Archive for August, 2019

The Star was forced to write an embarrassing correction Monday after publishing an online story that said a federal judge had issued a preliminary injunction blocking parts of Missouri’s new abortion law.

The incorrect story was pulled from the website before I saw it; it was a major gaffe.

The corrected story, by reporter Crystal Thomas, began like this…

“CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the judge had issued a preliminary injunction. The judge is still considering whether to do so.

“A federal judge said Monday he will consider whether to temporarily block parts of Missouri’s new abortion law, including a ban on abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy, from going into effect.”

…Unfortunately, the erroneous version reflected on reporter Thomas, who has been with The Star four months. But it wasn’t Thomas’ fault. To its credit, The Star inserted a “Behind our Reporting” box explaining how the earlier version came about…

“When we anticipate that an important story will break, we often prepare material in advance. This allows us to move as quickly as possible to get a story to our readers once events unfold. In this case, however, an assignment editor inadvertently published advance material before the court hearing had concluded. The advance material was prepared based on how this same judicial circuit had ruled invalidating similar laws in Arkansas and North Dakota.”

I like the fact that The Star was preparing a story in advance. It’s too bad the editor hit the send button, but one of the benefits of online is that mistakes can be caught and fixed quickly…Nevertheless, I’m sure the editor with the itchy finger feels terrible.

One more thing: This correction shows the utter foolishness of The Star’s long-time policy of “not repeating the error” in corrections in the print edition. Can you imagine the semantic contortions the editors would have gone through to try to correct this error without stating the mistake? So, maybe the editors will come to their senses and start telling print-edition readers what they screwed up so that the corrections themselves don’t spawn confusion.

(Unlike some papers, The Star doesn’t make note of most corrections that have been made in online stories. Obviously, it couldn’t do that in this case.)


While we’re talking Star business, here’s news about some high-profile former reporters and editors:

:: Medical reporter Andy Marso, who, during his three years at The Star stamped himself as one of its top reporters, left the paper last Friday to take a job with Leawood-based American Academy of Family Physicians. Marso said on Twitter that he would be an editor for an AAFP journal called FPM (Family Practice Management).

Andy Marso

Marso said: “Family physicians are the foundation of medicine and our best hope for creating a system that keeps people well, rather than just treating them after they get sick. I’m excited to do my small part to move us in that direction. Also will likely do more meningitis vaccine advocacy.”

The Star will really miss Marso, but he’s making a move that is in his best long-term interests, in my opinion. The shakeout and consolidation that’s ahead for the newspaper industry is going to generate a load of anxiety for thousands of employees around the country. I wouldn’t want to be part of it.

:: Former Star business editor Chris Lester, who had been in AT&T’s marketing department the last several years, has become managing editor at KCPT. I don’t know exactly what that job entails or how many people he oversees, but it’s good to have Lester back in the news business.

Caitlin Hendel

:: Former assistant state desk editor (Missouri and Kansas) Caitlin Hendel has moved to KCUR, which has been on a major expansion run for several years now. Until several months ago, Hendel was CEO and publisher at Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter. Hendel started work earlier this month as KCUR’s director of institutional giving and communications.

Donna Vestal

:: Also at KCUR, Donna Vestal, a former assistant business editor at The Star, is switching from director of content strategy to a job pertaining to KCUR’s collaborations with other public radio stations. The content-strategy position will be eliminated, and a new position — director of journalism — will be created. KCUR is now advertising that job. The person who gets it will oversee the station’s content team, including everyone who produces and works on the station’s news and talk shows.

It’s great to see at least one KC news outlet growing and going strong.

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I’m glad I was a reporter in the days when you could pick up the phone and call CEOs, police chiefs, elected officials and other people you needed to get information from and often make direct contact on the first try.

For example, I remember once wanting to reach Paul Henson, then-CEO of United Telecommunications, before it became Sprint. I dialed the main switchboard and asked for Henson. The operator rang his office, he picked up and said in a near-growl, “Henson.”

