Archive for January, 2016

Super Bowl frenzy isn’t quite upon us yet, but anticipation is building, and even I am fascinated by the pending match-up between the old sheriff, Peyton Manning, and the young gunslinger, Cam Newton.

I say “even I” because if you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know I have said that I’m through with pro football because of the high incidence of long-term brain injury.

But I’ve found it’s one thing to declare independence from the NFL elixir and another thing to actually set it aside. First, it was impossible to ignore the Chiefs reeling off 10 wins in a row and winning their first playoff game in many years. And then came the match-up between good and evil — Manning on one hand and Tom Brady and Bill Belichik on the other. I watched most of the fourth quarter of that game and was riveted, fearing right up to the Patriots’ unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt that evil would once again prevail.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I found myself back in the quicksand I thought I’d escaped.

But then today, on the front page of The New York Times website, the side of pro football that makes me recoil surfaced again.

It is a heartbreaking story about a 27-year-old former player for the New York Giants, Tyler Sash, who died of an accidental drug overdose at his Iowa home last September.

Sportswriter Bill Pennington recounted Sash suffering “bouts of confusion, memory loss and minor fits of temper” after his playing days. And how he was “unable to seek meaningful employment because he had difficulty focusing long enough to finish a job.”

And then the gut punch…

Last week, representatives from Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation notified the Sash family that C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) had been diagnosed in Tyler’s brain and that the disease…had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone his age.


Think about that. He was on the very front end of adulthood — a year older than my son Charlie, who is on the way to getting a master’s degree this year — and his brain was well on the way to mush.

Sash had been cut by the Giants in 2013 after suffering at least his fifth concussion. Listen to this description of a concussion he suffered in a 2011 playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers:

“Sash, who was 215 pounds, was blindsided by a brutal and borderline late hit on a punt return by a 281-pound defensive lineman.”

Can you imagine? Even if there had been a mattress between him and the other guy, his brain would have rattled around inside his head and helmet.


Tyler Sash

When Sash got back to Iowa, “he increasingly displayed surprising and irregular behavior,” Pennington wrote. He was arrested for public intoxication after fleeing from police on a motorized scooter and then running into a wooded area.

Plus, he was in unrelenting pain from football injuries to both shoulders. His mother, Barnetta Sash, told Pennington her son couldn’t sleep on either side and would sometimes go two days without sleeping. She said he realized something was wrong with his brain but couldn’t identify it

You can feel a mother’s aching pain in this quote: “He was such a good person, and it’s sad that he struggled so with this — not knowing where to go with it.”

At 27, he was hopelessly lost in a fog of confusion and pain.

…I can relate somewhat to the fog part. In 2002, I suffered an inner-ear concussion after a quack of an oral surgeon did some “tapping” on an upper left tooth bone as the first step in an implant.

It took a few months and a visit to an otologist — a doctor who specializes in ear problems — to just get an accurate diagnosis. Then, I was in a fog for more than a year. Not knowing if I would ever get better, I sank into clinical depression. Fortunately, with time and treatment the fog and depression passed. But I still tend to relate things to whether they happened prior to or after June 2002, a seminal month in my life.

So, my heart goes out to the Sash family. And it doesn’t surprise me a bit that Tyler’s mother has a different view of football than she did several years ago. And that his older brother Josh probably won’t recommend that his two young sons play football when they’re older.

Particularly at the pro level, football is a nasty business. To me, it’s the ultimate incongruity: how a sport so destructive can be so intoxicating. If Sunday football went away, millions of fans would be absolutely lost.

And, yes, I admit, I’m having trouble putting aside the Kool-Aid. But I’m well into the weaning. The stars I’m familiar with, like Manning and Brady, are nearing the end of their careers. And where I used to know just about every starter for the Chiefs on offense and defense, I’m now familiar with the names of just a handful of players.

Like I said, I’m mildly interested in the Super Bowl. But, alas, I’ll be out of the country and won’t be watching a week from Sunday. It’s just as well. At game time, I’ll try to think about Tyler Sash and how his mother would still be enjoying his company if he’d never started playing football.

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Maybe you’ve heard about this movie the Walt Disney Co. has out. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Seems like it’s doing pretty well at the box office.

Did I see it? No.

Why? Well, for one thing, I just never turned my attention to any of the Star Wars movies, so I had no particular reason to go to the new one. But more important…I don’t give a shit about the Walt Disney Co.

Let me tell you three reasons I loathe the company:


Michael Eisner

First, my longtime employer, The Kansas City Star, was owned by Disney for a forgettable year, straddling 1996 and 1997. After the purchase, then-CEO Michael Eisner came into The Star’s newsroom and said Disney had no plans to sell The Star and three other dailies it had obtained as part of its purchase of ABC/CapCities.

A year later, all four papers were up for sale.

