Archive for January, 2019

Back when I was fingering David Jungerman as the likely killer of Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert — months before Jungerman was arrested and charged — a former Kansas City Star reporter was going around telling people I was open to being sued for libel.

The former reporter, with whom I worked during my forgettable 16-month stint in The Star’s former Johnson County bureau, was right about only one thing: I was open to being sued. Anybody is open to being sued. But there’s no way in hell Jungerman could have won.

Same is true in the case of Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, who on Monday sued former part-time, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose for libel.

I say former columnist because Rose resigned faster than it takes to write, “I’m sorry.”

The speed of Rose’s resignation might lead some people to think Denning might be able to prevail in a libel suit…That and the facts The Star is not defending the column and has now pulled it from its online inventory.

(The Star first published a relatively short Associated Press story about the lawsuit on its website and later published a more fleshed-out version by Jonathan Shorman of the Wichita Eagle. Neither story is played prominently, however; I had to search by name to find the first one; the second is well down in the drop-down list of local news stories.)

But, no…Denning, mainly because he is a public figure, has virtually no chance to prevail if the lawsuit goes forward. I’m sure he knows it, and I’m sure his attorney, Michael J. Kuckelman of Overland Park, also knows it.

In filing the suit Denning probably wanted two things: Rose’s resignation and a public apology from Rose and The Star.

He’s already got the first part, and the speed with which this is developing indicates he’ll very likely get the second.

In the column, which ran online and in Saturday’s print edition, Rose said Denning had “finally confessed to me” a few reasons that he has opposed Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

Among other things, Rose wrote: “The senator said he resents able-bodied Kansans, regardless of their income, who abuse the system by accepting free medical care when they refuse to work.”

Kind of condescending and snarky, right, if he said that?

In his lawsuit, Denning alleges two things: He did not make any of the statements Rose attributed to him and he and Rose had not spoken in two and a half years.

Rose admitted to Shorman — who wrote the more recent KC Star story — that he had not spoken to Denning since April 2018 and that it was even before then that Denning had made the statements he attributed to Denning in Saturday’s column…So much for “finally” confessing, eh? 

Denning’s lawsuit indicates he has some idea of what went on within The Star relative to how the column developed. His petition asserts that when Rose initially submitted the column for publication, he did not attribute the statements to any specific elected official.

The suit says: “One of the Kansas City Star editors instructed Rose to attribute the comments to some elected officials. Rose was up against a deadline. He was under pressure to obtain a source for the statements he conjured up (and)…under the deadline pressure, Rose gave the editor the name of Senator Denning, though in reality, Rose had not interviewed Senator Denning for the article.”

Denning apparently got his knowledge about how the column might have developed from his chief of staff, Ethan Patterson, who exchanged emails with Rose on Saturday, after publication.


Let’s make a quantum jump here and assume everything Denning alleges in his lawsuit is correct — and I doubt it is because Rose just can’t be that stupid. But even if what he says is so, Denning doesn’t have a libel case.

In both Missouri and Kansas, to defame a public figure — as Denning most certainly is (and Jungerman is and was) — what is written or spoken must…

:: Be false

:: Cause material harm to the plaintiff or damaged his or her reputation

:: Have been written or spoken with “actual malice”

A key standard for malice is showing that the writer or speaker not only put out false information but did so with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

On count 1, Denning would have difficulty proving that he never made any of the statements to Rose that Rose attributed to him.

On count 2, he would have difficulty proving that Rose’s statements caused him material harm or damaged his reputation.

On count 3, it would be almost impossible for him to prove that Rose deliberately and maliciously made up the statements he attributed to him.


On the other hand…

This whole thing probably will be a big black eye for The Star, in an era when the newspaper industry has been fading and public favor with newspapers have been sliding for more than a decade.

The situation looks especially bad for The Star’s seven-member editorial board, which produces the editorial page and the Op-Ed page, and particularly for Editorial Page Editor and KC Star Vice President Colleen McCain Nelson.

I regret that because, as I’ve written, the editorial page has been one of the few bright spots in recent years. After becoming publisher three years ago, Tony Berg fired the only editorial writer still on the staff, Yael Abouhalkah, and set about reconstructing the editorial board and page. It was a bold and laudable move because many papers, in the interests of saving money, have allowed their editorial pages to go the way of dead flowers. Berg went against the grain and invested heavily on that front, and it paid off.