Paul Henson

I was so startled at the way he answered it took me a couple of seconds to recover and state what I wanted. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I’ll never forget the sound of that voice.

Another time, I somehow got the private office number of Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., then Hallmark CEO. I held onto the number until one day I really needed a comment from him. I dialed it, he picked up, and that time it was the CEO, not the reporter, who was startled.

These days, that kind of thing wouldn’t happen. If you wanted a comment from an Irvine Hockaday or a Paul Henson, you would have to go through the Sprint or Hallmark p.r. machine and tell them exactly what you wanted and what you were working on. Nine times out of 10 you’d get some dull, scripted comment back from the p.r. office in an email. About the only chance you’d ever have of getting through to a Hockaday or Henson would be if another civic big shot died and you called seeking a comment about their dear, departed multi-millionaire.

But for any story that appeared to reflect badly on the company — or attempted to hold the CEO to account — forget it; no way you’d get through.

It’s gotten so bad that, as far as I can tell, any question a reporter has for the Kansas City Police Department must be submitted to the media relations office by email. I mean any question — like “What’s the status of such and such case?” or “I need a mug shot of the guy arrested for the carjacking on Gillham.”

The chief, Rick Smith, speaks primarily through his blog. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a quote from him that came from an interview or a phone call with a reporter.

But I’m not singling out KCPD. The hiding behind p.r. departments and insipid, emailed statements is pervasive. Why, it’s so bad that the bob and weave game (a deft boxer’s best friend) has now filtered down to college newspapers.

Jack Holland, a friend and follower of the blog, sent me a link to a recent story in The Atlantic about student journalists finding themselves stymied and made to jump through numerous hoops.

The story ran under the headline, “Bureaucrats Put the Squeeze on College Newspapers.”

Consider this paragraph from the story…

The decline of college newspapers has taken place against the backdrop of a decades-old power shift in the American university. As the Johns Hopkins University professor Benjamin Ginsberg chronicles in his 2011 book, The Fall of the Faculty, administrative bureaucracies at American universities have grown much faster than the professoriate, a trend that Ginsberg decries. “University administrators are no different than any other corporate executives or heads of government agencies,” Ginsberg said in an interview. “They’re engaged in constant spin designed to hide any shortcomings that they or their institution might have.”

Frank LoMonte, director of a free-speech institute at the University of Florida, told The Atlantic: “The concentration of resources into university p.r. offices has made the job exponentially harder for campus journalists. The p.r. people see their job as rationing access to news makers on campus, so it is harder and harder to get interviews with newsmakers.”

…I often hear people complaining that, more and more, newspapers often are doing much more editorializing in their news columns than they used to. “I just want to read the facts and make up my own mind,” people sometimes tell me.

Well, one reason the national newspapers, in particular, have gone to more analysis and editorializing in the news columns is the p.r. bulwark has become so big and so powerful that it’s very difficult to get legitimate, honest “testimony” from both sides of a given issue.

So much information is shaded, manipulated and offered up like chopped salad that the only way reporters can let readers know what’s really going on is just state it outright. In nearly every case, it’s the reporters — not the sources — who are the true, honest, information brokers.

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The Tivoli Cinemas — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — might be getting a revival.


Officials with the Nelson-Atkins Museum are in discussions with Jerry Harrington, Tivoli owner, on a collaborative project to present “art-house” movies at the museum.

Kathleen Leighton, manager of media relations and visual productions at the Nelson Gallery, said museum director and CEO Julien Zugazagoitia “has been in talks with Jerry.” She added that as of now, “There is nothing to announce.”

If terms and a deal are reached, movies like those that Harrington brought to the Tivoli before it closed in April would be shown in the 500-seat Atkins Auditorium event space.

Admission would be charged, but because the auditorium is considered gallery space — some Thomas Hart Benton paintings adorn at least one wall — food and drink might not be allowed.

