Archive for November, 2017

One of the most eye-opening aspects of the civil trial in which David Jungerman was found liable for shooting a homeless man is the amount of the judgment the Jackson County Circuit Court jury awarded the victim: $5.75 million.

The jury first considered compensatory damages and awarded Jeffrey Harris, who lost a leg because of the shooting, $750,000 — a significant sum by itself.

But then, after additional testimony in the second phase of the trial, the jury came back with a whopping $5 million judgement for punitive damages. As the term implies, a punitive award is meant to punish someone for wrongdoing.

I think there are three main reasons for the huge award:

First, Harris’ lead attorney, Thomas Pickert, must have done an outstanding job of presenting evidence and exposing Jungerman’s recklessness. (Pickert, of course, was murdered a day after court officials notified Jungerman some of his property would be seized and sold to satisfy the jury award.)

Second, Jungerman chose to represent himself, with help from a lawyer, rather than paying a lawyer to handle the case top to bottom, start to finish.

Third, Jungerman came off as arrogant and remorseless.

Of those three points, the third merits the most analysis.


Before the trial, Pickert deposed Jungerman, that is, took sworn testimony from him, a common procedure. In the deposition, Pickert observed that Jungerman fired five times and struck Harris with three bullets from an assault rifle.

To that, Jungerman replied: “That’s pretty good from the hip isn’t it? That’s lucky shooting, isn’t it?”

I’m not 100 percent sure that exchange got into the court record during the trial, but I assume it did. And it certainly would have had an impact on the jury.

I know for sure the jury heard testimony about two other incidents involving Jungerman and guns. Less than a month after shooting Harris and a companion at a building he owns in northeast Kansas City, Jungerman shot two other men he caught there stealing copper. And many years ago, he held four youths at gunpoint after catching them trespassing on lake property he owns in Raytown. So, the jury was well aware of his unilateral, vigilante way of dealing with trespassers.

Lack of remorse:

The transcript from the final day of trial testimony indicates Jungerman never apologized for shooting Harris on Sept. 25. 2012 at the northeast Kansas City building where Jungerman manufactures baby high chairs.

At one point during the final day of trial, Pickert asked Jungerman if he had ever told Harris he was sorry for the shooting, which resulted in Harris having a leg amputated above the knee. This exchange followed:

Jungerman: “If he hadn’t chose to commit to trespass on my property and hid around the building, he would have never got shot. He chose to be where he was. I chose to defend myself. So that’s the end of it.”

Pickert: “You’re not at all sorry for what you did to Mr. Harris, are you?”

Jungerman: “I was forced to do it.”

A while later, Brian Gepford, the attorney who was helping Jungerman, attempted to extract some semblance of an apology from Jungerman.

Gepford: “In no way whatsoever did you want the kind of outcome either for yourself or for Mr. Harris that resulted from what happened in 2012, did you?”

Jungerman: “No, no. I certainly had no intentions of injuring someone like that…And it was a situation that happened, like I’ve indicated, in a matter of seconds. And I certainly — there was never the intent to injure someone like that. The intent was to protect myself from being injured.”


Astonishingly, Jungerman not only refused to apologize, he actually attempted to paint himself as the true victim.

Questioned by Gepford about how much the lawsuit had affected his life, Jungerman replied:

“Tremendously. Since I was sued by these people, they are trying to take away a good portion of what I’ve worked and saved for over the years…And basically — basically, I have been murdered all of the years since 2014 because this thing has been over my head and I couldn’t think about running my business, et cetera, et cetera.”

Interesting choice of words, wouldn’t you agree — “murdered”?

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David Jungerman’s legal problems have increased exponentially in recent days.

Jungerman, the 79-year-old Raytown man who has been questioned in the murder of Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert, is now facing a felony charge of attempted burglary in Barton County, about 120 miles south of Kansas City.

He had been facing only a misdemeanor charge in connection with a breaking-and-entering case filed in 2016, but “amended felony information” was filed last Wednesday.

The misdemeanor case was scheduled to go to trial tomorrow, but with the new developments, both cases have been continued. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Dec. 14, and Jungerman has told the judge he is looking for an attorney. In the meantime, he is free on bond.

The filing of a felony charge is a significant development in the case of a man who had a strong motive to kill Pickert. Instead of being sentenced to a maximum of a year in jail on a misdemeanor charge, he could be sentenced — if convicted of attempted burglary — to up to seven years in state prison.

