Enough of the negative…Let’s turn to some of the great work Kansas City Star reporters have been doing.
As much as readers and we self-appointed critics highlight the deficiencies of The Star and its owner, the McClatchy Co., it is important to acknowledge that The Star remains a lot better than most other major metropolitan dailies.
Maybe you saw former business reporter Julius Karash’s comment on my previous post, saying basically it would be a debacle if McClatchy sold its papers to Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
As I said in responding to a comment on that post, my impression is Gannett is a cookie-cutter — a marionette operation that gives local publishers and possibly editors little latitude. You walk the line and take the generic filler copy that Gannett provides. McClatchy, on the other hand, while its papers operate on razor-thin margins, doesn’t hover over local operations — at least to the best of my knowledge.
The last few days, we’ve had two huge stories taking place in Kansas City: the Royals and the deaths of firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh. Let’s take a look at how The Star has handled those stories.
The Star has been doing a fabulous job on the Royals, publishing special sections every day on the American League Division Series with the Houston Astros. Putting out special sections is a significant financial commitment, but it’s the right thing to do.
The columns by Sam Mellinger and Vahe Gregorian have been insightful and unfailingly interesting. As usual, the headlines have been outstanding.
After the Royals came back for a 5-4 win Friday in Houston, putting the best-of-five series at a game apiece, The Star’s front-page headline was “Houston, we have a series.”
The headline on the combined front and back pages of today’s special section was “Houston, welcome back to the “K” — with the “K” reversed for baseball’s iconic indicator of a strikeout.
…Never take this sports section for granted, Kansas Citians. It is one of the best in the country, and management keeps finding one great columnist after another.
Many of us never thought they’d be able to adequately fill the shoes of the Jason Whitlock and Joe Posnanski, but these two guys we’ve got now are right up there in Jason’s and Joe’s league.
The fire in the three-story building at Independence and Prospect broke out 7:25 p.m. Monday. That gave The Star just three or four hours to get the story. And believe me, it’s not easy to get a story on deadline when all hell is breaking loose and you’ve got firefighters crushed in the rubble of a collapsed wall.
But veteran reporter Bob Cronkleton (whom I oversaw in the Wyandotte County bureau about a dozen years ago) and relative newcomer Ian Cummings did an excellent job of producing a compelling and crystal-clear story for the Tuesday morning print edition.
The fifth paragraph began with a telling quote from Fire Chief Paul Berardi: “This is the worst day.”
They didn’t get the names of the two dead firefighters in the paper, but they were on the website in the morning. Excellent work.
The hardest and most challenging part of covering a huge breaking story, however, is how well you follow it up in the days after the event, particularly the next day.
The Star delivered masterfully. They put two of their most seasoned and reliable reporters on it: Laura Bauer, who covered the Brandon Ellingson drowing at Lake of the Ozarks, and Brian Burnes, who formerly was stationed in Independence, when The Star had a bureau there. (I worked there, alongside Burnes, from 2005 to 2006, when I retired.)
Cronkleton was also back on the story Tuesday morning, probably working on very little sleep. Cummings and longtime, top-notch photographer Keith Myers contributed to the report. (Myers also had two good photos.)
The main story, more than 60 column inches, laid out what happened from start to finish…It had everything except what caused the fire — hasn’t been determined — and the last firefighter fatality in Kansas City. (I’m not sure about this, but it might have been 47-year-old Battalion Chief John Tvedten Jr., who died in a warehouse fire in December 1999.)
Accompanying the story was a helpful timeline; an easy-to-digest graphic by artist Neil Nakahodo; and a stunning overhead photo by staff photographer Allison Long, showing the still-smoking building and the pile of rubble that engulfed Leggio and Mesh after a wall collapsed.
For an accompanying story, or “sidebar,” The Star dispatched investigative reporter Judy Thomas to interview the building owner, Bo Tran…In Thomas’ capable hands, Tran came across as genuinely more devastated by the deaths of the firefighters than the loss of his building. She quoted him as saying:
“I feel real hurt. Really, really hurt. There’s nothing baetter than people like that.”
After my previous post lambasting McClatchy and The Star for various felonies and misdemeanors, an email from a former KC Star staff member jolted me into focusing on the positive.
At one point, the former staffer said, “I hate to be one of those things-were-better-back-when guys.”
How well expressed…and something for all of us backseat drivers to think about.
So, thank you, Star staff members, for providing us with outstanding reporting and writing on two of the biggest, most important stories we have seen around here since at least the fall of 2014. It’s time-consuming, demanding work, and I’m now getting out of my chair to applaud you.
It’s abundantly clear after tonight’s great Royals’ win over the Astros in the American League Division Series that I should never venture into sports prognostication and commentary.
Here are some of the things I wrote about the Royals in recent weeks.
“The Royals…probably aren’t going to win the American League Championship.”
“Alex Rios is a pretty boy who can’t hit.”
“Lorenzo Cain looks like he’s on a sea cruise.”
“Yorlando Ventura is a kid…who probably wont’ make it with the Royals.”
I facetiously dubbed Johnny Cueto “The Fantastic Johnny C” and linked to the song “Boogaloo Down Broadway.”
— All I can say now is that, as most of you know, I have a lot of hats, and tonight I’m starting to eat them one at a time. Yea, Royals! (And after the Royals beat the Blue Jays for the American League championship, please join me in boogaloo-ing down Broadway.)