The Nelson’s website describes the space as blending “up-to-date audio-visual capabilities with a gracious setting” and adds, “The acoustics are well-suited for film, voice and music.”

…In the spring I attended a One Day University event at the Atkins Auditorium and found the space to be reasonably appealing. On the positive side, the sound and sight lines are good. On the negative side, the slope of the room is rather steep, and some uneven surfaces near the top make footing a bit challenging in those areas.

Overall, however, a return of a Jerry-Harrington movie-house operation at the Nelson would be a wonderful thing for Kansas City and the gallery, as well as Harrington. Let’s hope it works out. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t.


Former Kansas city Star reporter Kelsey Ryan, who is developing an online news operation called The Beacon, sent out a unique “Happy Layoff-versery” notice today.


Ryan’s email marked the one-year anniversary of The Star laying her off — a fate that has befallen scores of editorial and other Star employees since 2008, two years after the McClatchy chain bought the paper as part of its acquisition of the Knight Ridder chain.

Although the Newton, KS, native was shocked and very upset when she got that 7 a.m. phone call, she said she almost immediately began looking forward. She wrote…

“By 3 p.m., my work email was downloaded and my resume updated. And by 5 p.m., I realized I really didn’t want to ever work for another McClatchy paper. Or Gannett. Or GateHouse. Or (insert name of struggling newspaper company here). That in some ways, going to another newspaper was the easy route, to grab a lifeboat and hope it won’t sink itself in the next year or two. To bury my head in the sand, pretending more layoffs wouldn’t happen. Instead, I decided I would build a new ship.”

She has meticulously and painstakingly been developing her new venture, which is not yet up and running. She has some funding and office space (the Westport Plexpod) and hopes to announce a board of directors soon.

Her plan with The Beacon is to shine a light on “wrongdoings and abuse by government, businesses and other institutions in the region through in-depth, solutions-driven journalism.”

Just like her old job with The Star, her new undertaking is “still a grind,” but with a big difference…”It’s my grind.”

…I wish Kelsey the best and, like many other former Star journalists, am eager to see The Beacon up and running.

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On The Rachel Maddow Show last night, an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald delivered the most succinct and skillful condemnation of social media I have seen or heard.

Maddow’s guest was Julie K. Brown, who co-reported and co-wrote a three part series — Perversion of Justice — that helped break the Jeffrey Epstein case wide open late last year.

For their series, Brown and fellow reporter Emily Michot won a Polk Award — one of journalism’s highest awards. Surprisingly, the series was not even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. (Just as former Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta minimized Epstein’s abominable crimes, the Pulitzer board underestimated the Herald’s series.)

Julie K. BrownBrown’s felicitous skewering of social media came during an interview with Maddow, who had been asking Brown about the Epstein case and where it might go from here.

At the end of the interview, Maddow asked Brown for her reaction to President Donald Trump “promoting this conspiracy theory about Epstein’s death on Twitter.” (Within hours of Epstein’s death, Trump retweeted a post by Terrence Williams, a comedian and Trump supporter, saying that Epstein “had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead.”)

Here’s how Brown answered Maddow’s question…

“I don’t like to talk about conspiracy theories because I don’t like to perpetuate them, and I think it’s just sad that people are getting their news primarily from Twitter and Facebook and not by reading a newspaper or reading a digital website like The New York Times or the Miami Herald.

“I think people need to pay more attention to reading books and reading real news rather than getting their news off Twitter, quite frankly.”

Maddow replied:

“You are a living example for why everybody within shouting distance of the Miami Herald ought to subscribe to that paper.”


I tell you, it warmed my heart to hear that exchange, and it should warm the hearts of everyone who is disturbed and concerned about the millions of people who have forsaken reliable, tried-and-true news sources and jumped into bed with information sources that are 99 percent gossip and rubbish.