Pickert, 39, was shot outside his Brookside home the morning of Oct. 25, after walking his two sons to school. He was talking on his cell phone when shot, perhaps by a rifleman firing from inside or behind a white van parked across the street.


Police immediately focused on Jungerman. Last summer, Pickert represented a plaintiff who won a $5.75 million civil verdict against Jungerman for shooting the man while he was trespassing on property Jungerman owns in northeast Kansas City.

After the jury had left the courtroom, Jungerman leveled an “angry outburst” at Pickert and others still in the courtroom. Police have not said if Jungerman threatened Pickert in that outburst, and the trial transcript ends before it occurred. In addition, the court was moving to seize property of Jungerman’s to satisfy the jury award.

Police and prosecutors have circumstantial evidence against Jungerman in the Pickert murder, but they apparently have been short of physical evidence.


The filing of a felony charge dovetails with a prosecutorial strategy a well-connected criminal defense attorney outlined for me recently. The attorney said the Jackson County prosecutor’s office was eager to bring some type of felony charge or charges against Jungerman; get a conviction; get him behind bars and hope he died in prison.

The attorney told me authorities were looking at possible white-collar crimes — perhaps income-tax related — but it apparently turned out that the case pending in southwest Missouri presented the best option.

This morning, I spoke with Mike Mansur, spokesman for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, and asked him if Baker’s office was aware of the Barton County developments and if Jackson County was collaborating with prosecutors on the burglary case. He said he would speak with the assistant prosecutor assigned to the Pickert murder and get back with me.

The harassment and attempted burglary charges stem from a break-in or attempted break-in that occurred June 28, 2016, in rural Vernon County, due south of Kansas City along Interstate 49. (Jungerman owns thousands of acres of farm land in Vernon County and nearby Bates County.)

A police “probable cause” statement filed in that case says Jungerman was renting a home he owns to a man he wanted out. The probable cause statement says Jungerman kicked in the door of the home and confronted the tenant, demanding to know, “When are you getting out of here you mother fucker?”

The tenant said Jungerman had a handgun in his waistband, and a witness said Jungerman placed his hand on the gun while “yelling and cussing” at the tenant.

A sheriff’s deputy responding to a 9-1-1 call from a witness spoke with Jungerman outside the house. The deputy said he told Jungerman that in order to remove the tenant “he had to go through the legal eviction process.” The deputy also asked Jungerman if he had a firearm, and Jungerman said he had one in the center console of his car.

The deputy then retrieved a .40 caliber Glock, semi-automatic handgun from the console. “There was (stet) a total of 10 hollow point rounds in the Glock,” the deputy wrote in the probably cause statement.

The June 28, 2016, incident came up in the course of last summer’s civil trial in Jackson County. Under questioning by Pickert, Jungerman said he did not kick in the door and denied threatening the renter. He said he wanted the renter out because he had damaged some farm equipment of Jungerman’s.

Jungerman testified: “There was no violence whatsoever there. I carry a gun, sure. And I have a permit to carry that gun. But in no way was it threatened or displayed to him. I do not do that.”


The Vernon County case was originally filed as a felony but was reduced somewhere along the way to a misdemeanor. It was also transferred to Barton County, for reasons I could not determine. Vernon County Prosecutor Brandi McInroy is prosecuting the case. This morning, I called McInroy’s office. An assistant said she was in but was meeting with people and could not talk to me.

McInroy has been in a courtroom with Jungerman at some point, perhaps recently. A week ago today, either the judge or a clerk posted this note in the public court record:

“It was evident in court that the prosecutor did not want Defendant to stand next to her and the court did have Defendant stand a short ways away from the prosecutor. The Barton County court always has 3 Bailiffs and sometimes the Sheriff or other officers are present as well. The Defendant at the hearing in Vernon County stated that he has been accused falsely of being involved in the death of an attorney and that would be detrimental to this case. That may have caused some additional concern to make sure that no one disturbs the court proceedings for either side.”

…David Jungerman has dealt with a lot of legal problems in the past, but with this new change of direction, he is up against the most serious charges he has ever faced, by far.

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My sources on the street tell me the Chiefs lost again today. If that’s true, well then dagnabit! (And, please, pardon my French.)

