Paul I got the longest obituary — 10 paragraphs — plus a photo.

However, an Oct. 16, one-time edition of a publication called Not The New York Times chronicled the demise of another short-lived — even less-known — pope, John Paul John Paul I.

P1050380It seems John Paul John Paul I had been “Archbishop of Liverpool.” He took his papal name from his three predecessors — John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I — although speculation has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney also influenced his choice. 

Here’s the Not The New York Times’ Oct. 16, 1978 report on the papacy of John Paul John Paul I.

Rome, Oct. 11 — Pope John Paul John Paul I, 264th Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, died this afternoon while administering the Papal benediction to thousands who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his investiture. He served as pope for 19 minutes, the briefest reign in the history of the church.

The cause of the Pope’s death was not immediately clear. The 41-year-old Pontiff, formerly Archbishop of Liverpool and the first non-Italian to ascend the throne of St. Peter, collapsed in mid-sentence and toppled forward into a battery of microphones as he blessed the faithful who filled the square below.

His last words, which were also his first as spiritual head of the world’s 49 million Roman Catholics, were heard by millions who watched the ancient rite of investiture via communications satellite. Raising his hand to make the Sign of the Cross, the Pope intoned, “In nomine patri” and seemed to falter. He regained his speech momentarily, but only long enough to pronounce the next two words of the sacrament, “et filio” in a choking voice. Then he emitted a high-pitched squeal, which many mistook as coming from the boys’ choir, and fell forward.

Pope John Paul John Paul’s death followed by two weeks that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, who reigned for only 38 days. The latest papal death produced renewed controversy, confusion and speculation inside the church about choosing a successor for John Paul John Paul and the circumstances of his demise. Highly placed Vatican sources predicted that many of the 112 members of the College of Cardinals would decline to remain in Rome for the selection of a new pope. Rather than return to their spartan quarters deep in the basilica, many cardinals were said to favor choosing John Paul John Paul’s successor in a conference call.

The Italian newspapers immediately seized on the latest papal demise as evidence of a conspiracy. Several possibilities were advanced, with the most serious consideration going to the “single heart attack theory” to account for all the deaths.

Meanwhile, from every corner of the globe came expressions of deep mourning for the little Liverpudlian…Only hours earlier the jocular Pontiff had told his closest aides that he wanted to be called Jay-Pee Two, as a symbol of the informality and bold change that he hoped would mark his reign.

…The moral, I suppose, is you can’t pay close enough attention to a papal visit, because you never know when the Almighty is going to call his representative on earth home.

Read Full Post »

KC Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, who never appeared to be a good fit for Kansas City or the Star during her four years here, is leaving the paper.

Parrish, 44, will become president and publisher of The Arizona Republic on Oct. 12.

Parrish has some history with The Republic. She served as a deputy managing editor there from 1999 to 2001.

In making this move, Parrish is going from one big corporate newspaper chain, McClatchy, to an even bigger one, Gannett.

I’ll tell you this much: Either company is a bad place to work. Both have been cutting staffs at their papers; their major newspapers have been losing circulation; and they have struggled with the transition from print to online.

p10108872

Mi-Ai Parrish

One factor that might have lured Parrish is that Gannett’s newspaper division recently was spun off from the broadcast and digital businesses. The result was two new publicly traded companies — Gannett, the newspaper company, and TEGNA, the broadcast and digital company. In a break for Gannett, TEGNA retained the company’s $4.6 billion debt, so Gannett gets the benefit of a clean slate.

McClatchy, on the other hand, carries a debt of about $1 billion, which weights on all newspapers in the chain.

Time will tell if there’s an underlying story here — if Parrish was frustrated with McClatchy or, perhaps, vice versa. In any event, Parrish presided over several rounds of newsroom and company-wide layoffs; pulled the plug on The Star’s longstanding sponsorship of major arts organizations; and shunned public appearances and civic involvement.

