For once, there was a lot of news about The Kansas City Star in the Star.
The Sunday edition shed some light on the muddled situation with longtime columnist C.W. Gusewelle, and it announced the addition of five young journalists.
First, about those hires…I was pleasantly surprised to see The Star “toot its own horn.” In all my years of working at and now following The Star, I have never seen a story about the hiring of reporters. Stories have been limited almost exclusively to the comings and goings of upper-level journalists and administrators, such as publishers, editors, managing editors, editorial page editors and business-side vice presidents.
I think the decision to write about these new hires owes to the avalanche of criticism in recent years about reductions in the staff and the actual size of the paper. Because of budgetary cuts by its owner, the McClatchy Co., The Star has been laying people off and offering buyouts since 2008, two years after McClatchy purchased the Knight Ridder chain, which previously owned The Star.
It’s been a depressing era to work at The Star, and everyone down at 18th and Grand has felt the pressure. Think of it like an ancient ship, where banks of oarsmen provided the power, but rowers kept disappearing during the ocean crossing until only a skeletal crew was left to pull the weight that had been borne by hundreds.
Things have changed for the better, though. The first sign was several months ago, when the four -page In Depth insert was added to the A-section Tuesday through Friday. That has deepened the news hole, although it still irritates the hell out of me that on those days the editorial and op-ed pages are not at the back of the section, where they should be. I frequently find myself rifling through the section looking for the editorial page.
Another big change, of course, was the departure of do-nothing publisher Mi-Ai Parrish last year and the naming of young (38 when he took over in January) and energetic new publisher Tony Berg. From the outset, Berg voiced strong support for the newsroom and hard-hitting stories, and he has tackled the circulation problems head-on. In March — undoubtedly with Berg’s blessing and perhaps at his instigation — The Star named Greg Farmer as managing editor, a post that had been left vacant since Steve Shirk retired a year earlier.
In addition — last year, I believe — The Star hired a young reporter named Ian Cummings whose byline has become a consistent presence in the paper. Coincidentally, he had Sunday’s lead story, a provocative and disturbing take-out on the dangerous levels of lead poising in Kansas City area children.
Another hopeful sign was McClatchy posting “help-wanted” ads to fill two editorial-page vacancies after the retirements of Steve Paul and Barb Shelly. (On the not-so-good-news side of that development, a friend of mine, a person with outstanding credentials, applied five weeks ago and has not received a response or any kind — not even an acknowledgment. Bad form but not surprising.)
I have to admit I got worried anew toward the end of the Kansas Legislature’s session, however, when I noticed that Topeka correspondent Ed Eveld, who was assigned that beat about a year ago, wasn’t writing any stories. The Star was again picking up legislative reports filed by a reporter for the Wichita Eagle, another McClatchy paper.
I called a friend at The Star, and the friend told me Eveld was still at The Star but had taken an editing job on the sports desk. In addition, I learned, The Star was hiring a former intern, Hunter Woodall, to take over the Topeka post.
About the same time, Steve Vockrodt, a standout reporter at The Pitch, announced he was was joining The Star’s staff as a business reporter.
I had no idea, until Sunday, that The Star had hired three other journalists. They are Katy Bergen, another former Star intern who is now a general assignment reporter; Ashley Scoby, a former Sports Illustrated intern who is primarily covering high school sports for The Star; and Maria Torres, a former MLB.com intern who now is The Star’s digital and social media editor.
…Let’s hear a round of applause for the new hires; it’s good to see a few new oarsmen on the benches.
Now, regarding Gusewelle…Most of you know he hadn’t written a new Sunday column in months. In his absence, The Star ran old columns of his, along with a tag line saying his column would return.
Well, it returned Sunday, but it’s possible Sunday’s column could be his last. He wrote: “In these past months, I have been dealing with chronic health conditions. Time spares none of us.”
He said he would continue to “contribute to The Star as time permits” but that his weekly column was over.
A friend of mine, who knows Gusewelle (pronounced Gus-well) very well, told me recently he has long had breathing problems and is on oxygen much of the time…When I got to The Star in 1969, it was the proverbial smoke-filled newsroom, “Gus” was one of many people puffing away. (One of the smartest things I ever did was give up cigarettes in 1964, immediately after the surgeon general’s report on smoking came out.)
Gus has had a run of more than 60 years at The Star. How he maintained his connection that long I will never know or understand…He’s got a huge following, and I’m sure all readers of this blog join me in wishing Gus good luck and congratulating him on a phenomenal career. In a way, as far as Kansas City is concerned, he’s the Ernest Hemingway who stayed.