Colleen McCain Nelson

But Nelson, a fine person and excellent journalist, will survive this. Whoever edited Rose’s column should have pressed him on when, exactly, he interviewed Denning, and maybe even asked him to produce his notes. Nelson’s overarching sin, however, was allowing someone who was not a full-time staff member to write a regular, weekly column. I presume Rose was paid by the column, which makes him a free lancer.

Free lancers are inherently more problematic than full-time staff members because managers have less control and contact with them — elements that are essential in the development of ideas and the actual line-by-line editing.

I don’t know who edited Rose’s columns. Maybe it was Nelson. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe it was whoever was available on a given week. Whatever the case, you can bet we will not see any more free-lance columnists appearing regularly on the Op-Ed page.

Not only that, but the copy submitted by all editorial page writers will be getting a lot more scrutiny. The editorial-page editing lid is about to be tightened quite a bit.

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I don’t know what’s going on with The Star’s Sports Department, but I’ve been seeing some troubling signs.

For years, the sports page has been voted one of the 10 best in the country, and until the sports section shrank, along with the rest of the paper, it probably deserved that placement.

But recently, in addition to the section’s significant reduction in size, incidents of lazy editing have cropped up.

As we all know, McClatchy, The Star’s owner, has staked its future on switching readers from print to digital, so it’s no surprise that less attention is being paid to the printed sports pages — just as emphasis on the news side has shifted from print to digital.

But, man, I’ve seen two things just within the last week that simply would not have been tolerated several years ago.

Example No. 1

The “centerpiece” story in today’s edition (centerpiece being a featured story accompanied by a large photo) was about Steve Spagnuolo, whom the Chiefs last week hired as defensive coordinator. Here’s the photo that ran with a column by Vahe Gregorian

But just last Friday, the sports page ran the same photo — cropped a little tighter — along with Blair Kerkhoff’s story about Spagnuolo being hired. Here’s that photo…

Within four consecutive editions, the editors twice led the section with the same photo. That is just plain laziness and a disservice to readers. Dozens of Spagnuolo photos available at the touch of a mouse on Google. Here’s one of many photos The Star could have used, just to mix it up a bit…

Hey, it’s really cold outside today, and using one of him all bundled up would have been very appropriate!


Example No. 2

Last Wednesday, the editors put this headline on a story about four former Major League Baseball players being voted into the Hall of Fame.

Because of the combination of his last name and the accompanying photo, I knew the “Rivera” in the headline referred to former Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera.

But the abrupt switch from one player’s last name to two nicknames and one first name left me confused and clueless.

We have a former “Moose” of our own, of course, in Mike Moustakas. I knew he wasn’t the subject of the headline, however, because he’s still playing and thus not eligible for the “HOF.”

The editors should have realized Moustakas would have popped into many readers’ minds, and for that reason alone, the headline should have been dismissed out of hand. The “Moose” the headline referred to, then, is Mike Mussina, a former pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees.

The “Edgar” in the headline is Edgar Martinez, who played for the Seattle Mariners. And “Doc” is Roy Halladay, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. (He died in a 2017 plane crash.)

Now, it’s true that the first paragraph of the story clearly states who these players are, but headlines are not supposed to confuse; they are supposed to capture the gist of stories and draw the readers in. This headline drew readers in for the wrong reason: It was misleading and goofy.

Using the same number of characters, the editors could have had a straightforward, informative headline like, “Rivera, Halladay and two others voted to Hall of Fame.”


In sum, there is no excuse for the redundancy in the Spagnuolo photos, and someone should have nixed the “Doc, Edgar, Moose” headline.


For these offenses, the buck stops with sports editor Jeff Rosen, who has held the job the last eight years. Jeff needs to pull his cap down a bit tighter and keep his eye on the ball.

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The true kick-off of the Kansas City mayor’s race occurred yesterday in the most appropriate of places, the City Council Chambers on the 26th floor of City Hall.

The scene was the showdown vote on the nine-month-old issue (some might call it soap opera) over whether to rename The Paseo after civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Kansas City Star reported the dry facts: After more than an hour of debate, the council voted 8-4, with Mayor Sly James out of town, to replace the name The Paseo with Dr. Martin Luther King J. Boulevard.

Too bad the story didn’t reflect the intensity of the occasion; it was one of the most arresting debates that has taken place in the Council Chambers in many years.

I wasn’t there. I watched at home on the government channel. (Check the listings for rebroadcasts.) But even from the cocoon of my living room, I could feel the tension and emotion escalating.