One recent firing that shocked me was that vice president of advertising Julie Terry, who was extremely popular with nearly everyone who worked with her. The firing bore all the hallmarks of…“Advertising is down, and you’ve gotta go.”  The fact is, print advertising — which had spun gold for The Star for decades — has been plummeting at most major metropolitan papers for a decade. It wasn’t Julie Terry’s fault that ad revenue kept falling. If anything, McClatchy should have fired Parrish. But that would mean McClatchy admitting failure.

**

The Republic, as you would expect, put a very positive spin on Parrish’s move. the paper quoted John Zidich, Gannett president, as saying: “In her industry and in her publisher roles, she has provided great leadership and also great results.”

Great results? There aren’t any I can think of at The Star, and many people would raise their eyebrows at the “great leadership” assessment.

The story also said:

“At The Kansas City Star, Parrish found success in growing the traditional media company’s connections with a changing community that wanted news on its Smartphones, fresh experiences at festival and events, and quality journalism in all its products.”

Fresh experiences at festivals and events? People might have wanted fresh experiences at, say, the Renaissance Festival and the Lyric Opera, but I can’t imagine in what way The Star would play a role.

**

For Parrish, this transition marks a clean getaway. Naturally, she told The Republic she was excited about the opportunities that lay before her in Arizona.

“Great people, great community, great tradition. We are going to do amazing things.”

Can’t wait to hear the reports about those amazing things.

…In the meantime, I wish the remaining employees at The Star the very best and hope they get a good, new publisher…Actually, my fondest wish is for McClatchy to sell The Star to Warren Buffett so the employees of this once-great great newspaper get a shot at a clean getaway. They deserve it.

Read Full Post »

First things first: Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals — American League Central Division champs for the first time in 30 years…I hope they go all the way, but it’s going to be hard sledding. It would sure make things easier if The Fantastic Johnny C(ueto) is really back to form. He worries me, though…

Now, on to the really big story: Pope Francis.

This is the only time in my life I’ve been really excited about a pope’s visit to the States, and I imagine I speak for a lot of people. This pope is very different than many of his predecessors. He shuns the trappings of majesty, sees the world through the eyes of the have-nots and makes most of us feel he genuinely loves each and every human being.

…I was planning to play golf fairly early yesterday, maybe 10 o’clock, but Patty called at 9 and said the pope’s speech to Congress was on the radio and TV. I turned it on and ended up watching — spellbound — for the next two and a half hours.

The major networks dropped their coverage after the pope left the Capitol, but I wanted more. So I scrolled through the channels and saw that coverage was continuing on Aljazeera America, a Qatar-based cable network that bought out the “Current” network about three years ago.

I had never watched Aljazeera before, but the coverage was excellent. They followed the pope to St. Patrick’s Church in DC, where he spoke to a church full of people and then waded into a crowd that included a number of homeless people. Francis then had lunch with some of the homeless.

**

I watched the speech to Congress on ABC, where George Stephanopoulos was anchoring the coverage. One thing Stephanopoulos said that really resonated with me was calling attention to the contrast between Francis and another fellow who has made a big splash in the media lately — Donald Trump.

Stephanopoulos didn’t put it exactly like this but sort of: When you stand the pope’s humility and compassion against Trump’s self-centeredness and dismissiveness of “losers,” Trump crumbles like dry bread.

Even though Trump was nowhere around — thank God! — it’s a mental contrast that many people probably made, and I think this could be the week that Trump’s polling numbers begin to fall off significantly.

We are seeing in Francis a man who is raising spirits and the dignity of human beings around the world. How does anyone compete with that?

**

When the pope was at the Capital, I got to enjoy my own small, personal link to the occasion.

After his speech, several prelates were among those who accompanied him to the Capitol balcony overlooking the National Mall. From the balcony, Francis addressed a crowd of thousands. When I heard one of the TV announcers mention “Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops,” I began scanning the faces of those flanking Francis.

