Good things continue to unfold at The Kansas City Star under the leadership of Publisher Tony Berg and the apparent loosening of purse strings by The Star’s parent company, McClatchy.
:: On Monday, The Star announced it was fortifying the Monday print edition with more business and features coverage, plus, in the most significant step of all, it reinstated Monday’s Op-Ed page, which disappeared without notice nearly two years ago. As you know, The Star successfully pulled off a wholesale resuscitation of its editorial-page ranks early this year under the inspired leadership of new editorial page editor Colleen McCain-Nelson, who, among other things, routinely returns readers’ calls and possesses a personal warmth that five decades of previous editorial page editors lacked. (*See exception, belatedly added, in comments section.)
:: Today, The Star’s three-part, 2016 series on chronic, life-threatening problems in the fire suppression industry won second place for investigative reporting in the 83rd National Headliner Awards, a journalistic awards program that dates to 1934. The authors of the series, called “Fatal Echoes,” were longtime reporters Mike Hendricks and Matt Campbell. The upshot of the series was that scores of firefighters around the country have died needlessly partly because fire departments do not have standardized, national training standards and they are not subject to federal regulations established by any federal agency. (I praised the series back in December.)
These developments merit applause for the hard-working people at 18th and Grand — especially the employees who have soldiered on through a dozen or more rounds of layoffs since 2008. It is also a tribute to the 240-some employees who soon will be ushered out of the longtime headquarters building, which is being sold, and relocated across the street in the 11-year-old press pavilion.
The physical move is less of a concern to employees, of course, than continued victories, small and large, after a long fallow period under former publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and a former McClatchy leadership team that threatened to squeeze the life out of its 29 daily newspapers.
Parrish left, thankfully, in 2015, and early this year McClatchy replaced CEO Patrick Talamantes, a longtime McClatchy manager, with former Yahoo! and Earthlink executive Craig Forman, who was a McClatchy board member.
The board knew what it was doing when it replaced Talamantes, who largely seemed to subscribe to the strangulation strategy employed by his predecessor, Gary Pruitt, who engineered the buyout of the KnightRidder newspaper chain 11 years ago, at the precise moment the newspaper industry was poised to step off a cliff. (It might be more accurate to say it was being shoved off the cliff by the Internet, but, regardless, the cliff was in plain view.)
I’m not sure where — and when — an accommodation was struck between McClatchy leadership and Berg, but Berg, who took over in January 2016, started bringing younger, lower-paid editorial employees on board about a year ago. I would say 10 to 12 new editorial employees have been added during the last 15 months. It must be noted, of course, that the layoffs of higher-paid employees — including longtime deputy business editor Steve Rosen and veteran copy editor and resident poet Don Munday — have continued.
(I should also note that Berg brought a laser focus to the horrendous circulation problems that set in during Parrish’s four years of soporific neglect.)
As I’ve noted before, the print edition, while still thin some days, has a much larger “news hole” than it did until a year or so ago. The Monday paper, which had bordered on being an airborne joke, is back to being relevant. In addition to the return of the Op-Ed page, The Star has added a Monday Business page, which, according to an Editor’s Note on Monday, will focus on “tech and consumer stories.”
Another addition to the Monday paper is a page of features content “that includes regular reviews of weekend performances and Monday Mixer, a recap of weekend entertainment news.”
The big feature story this Monday was a Tim Finn interview with a singer named Casi Joy, who is from Smithville and this week made her fourth appearance on the NBC show “The Voice.”
…Overall, good to see the upswing continue. I’m sure most former KC Star employees will join me in saying, “Keep the improvements coming.”