The chamber was about two-thirds full, thanks to a push by Kansas City black ministers, who for months have been pushing for the name change against a backdrop of resistance from a significant number of people who preferred a street, like 63rd or Linwood, that extended into largely white portions of the city.

The ministers and other advocates on hand were demanding resolution yesterday, and they were not going to be denied. They interrupted some speakers (those against) with boos and catcalls, and they rained applause and shouts of encouragement on council members who spoke in favor.

There’s a point in politics when you don’t want to stand in front of a tidal wave, and the four council members who stood firm against the renaming made a big mistake. A “yes” vote was assured from the get-go, and there was little to be gained by holding fingers in the dike.

It was fitting that Sly James wasn’t there because this was a battle about present and future politics, and James is on his way out the door.

Six of the 12 Council members who took part in yesterday’s debate are running for mayor. One of them almost certainly will be the next mayor, and chances are two of them will emerge from the April 2 primary and be the finalists in the June general election.

The council members running for mayor are Quinton Lucas, Jermaine Reed, Jolie Justus, Scott TaylorScott Wagner and Alissia Canaday.

Of those six, only Canaday and Wagner voted “no” yesterday.

They were joined in dissent by Northland council members Heather Hall and Dan Fowler.

Joining Lucas, Reed, Justus and Taylor on the “yes” side were Teresa Loar, Lee Barnes, Katheryn Shields and Kevin McManus.


I wrote back in October that Lucas  was “probably the most eloquent and charismatic” among all the mayoral candidates and that he appeared to be “the kind of candidate who could make big strides in a short time.”


Yesterday may well prove to have been a breakout day for him. He gave a spirited, off-the-cuff speech in which he deftly countered — and buried — direct and indirect criticism from two council members.

The direct criticism came from Canaday, who charged that he had “grandstanded” the issue and had not taken into consideration opposition that she had heard from several neighborhoods along the Troost/Paseo corridors.

The indirect criticism came from Wagner, who, as mayor pro tem, was presiding in James’ absence. Wagner mounted what I would characterize, regrettably, as petty rationale against the renaming. He said the city had failed to maintain Martin Luther King Jr. Park, located along Brush Creek between Swope Parkway and Cleaver Boulevard.

The 42-acre park lies within Lucas’ 3rd District, and Wagner seemed to imply Lucas was partly responsible for its “pathetic” and “disgraceful” condition by not directing sufficient capital improvements funds toward its upkeep. Wagner went on to suggest that if a park already named for King was not adequately maintained, a boulevard named for him might fall into equal disregard.

While Wagner was talking, Lucas jotted down a few notes, and then he rose to speak.

Here’s part of what he said…

It seems like throughout this whole discussion — for all the months we’ve been going — there are 1,000 different reasons that people have gotten to “no.”

And it’s been fascinating to listen to the debate today. One of the reasons for “no” is this is all political grandstanding by just me — which is fascinating. Another reason for “no” is that this is not enough. We need to build more statues; we need to build all these other things, which no one has actually come to us — including (people) on this council — and actually proposed.

At the time of his passing he (King) had a 33 percent approval rating. And the reason for that was because he pushed for things that were controversial but were right. And so my thought on this today…instead of us continuing to come up with 1,000 reasons to say “no,” let’s think about why “yes” on The Paseo.

Why “yes” on Paseo is we actually have a number of people who say, “Let’s recognize somebody who was vitally important in our our community. Let’s have that recognition be in a majority-black community area.” We don’t actually have to stretch from other parts of the community to say that we have a hero we can recognize in our own neighborhood.


Lucas went on to urge his colleagues not to “kick the can down the road for two years or three years or 10, when I’m replaced by a new grandstander.”

Concluding his speech, he looked at Wagner and said, “I appreciate your comments, but I certainly think it’s a time for us to get to ‘yes’ instead of a continued ‘no.’ “

The audience erupted into applause, and if there were any doubts about where the vote was headed, they had evaporated.

…The Paseo died yesterday. I loved the name and will miss it. But an emotional wave swept away all objections, and, assuming a questionable DUI charge against Lucas is downgraded or dismissed, a strong mayoral run was born.

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A man whose music most of us have heard thousands and thousands of times — but whose name most of us never knew — died last week.

Studio guitarist Reggie Young played on hundreds of hit recordings, including Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and “The Letter” by The Box Tops.

The New York Times reported that Young, who was 82, died of congestive heart failure in his home outside Nashville.

When I hear about the death of one of these great musicians who played the music I came of age to, I feel like a piece of me has died. Those years and those songs were formative for so many of us baby boomers. It is hard to see the creators of those timeless songs notch their ultimate marks on the horizon.

Reggie Young

Young was born in Caruthersville, MO, the second largest city in Missouri’s Bootheel (after Kennett). He was raised in northwest Arkansas and then Memphis. His father, also named Reggie, played Hawaiian-style classical guitar, although not professionally, and taught his son to play when he was 14.

Young’s first big break was catching on with Bill Black’s Combo, an instrumental quintet led by Presley’s former bass player. The combo opened for The Beatles on their 1964 tour of the U.S., and Young, as The Times said, “had the opportunity to introduce George Harrison to the finer points of his Southern style of playing.”

“George asked me, because I’m a blues player, ‘How do you bend and stretch your strings like that?’ ” Mr. Young recalled…“I told him, ‘You have to have light-gauge strings,’ and after that I think he went to lighter gauge strings on his guitar.”


On several big hits, Young plays memorable, stage-setting introductions that jerk the listeners into the songs body and soul.

One of those is “Hooked on a Feeling,” which rose to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. On that song, Young played the inimitable electric-sitar introduction, which sounds like a cross between banjo and guitar.

Here it is…


On Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” he plays the arresting opening chords that propel Springfield into her sultry and haunting ballad about a girl falling for a preacher’s son — “the only one who could ever reach me.” (This YouTube version has had more than 27 million views.)

On “Suspicious Minds,” Young’s fluid guitar licks queue The King for his 11th biggest-selling record. (This version has more than 29 million views.)

And, finally, here’s Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen’s performance of “Folsom Prison Blues,” on which you can watch and hear Young play the song’s signature guitar solo.

…So long, Reggie. Thanks for the memories and the music that will live on for many more years.

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I’ve read several stories and columns about the dust-up last Friday involving the Catholic high school students from Kentucky, the Black Hebrew Israelites and the Native American drum beater, Nathan Phillips.

One reason this story caught my attention is it revolved around students from Covington Catholic High School, a college prep school in northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

(Substitute Rockhurst High School students for these boys and you get the picture.)

My first newspaper job was in Covington, working for The Kentucky Post, which was bundled inside The Cincinnati Post. (Both papers went out of existence in 2007, giving way to The Cincinnati Enquirer.) In the short time I covered sports for The Post, I occasionally wrote about Covington Catholic, although I have never been to the school and know nothing more about it than I wrote above.

At any rate, the students were in Washington, accompanied by chaperones (remember that), for the March for Life. They were at or near the Lincoln Memorial, waiting for their buses, when the confrontation took place.

The searing image that hit the pages of newspapers and websites all around the country was that of Phillips standing eye to eye with a smugly smiling student named Nick Sandmann. Like some of his fellow students, Sandmann was wearing a red Make America Great Again cap.

It took a couple of days for all the facts to come out regarding the episode, partly because Phillips told different versions, none of them altogether accurate. Although no violence took place, some of the boys mocked Phillips, with some doing the “tomahawk chop,” others doing fake Indian dances and some hooting along with him when he played his drum and chanted.

All the blame for this incident — 100 percent of it — lands at the feet of the parents and teachers who accompanied the boys (some of whom were very young, looking like freshmen and sophomores) and were supposed to be in charge of them.

First of all, allowing the boys to wear Make America Great Again caps was downright stupid. It was asking for trouble. Yes, the March for Life was political, and if you’re marching for life, you’re probably a Trump supporter. Fine. But once the caps go on, you’re going far beyond making a statement of personal belief on one major issue. Instead, you’re signaling your embrace of everything the most divisive President in U.S. history stands for.

In a sense, the parents and teachers were goading these kids by allowing them to wear those caps.

But the biggest failing of the chaperones was failing to pull the boys back at the first hint of confrontation. Shamefully, what the parents and teachers did was allow the scene to unfold and play out before their eyes.

When the Black Hebrew Israelites approached the boys, the chaperones should have barked orders, getting them to converge and back up. It would not have been difficult; the boys were completely under control and would have heeded the orders of their authority figures.

Not only did the “adults in the room” not do that, one teacher allowed the students to gather steps away from the Black Hebrew Israelites to do school chants and sing school songs “to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” according to one student.

The failure of the chaperones to rein in the students led directly to the face-off between the Native American and the kid in the cap.

…My strong suspicion is that the chaperones were more deeply invested in the politics of the situation than the students. That is, I think they wanted to let it be known theirs was a Trump-supporting group. As for the students, I feel sure many of them viewed the outing as a chance to go to Washington instead of going to school, and when tensions rose, they merely acted out, like kids do.

In this instance, the parents and teachers who were on the scene are the ones who should be disciplined. Each of them should be grounded for two weeks and their driving privileges pulled. In addition, they should never again be allowed to act as chaperones…Put out the call for new chaperones at Covington Catholic High School. Only clear-headed adults need apply.

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I light stepped it onto the snow and ice in my crocs this morning to see two things:

:: What headline The Star had come up with for yesterday’s crushing loss at Arrowhead Stadium

:: What lead sports columnist Sam Mellinger had to say

I was not disappointed on either front.

The headline was a fitting “BURNT ENDING.”

And Mellinger? He rose to the occasion of the biggest game ever played at Arrowhead with perhaps the most insightful and expressive column of his still-young, sportswriting career.

…Before getting into the column itself, I want to say how lucky Kansas City is to have a sports columnist of Mellinger’s ability. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say “of his stature,” either, even though he’s only 39 or 40.

He’s been the lead columnist nine years now, since succeeding not one but two heavyweight columnists: Joe Posnanski, who elevated sportswriting at The Star into poetry, and Jason Whitlock, who wielded his fearless pencil like a cudgel.

We lost those two great columnists a year apart — Posnanski to Sports Illustrated (which didn’t last) in 2009 and Whitlock to TV, talking-head status (what a waste) a year later.

(As an aside, do you remember the personnel game that played out, with The Star saying for weeks Whitlock was “on vacation” when he was on his way out the door?)

Into the breach stepped young Mellinger, a Lawrence, KS, native who was about 30 at the time. He had started at The Star in 2000, fresh out of KU, covering high school sports. When he was tapped to be a sports columnist in March 2010, he had been the Royals beat writer for four years.

Mellinger wasn’t exactly ready for prime time, but this was when The Star was spiraling downward and many staff members were either fleeing or being laid off and management was plugging key positions as best it could.

It was clear from the outset, though, that Mellinger had a ton of talent, and he quickly grew into the job. Now, it’s not an exaggeration to say The Star probably owes many thousands of online and print subscriptions to Mellinger. If he left tomorrow, the call takers at 16th and McGee (or India or wherever their call center is) would have their hands full processing cancellations.

What we must brace ourselves for, though, is that some day Mellinger almost surely will leave. Better-paying, wider-profile opportunities abound for even journeymen sportswriters and columnists. In recent years, The Star lost longtime Chiefs’ beat writer Adam Teicher to ESPN and short-term beat writer Terez Paylor to Yahoo Sports. And those two, while very capable, aren’t close to being in Mellinger’s class.

So, we must embrace and enjoy Mellinger while we’ve got him.


From the start of today’s column, Mellinger captured the pain and frustration Chiefs’s fans experienced yesterday.

“The image that sticks about the Chiefs who almost changed it all is Patrick Mahomes, handcuffed to the sideline by the toss of a coin, watching his first season as a starting quarterback dissolve into one more Tom Brady comeback.”

Dwell on some of those words: “almost changed it all”…”handcuffed to the sideline”…”watching his first season dissolve.”

What all great columnists do, in sports or otherwise, is put into words the way readers feel about a game, a development or a situation. They take our confusion, frustration, anger, joy — whatever — and wrap it up in words that confirm our feelings and amplify or clarify them for us. Often, we go away from great columns feeling comforted or more encouraged.

Mellinger, again…

“Patriots players laid on the field and screamed. Chiefs players kneeled and stared, stunned…There is so much to digest. So much pain, so many could’ves, so many unpredictable and unstoppable moments that kept Kansas City from having one of the greatest parties in her history.”

Ah, yes, the party that would have been. The party that will have to wait. The party that seemingly might never come?

Mellinger wrote about the lost coin flip heading into overtime, the flip that put the ball back in Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady’s remarkable hands at a time when the Chiefs’ defenders were exhausted.

And then he turned to what surely was the hardest thing to swallow about Sunday’s game — linebacker Dee Ford being flagged for lining up offsides on a play that would have turned the ball over to the Chiefs and allowed them to run out the clock for the victory.

It was a terrible mistake, a knife in the gut. But through Ford’s eyes, Mellinger helped us put the mistake in perspective. Quoting Ford…

“I gotta see the ball. I gotta see the ball. Especially the time of that game, and what was at stake, you just have to see the ball.”

That doesn’t make it much easier to take, but it shows the urgency of Ford’s thinking and why he risked taking a chance.

Mellinger closed by swapping places with Chiefs’ fans and musing about the vexing question that will nag for years to come:

“Remember that time the Chiefs lost in the playoffs because a guy lined up offsides, and they lost the dang coin flip?

The answer, always: Yes.


Something else I’ll remember for a long time: This beautiful column and the years we’ve been lucky enough to have Sam Mellinger talking us through the peaks and valleys of Kansas City’s vibrant sports scene.

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Homebound by freezing wind, a dusting of snow and a bit of ice, I was looking forward to sitting around and reading The Star and The New York Times this morning. The print versions, to be precise.

But, darn it, I was quickly confronted with a problem.

When I walked outside and down the front sidewalk, I saw the blue wrapper, which usually contains both The New York Times and The Star. When I got back inside, however, I found that only The Times was in the plastic bag. I quickly concluded production or delivery problems related to the weather were the reason The Star was missing.

So, I started reading The Times. Got through some of it and then decided I should go clear off and warm up the car, which was in the driveway. When I went outside — this time out the garage door — I saw a thin, orange wrapper with a paper inside, lying on the neighbor’s yard. Voila! There was my Saturday Star — all 18 pages of it — which had blown about 50 feet from the front of my house, across my yard and driveway and onto the neighbor’s side yard.

That was one slight newspaper.


The problems didn’t end with locating it, however. Hate to say it but I quickly found a couple of significant content problems.

Remember, now, we’re talking about the print edition, which is primarily taken by older readers, those who have been long wedded to the print edition and many of whom are not comfortable reading the paper online.

The centerpiece story was about — who else? — Patrick Mahomes. The headline was “Mahomes, new-age phenom, tackles old-school marketing.”

The first two sentences of this 100-column-inch story (yes, 100 inches, consuming almost a full inside page) were very confusing…

“Hunt’s courtship of Patrick Mahomes began the way so many other relationships originated in 2018. The brand slid into his DMs.”

At first, I thought reporter Brooke Pryor might be referring to Clark Hunt, Chiefs’ owner and chairman. But, no, she was talking about the ketchup company.

Then there was the “DMs” business.


I went to Google and found that DM is lingo for Direct Message on Twitter.

Does anyone share my curiosity at how many print-edition readers would have any idea with “DM” stands for?

…Oddest of all, I couldn’t find the same story anywhere on The Star’s website, where KC Star owner McClatchy Co. is desperately trying to make headway with the younger set — the group, presumably, that would be familiar with Twitter terminology.

How strrrrr-ange!


Then I landed on a story by longtime reporter Judy Thomas about a victim advocacy group’s effort to convince the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to change the name of the Bishop Sullivan Center.

David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the name was an inappropriate honor for a bishop who oversaw the diocese during a period when most priest sex abuse cases occurred.

My problem with this story had nothing to do with Clohessy’s beef; it had to do with the fact that nowhere in the story did Thomas say what the Sullivan Center is or where it’s located.

A former Catholic, I’m familiar with the name of the center but I really don’t know much about it and have never had any reason to find out. And that’s probably the case with the vast majority of Star readers.

So, to Google I went. For those with the same lack of familiarity as me, the Sullivan Center is a social service organization that helps disadvantaged people with things like food and job-search assistance.

It operates out of three locations: 6435 Truman Road, 3936 Troost and 2200 Central Avenue, KCK.

…Really, wouldn’t you think Thomas — or an editor — would have taken the blinders off for a minute and thought to provide readers with the “what” and the “where” of this story, in addition to the “who” and why”?

Sadly, not much thought is being put into a lot of stories being shoveled into the paper these days.


On the plus side, today’s paper gave me fodder, on a cold and snowy morning, for yet another brilliant post.

Thank you, hometown paper!

Try to stay warm, everybody…

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I thought Councilwoman Jolie Justus would become the favorite in the Kansas City mayor’s race, and a story in today’s KC Star confirms that’s the case.


For the most recent quarterly campaign report — covering October through December — Justus raised more than three times as much the next-closest candidate, Steve Miller.

