Archive for May, 2018

The only thing surprising about Gov. Eric Greitens’ resignation announcement yesterday afternoon was the timing.

With the pressure mounting on him by the hour, and with his days of reckoning approaching, it seemed as if an announcement could come at any time.

So, as a reader, I would like to have seen news reports focus on two things: The timing of the resignation and a detailed description of Tuesday’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering and the attendant emotions and tensions on display.

I have now read several newspapers’ accounts of the governor’s announcement, and none was satisfying on its own. Particularly disappointing was The Star’s front-page story.

Greitens at the podium Tuesday

Now, granted, this was an incredibly challenging assignment, with the governor taking the podium at 4:15 p.m., and all reporters, photographers and camera operators involved had to move very quickly.

Still, as great a job as The Star has done reporting developments leading up to the resignation, I would have expected a much better story than what it produced.

Here are some of the things lacking in The Star’s story:

:: Where the resignation announcement took place. (Other papers said in the governor’s office, but it looked from photos like a large conference room outside the governor’s actual office.)

:: What time it took place. (Only the News Tribune of Jefferson City reported the time: 4:15 p.m.)

:: The frenzied activity and preparation that attended the news conference and, later, Greitens’ body language and appearance.

On the last point, the Springfield News-Leader said, “Greitens was mostly stoic during his announcement. He did not take questions. At one point, he appeared to choke up.”

The Columbia Daily Tribune wrapped up its story like this: “Choking back tears, he added, ‘The time has come, though, to tend to those who have been wounded and to care for those who need us most.’ ”


Regarding the timing of the resignation, The Star didn’t report until the fifth column of text — 28 inches into the story — that earlier Tuesday a Cole County judge had ordered a political committee formed by Greitens to submit critical information to a Missouri House investigative committee.

The Columbia Daily Tribune put that key fact in the third paragraph of its story:

“On Tuesday, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ordered Greitens to comply with legislative subpoenas for documents from A New Missouri, the not-for-profit set up soon after Greitens took office to promote his agenda. Greitens did not mention that ruling when he made a short announcement to reporters that he would step aside as of Friday.”

(The Star’s lead editorial also highlighted the timing of the judge’s order and Greitens’ announcement.)


The main thing I was looking for, however, was a description of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and preparation that led up to the dramatic announcement.

The Star had nothing, absolutely nothing, related to that, and it was extremely disappointing.

It was, in my opinion, primarily the editors’ fault. The main reporters on the story were Jason Hancock, The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent, and Bryan Lowry, The Star’s chief political reporter. (Lowry will soon be leaving The Star to go to McClatchy’s national desk in Washington.)

Understandably, Hancock and Lowry were focused on the political situation, but an editor should have had one of them, or another reporter, write only about the atmospherics.

If you want to know what I mean about atmospherics, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch came closest to covering the lead-up to the big announcement.

The PD’s story concluded with a segment titled “The Scene in the Capitol.”

Here’s how it read:

The governor’s end came in a mad scramble that was, for some, emotional.

A bit after 3 p.m. Tuesday, no one was stationed at the front desk of the governor’s reception room. A woman who walked through the office said Greitens’ press secretary was “in a meeting.”

Around 3:15 p.m., a Post-Dispatch reporter stopped by (Lt. Gov. Mike) Parson’s office to see if his press secretary, Kelli Jones, had heard anything about a possible resignation.

“I have not heard anything,” she said.

Over the next several minutes, Greitens’ staffers paced up and down the second floor hallway entering and exiting their office suite. Parker Briden, the governor’s press secretary, was asked if a resignation was imminent. He said he would have “a statement a little bit later today. About to send an email.”

Two other Greitens officials, Drew Erdmann and Will Scharf, declined to respond to reporter questions as they walked down the hallway.

Capitol maintenance workers hauled a podium up a spiraled Rotunda stairwell and to Greitens’ office.

A line of reporters and other Capitol staffers began to gather outside Greitens’ office.

Greitens’ chief legal counsel, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, wept during and after the governor’s announcement.

Afterwards, Erdmann, who was brought in to serve as the chief operating officer for the administration, was asked what’s next. He could only shrug.


Pretty good, pretty good. But I wish the PD’s story had also contained a description of Greitens at the podium — the look in his eye, the tone of his voice, movements or expressions that reflected defiance, acceptance or internal struggle.

What I wanted was the “sights, sounds and smells” from yesterday afternoon — all of them. Unfortunately, none of the stories I read captured them satisfactorily.

…Yes, I am a tough, demanding reader. But, really, what I’m asking is not too much. And I’ll bet a lot of readers would have appreciated an insightful, accurate report of those sights, sounds and smells.

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A recent article The Star published about black drivers getting more tickets than whites has Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith hot under his dress-blue collar.

The Star’s story, which ran Sunday, May 20, analyzed traffic tickets given to Kansas City residents in 2017 and found “significant racial disparities among those ticketed.”

In a long blog post dated May 23, Smith accuses The Star, in so many words, of treating the Police Department unfairly in the story.

Rick Smith

Smith did not take issue with The Star’s statistics or the assertion that African-Americans got a disproportionate share of tickets. What he strongly objected to was a single sentence in the story:

“Police did not respond to The Star’s request for comments for this article.”

What he objects to specifically is The Star’s refusal to share with the PD the data it analyzed — and the source of its data — so that, in Smith’s words, the PD could have time to review the data and respond appropriately.


This was a story that two relatively new reporters — Aaron Randle (two years at The Star) and Kelsey Ryan (hired about 15 months ago) — worked on for probably a few weeks. In the business, it’s called an “enterprise” story, meaning it did not spring directly from breaking news but was the product of a decision to examine an ongoing situation that had persisted for some considerable time.

The following two sentences comprise The Star’s jumping off point for its analysis and conclusions:

“Of the traffic tickets given to Kansas City residents, 60 percent went to African-Americans, who make up 30 percent of the population. Thirty-seven percent of tickets went to whites, who make up 59 percent of the population.

“Among Kansas City residents, speeding is overwhelmingly the top traffic offense for all races — except African-Americans. The top traffic ticket charge for African-Americans is ‘state license plate required,’ followed by ‘no insurance’ and then speeding.”

The point of Randle’s and Ryan’s story wasn’t the disproportionate number of tickets given to African-Americans, it was how African-Americans who got numerous tickets could have their lives disrupted and livelihoods put at risk because of the situation.

In the case of a woman who has 26 outstanding tickets, The Star said…

“Her ordeal highlights the hardships faced by thousands of drivers in Kansas City — particularly poor African-Americans suffering from a deluge of problems caused by traffic tickets. The tickets pile up, burying already poor residents under a mass of fines and creating a financial pit few are able to pull themselves out of.”


Smith — to repeat — didn’t take issue with disproportionate ticketing or how an onslaught of tickets affected individual drivers. He was trained on what he perceived as The Star’s unwillingness to share its data and give the PD a chance to analyze it and then respond.

In his blog, Smith laid out the PD’s side at length. I’m going to quote several paragraphs because I think it’s important to include this chunk of his blog so you can see it in context.

This from Smith:

The Star first contacted Media Unit commander and public information officer Captain Lionel Colón by e-mail at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15. The reporter stated they’d gotten statistics (they did not say from where), and then asked these questions:

1. Why are African-Americans being assigned tickets at such a disproportionate rate?

2. Why does the 64130 zip code account for such a disproportionate amount of tickets?

3. Some have interpreted this data as demonstrating a pattern of ‘over-policing’ and targeting of AA motorists by the KCPD. What is the department’s response to that?

Captain Colón responded early the next morning asking what the data were so we could review it in order to properly answer their questions. The Star declined to provide the data, other than directing us to public information from Municipal Court. They refused to say with whom they worked at Municipal Court to obtain the data or what kind of dataset they’d requested. Captain Colón said it would be irresponsible for him to speak to the data without seeing it.

Over the next few days, we worked to try to extract our own ticket data from 2017 by race and set up an appointment with leaders at Municipal Court to compare. Captain Colón maintained daily e-mail contact with The Star during that time.

On Friday, May 18, we told the reporter that since we could not see the data The Star used to make responsible and informed comments, we were working to pull the data ourselves. We told him there were several other large-scale public information requests that had been submitted previously from other organizations that – to be fair to everyone – needed to be addressed first. The reporter responded that it was too late, anyway, and the article would run on Sunday.

The Star then reported that KCPD declined to comment, which is false. We requested The Star correct their statement, “Police did not respond to The Star’s request for comments to this article,” and they declined.

Daily e-mail conversation between KCPD and reporters and editors is not a “no comment” situation. “No comment” is not a response that we give. Sometimes we have to protect the integrity of an investigation and can’t say much, and other times – as is the case here – we need more time to review a large amount of information (that wasn’t even made available to us for review). Just to pull that information ourselves took more time than The Star allotted us for making a statement on it.

In summary, The Star reporters gave the police department 2.5 days to respond to reams of data they wouldn’t show us. Members of The Star have had the opportunity to review this data since February 2018, according to Municipal Court.


You can chew on all that and form your own opinions, but from my perspective there are two main problems:

  1. If The Star still had a reporter assigned full time to the Kansas City Police Department, as it did for decades before severe reportorial retrenchment, this “stand-off” probably would not have occurred. The police reporter probably would have been involved in the story, and even if not directly involved, he or she could have functioned as a conduit between the reporters and police commanders. As it is, neither Randle nor Ryan is a police reporter or is in regular contact with KCPD…Randle’s LinkedIn profile describes him as a “features reporter and pop culture writer.” In announcing the hiring of Ryan in March 2017, The Star described her as an “investigative/data reporter.” What that means, basically, is she does a lot of computer-assisted reporting. Perhaps magnifying the communication problem is that Colon is new to the communications office, having taken charge of it just a few months ago.
  2. There is far too much reliance on email (and, of course text) communication these days. And I don’t mean just on the reporting front. Email is a valuable tool, but far too many people have made it (and texting) the end-all, be-all of communication. Email communication on sensitive and substantive matters, especially where details are important, opens the way for miscommunication and hardening of positions. It’s far preferable to either pick up the phone and try to talk a situation through with someone or, better yet, arrange to go meet in person and hash things out.

In this case, the blame falls on both sides. It’s simply a situation that should never have occurred.

On the one hand, I’ve had dealings with the Police Department communications office, and those officers almost always want information requests submitted in writing. I can understand that; they want to have a record, for their supervisors, of who requested what. At the same time, someone at HQ should have the good sense to put a halt to back-and-forth emails on a sensitive issues (like the racial dimension of traffic tickets) and pick up the phone and request a person-to-person meeting. One more thing: If the chief didn’t get involved in this until after the fact — and I have no idea how that played out — he should have been.

On the other hand, I suspect that many reporters, not just at The Star but at major papers throughout the country, have come to rely too heavily on electronic communication with sources and subjects. That’s a consequence of having far fewer reporters trying to cover about the same number of “beats” reporters have covered from time immemorial, such as law enforcement, education and local and state government. I understand it’s a lot easier to sit at your desk and fire off an email than it is to pick up the phone and play the “missed your call” game, but, in the end, that’s how you get the best and most precise information and how you come closest to clarifying opposing positions.

This hardening of positions, on this particular story, is just ridiculous…For Christ’s sake, couldn’t somebody at 18th and Grand have called somebody at 12th and Locust and had a fuckin’ chat???

“Daily email conversation,” as Smith described whatever dialogue took place, qualifies in no way, shape or form as a conversation.

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You know how I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl, especially on a holiday weekend, but, my God, disappointment seems to lurk at every turn.

Let’s take a look…

Danica Patrick, after crashing at Indy

:: In her last race ever, 36-year-old race car driver Danica Patrick wrecked her car in Turn 2 about a third of the way through today’s Indianapolis 500. Thus ends a long career that made her a sex symbol and undoubtedly made her sponsor, Go Daddy, a lot of money but never got her to the winner’s circle at Indy…On the plus side here, Indy seems to have come up with the answer to who should succeed the late Jim Nabors as pre-race singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” For the second year in a row, tenor Jim Cornelison got rave reviews. (For the record, “Back Home Again…” is a pretty good song, but nothing compares to “My Old Kentucky Home” when it comes to songs played at sporting events.)

:: About the weirdest concert-related development I’ve ever heard of took place last night in Charlotte, NC, when 85-year-old Willie Nelson, who was supposed to headline his own Outlaw Music Festival concert, abruptly walked off stage before uttering a note. The video shows him walking haltingly onstage, briefly attaching the guitar strap around his shoulder and just as quickly putting the instrument down and starting to walk off. As the fans cheered — obviously not knowing what Willie was up to — he flung his cowboy hat into the crowd and proceeded out a back door. A voice can be heard on the video saying, “He’s outta here.” Concert producer Live Nation tweeted that he was taken ill, but another Twitter user said, “This is someone p_____ off, not something else.” No word from Willie on why the corncob up his ass, but, in any event, how would you like to be one of the thousands of people who paid $60 and up to witness that?

Choo homers to win Saturday’s game.

:: Let’s turn to our local disappointments now…The Kansas City Royals are appallingly, depressingly bad. I watched yesterday’s game, which they lost 4-3 in Texas when the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. The most maddening part was the seventh inning when the Royals’ Hunter Dozier smashed a double to deep center field  to lead off the inning. At that point, all the Royals had to do to take the lead was move Dozier over to third on a bunt, base hit or even a decently placed ground ball to the first base side and then bring Dozier home on a fly ball, passed ball, wild pitch or, again, a decently placed ground ball. But what happened? Ryan Goins hit a ground ball right to the first baseman, who held Dozier at second and stepped on the bag to record Goins out. Alcides Escobar hit a pop-up, John Jay flied out, and just like that the threat was over…Also, catcher Salvy Perez looked terrible, swinging wildly, as is his wont, at balls about two feet outside the strike zone. I say, trade him. Trade him in July and get some prospects — prospects who either have plate discipline or are willing to learn it. Salvy and his splash have run their course here in Kansas City.

:: The quest to find a way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a big mess. When this hit the press several weeks ago, I was stoutly against the proposal espoused by a group of black ministers and Freedom Inc. leaders to rename The Paseo as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. So, I welcomed Mayor Sly James’ move in appointing an advisory commission to make a recommendation on how King’s legacy should be honored…The backdrop here is that James has a contentious relationship with Freedom Inc., and I think that in naming the commission he was trying to pull the rug our from under the ministers and Freedom Inc…James’ gambit backfired, however, after the commission came back with an equivocal recommendation: Either name the new airport after King or rename 63rd Street.

James hadn’t bothered to tell the commission that the Kansas City Aviation Department had voiced strong objections (not publicly but to James) at the possibility of naming the airport after King. Aviation officials said the Kansas City International name needed to be retained for marketing purposes. (There’s also been significant public opposition to naming the airport after Dr. King.) At the same time, a major problem came to light regarding renaming a street or boulevard, when a renaming is proposed at the grass-roots level: A city ordinance requires 75 percent of property owners along a given street to approve a renaming.

That’s a virtual impossibility for any street or boulevard that extends several miles.

With all the misdirection and fumbling, the advantage seems to have turned strongly back toward the ministers and Freedom Inc. They reportedly are proceeding with an initiative petition that could put the proposal to rename The Paseo on the November ballot.

If voters approve a name change, it supersedes the ordinance requirement for 75-percent approval of property owners.

At this point, I’m just about ready to throw in the towel and vote yes…Now, it’s The Paseo that’s dying; long live Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

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Now here’s a story that makes a body cringe.

The New York Times published a story online today about the disastrous decline of activity at Memphis International Airport after Memphis lost its hub status in 2013.

It had been a hub for Northwest, but in the wake of the 2008 merger between Delta and Northwest, Delta — based in Atlanta — decided it didn’t need a hub in Memphis. As a result, the passenger count at Memphis International went from more than 11 million in 2007, the last full year before the merger, to about 4 million last year.

The NYT story was accompanied by photos (like the one below), showing a virtually lifeless airport.

While the story didn’t send shivers down my spine, it did give me pause.

Here we are in Kansas City with about the same passenger count — 11.5 million — that Memphis had before losing its hub status. And here we are, about to build a new $1 billion terminal, replacing the three horseshoe-shaped terminals dating to the early 1970s.

Reading The Times’ story makes me very glad the people planning our new terminal appear were conservative in their projections. We lost our hub status a long time ago and no longer need three, or even two, terminals. One should do just fine, for the foreseeable future.

Plans for the new terminal initially called for 35 gates, but that was upped to 39 last month. I recall seeing at least one letter to the editor in which the writer questioned why so few gates had been planned at first and went on to criticize the four-gate expansion as less than ambitious.

Maybe that letter writer will feel differently if he or she sees the story about Memphis.

…Besides the fact that Kansas City has long since absorbed the downturn that came from loss of hub status, another factor that helps keep me positive about the new airport is that this is a bigger market than Memphis and has fewer large airports within striking range.

Think about it: While our nearest major airports are St. Louis, Chicago, Denver and maybe Dallas-Fort Worth, Memphis is relatively close to at least three other major cities — St. Louis, Louisville and Nashville — in addition to Atlanta, the busiest airport in the country.

Fortunately for Memphis residents, the city has not invested heavily in a major expansion in more than 40 years.

Like KCI, Memphis International has three terminals. The original, single terminal was built at a cost of $6.5 million and opened in 1963. In 1974, a $31.6 million expansion added two sub-terminals and corresponding concourses.

Now, Memphis is spending big bucks to retrench. On the immediate horizon is a $219 million renovation, which will involve closing Terminal B while it gets updated and imporved. When that is complete, it will reopen and terminals A and C will close indefinitely. Altogether, about 60 gates will be shut down.

On the plus side, the runways remain busy, largely because Memphis is home to FedEx, which has jets flying in and out day and night. But what a comedown for a proud city! The NYT story said that at the mention of the airport, Memphis area residents generally respond with “a shrug, a grimace or a sad stare.” The story quoted the president of the airport authority as saying the initial reaction of many people was along the lines of, “Oh, my God, we’re not going to be a real city any more.”


All we can do in KC is hope that the people who are being paid to design the new terminal know what they’re doing and are projecting accurately. The last thing we want, down the road, is to see a headline like the one on today’s NYT story…

“What’s Worse Than a Crowded Airport? An Empty Airport”

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It was a big day in Brookside.

How big, you say? (Thanks for asking.)

Well, the Whole Foods store that has been under construction at 51st and Brookside Boulevard for about three years opened today. I tell you, Brooksiders were beside themselves. (Well, I guess there could have been some non-Brooksiders there, and, of course, we gave them a gracious welcome.)

It was definitely the place to be and be seen. It was mobbed. The close-in, uncovered parking area was like a bumper car zone. (There’s also a spacious garage.)

I knew today was opening day and had thought about going, but I almost didn’t make it. Here’s how it turned out I did…

I had a long-planned lunch with former Mayor Richard L. Berkley and the three people who comprised the Park Board when I covered City Hall back in the late ’80s and early ’90s — Anita Gorman, Ollie Gates and Carl DiCapo.

Berkley doesn’t drive any more, so I picked him up and we drove over to the Gates restaurant at Cleaver Boulevard and The Paseo. Over a lunch of brisket, ribs, chicken, beans and slaw, we talked about the “old days,” as well as current events. On the way back home, Berkley suggested we stop by Whole Foods. “Have you got a few minutes?” he said.

But of course!

Next thing you know, Dick had a shopping cart; I had a basket; and we were in the produce section. We saw several people we knew, including former Kansas City school board member Al Mauro; former state rep and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Hal Lowenstein; Annette Bloch; and…well, from here, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Opening day was so big it attracted not one but two former KC mayors — Kay Barnes (1999 to 2007) and Dick Berkley (1979 to 1991).

Just inside the main entrance, off Brookside Boulevard

The olive bar, where one of my neighbors, Jacques Bredius, was loading up

The bakery section

Yes, there was live entertainment.

That right…a photo booth.

You can get coffee, lunch, beer and more at this bar.

And you can watch the Royals on TV.


It’s Brookside’s new happenin’ place. See you there!

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This is a tale of two cities’ newspapers — Kansas City and Omaha.

Although the Kansas City metro area has more than twice the population as that of Omaha, the Omaha World-Herald and The Kansas City Star sell about the same number of print editions each day.

The World-Herald has average Sunday print circulation of 105,266, versus 115,205 for The Star.

When it comes to average Monday to Friday circulation, however, the World Herald leads, with circulation of 82,954 to 72,369 for The Star.

Question is: Given the size differential between the Kansas City and Omaha areas, how could the World-Herald possibly match up favorably in terms of circulation with The Star?

I think there are two main answers.

Population concentration

A high percentage of the Omaha area’s residents — about 50 percent — live in the city proper. In the Kansas City area, slightly more than 75 percent of area residents live in outlying cities, including those on the Kansas side.

