In her first public appearance since being hired as vice president and editorial page editor of The Kansas City Star, Colleen McCain Nelson pledged Monday to have a “robust opinion page” that would be “smart, interesting and a little bit unpredictable.”
By unpredictable, she indicated readers should not expect the newspaper’s editorial positions to be consistently and decidedly liberal, as they have been in recent years.
“I think it will be more difficult to characterize the editorial board’s views in the future,” she said.
Nelson’s appearance came at a meeting on the Plaza of the 40 Years Ago Column Club…When it organized many years ago, the club was open only to people who had been mentioned in a “Forty Years Ago” column. Now it is open to almost anyone who is interested. About 40 people, including several former KC Star employees, were on hand Monday.
Last week, the paper announced the creation of a reconstituted editorial page, with an editorial board that will consist of eight people — seven who are in place now and one to be hired in the coming weeks.
Leading the editorial board, of course, is the publisher, Tony Berg, who hired Nelson last August, after laying off longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah. Another editorial page stalwart, Lewis Diuguid, also departed, leaving Berg as the lone editorial board member for more than two months. During that time, the editorial page has consisted largely of syndicated columns, letters to the editor and political cartoons.
The drought of staff-written editorials will end this coming Sunday, Nelson said, drawing smiles and nods of appreciation from several audience members.
Among other things, Nelson talked about growing up in Salina, attending the University of Kansas and working as a political reporter for the Wichita Eagle before heading off to bigger posts, including the Dallas Morning News’ editorial page, where she and two colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
Her husband, Eric Nelson, is also a KU graduate, and he, too, is working for The Star, leading the paper’s digital operation.
Most recently, Colleen (pronounced with a long “o”) Nelson spent five years writing for the Wall Street Journal, topping off her time there by covering the recently concluded presidential campaign.
Here is a sampling of her comments Monday on a variety of subjects:
:: On where she and her husband have chosen to live: “I live in Missouri (Brookside area, loosely) but have season tickets to Kansas basketball.”
:: On the relative importance of Kansas City’s City Hall in the editorial page hierarchy: “This is not an area we will step back from…We will be all over City Hall, to be sure.”
:: On the proposal for a new, single-terminal KCI: “That (deciding whether to recommend voter approval) is high on my list. I have a lot to compare KCI to, and I’m certainly aware of its shortcomings.”
:: On finding the right balance between Kansas and Missouri coverage: “That’s certainly a challenge. It is something we’re going to be taking a close look at.”
:: On her preference to read newspapers in print form rather than online: “There’s a certain order to it; it (the layout) makes sense.”
:: On the challenge that Tony Berg presented her with: “I feel fortunate to be part of the team The Star is building. I think The Star’s editorial page will match up with just about any editorial page in the country. He (Berg) gave me the running room to make that happen.”
Several people in attendance Monday said they came away impressed by Nelson. One member of the 40 Years Ago Column club, Mary Abbott, told me in passing, “I think there’s hope.”
And Laura Hockaday, retired KC Star society editor, sent Tony Berg an email later Monday, saying Nelson spoke “with great intelligence, knowledge, grace and poise.”
Hockaday went on to say:
“All of us Star alumni and others were most impressed and quite thrilled to hear the new editorial page editor speak with the confidence of her past outstanding career and her dedication to her new role in seeing The Kansas City Star move forward.”
Hear, hear. Tony Berg has been publisher about a year now. It’s taken a long time for him to get a credible editorial team in place, but it’s taking shape. Let’s hope we soon have a substantial, forceful and well-written editorial page that agitates for Missouri, Kansas and the Kansas City area in particular, to become better places to live, work and do business.