According to Allison Kite’s story, Justus now has $250,000 in the bank, trailing only Miller, who has about $252,300. She has pushed well past Councilman Scott Taylor, the early fund-raising leader, who has $177,000 on hand.

It was heartening to see a fleshed-out campaign-finance story in The Star. Those have been in short supply under the two previous City Hall reporters. I hope Kite, who recently moved to the City Hall beat, continues giving readers substantive reports on all facets of the mayor’s race.

But now the cudgel: Kite exhibited her lack of knowledge about local political donors when she wrote, “LJ Kissick, of Kissick Construction, gave (Scott) Wagner $1,000.

From the way that was written, I can tell she had no idea she was writing about Lloyd James “Jim” Kissick III, a high-profile contractor, or knows ( or knew) who he was.


This is the second time within six weeks The Star slighted Kissick, longtime president of Kissick Construction Co. First, Star editors didn’t see fit to write a news story about him after he died suddenly Dec. 8. And now this…just another abbreviated name on a campaign finance report.

Of course, this isn’t all Kite’s fault. Very few, if any, editors left at 1601 McGee would know who Jim Kissick was.


While we’re talking about slights and The Star, how about the paper’s failure to report (as far as I can tell) the Kemper Museum’s hiring of a new executive director?

KCUR reported on Jan. 11 that Sean O’Harrow, who has been director at the Honolulu Museum of Art the last two years, will begin his new job Feb. 11.

Sean O’Harrow

KCUR’s Laura Spencer reported that O’Harrow was born in Paris and raised in Honolulu and that one of his parents is from the Midwest, the other from Vietnam.

In all fairness, Spencer also deserves a cudgel: She failed to report O’Harrow’s age. An October 2016 story in the Honolulu Star Advertiser said he was 48 then. By my keen mathematical calculations, that would make him about 50.

(Editor’s note: As a matter of full disclosure, our daughter Brooks Fitzpatrick is the “visitor services associate” at the Kemper. When you enter the lobby, she’s at the front desk, a.k.a., “the donut.”)


Now that the bell ending today’s Journalism 101 class has rung, we can move on to a final note…

I heard from a friend that Joe Popper, a former KC Star reporter, died recently, apparently of lung cancer.

Popper, who specialized in “long-form” journalism, was with the paper’s Sunday magazine from 1985 to 1990, and he was on the news side for a while after that.

In 1991, when I was City Hall reporter, Popper and I collaborated on two huge stories. One, dubbed “The Monday Morning Club,” recounted how a handful of civic leaders, including Irvine O. Hockaday Jr. of Hallmark Cards, quietly hand picked a community college executive, Brice Harris, to run for mayor.

Brice Harris

The executives, members of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, were convinced Harris — with their financial backing and his good looks and apolitical background — would win. But the executives’ political naivete was soon exposed in a down-and-dirty campaign involving several candidates, including Councilman Emanuel Cleaver, Councilman Bob Lewellen and former Independence Mayor Dick King.

Dick King

As things developed, Harris and King destroyed each other with vicious TV ads, and neither made it past the primary election. Cleaver finished first in the primary, ahead of Lewellen. Cleaver then went on to thump Lewellen in the general election.

The primary campaign was one of the most riveting political races Kansas City has ever seen, and Popper and I were fortunate enough to help make it extremely memorable. I will always remember sitting beside Joe as we fashioned that compelling tale about The Monday Morning Club. I provided the bulk of the facts, and he weaved them into gold. The story started on the front page and “jumped” inside, taking up another two full pages. We used to call those “double trucks.” Stories of such length were few and far between.

Joe was about 74. I believe he lived in Weston. Survivors include his wife Judith. (An obit has not yet appeared in The Star…Sorry, I couldn’t find a photo.)

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I remember my horror and chagrin when my hometown paper, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY, passed in 1986 from ownership by the esteemed Bingham family to the newspaper chain Gannett.

I couldn’t imagine that paper, which had been one of the best in the country, becoming part of a cookie-cutter operation known for cutting staff and paring back local autonomy.

But, sure enough, that beloved paper got chewed up in the maw of the newspaper giant and passed from being a driving force to a bit player on the local scene.

But now, it appears, things are about to get even worse for the approximately 100 daily papers Gannett owns.

Sunday night (and in yesterday’s print edition) the Wall Street Journal broke the story that a hedge-fund backed media group called Digital First Media was planning to make an unsolicited offer for Gannett — all of Gannett. And that’s what happened yesterday morning, when Digital First made a $12-per-share offer for Gannett, whose stock closed at $9.75 last Friday.