As of 2016, KCMO’s population was an estimated 481,000, while Omaha proper had an estimated 447,000 residents. Overall, the KC metro area has about 2.1 million people, compared to slightly less than 1 million for Omaha’s metro area.

As in most metropolitan areas, the Omaha and Kansas City papers have had to retrench the last 10 to 15 years, and that generally has meant less coverage of the suburbs. As their delivery areas have shrunk, metro newspapers have also more tightly circumscribed their coverage areas, with the central city, in each case, getting the most focus.

That being the case, circulation has held up better for the World-Herald because a significantly higher proportion of subscribers lived close in before retrenchment began. Kansas City, on the other hand, lost a much greater percentage of its subscriber base after cutting back suburban coverage.

The World-Herald has long had another demographic advantage: According to Wikipedia, the paper for many years had the highest penetration rate (the percentage of people who subscribe to the publication within the paper’s home circulation area) in the United States.

That segues into the second factor…

Continuity of Local Ownerhip

For many years during its long heyday, The Star was owned by its employees. That period lasted from 1926 — after the death of Laura Kirkwood, the daughter of KC Star founder and owner William Rockhill Nelson — until 1977.

The Star then entered a period of corporate ownership that has seen the paper spiral downward. For 20 years, it had a good corporate owner, Capital Cities Inc., but then it fell to an entertainment company, Walt Disney, and soon after that to a once-strong newspaper company, KnightRidder, that began stumbling with the rapid shift to the internet.

Finally, in 2006, The Star passed to the McClatchy Co., out of Sacramento, which paid an outrageous $4.5 billion (and assumed $2 billion in debt) for the KnightRidder newspapers.

The downward spiral got especially bad after the McClatchy purchase, which coincided with the plummeting of print advertising at newspapers throughout the country.

Although millions of readers around the country (and the world, for that matter) shifted from print to online, I believe The Star’s 1977 departure from local ownership hastened and intensified the paper’s falling fortunes.

Over the years, and as the paper passed from one set of outside hands to another, the proprietary feeling that many people previously had about “their” Kansas City Star subsided. And along the way, they started dropping their subscriptions, first slowly and then in avalanche proportions.

…The World-Herald, by comparison, has always been in local hands and Omaha residents have been amazingly loyal to ownership.

Between its founding in 1885 and 1963, the World-Herald was owned and controlled by two families, first the Hitchcocks and later the Doorlys.

In 1963, the heirs of those two families sold the paper to construction magnate Peter Kiewit. Before he died, Kiewit put in place a plan that resulted in employees owning a majority interest in the paper. That continued until 2011, when Berkshire Hathaway bought the World Herald and several smaller Nebraska papers for $150 million.

Berkshire Hathaway, of course, is headed by Omaha’s most famous and wealthiest resident, Warren Buffett.

Buffett bought the paper even though he knew that newspapers were no longer a good bet. Since buying The Buffalo News in 1977, Berkshire Hathaway has accumulated a string of newspapers under its BH Media division. The division’s holdings include the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Roanoke Times in Virginia; the Tulsa World; and the Greensboro News & Record and Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina.

Partly motivating Buffett is a love of newspapers. In the case of the World-Herald, another factor was wanting to carry on Peter Kiewit’s vision of local ownership. In the face of Buffett’s commitment to his hometown newspaper, Omaha residents have responded by continuing to subscribe to the World Herald in percentages far surpassing those in many cities where corporate raiders have moved in and laid waste.


That is not to say the World-Herald has been spared the cuts that many major metropolitan dailies have experienced. Just three months ago, in fact, the World-Herald laid off 24 employees and announced a page-count reduction.

The cuts included 11 newsroom employees. The good news, however, was that even with that reduction, the paper still has an editorial staff (editors, writers, photographers, graphic artists, etc.) of more than 100 people. The Star’s editorial staff, however, is well below 100. It could be below 50; I’m not close enough to know. What I do know is that the ax started falling in 2008 and hasn’t stopped.

…In days past, the World-Herald was seen by some reporters as a training ground, or preparatory step, for going to The Star. That is no longer the situation. If I were a young reporter looking to the future, I would cast my lot with the World-Herald. I might look at it differently if The Star was in local hands. But as long as it’s in the clutches of hopelessly-in-debt McClatchy, no, I’d be heading north on Interstate 29.

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Let’s talk about The New Journalism.

No, goddamnit, I’m not talking about the shift from print to the Internet.

I’m talking about the “new journalism” as founded and honed by the likes of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson — writers who, in the 1960s and 1970s broke out of the “who, what, when, where and why” box and began writing long, powerful nonfiction stories that examined a subject inside and out and had spines consisting of scene-by-scene construction.

Wolfe, one of New Journalism’s trailblazers, died Monday in Manhattan at age 88.

Among other things, he wrote “The Right Stuff,” about the first American astronauts, and “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” a portrait of greed and vanity in New York in the 1980s.

My favorite piece of New Journalism writing, however, was Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which appeared in the April 1966 issue of Esquire magazine.

The story forever intertwined the two men, even though they lived on opposite sides of the country and had very little in common.

(Talese is 86 and living in New York City; Sinatra died 20 years ago yesterday at age 82 in Los Angeles.

Gay Talese at his typewriter, many years ago

When I first read “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” perhaps in my 20s, I was spellbound by it. I always loved Sinatra’s singing and found him to be a fascinating but repulsive person. I was also in the early phase of my writing career and was hungry to read a wide variety of writing styles.

What Talese managed to do in that story was open a window to Sinatra’s life and perch the reader outside the window and let him (her) sit and watch parts of Sinatra’s life and personality unfold.

Today, I want to give you a taste of that story. (If you haven’t read it, here’s the link. Take your time and enjoy it.) Fifty-two years after it was written, it still pulsates with energy and thrives on Sinatra’s prickly personality. Wikipedia describes the story as “one of the most famous pieces of magazine journalism ever written.”

The Lead…

“Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.

“Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra—A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.

“Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.”

Sinatra’s temper and his entourage’s desire to please him…

“(W)hen one of his men brought him a frankfurter with catsup on it, which Sinatra apparently abhors, he angrily threw the bottle at the man, splattering catsup all over him. Most of the men who work around Sinatra are big. But this never seems to intimidate Sinatra nor curb his impetuous behavior with them when he is mad. They will never take a swing back at him. He is Il Padrone.

“At other times, aiming to please, his men will overreact to his desires: when he casually observed that his big orange desert jeep in Palm Springs seemed in need of a new painting, the word was swiftly passed down through the channels, becoming ever more urgent as it went, until finally it was a command that the jeep be painted now, immediately, yesterday. To accomplish this would require the hiring of a special crew of painters to work all night, at overtime rates; which, in turn, meant that the order had to be bucked back up the line for further approval. When it finally got back to Sinatra’s desk, he did not know what it was all about; after he had figured it out he confessed, with a tired look on his face, that he did not care when the hell they painted the jeep.”


Friends fawning over him and scrambling to be in his orbit…

(This scene took place at The Sands hotel and casino before the November 1965, Cassius Clay-Floyd Patterson boxing match, which Sinatra was going to watch from Row One.)

“Shortly before seven p.m., Jack Entratter, a big grey-haired man who operates The Sands, walked into the gambling room to tell some men around the blackjack table that Sinatra was getting dressed. He also said that he’d been unable to get front-row seats for everybody, and so some of the men—including Leo Durocher, who had a date, and Joey Bishop, who was accompanied by his wife—would not be able to fit in Frank Sinatra’s row but would have to take seats in the third row. When Entratter walked over to tell this to Joey Bishop, Bishop’s face fell. He did not seem angry; he merely looked at Entratter with an empty silence, seeming somewhat stunned.

” ‘Joey, I’m sorry,’ Entratter said when the silence persisted, ‘but we couldn’t get more than six together in the front row.’

“Bishop still said nothing. But when they all appeared at the fight, Joey Bishop was in the front row, his wife in the third.”

The Kicker…

“Frank Sinatra stopped his car. The light was red. Pedestrians passed quickly across his windshield but, as usual, one did not. It was a girl in her twenties. She remained at the curb staring at him. Through the corner of his left eye he could see her, and he knew, because it happens almost every day, that she was thinking, It looks like him, but is it?

“Just before the light turned green, Sinatra turned toward her, looked directly into her eyes waiting for the reaction he knew would come. It came and he smiled. She smiled and he was gone.”

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I never thought I would say this, but as of today I’m going to recommend that people stop taking the print edition of The Kansas City Star.

Not only are most editions very thin but much less care is going into their production.

One problem I see is the same story appearing more than once in the same edition, with different headlines and sometimes different content.

Another is copy dumping, that is, stories “jumping” from the front page to the inside with huge blocks of copy consuming inordinate amounts of space inside, with little attention being paid to visual appeal.

In addition, I continue to hear complaints about delivery problems. Executives have been working to fix the problems for a few years, since the previous publisher fired an incompetent circulation vice president.


Like everyone else, I’ve been aware of the atrophying and deteriorating print product for a long time. What I am just realizing, however, is that The Star, through its owner McClatchy, is simply taking advantage of subscribers who don’t want to part with their print editions. Some people are hanging on because they’re not technologically inclined. Others just like holding the paper in their hands and reading it leisurely.

Intentionally, McClatchy and The Star have raised print-product prices to unsustainable levels. Oh, you can get a start-up deal on the daily paper for $33.19 for the first four weeks and $23.20 for the ensuing four weeks, but once they get you into their clutches, they want as much as $80 a month for the privilege of continuing home delivery seven days a week. That’s almost as much as the retail rate for the daily and Sunday New York Times, the best paper in the country.

On the other hand, you can get a digital KC Star subscription for $12.99 a month, which, in my view, is very reasonable.

(Disclaimer: As a KC Star retiree, I get an incredible deal on the print product — $10.74 a month — and will continue being a print subscriber unless The Star reneges on that commitment.)


Why, you might ask, is McClatchy jacking up the rates for print subscriptions?

It’s simple. Most of the news-consuming world has moved on to the Internet, and McClatchy and the other newspaper chains, seeing the print product fizzling out, are milking the diehard print subscribers to the max.

The Star’s latest circulation figures, for the first quarter of 2018, show the continuing downward spiral of the print product. Between the fourth quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, average paid Sunday print circulation went from 118,203 to 115,023.

Average Monday-Friday print circulation fell even more, from 76,853 to 72,294.

(At the same time, digital subscriptions don’t appear to be increasing very fast, with the stand-alone digital-subscription figure still at less than 10,000.)

Yesterday I read an article that opened my eyes to exactly what McClatchy and some other newspaper chains are doing. The article, by Jack Shafer of Politico Magazine, likened the average print subscriber to “your grandfather who is on dialysis, has a pacemaker and totes an oxygen tank behind him. He looks alive, but he’s overdue.”

Jack Shafer

Shafer went on to say: “Your grandfather is a pretty good stand-in for the average newspaper subscriber, too. Habituated to his morning newspaper, he’ll resist cancelling his subscription no matter how raggedy the paper gets or how high the owners jack up the price.”

In business circle, there’s a name for the tactic McClatchy and some other chains are using — “harvesting market position.”

Shafer linked to another writer, Philip Meyer, who wrote about “harvesting market position” in his book The Vanishing Newspaper.

Meyer wrote:

“A stagnant industry’s market position is harvested by raising prices and lowering quality, trusting that customers will continue to be attracted by the brand name rather than the substance for which the brand once stood. Eventually, of course, they will wake up. But as the harvest metaphor implies, this is a nonrenewable, take-the-money-and-run strategy. A given crop can be harvested only once.”


So, it’s very clear what McClatchy is doing. Buried under $710 million in debt, its executives have decided not to waste any more time than absolutely necessary on the print editions of its 29 daily papers. While print still generates a majority of the company’s revenue, print is much more expensive to produce than digital. By focusing on the transition to digital, the chain can continue to cut employees and still produce a relatively substantive digital product.

The Star is probably the most profitable of McClatchy’s 29 daily papers, and what the parent company is doing is pulling money out of Kansas City and sending it back to Sacramento to try to knock down that debt (which stood at $1 billion after McClatchy purchased the KnightRidder chain for a mind-boggling $4.5 billion in 2006).

The best thing that could happen is for a local group or an individual to buy The Star and stabilize it, or even start guiding it a few steps back up the ladder.

In the meantime, it’s time to stop rewarding McClatchy for ruining the print product and for print subscribers to stop being sucked into McClatchy’s version of a corn combine. From now on, when people complain to me about The Star’s exorbitant retail price for the print edition, I’m going to borrow a line from Royals’ TV color commentator Rex Hudler:

“You got to go!”

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Now we know why our governor showed up for jury selection last week smiling and shaking hands with law enforcement officers.

He knew his lawyers were going to easily defeat the inexperienced, first-term St. Louis City Circuit Attorney who brought against the governor a case that turned on a photograph the prosecution never had.

Today Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner had to drop a felony charge against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens after the judge upheld a defense motion to call her as a witness, to explain her handling of the case.

My God. Talk about an embarrassment! My guess is Gardner will now join Greitens in being out of political office when her term ends in January 2021 — about the same time his term winds up.

Let’s take a closer look now at the two principals in this case and how things are stacking up for them.


A relaxed-looking Eric Greitens arrived at the St. Louis courthouse last week for the start of jury selection in a case that fell apart today.


There’s still a chance the Missouri House will vote to impeach Greitens, but I have no confidence that “seven eminent jurists,” who would be chosen by the Missouri Senate, would throw him out of office. This state is about as red as they get, and the Senate is full of good ol’ boys from rural areas who would probably balk at the prospect of ousting a governor who remains relatively popular with Republican voters.

Today’s development does not raise Greitens’ stock with the general public, however, including, I’m sure, many Republicans who voted for him in 2016.

A Missouri House of Representatives committee report on Greitens’ “affair” with his former hairdresser shows he’s an abusive, sick and dangerous individual. You’ve heard some of the details of the report, I’m sure, but this allegation says all you need to know: Greitens, while married, forced the woman to give him a blow job when she was terrified, crying and lying on her back in the basement of his St. Louis home.

Some Casanova, eh?

Don’t you wonder about Greitens’ wife, Sheena? Very little has been written about her. Can you imagine what’s going on in her world? It must be extremely difficult for her to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trying to shield their two sons, Joshua, about 5, and Jacob, about 2, from the ear-splitting cacophony roaring about them.

Sheena Greitens is a very smart and successful person. The governor’s office website says she graduated from Stanford University and attended the University of Oxford, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar. She earned a PhD in government from Harvard and is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri.

Sheena Greitens in her office at the University of Missouri in Feb. 2017

The Greitens were married in 2011, and four years later Eric was in the basement tying up and attacking the hairdresser, who was also married at the time.

In addition to being a cheat and an abuser, Greitens is a complete phony. Listen to what the governor’s office website says about the couple’s family life: “They enjoy spending time together as a family reading, baking cookies or being outdoors at one of Missouri’s many state parks and hiking trails.”

Really, now, wouldn’t you think somebody would have had the good sense to take that down by now?

In any event, I would be willing to bet Sheena will file for divorce within a year or so after her husband leaves office, whether that turns out to be this year, next year or 2021. Although she took a vow to stand by him “for better or worse,” she didn’t pledge to stand by the worst. 


The quote of the day goes to Rep. Kevin Engler, a Republican from Farmington, MO, who told The Star he wasn’t surprised at today’s development because Gardner “pretty well butchered it from the start.”

Gardner was elected Circuit Attorney in 2016. She handily defeated three opponents in the Democratic primary and had no opponent in the general election. Before that, she was a state representative, and earlier she spent five years as an assistant prosecutor in the Circuit Attorney’s office.