But fear not, football fans, I’m hear to help you wean yourselves off the brain-busting game many of us grew up loving.

I quit following the Chiefs last year, and this year I gave up college football, even though — as I’ve written before — parting ways with the Marching Jayhawks has been awfully difficult.

Last month I wrote that instead of trying to raise $350 million for improvements to Lawrence’s Memorial Stadium, KU administrators should just drop football and raise a far smaller sum with an eye toward making KU the Marching Band Capital of the Midwest. Yes, of the en-tire Mid-West!

My idea was greeted with hosannas and hip-hip-hoorahs (to the very best of my recollection) from hordes of commenters. Despite the overwhelming response, it was not enough, unfortunately, to move the KU president to do the right thing. All I’ve heard from Lawrence on my Grand Plan is a faintly ringing bell from Campanile hill.

But now that the Chiefs are putting their arrows back in their quivers, I want to expand on my KU idea; I want to take it to a whole new level.

The New Grand Plan is three-pronged. (And let me warn you, don’t get in the way or you could get hurt.)

Step One: Disgruntled Chiefs fans rise up in a chorus that is louder than any “Home of the Chiefs” refrain during the singing of the National Anthem at Arrowhead and demand that owner Clark Hunt move the team out of Kansas City.

Hey, the team has had a nice 55-year run here in KC, and just like that 45-year-old airport we’ve got up in Platte County, it’s time for a change. So, out with the Chiefs. I don’t really care where they go, but how sweet would it be if they up and went to Oakland, where the Raiders are about to bail out? Why, those crazy fans out there could start dressing up in Indian garb instead of as Hells Angels members. Everybody would get a change of scenery!

Step Two: Reconfigure Arrowhead into a horseshoe-shaped field that would accommodate up to three marching bands at once — one on each side and one at the bottom of the “shoe.” (Besides being excellent “band width,” the conformation would let devotees of the current KCI keep memories of the beloved A/B/C terminals close to their hearts.)

I had envisioned KU’s Memorial Stadium being converted to host The Annual Great Midwest Marching Band Championships, but with Arrowhead available, we could alternate between Kansas City and Lawrence. Alternating would be a bit unusual, I realize, but those of you old enough to recall the old Kansas City-Omaha Kings of the NBA know that bifurcation of high-level competition is nothing new to Kansas City. On days when they were the Kansas City Kings, the team played at Kemper Arena, and on days when they were the Omaha Kings, they played in an arena somewhere up I-29. It was a bea-U-ti-ful thing, indeed, until the team’s general manager was fired after being caught reusing marked postage stamps (I shit you not) and the team moved to Sacramento.

Step Three: Here’s what seals the deal. Instead of $60 for game-day parking, the parking fee goes to $6. That’s SIX bucks. Admission will be ten bucks (10), and hot dogs, a “regular” Pepsi and peanuts will be $2.50 each. Too much, you say? What the hell, make it two bucks. We’ll make up in volume what we lose to higher pricing.

And get this: We’re going to have great halftime shows…Flag football! Not just sweaty guys, though — CO-ED flag football. (My heart is racing!) But only for 15 minutes. Then it’s back to the Main Event: The Annual Great…Midwest…Marching…Band…Championships!

Are you with me? Huh? Ok, then!

People, these are revolutionary times and they call for revolutionary remedies to tired old thinking. Now, break huddle and let’s GO!

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Among the people I thought about yesterday — people whose Thanksgivings did not match up to the stereotypical “perfect day” — were Dr. Emily Riegel and her two young sons.

Dr. Riegel was recently widowed, and her children de-fathered, by a cruel, calloused individual who shot and killed 39-year-old lawyer Thomas Pickert — outside the Pickert/Riegel home the morning of Oct. 25.

It is for Dr. Riegel and those boys that public pressure must be brought to bear on the Kansas City Police Department and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, until charges are filed and a conviction is achieved.

In that vein, I obtained the transcript of the last day of the five-day trial that resulted in Pickert winning a $5.75 million civil judgment against the man who seemingly had the strongest motive — combined with a propensity for gun violence — to kill Pickert.

Police have said that man, 79-year-old David Jungerman of Raytown, is “not a suspect at this time.” I don’t believe it. A lawyer with close ties to the prosecutor’s office has told me Jungerman is, indeed, the prime suspect, and a second well-connected lawyer told me earlier this week that the police department’s careful public statements about Jungerman “could be some very skillful misinformation just to get him comfortable.”

There’s a lot of interesting material in the 109 pages of proceedings from that last day of trial, July 28, and I will be bringing the highlights to you today and in days to come.

One of the main reasons I wanted that transcript is that police said in a warrant application for Jungerman’s white van — similar to one spotted at the murder scene on Oct. 25 — that after the verdict was announced in the civil case, “Jungerman had an outburst in the courtroom where he cursed and yelled in a loud voice at court personnel, including the victim.”

Obviously, that could be a very strong piece of circumstantial evidence, particularly if Jungerman threatened Pickert.

I’m sure the police know exactly what Jungerman said in court that day, but, unfortunately, the outburst occurred after the judge had dismissed the jury and after the judge and other key court personnel, including the court reporter, had left the room.

The last words uttered by the judge and recorded by the court reporter were:

“Now, I’m going to release the jury…If there’s nothing further, we will be adjourned…All right. Thank you.”

So much for my hopes of hearing exactly what Jungerman said to Pickert a few minutes later.


Another thing I was looking for in the transcript, particularly, was any indication of ill-will and tension between Pickert and Jungerman.

Stupidly, Jungerman, a multi-millionaire who could have afforded a top-notch lawyer, chose to represent himself. (He did go half-in, however, hiring a lawyer named Brian Gepford to advise and assist him.)

His decision to represent himself insured that there’d be plenty of interaction between himself and Pickert, the main attorney representing a homeless man, Jeffrey Harris, whom Jungerman had shot with an assault rifle after he caught Harris and another man trespassing on his property on Sept. 25, 2012. (While the two men were standing on a loading dock outside a building Jungerman owns, Jungerman shot them with an assault rifle. Harris was hit in the leg, which later had to be removed above the knee.)

Tension and tone often don’t come through in a transcript, and I could not detect a high level of tension between Pickert and Jungerman from Pickert’s questioning of the defendant on Day 5 of the trial. At only one point in that last day’s testimony was there an indication of a possible history of friction between Pickert and Jungerman.

That point came when Gepford questioned the defendant about hiring him to help with advice. The following exchange took place before the jury:

Gepford: You asked me as a lawyer to assist you in representing yourself in this case?

Jungerman: Yes, I did.

Gepford: But there’s been a long, and number of periods of time when you were…

Jungerman: And I would like to give the reason. The reason I contacted Mr. Gepford was the plaintiffs…

At this point, Pickert interrupted: Your honor…

The judge: Hang on just a moment. Let’s approach (the bench). You can come on up, Mr. Jungerman.

A conference was then held at the bench outside the jury’s hearing.

Pickert: I have no idea what he is going to say, but he’s started to accuse me and this has nothing to do with — this is totally irrelevant to this stage of why he chose to hire him as an attorney.

The judge upheld Pickert’s objection, and when questioning before the jury resumed, Gepford went in a completely different direction.


As I said earlier, testimony from that last day in court reveals much interesting information, including Jungerman’s propensity to resolve problems with guns…like a rogue sheriff without commission, training or concern for the safety of others.

Another interesting aspect of the case is that Jungerman never expressed remorse about shooting Harris and the other man on Sept. 25, 2012. Not only that; more than once on Day 5 he insisted he — not Harris or his companion — was the real victim.

…More to come.

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A misdemeanor criminal case against a Raytown man who supposedly is “not a suspect at this time” in the Oct. 25 murder of Thomas Pickert is suddenly getting a lot of attention from authorities.

Within the last week or so, the last year’s worth of entries in a Barton County case against 79-year-old David Jungerman have disappeared from public records.

Those records were on the Missouri casenet website,  last week. But when I went back to the Jackson County Courthouse today to check for new developments, all entries entered after Oct. 13, 2016 — when the case was transferred from Vernon County to nearby Barton County — were gone.

This afternoon, I called Barton County Circuit Court Clerk Janet Maupin and asked her about the case.  She said she couldn’t give me any information. When I pressed for a reason, she replied, “The security level has been raised.”

Vernon County Prosecutor Brandi McInroy is handling the case. A woman who answered the phone in McInroy’s office today said McInroy was out of the office until Monday. Two other numbers I found in WhitePages.com did not turn her up.

I also left a message for Mike Mansur, a spokesman in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, hoping to ask him if Jackson and Vernon counties were collaborating on the misdemeanor case. I have not heard back.

I tell you this: Whatever is going on, you can be sure that if David Jungerman was not a suspect in the murder of Thomas Pickert, the security level of the misdemeanor case would have not have been raised…I would not be surprised to see the misdemeanor case dismissed and the case refiled with felony charges.

…More about that case in a minute, but I also picked up two new pieces of information in regard to the Pickert case.

:: A longtime criminal defense attorney — an attorney I had not talked with before this week — said Pickert was shot with a rifle. Police have not identified the type of weapon, other than to say he was shot. The attorney said police found shell casings from a rifle near the scene.

My take: If Pickert was shot with a rifle, it seems more likely the shots could have been fired from inside a vehicle parked on the street or behind the vehicle, instead of up close. Before the shooting, a white van was seen parked across from Pickert’s home on West 66th Terrace, near Brookside Road.

Shots from a rifle would also help explain why Pickert might not have realized for several seconds that he was being fired at. After a first “loud noise,” as police put it in a search-warrant application, Pickert’s wife went to a front window and asked Pickert, who was talking on his cell phone, if he knew what the sound was. “No,” he replied. She told him to come in, but before he did, or could, there was another “loud noise.” His wife, a physician at the University of Kansas Health System, went outside and saw her husband on the ground and a white van leaving the scene.

::  Pickert fell in the grass in his yard, not, apparently, on his sidewalk or on his front porch, as earlier reports had it…A man who lives within a few doors of the shooting told me yesterday that he and his wife went out for breakfast on Wednesday, Oct. 25, and when they returned home, dozens of yards of crime-scene ribbon extended along both sides of the street. The neighbor saw Pickert’s covered body in the grass in his front yard, about midway between the front sidewalk and the home.

Like Pickert’s puzzled reaction to the first “loud noise,” the position of his body would also tend to support the plausibility of a rifle being the killer’s weapon of choice.

David Jungerman and his white van, which police searched for possible evidence in the Thomas Pickert murder case. Kansas City Star photo.

I wrote about the misdemeanor case earlier this month. It stems from a June 28, 2016, incident in rural Vernon County, where Jungerman is alleged to have broken into the home of a tenant of his, Jerry Doyle, and cursed at him while displaying a .40-caliber Glock, semi-automatic handgun in his waistband.

A police “probable cause” statement alleges Jungerman kicked in the door of the home, confronted the tenant and said, “When are you getting out of here you mother fucker?”

A witness, a state employee who was at the home at the time, said Jungerman placed his hand on the gun while “yelling and cussing” at the tenant.

Jungerman was initially charged with one or more felonies, but from my reading of the records, it apparently was reduced to a misdemeanor somewhere along the way.

The case came up in the course of a Jackson County Circuit Court civil trial last summer in which Pickert represented a homeless man whom Jungerman shot in the leg on Sept. 25, 2012. Jungerman caught the homeless man, Jeffrey Harris, and another man on the loading dock of a baby-furniture manufacturing plant he owns in northeast Kansas City. Instead of calling the police after being notified by an alarm company, Jungerman, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, drove to the building and opened fire. Harris had to have a leg amputated because of his injuries.

(About a month later, Jungerman shot two more trespassers — men who had broken into the building and were attempting to steal copper pipes.)

After a three-day trial in the Harris case, the jury awarded Harris $750,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Jungerman, in a move that he must now regret, chose to represent himself — “pro se” is the legal term — although he did have a lawyer giving him advice.

In the course of the trial, it came out that in addition to shooting the four trespassers within the space of a month, Jungerman had also pulled a gun on four teenagers many years ago after he caught them on property he owns in Raytown. He made a “citizen’s arrest,” but later he, not the youths, were convicted of a crime — a misdemeanor firearms violation.

In the Vernon County case, although Jungerman did not pull a gun on the tenant, it was in plain view during the incident.

At the civil trial, under questioning by Pickert, Jungerman said at one point, “I’m always armed.”

At another point, he said: “I carry a gun, sure. And I have a permit to carry that gun.”

Pickert and Jungerman later had this exchange:

Pickert: What I want to know is whether or not you threatened Mr. Doyle in any way about getting out (of the rental house)?

Jungerman: In no way did I threaten him.

Pickert: Did you, sir, tell Mr. Doyle when are you getting out, mother fucker?

Jungerman: That’s correct.

Pickert: But you weren’t trying to intimidate at all, were you?

Jungerman: “No.”

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New circulation numbers are out for The Star, and they are grim.

The only comfort Star management can take in these statistics is that the hometown paper has a lot of company from many other major metropolitan dailies.

The statistics come from the Alliance for Audited Media, a nonprofit organization financed by media companies. Among other things, AAM puts out quarterly circulation reports for newspapers.

For the quarter ending Sept. 30, the average, paid circulation for the print version of the Sunday Star was a measly 119,892.

Average Monday-Friday, paid circulation was 78,122.

Another 10,000 or so people have stand-alone, digital subscriptions to the Sunday Star. (Print subscribers automatically get digital subscriptions.) The 10,000 figure strikes me as very puny, considering the core, five-county metro area has a population of about 1.7 million.

Let me put the print circulation numbers in perspective.

:: In September 2009, Sunday circulation stood at nearly 308,000, meaning the paper has lost nearly 200,000 Sunday subscribers in eight years.

:: As recently as the late 1990s, The Star’s Monday-Friday circulation was well into the 200,000s, and the paper mounted a marketing campaign designed to propel weekday circulation to 300,000 by the year 2000. It never got close.

:: My first newspaper job was with The Kentucky Post and Times-Star, which was a one-section wrap-around to the Cincinnati Post and Times-Star. In 1968, our section, which went to northern Kentucky residents, had a weekday circulation of about 50,000, which I considered piddly. The Star’s weekday circulation is now bordering on piddly.

The circulation decline for The Star and many major metropolitan dailies can only be described as precipitous. In just the last two years, The Star’s Sunday circulation has plunged by more than a third, and Monday to Friday circulation has dropped more than 25 percent.

A few days ago, I put in a call to Phil Schroder, The Star’s vice president of “audience development,” hoping to speak with him about the Star’s circulation, but I did not get a return call.

…Where is this headed, and what does it mean? Let me quote a friend — a retired, long-time Star reporter — with whom I spoke recently:

“What we’re talking about now is a long, ugly drag to the bottom.”


If it wasn’t clear earlier why The Star’s owner, McClatchy Co., is selling assets, like the 18th and Grand headquarters building, it is now. (McClatchy also had a deal in place to sell and then lease back The Star’s green-glass printing plant a block to the east, but it scrapped that deal before it closed.)


Here are some third-quarter statistics from other major metropolitan dailies…

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Lee Enterprises, owner): Sunday print circulation, 135,998; daily circulation, 87,567.

Miami Herald (McClatchy): Sunday, 118,893; daily, 70,492

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (McClatchy): Sunday, 113,135; daily, 60,691

The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY, owned by Gannett): Sunday, 112,145; daily, 72,356


Newspapers used to be cash cows, generating returns on investments of 30 percent or more. That’s all changed. Some media companies that owned TV stations and newspapers have spun off their newspapers and created new TV-based companies free of the debt and cash-flow drain of the newspapers.

The most significant change in the newspapers industry’s revenue model is that, in the past, advertising provided the vast majority of newspaper revenue, allowing prices for the print product to be set very low. Some of you, I’m sure, remember when you could buy the daily paper for a dime. The last 15 years or so, however, people have turned more and more to the Internet for their news, and advertisers have followed. With advertising revenue way down, newspapers have had to shift a greater share of the revenue burden onto circulation, and that can only be achieved by raising subscription rates.

The Star, for example, has now set subscription renewal prices at $800 or more a year for ongoing subscribers. Renewal rates are negotiable, however, and the only hard-and-fast rate being or one-year, start-up subscriptions. Nevertheless, The Star is losing a lot of subscribers because some people don’t want the hassle of negotiating and others aren’t willing to pay the final rate they’re quoted.

Where The Star and most other major metropolitan dailies erred early on was giving away their content on the Web. It is very difficult to get people to pay for anything that starts out free…Remember the outcry that erupted 15 or 20 years ago after Kansas City announced it was going to stop providing residents with free trash bags? Similarly, it’s been extremely challenging to get people to start paying for newspaper content they used to get gratis. A lot of people simply won’t pay — even though online subscriptions cost a very reasonable $13 a month.