I spotted Kurtz to the pope’s right. Kurtz is archbishop of Louisville, my hometown, and strangely enough I’ve had the opportunity to play golf with him twice in the last six years.

archbishop_joseph_kurtz-1

Archbishop Kurtz

The occasions were the 45th and 50th reunions of my 1964 graduating class at St. Xavier High School. How I ended up in a foursome with Kurtz is that a member of our graduating class got acquainted with Kurtz through the classmate’s job as development director for an order of priests prominent in Louisville. After Kurtz accepted an invitation to play in the 2009 reunion golf game — he’s our age but not from Louisville — the classmate asked my best friend and me to join him and Kurtz on the course.

When the 50th reunion rolled around in 2014, the classmate again asked us to join him and Kurtz.

Both times it was fun and very casual. Kurtz was as regular a guy as you could find — not a bit stuffy and smiling all the time. Last year, I wanted to chat with him about our disgraced Bishop Finn, but I only got a chance to make a passing, unflattering remark. Kurtz just nodded and smiled.

Anyway, shortly after spotting Kurtz standing near Francis, I texted my best friend, saying, “Are you watching our golf buddy?”

He texted back with, “No, who?”

Then I called him and gushed on about what was happening at the Capitol.

…I sure hope Kurtz comes to the 55th anniversary and the four of us get to team up again. He might have some interesting anecdotes about this phenomenal papal visit.

Read Full Post »

Some of you will recall a post from May, when I wrote about Jason Aaron Arkin, an Overland park man and Blue Valley West graduate who was saddled with depression and committed suicide five days before his 21st birthday.

I didn’t know Jason — never heard of him — and the only thing that called his attention to me was his obituary, written by a former girlfriend.

The obit contained this memorable and touching line:

“Jason struggled with clinical depression and ultimately passed due to his illness. Jason was one of many young adults suffering with mental illnesses in a time when mental illness remains stigmatized and misunderstood.”

jason-arkin

Jason

After I posted my column, Jason’s mother, Karen Arkin, called and said, among other things, that she and her husband, Steve Arkin, planned to start a foundation to help people better understand mental illness.

They still do, and you couldn’t have two better people behind a movement like that because both are neurologists. They fully understood what their son was going through and got him the best professional help available, but their best efforts couldn’t rid Jason of his demons.

…That’s a long lead-up to the latest Arkin-story developments, which KC Star freelance reporter Roxie Hammill wrote about at length in this week’s “913,” section, which goes to Kansas subscribers of the printed edition. (Note: Why The Star did not put this story on A1 is not only a mystery but a miscarriage of journalism.)

Hammill is married to longtime Star reporter Mike Hendricks, and she is an excellent reporter and writer in her own right.

The “news peg” for her story was a walk that was held in Jason’s memory last Sunday at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park.

The most interesting part of Hammill’s story, to me, was her in-depth treatment of what triggered Jason’s depression: Perfectionism.

Hammill said that Karen and Steve Arkin recognized before Jason was even 10 that he was having more than ordinary difficulty handling the ups and downs of childhood.

Hammill quoted Karen as saying:

From the time he was just very, very young it was apparent he was very hard on himself. It was just silly things. You couldn’t play a board game with him. If he didn’t win it was just so unpleasant…The first time we took him to play soccer he went nuts because he didn’t score a goal the first game.

Karen thought Jason would outgrow the perfectionism, but he didn’t. Fortunately, it didn’t keep him from making friends and tending to their emotional needs.

Hammill wrote: “The Arkins said Jason would listen and advise his friends when they brought him their troubles, and that he had even deterred two girl friends who were talking about suicide.”

Antidepressants didn’t take care of the problem, and Jason once told his parents he felt the collective pain of the world.

While attending Northwestern University, where he was studying electrical engineering, Jason got temporary relief from an extraordinary treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which stimulates the connections in the left frontal cortex of the brain.

But the relief didn’t last, and he sank back down.

The end came on May 19, after a student had found Jason in a lounge having a seizure about 4:30 a.m. He had taken an overdose of antidepressants. At the hospital, medical personnel expected him to live. He didn’t.

…All told, Jason’s life was tortured. What a terrible sentence: to die, essentially, of perfectionism. It kept him from enjoying routine pleasures, from living free of guilt and compulsive thoughts, and from feeling valued.