Kim Gardner with U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Democrat of St. Louis, on election night, August 2016

As circuit attorney, Gardner is the second most powerful elected official in St. Louis, after the mayor. She oversees dozens of assistants who handle thousands of criminal cases each year, from misdemeanors to complex homicides.

In the Greitens case, Gardner let political opportunism supersede professionalism. She jumped at Greitens like she was starving in the wilderness and he was the rabbit that came into her crosshairs.

The first mistake she made was hiring a private investigator to investigate the case instead of using the St. Louis City Police Department. It’s a lot easier to point private, contracted investigators toward the desired result than sworn and experienced law enforcement officers.

In bringing an invasion of privacy charge, she filed a list of evidence that misleadingly including the word “photo.” But it wasn’t the photo that Greitens allegedly took of the hairdresser after tying her to exercise equipment in his basement. If Gardner indeed had the photo, it would have been relatively easy to prove Greitens was guilty of invasion of privacy. Without it, though, it was going to be the hairdresser’s word against Greitens.’

Gardner should have dropped the case after realizing she had screwed it up, but I guess the prospect of personal ignominy wouldn’t allow it. All she achieved, however, was delaying the day of ignominy.


To sum up, it’s a sorry day in and for Missouri: We’re making headlines around the country because an incompetent prosecutor fumbled the case against a governor who almost certainly sexually assaulted a woman in his basement.

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I believe the movement to change the name of The Paseo to Martin Luther King Boulevard is starting to flag.

To me, it’s looking more and more like the new airport might be getting King’s name. Maybe Kansas City Martin Luther King Jr. International Airport.

I would be thrilled to see that happen. A bit surprisingly, no major U.S. airport has adopted King’s name, and the timing couldn’t be more fortuitous, with a terminal to be built at KCI and expected to open in 2022.


On Saturday, I attended the last public hearing of the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Commission, which Mayor Sly James appointed a few weeks ago. The hearing was at the Marlborough Community Center, 82nd and The Paseo.

Before the commission heard from the speakers, co-chairman Rev. Donna Simon said the commission had narrowed the naming possibilities to three: the new airport; The Paseo; or an east-west street, such as Linwood Boulevard of 63rd Street. The panel will make a final recommendation by May 21.

About eight people, including me, addressed the commission. I told the commission I thought the name The Paseo was one of the great street names anywhere and that I would hate to see it pass from the scene in Kansas City. If any street was going to be renamed for Dr. King, I said, it should be Linwood, partly because it gets a much more diverse group of users and is seen by a wider cross-section of people.

I went on to say that we had a great opportunity, with construction of the new airport, to honor Dr. King’s legacy in a way that would resonate not just up and down the east side of Kansas City but with people from throughout the world who would fly in and out of our city.

In closing, I said: “I urge you not to think parochially. Instead, think big, think broad, think bold.”

That got nods from a couple of commissioners, which was encouraging.

Two or three other people said they favored putting Dr. King’s name on the new airport, and several said they were opposed to renaming The Paseo. One man, originally from Tulsa, suggested that because streets bearing Dr. King’s name in other cities were primarily inner city streets that changing The Paseo’s name to MLK Boulevard could further drive down housing values along that road.

Perhaps the most encouraging comments I heard were from former Councilman Ken Bacchus, a member of a group of black political leaders and black ministers who have started an initiative petition that could result in a public vote to change The Paseo’s name.

Bacchus said he didn’t like the idea of naming the new airport after Dr. King because when an airport has been named for an individual, it usually is because the individual made a big mark in that particular city. One example Bacchus cited was Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, which is named after two former Atlanta mayors, William B. Hartsfield and Maynard H. Jackson Jr.

I get his point, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Like I said, no other big airport has been named for King, and it seems about time that should happen.

Where Bacchus pleasantly surprised me was when he indicated he was open to renaming an east-west street for King. Up to that point, I had been under the impression that he and the others advocating for a street name change were dead set on The Paseo. Bacchus also mentioned The Paseo but the fact that he opened the door to other streets indicated a possible softening of position by the black ministers and black political leaders.

That softening, if indeed that’s what it is, is probably due to two main factors: First, resistance to renaming The Paseo has been significant, and, second, Mayor James’ decision to roll out a blue-ribbon advisory commission had the dual effect of widening the ways of honoring Dr. King and blunting the momentum the black ministers and black political leaders had seized.

This photo was taken in Kansas City, Kansas, in January 1968. I got it from a story KCUR-FM ran last month. None of those with Dr. King were identified in the caption.

I became more convinced of the wisdom of naming the new airport for Dr. King after reading a letter to the editor in today’s Kansas City Star. Susan Annette Smith of Warrensburg said Kansas City, with its central location, was the perfect place to name an airport for Dr. King.

She went on to say:

“The terminal could house a cultural center for all Americans, sharing the stories of people who faced discrimination yet persisted. Kiosks could be placed throughout the airport to share the stories and artifacts of the Americans who fought and worked for the freedoms outlined in the Declaration of Independence. Welcome to the new Kansas City Martin Luther King Jr. Airport, where travelers celebrate Americans’ history, honor human diversity and share the stories.”

Great idea. Don’t just slap King’s name on the airport; make the airport reflect his soaring ideas and ideals. Imbue the airport with King’s aspirations for a higher level of civility and civilization. Make it a place where people can food for thought…as well as a good hamburger.

With imaginative ideas like those of Susan Smith, we could have a very special airport, with a unique tone and feel. Let’s go for it.

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