…In fairness, I should note that the Herald is a leading paper in the McClatchy chain, which I often bash. As troubled as McClatchy is, any of its 29 daily papers is 100 times more reliable than the vast bulk of the stuff being passed off as news on Twitter and Facebook.

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I presume most of you are aware of the recent announcement that GateHouse Media and Gannett are seeking to merge, with the lesser-known GateHouse being the majority owner and the new entity operating under the highly identifiable Gannett name.

If shareholders approve the deal, the new Gannett would have more than 260 daily papers in the U.S. along with more than 300 weeklies.

By comparison, McClatchy, owner of The Kansas City Star since 2006, owns 29 daily papers.

Analysts, as well as leaders of GateHouse and Gannett, say the main motivation for the merger is for the combined companies to save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by reducing overlapping costs and buying time to implement the long-sought plan of a “digital transformation.”

(GateHouse C.E.O. Mike Reed said he expected the bulk of the savings to come from reducing business-side headcount and buying out duplicative vendor contracts, but with all the editorial-side layoffs that have taken place the last 15 years, it would not be surprising to see many more reporters, editors, photographers and graphic artists getting axed.)

All the big chains, including McClatchy, have been banking on “digital transformation,” but it is really working for only three papers — The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. It’s no coincidence that those papers are dedicated primarily to national (and, in the case of The Times, international) news and business. I know of only one major metropolitan paper, The Boston Globe, that has had any significant success in the realm of “digital only” sales.

Chain executives’ dreams of “going digital” are now going on 20 years old, and yet all the chains have been losing more and more money. As leading newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor said in a story on the Newsonomics website, “In a deal that is all about cash flow, the merger partners face the fact that, on an operating basis, too much cash is flowing… backward.”

It’s been my contention that while chasing the elusive, and perhaps apparitional, dream of digital transformation, some chains — with McClatchy being the ignominious industry leader on this front– have let their print products go to seed.

The Star is a prime example. The print edition is treated almost as an afterthought, even though it probably continues to generate a majority of revenue. With a few exceptions, the reporting is now more superficial than ever; weekday papers are embarrassingly thin and unstructured; and virtually no effort is being made to augment stories with photos and graphics. (A Star photographer who got laid off last year wrote on this website recently that the paper is down to four photographers, from a peak of more than 20.)


I believe turning its back on print has been a big mistake by McClatchy. The hoped-for digital transformation at the local level is looking more and more like a pipe dream, not just here but in almost every metro area. There are simply too many other ways for people to get whatever information — not necessarily news — they are interested in.

Is McClatchy too far down the “digital transformation” road to turn back now? Maybe. But I wish McClatchy or some other chain would re-dedicate itself to putting out quality print products. I believe McClatchy, or whatever chain it might be, would find that tens of thousands of people in a given community — maybe hundreds of thousands, even — would pay premium rates for high-quality print products.

Of course, that also means McClatchy (or whatever chain it might be) would have to commit itself to reconnecting with the communities it serves. That’s the biggest tragedy of corporate journalism — the loss of the proprietary feeling that people used to have about their local papers.

As Bernie Lunzer, president of the national union that represents journalists, told The Washington Post, “Creating real ties to the community — that’s the only way these things (local papers) are going to work.”

So, let me put the question I wrote above a different way:

Is McClatchy too far down the “digital transformation” road to double back and recommit itself to publishing quality print products?

The answer is “no.” But it won’t happen for two reasons. First, McClatchy leadership is rigidly flailing at the digital transformation that is not happening, and, second, McClatchy executives are not the least bit interested in reconnecting with the communities they serve. (And “serve” is putting it loosely.)


So, looking into the crystal ball, I see McClatchy being acquired by another chain headed down the road of false hopes and idle dreams, with its print products dribbling to a halt and its websites focusing on crime, weather and sports (more Kansas City Chiefs news!) leading the way.

Oh, my, what a mess.

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