Second, during the time Disney owned The Star, Eisner got rid of his second in command, a former talent agent named Michael Ovitz, and gave him a severance package valued at $38 million in cash and an estimated $100 million in stock.

Third, about a year ago, Disney fired more than 200 American IT workers at Walt Disney World after forcing the workers to train foreign workers, certainly with lower salaries, to replace them.

On Monday, two of those dismissed workers, Leo Parrero, 42, and Dena Moore, 53, sued Disney and two global consulting companies that brought in the foreign workers who replaced them. Parrero and Moore contend the companies colluded to break the law by using temporary H-1B visas to bring in immigrant workers, planning all the while to replace the American workers. In the New York Times story reporting the lawsuit, Moore was quoted as saying Disney was “just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”

The separate but similar Perrero and Moore lawsuits seek class-action status, meaning many of the other fired Americans could potentially gain standing. By late Monday, The Times’ story had drawn more than 650 reader comments, including this one posted by Jack Meoph of Santa Barbara, CA:

H-1B has been exploited by corporations since it’s inception to displace American workers. There is no lack of experienced workers, just a complete lack of morals by the corporations who have used this dodge to bring over cheap labor. There are seminars dedicated to the H-1B dodge/scam. If I hadn’t promised my granddaughter that I would take her to Disneyland this year, I would never go again. The Mouse has become an evil empire, and Walt spins in his grave.

Dena Moore told The Times she has 13 grandchildren and that one of the perks that went away with her job were passes that allowed her to take them to Disney World at no cost.

I remember that, too. It seemed like we had the world by the tail when Patty and I took Brooks and Charlie to Disney World on passes when they were about 9 and 8 years old respectively. (I particularly remember buying Charlie a stuffed replica of the python character Kaa and then watching the two kids rip stitching from Kaa’s jaw as they engaged in a bitter tug of war minutes after we left the park.)


Robert Iger

I tell you, though, that feeling of getting a sweet deal passed quickly after Eisner dumped The Star. Just as current CEO Robert Iger knew he was going to fire those American workers once he had them dig their own graves (training their successors), so Eisner knew when he entered The Star’s the newsroom all those years ago he was going to sell the paper, even while his lips were saying, “No, we don’t buy properties to sell them.”

No, I won’t be going to see Star Wars or any other Disney movie that comes along. And I hope Mr. Parrero and Ms. Moore are successful in getting a class-action suit established and that all the dismissed American workers get big, fat judgments for the hosing the company gave them.

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Often when you see the word “forgiveness” in the title of a newspaper story profiling someone, you know that somewhere along the line the person being written about made some significant mistakes or committed some terrible deeds.

Such is the case with Lamar Hunt Jr., 59-year-old son of the founder of the American Football League and the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs.

Like almost everyone else in the Kansas City area, I greatly admired Hunt Sr. and appreciate what he did for Kansas City. I also got to meet him and spend an afternoon with him at Arrowhead Stadium in the course of writing a story about him.

I never knew a lot about his family background, however, and during the 35-plus years I was with The Star, the paper never delved deeply into his personal or family life. And that, typically, is the way The Star covers most high-profile people — keeping the emphasis on whatever dimension of people has made them extraordinary.

But in today’s profile of Hunt Jr., who owns the Missouri Mavericks hockey team, The Star was obliged to dabble in the messiest part of his life. And that was, as The Star adroitly phrased it, “a sexual encounter he had with a sister-in-law” many years ago.

I’ve got to tell you, that line really took me by surprise and had me riveted to the ensuing paragraphs.

The writer, Eric Adler, who has been at the paper about 30 years, went on to relate the gist of the sordid situation, saying…

— that Hunt “doesn’t deny the encounter”

— that he and his then-wife Jocelyn, with whom he had seven children, split up

— that his action became “the crux of a lawsuit”

— and that the case ended in a settlement “for undisclosed millions of dollars.”

Whew! There’s a lot there, but, damn, it sure raises a lot of questions, doesn’t it?

Adler so underplayed the matter — and, again, I understand why he and his editors handled it that way — that it would provoke almost anyone with a grain of curiosity to want to learn more.

And, so, for those of you either didn’t read the story or who read the story but didn’t act on your curiosity, I’m here to tell you the other key elements, which a Google search quickly revealed.

Lamar Hunt Jr.

Lamar Hunt Jr., owner of the Missouri Mavericks

First: “sister-in-law.” Hmmm, I wondered when I first read the story, would that possibly be the spouse of a brother or sister?

Oh, no. Hunt Jr. lurched into the most dangerous of territory — having sex with his wife’s sister.

Second: “a sexual encounter.” Hmmm, I wondered…really, just once?

Well, no. A 1999 Associated Press story that appeared in the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal said the verboten deeds occurred “on consecutive nights.” It doesn’t say how many nights, but certainly more than one.

And then the shocker: His sister-in-law had significant mental disabilities.

Oh, my…And not only did Hunt not deny the encounters, it turns out he also wrote a letter — cited in the lawsuit — to Jocelyn titled “Confessions of a Sex Addict.”

In May 2000, an Associated Press story quoted a Dallas Morning News story that said the case was settled for about $2 million.

Now, The Star’s story focuses, as it should, on Hunt’s redemption and his return to the role of solid citizen: For example, Adler writes about how Hunt’s faith in God helped him cope and how he went on to what appears to be a successful second marriage.

…Let me assure you, I don’t put forth this information out of prurient interest. I’m just a news hound who sometimes senses there’s more to a story than meets the eye, and my deeply instilled journalistic curiosity often compels me to dig deeper. I want to know the full story — whether it’s political, criminal, sexual or whatever else in nature — even though the newspaper has no particular obligation to satisfy that curiosity in a story like the one on Lamar Hunt Jr.

But I think a lot of readers share my instinct and want to know the full story, too. So, for today, there it is.

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Three good developments and a somber one to report today:

** Congratulations to Councilwoman Teresa Loar for taking the lead in generating a bold, far-reaching and fairly economical proposal for renovating at least one of the existing three KCI terminals.

The Star’s City Hall reporter, Lynn Horsley, laid it all out in a long front-page story today. It’s a must read.


Teresa Loar

Loar, a Northland resident, has been active on airport matters in two stints on the City Council — the current one and one from 1995-2003. As a member of the council’s Aviation Committee — and also as a smart politician who recognizes widespread voter resistance to tearing down the three terminals and building a new single one — she recruited a local engineering firm to develop a new plan that would retain much of the convenience of the existing airport.

What Crawford Architects came up with, in conjunction with several engineering and aviation firms, is a proposal to double the width of Terminal A to provide more space for ticketing, retail and baggage return. The plan also would reduce the number of security checkpoints from four to two, and more parking levels would be added.

Crawford estimates the expansion and renovation to cost about $336 million — about a third of the estimated cost of building a new single terminal. If demand and customer growth was sufficient, a second terminal could be renovated in similar manner and at roughly the same cost, not considering inflation.

The city’s airport consultants will review the proposal and cost estimates and get back to the council next month.

If the numbers hold up, this could be the compromise that breaks the stand-off. As you know, I’m a strong advocate for a new single terminal. I say it’s time to get rid of the circular terminals and get a new single terminal with straight-line concourses that stretch out from the terminal hub. Like many people, I also want more retail and much better restaurant and fast-food options. At the same time, I’m a realist and understand that resistance to razing the three terminals and starting anew is probably not acceptable to a majority of Kansas City voters.

So, let’s see what the city’s consultants and Aviation Department leaders have to say after their review.

Whatever happens, we should all be grateful to Ms. Loar for spearheading an effort that could result in a modernized airport with a reasonable price tag.

** Another round of congratulations is in order for the Jackson County Legislature, which on Tuesday adopted a resolution urging the Royals to extend the safety netting at Kauffman Stadium to the far end of both dugouts. Major League Baseball is encouraging teams to extend the netting, but most teams probably will take it only to the near end — the home plate side — of the dugout.

Although the county owns the stadiums, it cannot require the Royals to extend the safety netting, but I’m very glad to see the Legislature inject itself into the situation. It wouldn’t surprise me if former Royals star Frank White, who recently succeeded Mike Sanders as county executive, pushed for the resolution. Several years ago, I heard him say on either radio or TV that whenever he attends games, he sits behind the netting.

I like to sit back there, too, but I don’t often get the chance because the Royals converted the area directly behind home plate to premium seating, with food and beverage service.

Whenever I go to games on someone else’s tickets and sit close to the field and down the first- or third-base line, it’s hard for me to relax, for fear of screaming foul balls.

It’s definitely time to take the netting much farther down the line, but it’s probably going to take a few more years — and several more seriously injured fans — for it to happen at all stadiums.


Rustin Dodd

** Another baseball-related development: Rustin Dodd, a Kansas City Star sportswriter who has been covering KU athletics, has been promoted to be the primary reporter covering the Royals. He succeeds Andy McCullough, who is going to the Los Angeles Times to cover the Dodgers. Dodd has worked his way up the ladder on The Star’s sports desk, and I expect he’ll do a great job. The Star has a history of outstanding Royals’ beat writers.


Anne Swaney

** On a bleak note, I was very sorry to learn of the violent death of Anne Swaney, a 39-year-old Chicago journalist, who grew up in Platte City and graduated from Platte County High School in 1994.

Swaney, executive producer of online operations at WLS-TV, was found floating in a river last Friday morning near a horse farm in western Belize, where she was vacationing. It appeared to be a crime of opportunity and possibly passion.

