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Archive for November, 2019

When I first heard, early last year, about the black ministers’ push to do away with the name The Paseo and rename it Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, I took it almost as a personal offense.

As I wrote in a column last April, The Paseo has had a special place in my heart since I arrived here from Louisville, KY, 50 years ago and spent my first night as a Kansas Citian at the Admiral Motel (now a Rodeway Inn) at Independence Boulevard and The Paseo.

I’d never heard of a name like that; I’d never seen a divided boulevard that wide; and over the decades I never forgot where I’d spent that first night.

During the long period of uncertainty over what was going to happen to The Paseo — would it be renamed or would it remain the same? — my opposition to a name change gradually softened, and by the time the City Council voted in January to approve the change, I was resigned to The Paseo being consigned to history as far as KC was concerned.

But then the Save The Paseo group came along and got enough signatures to force a public vote on the issue — a vote the Council should have authorized on its own — and the issue is back on the table. Tomorrow, at the polls, voters will decide once and for all whether the name The Paseo should be restored or abandoned forever.

And you know something funny? I remain ambivalent about the possible reprieve…I haven’t even decided how I’m going to vote.

JimmyCsays photo

On one hand, I think a majority of African-Americans in Kansas City prefer the MLK designation, and if that’s what they want, who am I to try to impose my nostalgic memory on them?

On the other hand, when I think about how we voters were deprived of a significant voice on the matter (until now) and the black ministers were able to shriek and beg until they finally got what they wanted, I’m tempted to vote “yes,” that is, to vote to return the name to The Paseo.

I’m also tempted to vote “yes” to spite The Star, which, I feel, is strongly pushing to retain the MLK designation mainly because the editorial board wants to be able to tell the black ministers, “We were with you.”

The Star is also making a mountain of a molehill on this. A Sunday editorial said, in part: “Taking King’s name off the street…would be (a) self-inflicted wound for this city, telegraphing to the rest of the nation that Kansas City doesn’t value King’s memory or his message.”

Balderdash.

However the vote goes, I doubt the story will get picked up anywhere else. This is strictly a parochial issue that doesn’t send any kind of message anywhere outside the city boundaries. If if goes down to defeat, it will be because former Mayor Sly James washed his hands of it and allowed it to dissolve into mush.

…Even though I’m not sure how I’m going to vote, I do have a prediction. I think the number of “yes” votes (to revert to The Paseo) will far outnumber the “no” votes.

The main reason I feel that way is many residents are still pissed off about the bait-and-switch-financial deal on the airport and are still itching to vent their frustration on something.

I think there’s also a general feeling, in our urban, Democratic area, of dissatisfaction with government at the national level, and that could trickle down to the local level. In other words: “Thanks for not consulting us on The Paseo, City Council…Up yours!”

And at a practical level, if this were a normal election, the black political group Freedom Inc. would be able to flex its muscle and turn out a large number of voters. At a normal election, Freedom’s leaders would be getting a boatload of money from candidates and from supporters or opponents of major issues. Freedom would use some of that money to produce yard signs and staff polling places.

But this isn’t a normal election. The Paseo is the only interesting issue on the ballot, and Freedom is on its own. All it’s got is word of mouth.

The Save The Paseo group, on the other hand, has scraped enough money together to put out a mailing to frequent voters last week. Along with general voter disgruntlement, that should be more than good enough to return The Paseo to good standing.

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After several years of seemingly trying to drive people away from the print edition, The Star’s upper managers appear to be starting to see some wisdom in not alienating that loyal group of subscribers.

At least two tangible signs of catering to print subscribers are clearly on display. One has been evident for months; the other is more recent.

The longer-running improvement is the significant increase in the amount of national and international news being run in the print edition. If you’ll recall, The Star was on a “local, local, local” binge up until several months ago, ramming almost nothing but local news down the throats of readers. Embarrassingly, they would run a few paragraphs of national news on Page 2A or 3A.

That was really dumb, for two reasons. It made the paper look insular and parochial, as if management was saying, “There’s nothing going on outside the metro area, dear reader, you need to concern yourself with.” In addition, many print subscribers are elderly and rely on their local paper for the vast majority of their news. Many don’t get their news online, and I’m sure they were frustrated that their local paper wasn’t giving them news about the world outside Kansas City, Independence, Overland Park and other area cities.

The second, more specific, improvement I have noticed is the addition of the “What’s your KCQ?” feature on the fyi Preview page on Thursdays. (I almost called it the fyi section, but, of course, the section is long gone.)

KCQ tackles reader questions about the city’s past, present an future. Often the subject is about the past, which, of course, appeals to older readers, who, again, comprise the vast majority of print subscribers.

The feature works well in other ways, too: The Kansas City Public Library provides the content, and the library benefits because it gets free publicity.

This week’s KCQ feature was about the history of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and the rather unusual Episcopal priest, Rev. Henry D. Jardine, who was appointed rector in 1879. Father Jardine was said to be popular with the ladies, and during one young woman’s confession he was reported to have been caught spanking her “in a state of undress with a slipper as a form of penance.”

I tell ya, that’s the kind of stuff that keeps readers engaged!

The story and an accompanying photo took up the better part of two pages, which is more good news for The Star because long pieces like that free the ultra-lean editorial staff to fill the rest of the news hole with more timely stories.

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For the last several years, the McClatchy Co. chain’s entire philosophy has been built around the “transition to digital.” McClatchy managers have paid less and less attention to their 29 daily papers’ print editions, as they point toward eliminating those editions over the next few years. The chain’s transition to digital has been disappointingly slow, however, and maybe some managers out in the Sacramento, where the company has its headquarters, are starting to realize it’s too soon to throw in the towel on print.

Or maybe it’s just here in Kansas City that top managers — either the recently departed publisher, Tony Berg, or his newly installed replacement, Star president Mike Fannin — have realized the mistake of putting all the marbles in the digital basket.

Newspapers have always been notorious for their herd mentality. When one chain starts something new or comes up with a strategy that sounds good, the other chains rush to follow suit.

“Transition to digital” sounds so smooth and easy: Just push a button and people will fling their papers in the air and charge to their computers to sign up for digital subscriptions.

McClatchy has been paying a steep price, in revenue and circulation losses, for heeding the siren song of the “digital transformation,” and it’s probably too late to undo the damage. Nevertheless, I applaud The Star for getting part of its head out its digital obsession and making a modest attempt to give print subscribers their money’s worth.

The paper is certainly not worth the $80, $90 or $100 a month the “audience development” department is asking of long-term subscribers, but the more enlightened approach could at least cut the pace of circulation losses.

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