Happy Easter, everyone.
At Country Club Christian Church’s three worship services today, the theme of Rev. Glen Miles’ sermon was “The End Is the Beginning.”
We can all relate. We’ve all experienced endings, transitions and new beginnings. Some endings have segued into good periods and some bad. And then, of course, there’s that ultimate ending and new beginning that Pastor Miles was talking about today.
On a less daunting but yet important front, several members of The Kansas City Star editorial staff are in the process of ending careers and beginning retirements that some of them didn’t anticipate coming so soon.
Five longtime staff members recently accepted another newsroom buyout. They are editorial page editor Steve Paul, editorial page writer and op-ed columnist Barbara Shelly, theater critic Robert Trussell, online editor Jody Cox and assistant sports editor Mark Zeligman.
Their departures, I understand, followed the layoffs of about two dozen employees in other parts of the company. But even those layoffs and buyouts weren’t enough for The Star’s owner, the McClatchy Co., to put down its bloody scythe. No sooner had the newsroom buyouts come to light than five longtime news, features and photo employees were called in and told their services were no longer needed. They are medical writer Alan Bavley, assistant business editor Greg Hack, assistant photo editor Mary Schulte, features writer Jim Fussell and Metro reporter Brian Burnes.
Today, I want to put the spotlight on two of those people — the two I knew the best — Shelly and Burnes.
In the mid-1980s, Shelly was a young reporter covering City Hall for the afternoon Star, while I was covering the hall for the morning Kansas City Times. (The Times was dropped in 1990, with The Star moving to mornings.) Shelly and I shared office space in the 29th-floor “press room,” which offered a beautiful view of the Northland.
In those days, the papers competed (it was largely artificial but pushed both papers to excel), and Shelly was a tough competitor, beating me to the punch on stories more often than I liked to admit. But she was unfailingly gracious and friendly, and we always got along well. She went on to nab a coveted spot on the editorial board, where she wrote aggressively and perspicaciously on a wide range of subjects, including the Kansas City school board, the school district and the Missouri and Kansas legislatures.
Her last column, which ran Friday, was a call for Missouri and Kansas residents to elect legislators whose foremost allegiance was to their regions and constituents, not to ideological movements, such as the Republican-led push in the Missouri Capitol to change the state Constitution to allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
In the current political climate, any progress in this region will come as a result of smart, visionary leadership at the local level. And from a strong, united defense against the threats from Jefferson City and Topeka.
With that, she signed off, for good, as an employee of The Kansas City Star.
Brian Burnes has been one of The Star’s two best storytellers, along with Don Bradley, who, I presume, is staying on.
I worked with Burnes in 2005-2006 at my last KC Star outpost, the Independence bureau. The bureau was in a storefront — next to a mattress store — on the northeast quadrant of I-70 and Noland Road. We had about eight reporters in the bureau, and Burnes was among them. What I remember most about him was his professionalism — always showing up with his “work face” on, never complaining and always accommodating with editors — not an easy way to be, given the tensions of the newsroom and the egos often at play.
His primary “beat” was Independence government, but he was also The Star’s all-purpose history writer. One of his biggest contributions to the paper has been his exhaustive coverage of the Hawley family’s excavation of the Steamboat Arabia and its conversion to a popular museum in the River Market.
Early this month, Burnes wrote a Page 1 story about the Hawley family’s next possible undertaking — excavating the remains of the steamship Malta, which sank about 80 miles east of Kansas City in 1841.
Unless Burnes has another story rattling around in “holdover,” he went out on a high note Saturday with a great story about a woman named Stacey Stevens, whose 19-year-old son Matthew was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver last September in Neosho. The story focused on Stacey Stevens’ relentless push for a legislative bill that would increase the penalty for drivers in fatal hit-and-run cases from up to four years in prison to up to 10 years. Accompanying the front-page story was a moving photo of Stevens standing beside, and holding, a memorial cross bearing Matthew’s name.
When it comes to paying for their actions after killing someone, hit-and-run drivers — responsible for a fifth of pedestrian fatalities nationwide — get away with too much, she believes. By leaving the scene, they deprive investigators of crucial evidence, including a timely interview and the chance to determine impairment.
All 10 of the departing employees are leaving The Star a poorer place. Most — maybe none — will be replaced…I wish each of them a good new beginning, whatever they do and wherever they go. And I hope they all continue contributing, in some manner, to progress in Kansas City.