It makes me appreciate more than ever what my late mother-in-law Sally Corteville used to tell her children and grandchildren: “Just try to be average.”

With all the pushing and exhortation in our society to be “exceptional,” just being average is a tremendous blessing for the vast majority of us.

Read Full Post »

The newspaper is owned by a company based in a far-away city. The company is intent on cutting its way to profitability and places a higher value on corporate earnings than quality journalism. One of the company’s major goals is to reduce duplication and share content across the chain, which reduces the paper’s ability to develop and maintain a distinctive tone that reflects the community’s concerns and values.

The Kansas City Star?

No. I’m talking about The Los Angeles Times, which, like The Star, is suffering at the hands of corporate ownership more than 1,500 miles away.

The parallels between the LAT and the The Star are depressingly striking.

The LA Times, which at one time was family owned, is now owned by Tribune Publishing Co., which is based in Chicago. Tribune publishing owns eight major papers, including The Chicago Tribune, The Hartford Courant and The Orlando Sentinel.

The Star, which was once employee owned, has been a corporate paper since 1977. It has been owned since 2006 by the McClatchy Co., based in Sacramento,CA.

Tribune and McClatchy have subjected their papers to frequent management turnover, layoffs and cost-cutting that have reduced the LAT editorial staff from 1,200 to about 500. Staff reductions probably have been proportional at The Star, which used to have more than 2,000 total employees and now is probably down to 500 to 600.

The “news peg” for this comparison was an in-depth, front-page story about the LAT in today’s New York Times.

The specific development that spurred the NYT story was the recent firing of LAT publisher Austin Beutner, who, in the year he had been publisher, had tried vainly to break free of Tribune’s cookie-cutter approach by improving technology, introducing new sections and forging close relationships with Los Angeles civic and business leaders. Those leaders, the story said, “wanted a vibrant Los Angeles Times as part of the fabric of the city.”

All that is probably out the window now, with the appointment of Beutner’s successor, a longtime Tribune executive named Timothy Ryan, who has no ties to Los Angeles.

For the LAT, it will undoubtedly be back to the Tribune-style assembly line, with more layoffs likely.

The major difference between the Kansas City and LA situations is that in Kansas City McClatchy has had its assembly-line operative — publisher Mi-Ai Parrish — at the controls the last four years. As far as I can tell, she has shown no interest in developing a close relationship with civic and business leaders. She has eliminated the paper’s longstanding sponsorship of major arts organizations, and she has presided over several devastating rounds of staff reductions.

In short, she and McClatchy have reduced The Star to a shell of its former proud and substantive self.  

The Star is essentially a prisoner of McClatchy because if Parrish got a wild hair and decided, like Beutner, that she wanted to stray from the cookie-cutter mold, she’d wind up like Beutner — without a job.

A ray of hope in Los Angeles is that a “potential savior,” a billionaire philanthropist named Eli Broad, is waiting in the wings, should Tribune entertain the notion of selling the paper. The NYT story said Broad “has long wanted to buy the paper but has been repeatedly rebuffed.”

Jack Griffin, Tribune’s chief executive, told the NYT did not want to sell the Los Angeles paper because it is part of his strategy to reduce duplication and share content and services with the other major Tribune papers.

So, like The Star, the LAT is in shackles.

…I sure wish a “potential savior” would emerge in Kansas City. And better yet, that McClatchy would consider selling The Star. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. The Star is probably the most profitable paper in the McClatchy chain, primarily because, over the years, Star management has conditioned advertisers to sky-high rates.

In Los Angeles, allies of the ousted Beutner and the would-be savior Broad believe the ideal route for their city’s paper is for it to be sold and then “run as a civic trust, not as one branch of a struggling company.”

The story is precisely the same not only in Kansas City but in places like Des Moines, Louisville, Nashville and St. Louis. Over the last 35 to 40 years, corporate journalism has stripped most metropolitan dailies of their distinctiveness, heft and local flavor and left local residents, for the most part, with bland and soul-less journalistic products.

What once was an important part of the fabric of those cities has been torn from top to bottom.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »