This email from my friend Dan Margolies, formerly of The Star and now a standout reporter and editor at KCUR, said it all.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard the astonishing news by now: Yael was axed this morning.”
…I don’t know how this didn’t register on the Richter scale, but regular KC Star readers certainly are being been shaken to the core by news that Star publisher Tony Berg today”laid off” longtime lead editorial writer and columnist Yael Abouhalkah.
Yael, along with perhaps columnist Steve Kraske, has been The Star’s highest-profile. For more than 30 years Yael has written hard-hitting editorials about City Hall, and in recent years, as The Star trimmed its editorial-page staff, he branched out into other areas. He was a strident critic, particularly, of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Neither The Star nor Tony Berg has announced Yael’s departure, and no reason has been given. Most of us may never know why Berg, who took over as publisher early this year, decided to “axe” Yael, as Margolies put it. My personal opinion is that Berg is effectively clearing the deck for the arrival of Colleen McCain Nelson, whom Berg recently hired to become the next vice-president of the editorial page.
Nelson is a former Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, and she is currently covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Wall Street Journal. She will not start work at The Star, however, until at least late this year.
:: Here’s what Yael posted on his Facebook page:
“Good Monday morning. I am on to a new adventure after The Star decided to lay me off this morning after almost 37 years there, including 32 years on the Editorial Board.
“1. Everything is OK! Great wife, two super kids, house paid for and even decent savings. And good severance pay (thanks, KC Star readers!) More time for gardening and running.
“2. Yes, will definitely miss writing about the local/state political worlds and miss the positive and negative reaction I got from readers.
“3. My wife already has plans for the future.
“4. Really appreciate all of the kind words – even from people who said they often disagree with me — that I’m hearing already.
“5. And FINALLY I get to say what I really think about Sam Brownback and Donald Trump.
“Cheers to all.”
…Gotta love the attitude, the quip about Brownback and the classy exit. This has got to be a gut shot for him, but it would appear he’s looking to the future and not the past.
(By the way, I put in a call to Yael today — he still had a voice mailbox at The Star as of this morning — but haven’t heard back as of this writing.)
:: Here’s what former editorial page writer Barb Shelly posted on her Facebook page:
“This morning the Kansas City Star laid off Yael Abouhalkah, one of the nation’s smartest and boldest editorial writers. This comes after Star management has stalled for six months on replacing myself or Steve Paul after we took buyout offers. Yael and Lewis Diuguid have been working around the clock trying to keep the pages together. I can only surmise that Yael’s continuing advocacy for better web placement and visibility for opinion was too much for Star publisher Tony Berg to handle. Or maybe the complaints about Yael’s relentless scrutiny of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback had their effect. Either way, this is a terrible day for the Kansas City Star and for local journalism.”
:: And here’s some of the first-hand reaction I got from friends.
— “I feel like throwing a chair across the room.” Mike Rice, former KC Star reporter who’s now working as a para-legal at an Independence law firm.
— “The question is, are they going to have an editorial page? What are they going to run? Cartoons? Old Andy Rooney columns? The prayer of the day?” David Chartrand, longtime KC journalist and writer of humorous commentary.
— “I’m really sad about it. I think our city is not going to be well served without Yael at City Hall. I put a lot of stock in what he says.” Pat Russell, dedicated KC Star reader.
The departures of Shelly and Steve Paul earlier this year left The Star with two editorial-page writers, Yael and Lewis Diuguid. For now, I suppose, it will be down to Diuguid…Good luck, Lewis!
And here’s my final thought, for now. Like Yael, I put in almost 37 years at The Star — came up three months short. The difference is I retired. That was in 2006, two years before The Star began laying off editorial employees. Had I hung around, I’m sure that I, too, would have been laid off. But I was lucky: I got my sheet cake and pizza party. I hope Yael gets one, but that’s not usually the way it works with layoffs: You collect your shit and clear out.