She was due to go on a group horseback riding excursion Thursday but stayed behind to do yoga because there weren’t enough horses. Her belongings were found on the dock where she was doing yoga…Police in Belize have detained a “person of interest” but have released few details. Anne was a niece of the late Evert Asjes, a former Kansas City councilman. She will be buried in Platte City.

Her obituary ran in today’s Star. Here it is.

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A lot of attention has been focused recently on multi-millionaire developer Shirley Helzberg and her proposed TIF project in the Crossroads District. An upstart group, consisting largely of Kansas City School District parents, has brought the issue of public subsidies for Crossroads projects into sharp relief by waging a successful petition drive that could scuttle the project or, at the very least, put it to a public vote.

But while that project has been under the spotlight, another big Crossroads project has been sailing along under the aegis of a state-authorized agency that can dole out tax breaks without going through the traditional, local-government process. That process involves reviews by the Tax Increment Financing Commission and a City Council subcommittee and, ultimately, approval by the City Council.

The agency is called Port KC, which until last May was the Port Authority of Kansas City.

It’s an agency that, in my opinion, needs to be watched closely. 

logoPort KC — the subject of a long editorial in Sunday’s Kansas City Star — will oversee a $42 million redevelopment of the Corrigan Building at 19th and Walnut streets. Like Helzberg’s proposed project — redeveloping a vacant building for the BNIM architectural firm — the so-called “Corrigan Station” will get significant property-tax breaks. The Star editorial said taxing entities including the city, the county, the Kansas City Public Library and the Kansas City School District will lose out on $3 million in taxes they would otherwise get without tax breaks.

This should be a big concern to Kansas Citians. Not just in the redevelopment of the Corrigan building but because of what it portends down the road: A possible spate of development or redevelopment projects going through Port KC, circumventing the traditional city-approved process…Why would developers want to put themselves through the high-profile process that the Helzberg proposal has been subjected to when they could quietly work out tax-abatement deals with Port KC?

The Star’s editorial quoted Calvin Williford, a top Jackson County official, as saying that the tactic of taking tax-abatement projects through Port KC, instead of the City Council, “appears to be designed to expedite approvals and exclude public comment.”


You might wonder: What the hell is Port KC doing in the Crossroads?

With its name, you would think the agency’s focus would be on development around and adjacent to the Missouri River. To some extent it is, but its reach is much longer.

…Pardon a  brief digression here. My experience with the Port Authority was limited to covering its approval of a casino operation at the foot of Grand Avenue in the 1990s. Two companies, Hilton Hotels and Boyd Gaming, were battling tooth and nail for the right to build a casino at the foot of Grand. At the end of a long, tense meeting, the Port Authority gave the nod to Hilton by one vote. Later, Dan Margolies, then a reporter with the Kansas City Business Journal, exposed an indirect payoff between Hilton and Port Authority Chairman Elbert Anderson, who cast the deciding vote. Anderson was later convicted of bribing public officials to direct business to his public relations firm…By the way, the casino — now the Isle of Capri — was never built at the foot of Grand. It was built over by the I-35 bridge because officials wisely determined a casino was very unlikely to succeed in the confined space at the bottom of Grand. I remember one Port Authority member, who voted for the Boyd proposal, saying, “I’m not going to send it (the casino) down to that hole.”

In any event, as Port KC’s website says, it is granted broad governmental and economic development powers, including the ability to:

— Acquire, own, construct, redevelop, lease, maintain, and conduct land reclamation, residential development, commercial and mixed-use development, industrial parks and facilities and terminals, terminal facilities and any other type of port facility.

— Promote and expand inland and river port commercial throughput of cargo and freight.

— Identify and pursue redevelopment opportunities at blighted and historic preservation sites.

— Redevelop the Downtown Kansas City Riverfront to promote and develop new opportunities for residence, commerce and leisure.

— Promote the full integration of multi-modal transportation assets to increase commercial opportunities locally, nationally and internationally.

I believe development of the streetcar line is nominally what is allowing Port KC to get its nose under the tent in the Crossroads. The streetcar line qualifies, of course as a “multi-modal transportation asset.” For all I know, however, Port KC can operate anywhere in the city it chooses.

Like I say, this is an agency that needs to be monitored; it has the appearance of an operation that could run amok by virtue of its broad statutory power.


George E. Wolf

Fortunately, the city has some control over Port KC. The agency is governed by a nine-member board of commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, with, I believe, the consent of the City Council. The current chairman is a man named George E. Wolf, a partner in the Shook, Hardy, Bacon law firm. I don’t know Wolf, but I believe he is the son of George “Ed” Wolf, who was Kansas City public works director during some of the years I covered City Hall (1985-1995).

The Star’s editorial said, “At some point, if the city decides Port KC is getting too lavish with its tax breaks, (Mayor Sly) James…should step in to try to halt it.”

The next paragraph, however, quoted James as saying he had never considered what he might do if Port KC began, in his opinion, to overreach. That’s worrisome. Of course, this is the same mayor who is 100 percent behind the BNIM project.

So, then, who’s going to be watching to see if the camel tries to get its whole body inside the Big Tent?

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For all the ground that The Kansas City Star has lost in terms of print circulation in recent years, the situation is not nearly as bad as it is in St. Louis, where the Post-Dispatch has seen its Sunday circulation fall off a cliff.

Not only does The Star sell more nearly 20,000 more Sunday print editions than the Post-Dispatch, but it sells nearly an equal number of daily papers — and that in a metro area that is 40 percent smaller than its cross-state rival.

Over the last decade, the papers have strong parallels: Each was purchased by a newspaper conglomerate that was guilty of overreaching; each has lost significant print circulation; and each is in the stranglehold of corporations that are drowning in debt.

The Star, of course, is owned by McClatchy Co., Sacramento, whose debt is about $966 million, largely from paying way too much for The Star and about 20 other Knight Ridder papers in 2006.

The Post-Dispatch is owned by Lee Enterprises of Davenport, IA, which overpaid for the Post-Dispatch and Pulitzer Inc.’s 13 other daily papers in 2005. Lee Enterprises’ debt is $726 million.

Despite being on similar economic arcs, some differences are particularly disturbing from the St. Louis point of view. For example, The Post-Dispatch’s print Sunday circulation dropped 24 percent — from 249,873 to 190,881 — between March 2013 and March 2015. The Star’s fell, too, but by only 14 percent — from 244,057 to 209,947. Both papers sell about 115,000 print editions Monday through Friday — both down more than 20 percent from 2013.

To put The Star’s loss of daily print editions in perspective, in the late 1990s, when daily circulation was in the mid-200,000s, The Star launched a promotional campaign with the goal of bumping daily sales up to 300,000 a day by the year 2000. “Three hundred thousand by 2000” was the theme…But we didn’t come close, and the numbers soon started dropping, instead of rising.

Two other differences are worth noting: The Post-Dispatch’s longtime headquarters building at 900 N. Tucker Blvd. in downtown St. Louis is now up for sale, and the company-paid pension was frozen in 2010. (My understanding of a pension freeze is that the company stops contributing to employees’ pension plans; the company continues to pay what is owes retirees and what it has agreed to pay current employees when they retire, but that’s it. The faucet is turned off.)

In Kansas City, The Star building at 18th and Grand is not for sale, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see that happen. Also, as far as a I know, McClatchy is still contributing to employees’ pension plans. (My pension has not been affected, and I’ve never heard intimations that retiree pensions are in jeopardy.)

Another sign of distress at the Post-Dispatch is that for several months recently, the editorial page was down to two people, including Kevin Horrigan, a reporter at The Star in the 1970s. The good news is a new editorial page editor either has started or is starting soon, and Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon has said the paper will return to having three editorial-page writers.

In Kansas City, by contrast, The Star has four editorial page writers: Barbara Shelly, Lewis Diuguid, Yael Abouhalkah and editorial page editor Steve Paul. That’s down one from when former editorial page editor Miriam Pepper retired in 2014.

One area in which I think the Post-Dispatch is superior to The Star is honesty and transparency with its customers. Both papers sometimes use “outsourced” editorials — purchased from a service — and while the Post-Dispatch identifies outsourced editorials, The Star does not.

In addition, Bailon, the Post-Dispatch editor, seems more forthcoming and accessible than Mike Fannin, editor of The Star. Fannin is rarely quoted publicly, and the only time I heard or saw him on a local radio or TV show last year was an interview on KCUR-FM. And then he was insipid and uninformative.


Gilbert Bailon, editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a lengthy story this week in the Gateway Journalism Review, an online publication based at Southern Illinois University, Bailon candidly addressed staff morale and the state of his newspaper.

“I think there is always some level of concern in our business because it’s changing and we’ve had things like buyouts and layoffs and cutbacks and jobs that didn’t get filled…For the most part, I think there is a resounding feeling that we are valuable. I think (coverage of) Ferguson helped with that. What we do individually matters and because of that, that helps puts the focus on the right things.”

Finally, I don’t know how the Post-Dispatch handles circulation matters, but with The Star it has been a shell game for customers:

— A change in the delivery system a few months ago resulted in many people not getting their papers

— Subscription prices have been raised with little or no notice and often without comparison to old, or current, prices

— Subscriber calls about delivery problems are routed overseas, leaving many people frustrated and disillusioned, not only with the long-range dealings but with the lack of resolution to their concerns and problems.

Along with many other Star readers and subscribers, I am hoping we’ll start seeing significant improvements on all fronts — news, opinion, circulation and advertising — with this week’s appointment of Tony Berg as publisher. Although he’s only 38, he has a lot of experience on the advertising side, which is where the revenue is. If he’s smart, Berg will open the doors and windows down at 18th and Grand and let in some sun and fresh air. That would help generate not only badly needed goodwill but also more revenue.

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Well, now…The new publisher is off to an excellent start, in my opinion. And I think you will agree.

Prodded by comments from former society editor Laura Hockaday and a regular reader named Bill Hirt, I sent an email to Tony Berg this afternoon, congratulating him on his appointment and urging him to devote considerable time to the circulation and delivery problems that many people have complained about in recent months.

Earlier, I had encouraged Mr. Hirt to send Mr. Berg an email and tell him about the problems he had experienced. (If you’re interested, Mr. Hirt’s explanation of his delivery problems is in the comments on the previous post.)

…I was out for a while this afternoon, and when I got back home, I saw Mr. Hirt’s follow-up comments on the previous post, as well as Mr. Berg’s email.

First, here’s what Mr. Berg had to say…

Greetings Mr. Fitzpatrick — I appreciate the kind words and (the) welcome to the (publisher’s) post. As you did in your (blog) post, I would encourage your readers to send their concerns to me, and I’ll work diligently with our team to get them addressed. Again many thanks for the kind words and warm welcome.


Publisher Tony Berg

Then, I saw that Mr. Berg had called Mr. Hirt and told him he would get on his concern. A while later, another Star official called Mr. Hirt and assured him he would attend to his delivery problem.

I also had received an email from Laura Hockaday, thanking me for my intercession with Mr. Berg and complimenting him on his responsiveness.

Laura wrote: “If he can solve them (the delivery problems), he will make hundreds of subscribers — if they are still subscribing — overjoyed. The circulation problem is rampant and ongoing.”

Laura signed off with this…“Amazing that Tony Berg answered an e-mail immediately. Maybe there is hope.”

…Yes, indeed, readers, it appears the new sheriff at 18th and Grand is going to stir things up. Maybe he’s going to blow up the do-nothing atmosphere that permeated the four years of Mi-Ai Parrish’s time as publisher.

…You can contact Mr. Berg at tberg@kcstar.com. (With a few exceptions, the email address form for KC Star employees is first letter of the first name, followed by last name, @kcstar.com).

You can also reach employees, including Mr. Berg or his administrative assistant, by phone. Call (816) 234-4141 and follow the dial-by-name directory.

I strongly encourage you to write to or call reporters, editors, advertising executives, the publisher or any other Star employee whose name you know and would like to contact. Contrary to the impression a lot of readers have, the newspaper business is interactive. Most reporters and other employees welcome feedback. They don’t know what readers are thinking unless we let them know. Also, if readers think they’re being heard, not only will they continue to subscribe but they will spread the word about their positive interactions. That equates to happy readers and fatter numbers on The Star’s bottom line.  

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What a day here in our town!

We saw one of the most important positions in all of Kansas City re-filled today, and people everywhere were joyous, some almost delirious.

Yes, folks, that’s how deeply the naming of a new publisher at The Kansas City Star can affect people.


Tony Berg, in The Star’s newsroom today

The new publisher is 38-year-old Tony Berg. That’s awfully young. But he’s from this area, and he’s had 15 years of newspaper experience, including three years in charge of advertising at the Wichita Eagle and nearly a year in the same position at The Star. Berg was born and raised in Kansas and received a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication and journalism from the University of Kansas. His wife Audrey is also a KU graduate. They have two sons, Archer and Wyatt.

Like The Star, the Eagle is owned by the beleaguered McClatchy Co., based in Sacramento, CA.

The fact that Berg is young had to be a consideration for McClatchy, which is carrying a debt of about $966 million: They don’t have to pay him nearly as much as they would an older, experienced publisher.

He succeeds Mi-Ai Parrish, who put in a strange four years as publisher — strange as in ineffectual and nearly invisible — before moving on to the Arizona Republic last year.

The Star’s report on Berg’s appointment was accompanied by video of him addressing employees in the second-floor newsroom. I’ve been to several of such gatherings, which are traditional at big newspapers nationwide when a major player is introduced — usually a new owner, publisher or editor.

(One such gathering I distinctly remember was after the Walt Disney Co. had purchased Cap Cities/ABC, whose holdings included The Star and several other newspapers. Word on the street was Disney was not the least bit interested in the newspapers, that its main target was ABC and ESPN, which was part of the deal. But when Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner appeared in the newsroom and addressed The Star’s staff, he said Disney had no intention of selling the newspapers. A year later, the papers were up for sale and were purchased by KnightRidder, which later sold to McClatchy.)

But with the arc of newspapers in an extended descent, there was little chance of Berg making reckless proclamations or promises.

After being greeted with enthusiastic applause and some cheers, he gave a heartfelt, down-to-earth speech that had to hearten the beaten-down staff, which has been overworked and preoccupied with job security since McClatchy paid way too much for the KnightRidder papers in 2006.

Berg acknowledged the wolf at the door — the Internet — but said he believed The Star could prevail in the battle for news supremacy in Kansas City and the rest of The Star’s distribution area. As he and every other new publisher is obliged to say, he asserted that The Star’s future was bright. He then added…

“We’re in a fight, and it’s a tough fight. But it’s not unlike the fight Col. (William Rockhill) Nelson fought 135 years ago when trying to take control of the paper business here in Kansas City. The only difference today is that the fight is on the digital front. That fight has no rules. It has no regard for how long you’ve been in business. But it is a fight that we can win…We have shown audience growth at a time when people said we were going to die. And we didn’t. Our audience has never been bigger than it is today.”

At another point, his words had to make the hearts of reporters and editors soar when he alluded to a recent expose that showed Kansas City Fire Department supervisors had failed to clear firefighters from an alley at a big fire on Independence Avenue. Two firefighters who were in a “collapse zone” that should have been cleared died when the wall of a three-story building came crashing down. Berg said:

“That piece…didn’t make us many friends, but you will learn this from me: It’s not just words; I will stand behind work like that very proudly, and I will stand behind work like that every day because that is what makes us so important in the community we work in. It’s what makes us so important to the towns we represent.”

And so begins a new era at The Kansas City Star. With today’s move, it’s a time to be guardedly optimistic. A young, seemingly energetic leader is on the scene, and he understands the challenges. My best advice to him would be what it was to Mi-Ai Parrish, who ignored it:

Get involved in civic leadership. Let the Civic Council and the Chamber of Commerce know there’s a new sheriff at 18th and Grand. Raise The Star’s flag, figuratively, everywhere you go. Accept every invitation to appear on radio and TV. Elevate The Star’s profile by raising your own profile. Sell the paper as confidently and as assertively as you sold ads. Go out and kick ass; you lead the best and strongest news-gathering operation between Chicago and the West Coast. 

…Oh, I forgot to mention that I heard another fairly important position in Kansas City was refilled today. Great to have Gordo back…It’s been a great day in Kansas City.

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Soon after arriving in Kansas City in the fall of 1969, I began reading and hearing about this place called the Country Club Plaza, which for months I pronounced “plah-za,” elongating the first syllable. (To this day, you hear a lot of newcomers struggling with the pronunciation of what would seem to be a simple word.)

And, truly, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Block after block of beckoning, solidly built retail stores and restaurants. The district was so extensive it seemed like a maze. Three of my favorite places were on the west side of the district — the bowling alley, Sears and Gateway Sporting Goods.

One of my outstanding early memories of Kansas City was buying a ping-pong table at Gateway. I lived at 59th and McGee in a rental house with four other guys, all MU graduates, including a KC Star colleague named Harry Hill. (Harry left the paper after a few years and went on to become a state representative and later a lobbyist at the State Capitol.) One day Harry and I decided it would be a good idea to buy a ping pong table for the dining room, which was devoid of furniture. We didn’t even have a table there; for dining we had a picnic table with two benches in the kitchen.

So Harry and I went down to Gateway and bought a ping pong table. The next problem was how to get it home. Being young guys with low salaries, we didn’t want to spend whatever it cost to have the table delivered. We talked about it and Harry came up with the brilliant idea of me holding the box while lying against the back of his dark green VW, with feet planted on the back bumper.

Do you get the picture? I was leaning against the gently rounded back of the VW, arms spread wide and holding the big box in front of me. The only thing people behind us could see of me was my hands and feet.

“Drive very, very slowly,” I told Harry.

And off we went — onto eastbound Ward Parkway, over to Main (which then crossed Brush Creek), down to Brookside Boulevard and up either 57th or 59th to McGee.

We made it without mishap, and that ping pong table served us well for several years. I believe it was still there when I moved out in 1977.

…Those old stores that many of us remember fondly — the three I mentioned, along with others like Macy’s, Woolf Brothers, Jack Henry and Putsch’s cafeteria — left the Plaza long ago. But the Plaza has always remained a special and wonderful place for Kansas City. It’s our “crown jewel” for good reason.

And now, for just the second time since J.C. Nichols built it in 1923, it is having a change of ownership.

Kansas City area residents were concerned after the Nichols Co. folded and a Raleigh, NC, named Highwoods Properties bought the Plaza in 1998. With a few hiccups along the way, Highwoods proved to be a responsible owner. And, most important, the Plaza has continued to prosper.

From today’s Kansas City Star story, it appears to me that the Plaza once again is landing in responsible hands. The incoming owners — who will pay $660 million for the Plaza — are two experienced shopping center owners — Taubman Centers and the Macerich Co. Taubman, based outside Detroit, owns and manages 23 shopping centers in the U.S. and Asia. Macerich is the third largest owner and operator of shopping centers in the U.S, according to Wikipedia. The company was founded in 1994 and has its headquarters in Santa Monica, CA.

I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of Macerich, but I have become familiar with a Taubman property — Taubman Prestige Outlets in Chesterfield, MO, just west of St. Louis. I have stopped there several times on the way to or from St. Louis or Louisville, my hometown.

One of the things I like about the Chesterfield outlet mall is it doesn’t look like a mall from the front. It could pass for a large, low office building but for the names of some well-known stores on the facade. The stores do not have front entrances, however. People funnel into the mall through a brick walkway that opens into a wide walkway flanked by stores on both sides. Almost all pedestrian traffic is not visible from out front. It is something like the inner pathway at the Prairie Village Shopping Center, if you can picture that, although much longer. Contributing to a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the “center court” are sculptures and a variety of plants.

Of course, it is impossible to say from this example that the Plaza will continue to prosper under Taubman. But I think it’s a good sign…Also, I wouldn’t worry about the Plaza becoming an outlet mall. With rent rates what they are on the Plaza, merchandise almost has to be top of the line, full price.

Finally, I think it’s safe to assume the Plaza Lights tradition will continue. It’s a big expense, but it draws people from throughout the Midwest.

…At this point, I have just one piece of advice for the new owners: Drop the damn fireworks display on Thanksgiving night, when the lights are turned on. (I have already written a letter to Robert Taubman, chief executive of Taubman Centers, about that. Out with the fireworks!)

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now time for the main event.

Please welcome in the blue corner The Great Kraskini, aka, Steve Kraske, political columnist for The Kansas City Star. In the red corner, it’s little-known, but always game, Jimmy C (formerly The Fabulous Jimmy C).


The Great Kraskini


Jimmy C


The ref


Tonight’s bout will be five rounds, predicting the outcomes of five national and Missouri state political contests on tap for 2016.

Round 1: The Republican presidential nomination

T.G.K. throws a wild haymaker, picking Ted Cruz.

Jimmy C, having seen time and again that arrogance is a terrible burden to haul up a steep hill, counters with a crisp left jab and says Marco Rubio.

Round 2: The presidential election

:: T.G.K. and Jimmy C split this round, both picking The Lady With Her Own Email Server to win big.

Round 3: The Republican nomination for Missouri governor

T.G.K. unleashes a bolo punch (straight over the top, toward the crown of the head) and says Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has held the No. 2 job for 12 long years, will be the Republican nominee.

Jimmy C sees the overhead punch coming and slips it. He also sees Rex Sinquefield’s millions pushing Catherine Hanaway past Kinder, who once dated a stripper. (Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with that; it’s just hard to envision a former strip-club patron in the governor’s mansion.)

Round 4: Missouri governor

T.G.K. throws a right cross, pegging Democrat and current attorney general Chris Koster as the next governor.

Jimmy C leans away, Rope-A-Dope style, and plasters T.G.K. with a straight right to the nose…Catherine Hanaway.

(T.G.K. might be able to look a short distance into the future, but his knowledge of history is suspect. He must have forgotten the front-page, 2014 New York Times story that exposed Koster as a slave to special interests…The story recounted how a lawyer for 5-Hour-Energy buttonholed Koster at a convention of state attorneys general and prevailed on him to grab his cellphone and pull Missouri out of a multi-state investigation of 5-Hour-Energy…At a meeting of Republicans in Kansas City early last year, Hanaway passed out bottles of 5-Hour Energy drink bearing a caricature of Koster under the name “24-Hour Corruption.” )

Round 5: Missouri’s U.S. Senate race

T.G.K. goes with a conventional right hook and picks the incumbent, Republican Roy Blunt, but then he slips on the canvas, seeing Blunt “barely getting past a stronger-than-expected Jason Kander.

Being a good sport, Jimmy C catches T.G.K. before he falls to the canvas and guides him back toward his corner, whispering in his ear, “Kander gets slaughtered.”

(Again, T.G.K.’s institutional memory fails him. In. 2010, long before the Red Sea flooded Missouri, Blunt beat Democrat Robin Carnahan by 264,000 votes out of about two million votes cast.)


Although the fight should be over, the referee signals a bonus round for the wildly cheering fans…

Bonus Round: Which presidential candidate wins Missouri — Mrs. Bill Clinton or Rubio/Cruz?

T.G.K. remains seated in his corner, exhausted and beaten down. Jimmy C  walks to the center of the ring, grabs a fat Sharpie from the ring announcer and writes on the mat, “The Republican, of course.”

As one, the fans scream, “Why?”

Before donning his robe and exiting through the ropes, Jimmy C scratches this on the mat…

2008 — McCain, 1,445,814; Obama 1,441,911

2012 — Romney, 1,482,440; Obama, 1,223,796

2016 — Fill in the blanks

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