All in all, newspaper companies are caught in a descending spiral, and the bottom is not in view. To play off the old wheel-of-fortune ditty…down and down it goes, where it stops nobody knows.

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A journalist derives his or her biggest, most-enduring reward not from higher salary or position and not from the number of stories he or she produces but from stories that precipitate change for the better.

Such is the reward that the reporters, editors and others involved in the The Star’s five-part “Why so secret, Kansas?” series are already realizing.

Even before the series began, earlier investigative reports prompted Department for Children and Families secretary Phyllis Gilmore to announce her retirement, and plenty of additional changes can be expected.

Just three days into this blockbuster series, which started Sunday, it began generating a “call for major reform” — to quote a front-page headline in Wednesday’s paper.

The series has generated so much outrage that it took two reporters 60 column inches in Wednesday’s paper to chronicle the fist-pumping by Kansas elected officials.

The reason elected officials are reacting so strongly is they realize the public is now learning how bad the situation is at the Statehouse. How many Kansas residents would know, for example, that the vast majority of  bills going through the legislative process do not bear the names of their sponsors? Or that when bills come out of committees, the votes of individual committee members are not recorded? It’s as appalling as retail government could be.

Little by little, over a period of many years, officials have been drawing the curtain over transparency, and I daresay a very small percentage of Kansas residents knew how dark and secretive their state government had become. But now, thanks to The Star, it’s out there — in big, breathtaking lumps of straightforward text.

Reflecting the depth of the series’ impact, some of those outraged voices belong to officials who have contributed to the veil of secrecy, which has been descending over Kansas government for decades but fell like a wet blanket under Gov. Sam Brownback.

No less than Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and the ever-secretive Secretary of State Kris Kobach seemed to be wrestling for center stage in Wednesday’s follow-up.


Colyer: “Transparency is absolutely critical to increase Kansans’ confidence in government. I look forward to taking steps to increase transparency and improve public trust when I become governor.” (He will succeed Brownback after the U.S. Senate confirms Brownback’s appointment to a post in the Trump administration and has already announced he will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.)

Kobach: “There is a culture of corruption and secretiveness in Topeka that has been in place for decades. Ending that culture of corruption and secretiveness has been a central message of my campaign.” (He has also announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year.)

Coming from those two, the quotes almost made me laugh out loud. But, in fact, it’s the highest sort of praise the series could draw. It will be an all-out foot race to see which prospective office holders can issue the loudest and most effective calls for reform. On the other hand, anyone who has the audacity to defend the status quo in Kansas government at this point is probably writing his or political epitaph.

In the space of a few days, what The Star has done, among other things, is set the main agenda item for the 2018 gubernatorial election: How to significantly reduce secrecy in state government.

It’s a singular achievement, like the Corps of Engineers re-routing a river, and everyone at The Star who is involved in this remarkable series should be called onto some journalistic stage and be allowed to take a bow. That would include reporters Laura Bauer, Judy L. Thomas, Kelsey Ryan, Max Londberg, Bryan Lowry, Andy Marso, Steve Vockrodt and Hunter Woodall.

In an “About the series” note, The Star also credited Jill Toyoshiba and Neil Nakahodo for video work and “growth editor” Leah Becerra for producing the online report. Several photographers also got in on the action.

The Star says the reporters spoke with about 100 people, including “current and former lawmakers of both parties, law enforcement and families of crime victims, state employees who had been demoted or fired for saying too much, caregivers for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, families of children whose deaths raised questions about the Department for Children and Families, and citizens frustrated by a lack of transparency in local and state government.”

In addition: “For several months, reporters pored over decades of legislation. They analyzed state open meetings and records laws and compared them to other states. And they filed dozens of open records requests with police agencies to gauge the transparency of departments across the state.”

Lots and lots of head-down, churn-it-out research.

As I said in the lead-in to yesterday’s post, this series should be a strong contender for a 2017 Pulitzer Prize in either the investigative or public service category. One reason is the breadth of the investigation. The Star didn’t just take on the governor’s office or an individual department, like the Department for Children and Families…It took on the whole damn government!

Wednesday’s story citing initial reaction to the series quoted a Republican state senator, Molly Baumgardner of Louisburg, as saying she wanted to do something “impactful” to improve the situation in Topeka.

Her cause will be a lot easier by virtue of the tremendous impact The Star’s series is having.

…Hats are off and in the air. Bravo!

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