Indicative of what’s been going on elsewhere — including with Kansas City Star owner McClatchy Co. — Gannett had lost sufficient market value that it will have a hard time fending off what is probably an unwelcome bid.

Despite the overall anemic state of the newspaper industry, daily newspapers continue to generate a lot of revenue, which makes them appealing to the hedge-fund operators.

Like catfish after minnows, the hedge funds have been moving into the newspaper waters with the idea of “harvesting marketing position,” or, more colorfully, gorging themselves on the revenue and then swimming away from the detritus.

That’s what Digital First has done in Denver at the Denver Post. Last year, Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that controls Digital First, sent shock waves through the newsroom when it announced it was laying off an additional 30 Post employees, after having decimated the staff over the preceding years. One report said Alden’s announcement of the layoffs was greeted with “sobs, gasps, expletives.”

“Sobs, gasps, expletives” greeted the announcement of a new round of layoffs at the Denver Post last year.

It’s not clear how Gannett will respond to Digital First’s offer, but it issued a statement yesterday, saying its board would “carefully review the proposal…to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interest of the company and Gannett shareholders.”

What could develop now is a merger between Gannett and Tribune Publishing, the Chicago-based chain that owns The Chicago Tribune and several other large newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Gannett made a big push to buy Tribune two years ago but backed away at the last minute. With Digital First lurking outside the door, it could push Gannett to renew its courtship with Tribune.

Ken Doctor

In a blog post yesterday, Ken Doctor, the nation’s foremost newspaper industry analyst, predicted merger and acquisitions would be the big newspaper-industry stories this year.

He wrote:

“Consolidation (and the cost-cutting that comes with it) remains the dominant strategy in the daily newspaper industry. If revenue continues to drop at or even near double-digit levels, the consensus thinking is that radically reducing expenses through consolidation is about as good a card as anyone has to play. Eliminate or reduce corporate staffs, centralize everything that can be centralized, and maybe in some cases continue to make small investments in newer revenue streams.”


You will recall (yes, you will) that McClatchy made a run at Tribune late last year, but Tribune rejected its offer.

I doubt McClatchy is in a position to renew its pursuit of Tribune. McClatchy’s largest single investor and creditor is another hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management, but McClatchy and Chatham are boxed in by an $800-million debt, a remnant of McClatchy’s 2006 purchase of the Knight Ridder chain.

…With the hedge funds now striking out more aggressively at the newspaper industry, it is clearer than ever that the best hope for newspapers trapped in the netting of the big chains is to be purchased by wealthy local individuals who believe in the viability and importance of locally owned newspapers.

Patrick Soon-Shiong

That has happened, among other places, in Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and, last year, Los Angeles, where a surgeon and entrepreneur named Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased The Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune from Tribune Publishing for $500 million.

Soon-Shiong didn’t buy the papers as gifts to those cities; he bought them because he believes he can invest in them and inject them with new life.

I share Soon-Shiong’s belief in local newspapers. The Star, too, could be resurgent. Yes, it will continue to fade as a print product, but with a debt-free restart, wise management and good marketing, I believe it could be developed into a first-rate, online product.

The hardest part would be prying it loose from the grubby hands of Chatham and McClatchy. That would be the case even in bankruptcy because the catfish would be circling, eyeing the whole 29-part chain. With The Star being the most profitable paper in the McClatchy chain, it would go for a hefty premium, whether bought straight from McClatchy or from whatever outfit succeeds McClatchy.

But have no illusions: It’s the last, best chance for The Star to regain its former status as an outstanding information provider and a critical part of the Kansas City fabric. Somebody needs to Save our Star.

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Winning headlines

Since the 1990s, when Dinn Mann became sports editor (he went on to run Major League Baseball’s website), The Star has been known for its witty, double-entendre sports headlines.

During the last dozen years of the newspaper industry’s (and The Star’s) downward spiral, that has been one aspect of the paper that has not ebbed.

After yesterday’s huge Chiefs’ win, I was looking forward to seeing today’s print edition (that’s the only way you get the full effect) to see what sports editor Jeff Rosen and his team would come up with.

They did not disappoint.

For those of you who don’t get the print edition, or are out of town, or couldn’t fish the paper out of the snow drifts, here are the headlines from yesterday’s memorable win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Congratulations to The Star and especially the sports department. These headlines were among the best ever…

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