For the dwindling number of us who like to hold the daily Kansas City Star in our hands and go through the paper leisurely, Saturday’s paper was one that had a lot to offer.
The edition was a good example of why newspapers, beat down though they are, often deliver more intellectual stimulation than the Internet.
One reason I think the print edition is more satisfying than the Internet is the juxtaposition of illuminating photos with well-written stories. Of course, photos are all over the Internet, too, but for some reason, the photo-print combination is more compelling when you’re holding the newspaper and letting the words and images settle slowly.
The importance of the image-word linkage was most evident in Saturday’s lead stories — side-by-side reports by senior political reporter Dave Helling on the final days of campaigning by Roy Blunt and Jason Kander.
Kander, a Democrat, and Blunt, the Republican incumbent, are locked in an epic battle for one of Missouri’s two U.S. Senate seats. (The other seat, held by Democrat Claire McCaskill, is not up for election this year.) Helling spent a day or two with each of the candidates last week and provided readers with an intriguing look at the approaches the two men have been taking as they near the wire.
The contrast between the two was clearly evident in the side-by-side photos taken by Star photographer Allison Long. The photo of Kander shows him talking on the phone after stepping off his campaign bus in Warrensburg. Kander’s name is printed in huge letters on the side of the bus, and in the photo his head is centered beneath those big letters.
Kander is wearing distressed jeans, a long-sleeved dress shirt and casual shoes. His left hand is on his belt buckle. The picture reflects Helling’s story of a candidate who is focused but seemingly confident and at ease.
The photo of Blunt also depicts him as composed and confident. He is standing on a stage, in a warehouse in Springfield, speaking to and pointing toward a group we cannot see. He is wearing cuffed, gray slacks, a blue or gray dress shirt and what looks to me like tan cowboy boots. Large “Roy for Missouri” signs surround him.
The opening quotes in both stories reflect the candidates’ contrasting styles as Election Day hurtles toward them. Helling quotes Kander, 35, as saying: “There is a new generation stepping forward right now. It is a generation that is more focused on ideas than on ideology.”
The words make him sound like a political science teacher smoking a pipe and exchanging high-minded thoughts with colleagues.
Blunt, on the other hand, sounds like a colonel brandishing a sabre and preparing for battle.
“Religious liberty is at stake,” he tells the warehouse crowd. “The Second Amendment is at stake. Freedom of speech is at stake. Our rights and liberties are at stake.”
With those strong beginnings, Helling effectively grabbed the readers’ attention and set the stage for an additional half-page of text on an inside page.
…Good stuff. These are the types of stories that make newspapers very relevant, even in the electronic age. And stories like those are one reason I won’t be giving up my printed edition until it isn’t printed any longer.
While a good news story still gets me pumped up, I am strangely indifferent about the diminution of The Star’s editorial page.
On Facebook, former editorial page writer Barb Shelly has been hammering away at Publisher Tony Berg for decimating the editorial page and making a hard right political turn in recent weeks. (The paper has endorsed at least three Missouri Republicans — Blunt in the Senate race, Josh Hawley in the attorney general’s race and Jay Ashcroft in the secretary of state’s race — who probably would not have been endorsed if Berg had not fired longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah a few weeks ago.
But this is how things can go when a big, once-stable organization — any organization, not just a major metropolitan daily — has become a shadow of its former self. The Star is down to probably fewer than 500 employees, where it once employed more than 2,000. The once-pulsating newsroom, I understand, now resembles the clubhouse of a baseball team that has lost 10 in a row.
I have watched this paper lose its verve over the last decade or so, and it just isn’t coming back. All momentum is gone. And, so, while I still love to read the paper, I’m through wringing my hands. And you know what? I think a lot of readers feel the same way. Among my circle of friends, I don’t hear a lot of complaining about The Star. I used to. But many of them have canceled their print subscriptions, either because of spiraling subscription prices or the downturn in quality, or both.
Many of those who haven’t abandoned the print edition are like me: They sit down with it, read and enjoy whatever good reporting and good photography remain, and then toss it aside and get on with their day.