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Archive for November, 2019

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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